14-7-10 Connections Between The Gospels And Epistles:
The majority of the pressures in Paul's life came from within the
ecclesia. His life was based amongst the ecclesias; thus to him
" all men" were the believers, not the world as a whole
(Mk. 9:50 = Rom. 12:18). There is good reason to think that much
of his persecution was the result of a group of Jewish infiltrators
within the ecclesias, false brethren who organized a network of
sabotage of Paul's work throughout the Roman world (1).
And on top of these more physical problems, Paul identified his
biggest pressure as " the care of all the churches" which
he said 'came upon (Gk. to throng / mob) (him) daily' (2 Cor.
11:28)- as if he woke up each morning and had these anxieties thronging
his mind. As ever, Paul found comfort in all this in the Gospels.
It is evident that he read many passages as applicable to ecclesial
situations, whereas we would tend to apply them to the world. Consider
the following examples:
- Christ's words about winning men Paul applied to winning ecclesial
members round to a more spiritual and committed way of life (Mt.
18:15 = 1 Cor. 9:19-22).
- The rich fool was not read by Paul as referring to some Hollywood
millionaire; he saw that character as being in the ecclesia (Mt.
19:21 = 1 Tim. 6:17-19).
- He read the prophecy of deceivers arising in the last days
as referring to deceivers arising within the ecclesia, i.e. people
who were already baptized, consciously deceiving the majority
of the ecclesia. He repeats this conviction at least three times
(Mt. 24:4 = Eph. 5:6; Col. 2:8; 2 Thess. 2:3). All I can say is
that if we are truly in the last days, this is or will be the
case amongst us now- no matter how hard we (quite rightly) attempt
to stop the rot.
- The parable of the boozy house-keeper doesn't apply to this
world, lost as it is in a comfortable alcoholic numbness to reality.
According to Paul's use of it throughout 1 Thess. 5, it's a prophecy
(not just a possible warning) of the state of the eldership of
the latter day ecclesia.
- The idea of not resisting evil and offering the other cheek
(Mt. 5:39) we normally apply to suffering loss from the world
without fighting for our rights. Yet Paul took this as referring
to the need to not retaliate to the harmful things done to us
by members of the ecclesia (Rom. 12:16,17; 1 Cor. 6:7; 1
Thess. 5:15). Likewise the command to forgive our debtors when
we pray (Mt. 6:14) is applied by Paul to the need to forgive
those who sin against us in the ecclesia (Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13).
Paul evidently expected believers to have a pretty rough ecclesial
life. Perhaps we ought to warn new converts about this; for all
too many have joined us with high expectations, only to become
bitterly disillusioned after a few years by the behaviour within
- Paul sees one application of serving mammon as acting in a
hypocritical way in order to please some in the ecclesia (Mt.
6:24 = Gal. 1:10).
- Being ashamed of Christ's words doesn't just apply to not speaking
up for the Truth when someone invites us to a topless bar after
work. It's equally true, and the punishment for it just the same,
in the context of not speaking out Christ's word in the ecclesia,
to our very own brethren (Mk. 8:38 = 2 Tim. 1:8).
- Giving a cup of cold water to the little ones had nothing to
do, as far as Paul was concerned, with sticking £20 in a collection
for Oxfam. He took it as referring to our love for Christ's little
ones, within the ecclesia (Mt. 10:42 = Heb. 6:10). And the context
in the Gospels says the same.
For me, many of the above allusions revealed unexpected interpretations.
Paul read the Gospels in a rather different way to how I do- doubtless
because he was far more familiar with them, in every sense. Likewise
some of his Old Testament interpretations I don't think I would
ever have come to. What he sees implied in the few Old Testament
references to Melchizedek, or the five different interpretations
he gives Psalm 2 and Psalm 110, all make sense to me when I read
them in his letters. But I doubt I would ever have come across them
just reading the Old Testament once a year with the Bible Companion.
The Biblical activity within Paul's mind was just phenomenal. He
not only read. He must have almost constantly meditated as he made
his tents, and as he walked, rode and sailed those endless miles.
He was spiritually minded in the extreme. And thus he attained the
mind of Christ.
I'd like to conclude with a few more examples of unexpected insights
which the connections between Gospels and epistles give us to both
passages in the Gospels and also his own writings:
- " Take heed to yourselves; if thy brother trespass...forgive
him" (Lk. 17:3) is alluded to in Acts 20:28, where Paul says
we should take heed of the likelihood of false teachers.
