In our last study, we saw the importance of Paul’s first recorded sermon in Acts 13:16-41. From a theological viewpoint, we can look at that sermon as Paul’s foundational argument for the doctrines of Christology and Soteriology. From an apologetic viewpoint, this sermon details Paul’s grounds for Faith Defense in the early years of his public ministry. We might call it the “base line” of his apologia.
Important question: did Paul’s teaching about Jesus Christ and salvation ever change from that first sermon? I don’t mean did Paul add more insight as the Holy Spirit inspired him through years of visions, dreams and other supernatural insight. I mean did Paul ever “change” his teaching about Christ and salvation? Did he later say that Jesus was not God and not the Source of forgiveness and justification?
The quick answer is, no. Paul never changed his base line teaching about Jesus. In fact, Paul wrote the churches in Galatia years after he preached in Antioch in Pisidia and said that if he or an angel from heaven preached any other Gospel to them than what he had already preached to them – “let him be accursed.” If that wasn’t enough to say once, Paul repeated it so there would be no misunderstanding about the impact it should have on his audience – “As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:8-9)
Read through the rest of Acts and you will see Paul consistently telling people across the Gentile world that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that salvation – forgiveness of sins and justification – come through Him alone. Through three major missionary journeys that covered hundreds of miles and years of hard work and tremendous opposition, Paul never veered off the straight path of his base line message about the Deity of Jesus Christ.
Paul wrote many letters to Gentile churches and leaders of the 1st Century. Did his letters to Christians differ from his public messages? Might Paul have had a secret doctrine that he taught only to believers about the Deity of Christ? Again, the quick answer is no. The reason the answer is no is because Paul was not making up doctrine as he preached and wrote. He was speaking what the Holy Spirit inspired him to say and write.
“I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 2:3-5
“Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” 1 Corinthians 2:12-13
“For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake.” 1 Thessalonians 1:5
With that fact in mind, let’s look at what Paul told Christians about the Deity of Jesus Christ.
“Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. ” Acts 20:28
“… of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.” Romans 9:5
“But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them. For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” 2 Corinthians 4:3-6
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God.” Philippians 2:5-6
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.” Colossians 1:15-17
“Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.” Colossians 2:8-10
“And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, Justified in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Preached among the Gentiles, Believed on in the world, Received up in glory.” 1 Timothy 3:16
“I urge you in the sight of God who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus who witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ’s appearing, which He will manifest in His own time, He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen.” 1 Timothy 6:13-16
“… looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” Titus 2:13
As we carefully search Paul’s life and teachings – both public and private – we see his consistent message that Jesus Christ is God manifest in flesh. That’s important to remember as we defend the Faith against those who would say otherwise.
Now, to what may be the biggest issue facing Christians defending the Faith. Did Jesus claim to be God? Atheists and agnostics, cultists and liberals often say that Jesus never claimed to be God – that the doctrine of Deity surrounding Christ was something His followers made up to make the Gospel more appealing to the superstitious masses of the 1st Century. As a former atheist, I once thought the same thing. So, did Jesus claim to be God or did His followers make it up? We’ll look at that in the next part of our study.
In Christ’s Love and Grace,
Building Confidence Through Evidence
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”