Paul's letters were around before most of the Gospels; what do we make of this?

Published Oct 5, 2013 at 05:00AM / Updated Jan 16, 2014 at 01:54PM

Led by the spirit

The Rev. Paul Rock, pastor of Second Presbyterian Church:

Paul’s letters expand the gospel message because he was converted and called as a “witness to the gentiles” by the resurrected Christ. While Paul (Saul) was persecuting the early church, he certainly heard the stories of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, but he never knew the man. Paul was never a disciple.

After his dramatic encounter on the road to Damascus, Paul became an apostle, one commissioned and sent out to share the gospel.

Why does this matter? It matters because the Jesus who guided Paul on his missionary journeys and informed the message of his letters was not bound by culture, time or place. While the disciples remained in Jerusalem and struggled with issues of Jewish/Christian theology, Paul was being led from one town to another by the Spirit of the living Christ, sharing a gospel that radically stretched and punctured the nascent church’s boundaries as they were being formed.

Paul was consistently pointing his Jewish and Gentile friends (and opponents) toward the resurrected Christ as their source of salvation and unity. As he wrote in one of his earliest letters, “There is no longer Jew or Greek ... slave or free, ... male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

Written before the Gospels, Paul’s letters complement and stretch the Gospels, and remind the Church to keep moving beyond Jerusalem and Judea into the dynamic world God loves.

A powerful witness

The Rev. Justin Hoye, Patrick’s Catholic Church:

The works of the New Testament were written over the course of decades and solidified over the centuries into the canon we have today.

This compilation of 27 books was discerned through Apostolic Tradition and conveys the truth of God’s revelation, fully manifest in Jesus Christ. Although the four Gospels hold a central and elevated place in the New Testament, St. Paul’s epistles are significant because they too convey a truth that predates them: Before there were any New Testament scriptures, there were the eye-witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection.

Saul of Tarsus, known to most as St. Paul, was unique in that his role as a disciple of Jesus occurred after Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Paul identifies himself as an apostle — set apart as a messenger — because Jesus appeared to and commissioned him post-resurrection. Paul then became an eyewitness to the resurrection of Jesus, and a herald of this Good News. Because Paul was once a notorious persecutor of Jesus’ followers, his testimony became extremely powerful.

God’s revelation to mankind, manifested fully in the person of Jesus Christ, is conveyed to us through our humanity. This reality should remind us that the proclamation of God’s power over sin and death was manifested through the life and teaching of Jesus himself, and then through the lives and preaching of Paul and other eyewitnesses to the resurrection.