the Authority of Paul

Jeff Spectorapologetics, christianity, doctrine, Early Christianity, Priesthood, prophets, scripture 11 Comments

For some reason, I was thinking about the structure of the New Testament Church after the ascension of the Savior. What is clear is that Peter is the Chief Apostle and the one left in charge by Christ.  By LDS theology, Peter held the Keys of the Kingdom as “President of the Church” although two LDS Church Presidents, David O. McKay and Spencer W. Kimball, likened his position more as the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. But who succeed Peter after his death?

And as a second thought, what of all the doctrine taught by Paul? Did he have the authority to declare Church doctrine?

Peter’s death is not recorded in the New Testament and any information is not terribly reliable.  He is thought to have died in Rome and is buried at the Vatican.  According to the Catholic Church, the Pope that follows Peter as the leader is Linus, The Bishop of Rome, who may or may not be the person mentioned 2 Timothy 4:21. However, no credible evidence exists that the Office of Bishop of Rome has anything to do with the Holy Apostleship.  It is therefore, unclear, who, if anyone succeed Peters as the Head of the Church with the Keys of the Priesthood.

The Apostle Paul was certainly among the most prolific New Testament writers with 13 of the epistles attributed to him included in the canon of the New Testament. We also know that he was a “second generation” Apostle, having had a vision of the Savior, but not having ever been in His earthly presence.

So Christ’s teachings Paul received were basically transmitted second hand from the Apostles who knew Christ personally.

In Paul’s writings, he declared doctrine on these important issues:

a.      Men and Women must be redeemed from the fall.

b.      Justification by Faith, no longer following the Law of Moses

c.       Salvation by Grace, through the Atonement of Christ

d.      We become new creatures in Christ, our nature changed.

e.      Gifts of the Spirit

f.        Jesus Christ transcends all things

And many others.

The question is this:

Was Paul’s teaching established doctrine taught by Christ and/or authorized by the Chief Apostle after Christ’s death, or was he proclaiming new doctrine, never before taught?  And if he was doing the latter, did he possess the authority to do so?

The Christian world, including the LDS, rely very, very heavily of the writings of Paul for much of its doctrinal justification, so it is important to know whether Paul was acting under authority or just preaching his own ideas.

What do you think?

Comments 11

  1. Great post Jeff! I think it’s a great question, and one I have pondered on quite a bit as well.

    Here are my impressions.
    After reading Bart Ehrman’s “Misquoting Jesus” I have much less confidence in the scriptures attributed to Paul for several reasons:
    1. It would seem some scriptures attributed to Paul were most likely not written by Paul

    2. As I’ve written about on MM before the myriad Christian groups, both orthodox, and heretical, make it VERY difficult to determine which doctrines were really taught by Jesus. Even if you could get to the original text written by Paul, the scriptures we have are the ones selected by orthodox groups. That does not make them the correct ones, or even the most correct ones. Similarly, many of these heretical and orthodox groups got their ideas from oral tradition, from people who knew Jesus, including apostles. Which ones were right?

    3. While Paul may have received training from older Apostles, I do think there is a disconnect between what it appears Jesus taught, and what Paul taught. Not that Paul was wrong, per se, just that when I read the Pauline scriptures, it feels to me like there is a large generational, and traditional gap between the teachings. By the time Paul taught, worshiping Jesus, working toward salvation, ordinances etc. were in full swing. In other words, Paul was more like a church leader, preaching church policy/procedure. But Jesus seemed to me to be less concerned with organizing a church and preaching policy, and more concerned with teaching people how to rise about the cultural nonsense they dealt with.

    4. I have no idea how or if Paul had authority. Shoot, we don’t even know if “authority” was something they considered to be that important. It feels to me as if authority in Christianity was something that became important much later when there began to be a struggle to obtain it. In the context of your question, it seems like you are concerned with authority in the sense of being properly ordained, or authorized by a heirarchy of sorts (a patriarchal concept). But it doesn’t feel to me like Jesus was very concerned with that sort of authority. Even when challenged on his authority, he didn’t defend himself. Authority, in the 4 gospels seems more like power to perform miracles and teach (which anyone could potentially do) which Paul did. (NOTE: Perhaps a NT scholar could correct me if I’m way off base).

    Ultimately I think it’s a very interesting question, but likely serves no purpose in the modern church except to increase skepticism. I think, personally, if you accept the LDS church as the true church on earth today, that is, a restoration of the old one, I think you are best served to begin with what is in the NT, accepting it all as divinely inspired, though perhaps having some mistakes, and go from there. Furthermore, I would actually like to see more focus on The BoM, D&C, etc. That is, I think we should rely less on linking ourselves to the Bible. Our claim of being the restored church is all built around our claims of authority. For that to work, we must simply have faith in Joseph’s testimony of being given that authority. If we establish belief in that event, then I think it only makes sense to look to modern revelation and scripture to establish the more nuanced doctrines. But to try and fit our Gospel into the Bible, and claim it is the SAME one is an EXTREMELY difficult task in my book given the bzillions of interpretations on it.

  2. I will add that james was not one of the original twelve either. I don’t know if you can consider him 2nd generation or not, since james knew jesus quite well, but was not receptive to jesus message at first.

  3. I expect Paul was preaching “doctrine” in the same way some of the brethren both in the early days of the LDS church and more recently,i.e. Elder McConkie, Joseph Fielding Smith, etc. did. They had the authority as an apostle and a firm belief in the rightness of their opinions and so they taught it. Correlation is more a modern concept, IMHO.

