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Jesus vs. Paul
Left / Gionanni Bellini (circa 1460), the louvre, superstock Right / Pompeo Batoni (1708-1787) Saint Paul / national trust photo library / art resource, NY

Many biblical scholars and lay Christians have noted that Jesus preached almost exclusively about the kingdom of heaven, while Paul highlighted justification by faith—and not vice versa. Some conclude that they preached two different gospels. Others argue that really they both preached justification; still others say it's all about the kingdom. What gives?

Note: Clicking the "video" links placed in the article will take you to a segment from an interview with Scot McKnight about the implications of this story.

I grew up with, on, through, and in the apostle Paul. His letters were the heart of our Bible. From the time I began paying attention to my pastor's sermons, I can only recall sermons on 1 Corinthians—the whole book verse by verse, week by week—and Ephesians. I don't recall a series on any of the Gospels or on Jesus.

There were two annual exceptions to our Pauline focus. At Christmas, we heard a sermon on one of the narratives about Jesus' birth, and during Holy Week, we got something on Jesus' death and resurrection. We were Pauline Christians and not one bit worried about it. I learned to think and believe and live in a Pauline fashion. Everything was filtered through Paul's theology. Justification was the lens for the gospel, and "life in the Spirit," the lens for Christian living.

Then I went off to Bible college (now Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Michigan) and majored in history while taking as many Bible courses as I could. Once again, Paul featured prominently. My senior year, I read the first volume of Ralph Martin's New Testament Foundations series and was taken with the freshness of the Gospels. But nothing overwhelmed ...

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Jesus vs. Paul
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December 2010

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