Surely what he's saying is 'Yes, take heed to forgive your brother
personal offences, take heed because you'll be tempted not
to forgive him; but have the same level of watchfulness for
- The " times of the Gentiles" (Lk. 21:24) appears
to refer to the time of Gentile opportunity to learn the Gospel,
according to how Paul alludes to it in Rom. 11:25.
- Christ " shall baptize you " plural (Mt.
3:11) was deeply meditated upon by Paul, until he came to see
in the fact that we plural are baptized the strong implication
that therefore we should be one body, without unnecessary divisions
(= 1 Cor. 12:13).
- Paul saw Mt. 5:29, 30 in a sexual context (= Col. 3:5); which
fits the context of Mt. 5:28.
- We are " perfect" in the sense of Mt. 5:48 if we
truly, seriously forgive each other (= Eph. 4;32; 5:1).
- The command to have salt and therefore peace with each other
(Mk. 9:50) is fulfilled, Paul saw, by watching our words (= Col.
- The connection between Rom. 14:12 and Mt. 12:36 suggests that
Paul recognized that we all speak idle words which we will have
to give account of at judgment. Therefore, because of our rampant
tongue, we will stand in deep need of grace. So therefore, Paul
says, you'd better be soft on your brother now, in this
- The Lord had warned His followers to “despise not” the ‘little
ones’ (Mt. 18:10). Paul picks up this phrase in 1 Tim. 6:2 in
warning servants not to despise their masters who were brethren;
the implication that they were to treat those wealthy but perhaps
not very spiritually mature masters as ‘little ones’, with all
the patience this would require.
- The things which God has prepared for those who love Him, things
which the natural eye has not seen but which are revealed
unto us by the Spirit, relate to our redemption in Christ, rather
than the wonders of the future political Kingdom (because Mt.
13:11; 16:17 = 1 Cor. 2:9,10). The context of 1 Cor. 2 and the
allusions to Isaiah there demand the same interpretation.
- Confessing Christ before men applies to baptism, not just bucking
up the courage to give someone a leaflet at work (Mt. 10:32 =
- The binding of the strong man in the parable was done by the
death of Christ. One of the spoils we have taken from his house
is the fact we don't need to keep the Mosaic Law (Mt. 12:29 =
- The very fact Christ calls us brethren in Mt. 12:50 Paul saw
as proof of Christ's humanity (= Heb. 2:11). Paul really did meditate
on every word of his Lord. Thus he says he was persuaded
by the Lord Jesus that all foods were clean- this is how he took
the Lord's teaching in Mk. 7. Those words lived to Paul,
they were as the personal persuasion of his Lord.
- Christ's transfiguration was a cameo of the change that should
be apparent deep within us (Rom. 12:20 = Mt. 17:2 Gk.).
- Give yourselves to prayer and fasting with the passion and
intensity required to perform a miracle (Mt. 17:21 = 1 Cor. 7:5).
- Trinitarians please note that Phil. 2 was written by Paul with
his mind on the death not birth of Christ, as their false theology
requires (Phil. 2:7 = Mt. 10:28; and note the connections with
- The principles of Mt. 18:16,17 concerning dealing with personal
offences are applied by Paul to dealing with moral and doctrinal
problems at Corinth (= 2 Cor. 13:1; 1 Cor. 5:4,5,9; 6:1-6).
- The idea of the materialistic steward of the house smiting
the fellowservant (Mt. 24:49) is referred to by Paul (in the Greek
text) in 1 Cor. 8:12, concerning wounding the conscience
of weak brethren. Paul's vision of the latter day ecclesia was
therefore that materialistic elders would act with no thought
as to their effect on the consciences of the flock, and thereby
many would stumble.
- Paul saw the breaking of bread prefigured in Christ's feeding
of the 4000 (Mt. 15:36 = 1 Cor. 11:24).
- At the breaking of bread, it's as if Christ is sprinkling us
with His blood, it's as if we are Israel assembled together, re-entering
the covenant each time we break bread. No wonder we are asked
to assemble ourselves together (as far as possible) to remember
Christ (Mt. 26:28 = Heb. 9:20). We have elsewhere made the point
that Hebrews is full of appropriate material for a breaking of
bread exhortation, which we believe it to have originally been.
