Attempts to pit the teachings of Jesus and the Apostle Paul against one another will result in a division of the canon. This can lead people to undermine both the Apostolic teaching on redemption as well as the Apostolic ethic for the lives of the members of the New Testament church.
Some have sought to pit Jesus’ ethical teaching over against the writings of the Apostle Paul. Such false dichotomizing is often driven by a desire to distance oneself from the Apostle’s clear condemnation of homosexuality (Rom. 1:26–27; 1 Cor. 6:9; 1 Tim. 1:10) and restrictions regarding roles in the church (1 Tim. 2:12; 1 Cor. 14:35). But interpreting what Jesus taught during His earthly ministry against what His Apostles subsequently wrote reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of biblical revelation. The desire to set Jesus and Paul at odds—or to subtly downplay the fact that the Apostolic writings are the very words of Christ (Col. 3:16)—will inevitably backfire on those who believe they are helping others embrace a more tolerant brand of Christianity.
At the turn of the twentieth century, the church faced the attacks of a theological liberalism in which theologians sought to divide Jesus and Paul. Although the driving factors in the theological liberalism of the twentieth century were somewhat different from our current church controversies, the method and desired end are strikingly similar. Attacks on the organic unity of Scripture led professors at Princeton Theological Seminary to write some of the greatest arguments for the defense of the unity and progressive development of the canon of Scripture. For instance, Geerhardus Vos, professor of biblical theology at Old Princeton, helpfully explained: “The relation between Jesus and the Apostolate is in general that between the fact to be interpreted and the subsequent interpretation of this fact . . . It resembles the embryo . . . which truly contains the structure, which the full-grown organism will clearly exhibit.”1
To understand this principle, we must first recognize that Jesus didn’t personally write down what He taught. The content of the four Gospels, the Epistles, and the book of Revelation were written by “holy men of God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). They are a unified record of the historical facts. Jesus also did many things that were not recorded for the faith and life of believers (John 21:25).