  4. I have often reflected on Paul vs. Peter. What Paul did for Christianity is very similar to what JS did for it in 1830: he rebooted it and severed ties with many of the traditions that were becoming too cumbersome and getting in the way. They were still trying to figure out if Christianity was a Jewish sect or something new. Peter came out in the “Jewish sect” camp, and Paul said “something new.” Without Paul, Christianity could not have flourished as it did (well, that’s my belief anyway). Peter was holding it back.

    I too have read a few of Ehrman’s books that delineate why many of Paul’s writings were obviously not Paul’s, and others are of questionable authenticity. That’s helpful to know because otherwise Paul changes tone and opinions somewhat frequently.

    My view of Peter vs. Paul is also something I often think about with regards to the two major European cathedrals: St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and St. Paul’s in London. It seems appropriate to me that St. Peter’s symbolizes the ties to the past, tradition, authority, organizational power, etc., whereas (to me) St. Paul’s symbolizes what happens at the fringes: change, individual needs trumping organizational needs, new ideas, enlightenment, dare-I-say heresy. Both have their points to recommend them (clearly I have preferences). And yet, it seems that London is becoming secular at a more rapid rate than Rome. Perhaps those traditions and ties to the past serve an important purpos.

    As to Peter being buried in the Vatican, like most holy relics it’s an unproven and unprovable claim. They martyred him in that vicinity, and then 200 years later they decided to dig him up and build a church over him. I suspect it would have been as difficult as finding Marie Antoinette’s body. When they killed her, they threw her body down with others who were beheaded to signify that she was just another person because they were overthrowing the monarchy.

  5. The 7 letters of Paul written earliest and of undoubted authenticity present a much different view than the letters written later by Paul’s “school”. The latter contain significant word differences and show a more historically-evolved theology in several areas: the response to the delay in the expected second coming; the development of church offices never mentioned earlier; different relationships between Christianity and Judaism, etc. Acts also contains a significantly later view, and places Paul in closer derived-authority from the church in Jerusalem.

    But according to the “New Perspective on Paul?, focusing more intently on the undoubted seven early letters shows Paul claiming his authority as a direct bestowal from Christ as a specific calling to bring the gospel to the Gentiles so that they could be adopted into the existing and continuing (Judaic) family of God. Paul seems to go out of his way to downgrade any dealing with or authority from the original 12.

  6. Whatever authority Paul had, it’s hard to argue that the modern hierarchical organization of the Church has much in common with how the Church organization operated in former times. Not that this means it couldn’t be the same basic organization; different administrative structures might have been appropriate in a church spread across the Mediterranean vs. the more concentrated geography of early Mormonism (where there were typically one or two centers to which all believers gathered), or in the modern world where mass communications allow centralized leadership to keep a close eye on things.

  7. Good points from many people. I think FireTag has explained very well what I was trying to say in my #3. I think if we are to be believing LDS we virtually have to accept that Paul’s authority, and Christianity is true. Otherwise, we’re left with reformed Judaism, which is all that Christ appeared to be doing (reforming Judaism that is).

    As a sidenote to this discussion, I have always been perplexed by the statement in the BoM in 3 Nephi 11 near the end. Christ has come to the Nephites and has clearly laid out his doctrine. Happily, to me, it seems to coincide quite nicely with what I believe Jesus taught in the NT, that is, baptism, and the Holy Spirit, coupled with repentance, faith, etc. Then comes this condemnation in verse 40:

    And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock; but he buildeth upon a sandy foundation, and the gates of hell stand open to receive such when the floods come and the winds beat upon them.

    I can’t help but wonder if Paul, Joseph Smith, the modern LDS church (along with many others) haven’t “declared more or less than this, and established it for [His] doctrine.”

  8. Great post. Not to take things far afield, but, in addition to these questions, I have often wondered where Alma (the older) derived his authority to baptize/start a church, etc. He clearly believes he has it (he says so). From where?

  9. #9 — I’ve asked that question myself, and never gotten a satisfactory answer. One suggestion was that Alma had been validly ordained prior to King Noah’s court’s priests becoming wicked — except that Mosiah 11:5 specifically says that King Noah “put down all the priests that had been consecrated by his father, and consecrated new ones in their stead, such as were lifted up in the pride of their hearts.” Can’t imagine Noah, by then already dissolute (by virtue of whoredoms and all other manner of wickedness, including having imposed a 20% tax rate) had the authority to validly ordain anybody.

    #8 — Reminds me of Paul’s and Rudolf Bultmann’s emphasis on “Christ, and him crucified” being a sufficient foundation for faith.

  10. Is it clear that Peter was the chief apostle and head of the church? He’s only one of four or five apostles whose writings have been canonized and Acts seems to have been written to emphasize his place in the hierarchy. I remember reading something once that showed how Luke wrote in such a way that Peter in his actions mirrored Jesus. If winners of wars have the privilege of writing the history, why wouldn’t that apply in this instance? The organization of the early church was mainly deacons, elders, and bishops with the last holding the real power and authority. There doesn’t seem to be any information about replacement of members of the twelve after Matthias was chosen to take Judas’ place.

    Paul taught and stood up for what he believed and his followers perpetuated and unfortunately agumented his writings. Who knows what else was done by the others of the twelve. Maybe they didn’t have the support to keep their names and teachings alive and the whole idea of a need for a leadership above the bishop was lost. Communication between groups wasn’t all that bad but there never did seem to be any sort of central supervision and I guess I’m not sure the evidence would support that there was meant to be.

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