One final point. There can be no doubt that Paul struggled with
all his might to take on the mind of Christ, to let Christ live
within him. God seems to have shown His recognition of the extent
to which Paul achieved this by over-ruling Paul's life so that it
had so many parallels with the life of Christ (2),
parallels which Paul could never have engineered himself. He did
the same with Paul and John the Baptist and with Paul and Peter.
And the way in which God has recorded Paul's life in Acts is done
in such a way as to show the similarities between him and Christ;
thus the Spirit records that men " laid hands on" Paul
(Acts 21:27), just as it does concerning the Lord Jesus (Mt. 26:50).
Note too that the record of Paul's shipwreck is described in language
which clearly reflects the LXX description of Jonah's sea voyage
(e.g. Acts 27:18 = Jonah 1:5); to suggest that like Jonah, Paul
was also fellowshipping the cross. My point is quite simply this:
Paul made a supreme effort to fellowship the Lord Jesus, to absorb
the spirit of Christ deeply into his own mind. God confirmed him
in his efforts, by working in his life to give him circumstances
which recalled the experiences of Christ, and which thereby encouraged
him to do this even more successfully. And our God will do just
the same for us, in our efforts to absorb our Lord, to eat that
Passover lamb completely. What we now do, as this bread and wine
become part of us, is to physically symbolize our commitment to
making this effort, and therefore looking forward to God's help.
For I am convinced that this is the thing God would most wish us
to do: to vow, to really strive, to assimilate the spirit of His
Paul wasn't unique in this. Peter, James and John (the other New
Testament authors) show a similar saturation with the Lord's words
and work and person. Take a few examples from James(3):
(JESUS) Matt 7.7,11: Ask, and it shall be given to
you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be
opened to you. 8 " For everyone who asks receives, and he
who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it shall be opened. 9 "
Or what man is there among you, when his son shall ask him for
a loaf, will give him a stone? 10 " Or if he shall ask for
a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? 11 " If you
then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children,
how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give
what is good to those who ask Him!
(JAMES) Jas 1.5,17: " But if any of you lacks wisdom,
let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously
and without reproach, and it will be given to him...Every good
thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above,
coming down from the Father of lights"
(JESUS) Matt 21.21: " And Jesus answered and said to
them, " Truly I say to you, if you have faith, and
do not doubt, you shall not only do what was done to
the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, 'Be taken
up and cast into the sea,' it shall happen. 22 " And all
things you ask in prayer, believing, you shall
(JAMES) Jas 1.6: " But let him ask in faith
without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like
the surf of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For let not
that man expect that he will receive anything from the Lord
(JESUS) Matt 7.21f: " Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord,
Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does
the will of My Father who is in heaven. 22 " Many will say
to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name,
and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many
miracles?' 23 " And then I will declare to them, 'I never
knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.'
(JAMES) Jas 1.22-23: " But prove yourselves doers
of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.
23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is
like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror;
(JESUS) Matt 7.1: " Do not judge lest you be
judged. 2 " For in the way you judge, you will be
judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to
(JAMES) Jas 4.12: " There is only one Lawgiver and Judge,
the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are
you who judge your neighbor?
(JESUS) Matt 5.34-37: " But I say to you, make
no oath at all, either by heaven, for
it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth,
for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is
the city of the great King. 36 " Nor shall you make an oath
by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37
" But let your statement be, 'Yes, yes' or 'No, no'; and
anything beyond these is of evil.
(JAMES) Jas 5.12: " But above all, my brethren, do
not swear, either by heaven or by earth
or with any other oath; but let your yes be yes, and your no,
no; so that you may not fall under judgment.
(1) See H.A. Whittaker, 'The Jewish
Plot', in Studies In The Acts Of The Apostles and
D.H. 'The Jewish Satan' in In Search Of Satan.
(2) These are listed in a number
of commentaries on Paul. The most extensive list I know is in H.A.Whittaker,
Studies In The Acts Of The Apostles (Cannock: Biblia, 1996).
(3) Parallels taken from Bruce
Chilton and Craig Evans, eds, Studying the Historical Jesus:
Evaluations of the State of Current Research (Leiden: Brill:
1994), p. 177. I'd observe though that James is more vague in his
allusions; Paul is very precise and tends to be more verbatim- as
we'd expect of a Rabbinically trained mind.