Jesus vs. Paul

While wandering around some blogsites recently I ran into Efremsmith.com where Rev. Smith was  giving his views on Women in Ministry. What disturbed me wasn't just that he came out on the wrong side of the issue biblically, but that he did so by pitting Jesus against Paul. Here's his thought:

"I believe the bible is authoritative and central for living. Within this belief, I believe the works of God, which includes the works of Jesus, should speak louder than the words of Paul. I don’t in anyway negate the words of Paul or them being from God, but these word (sic) of Paul are put in its proper context when put up against and compared to the works and words of Jesus. Why is this important? Because Jesus is God and Paul is not. God speaks higher than God’s servants and God speaks thru God’s servants simultaneously. This understanding is important in dealing with the issue of women in ministry." (Women in Ministry blog, August 31, 2010.)

Smith is President and CEO of World Impact, and formerly a pastor and regional leader in the Evangelical Covenant Church. He is a widely sought-after speaker, and certainly should know better than to build a view - even partially - on such a deficient understanding of the nature of Scripture.

First, he appears not to understand that the words of Jesus we have in the Gospels were also written down by human authors, just like Paul. We have nothing that Jesus actually wrote. We take the writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as fully trustworthy, inerrant, and infallible because we believe in what theologians refer to as the "dual authorship" of Scripture. All scripture finds its creative source in the breath of God, even as he used human authors to write what he originated. 

Second, he must have forgotten, or never believed, that all the human authors were divinely superintended by God the Spirit so that what they wrote, using their own ideas and vocabulary, turned out to be a "one for one" with what God had "breathed out." There are no grounds to suggest that the authority of the words of Jesus written by the Gospel writers carry more divine authority than those in the Epistles. God authored them all.

Third, it is to the writings of Paul and Peter that we turn when we argue for the divine origin of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16,17) and the Spirit's superintendency of the inscripturation process (2 Peter 1:19-21). This means our insistence on the full reliability of the words of Jesus written in the Gospels, and their inherent authority, is based partially, but importantly, on the writings of Peter and Paul. If their writings are of some lesser authority, then the whole idea of the inspiration and authority of Scripture is on slippery ground. 

Given all this, it is impossible to hold that the words of Jesus in the Gospels carry more weight than the words of Paul and the other biblical authors simply because God authored them all, and the Spirit superintended the writing of them all. All the words of the Bible have God as their origin. The Scripture - all of it! - is God speaking. 

What Rev. Smith does here seems small at first. Yet, it is his kind of thinking that allows many to re-imagine the truth of Scripture in ways that are more convenient today, and certainly more attractive to a culture that is moving away from biblical values. The issue of women in ministry is now recognized as the onramp to more radical re-interpretations of Scripture that allow things like cohabitation and homosexuality to be accepted and even considered biblically aligned. The hermeneutic used to affirm female pastors leaves no defense against the inclusion of other unbiblical positions. To believe that Jesus and the Apostles supported the ordination of women to pastoral positions in the church you have to re-interpret the clear statements of Scripture according to a post-modern rubric.

One such rubric is the idea that you can pit Jesus over against Paul. But in order to do so you have to reject the dual-authorship of Scripture, the full inspiration of Pauline authored canonical material, and posit that the words of Jesus are more infallible and inerrant and authoritative than are the "God-breathed-out" scriptural writings of the Apostles. Not only is this theologically uninformed, it is also dangerous. When you start down that road you'll be seeing biblical fidelity in your rear view mirror. Even worse, those who are counting on you to be a faithful guide, teaching the whole counsel of God, will be imperiled by the very leadership they are trusting to lead them in the paths of truth, to the glory of God. 

We must never manipulate Scripture to support our own opinions. Rather, we must derive our opinions from the biblical text, and live them courageously and winsomely so that, in all things, God may be glorified and his church strengthened.