We saw in the previous study that Paul's mind was
saturated with the Lord Jesus Christ, and that this was reflected in
his familiarity with the Gospels. We saw that he alluded to them at
least once every 6 verses that he wrote- and probably far more. We saw
that his zeal to assimilate the mind of Christ is really our example.
Paul evidently memorized passages, and was so motivated by them that
his whole life decisions were planned around the implication of maybe
just one passage (e.g. " It is more blessed to give than to receive" ,
Acts 20:35; or the idea of being a watchman seems to have fired his
preaching zeal, Ez. 3:18; 18:13 cp. Acts 18:6; 20:26). Yet perhaps we
have given the impression that if we go away and memorize a Gospel
record, we will have achieved Paul's spirituality. Yet this isn't the
case. It's not merely a matter of memorizing them as lines in a play.
The principles of the words and example of the Lord Jesus really fired
Paul. when one does the same analysis of the words of the Lord Jesus,
we find Him alluding to Old Testament Scripture about 2 or 3 times in
each sentence- and that's as far as we can discern! He
appears to allude to some parts more than others- Deuteronomy, the
Psalms and Isaiah. And very significantly, these are also the parts of
the Old Testament which Paul seems to have had a preference for. This
shows just how much Paul both consciously and unconsciously absorbed
the mind of Christ.
But firstly, I'd like to make some more observations on
the tables found in our previous study. It seems to me that we are
dealing with a real phenomena here; that a man (Paul) could be so full
of the words and spirit and history of the Lord Jesus. So extraordinary
is this that I keep wondering if it really is valid. And yet the more I
analyze it, the more truth I see in it. If Paul was indeed a man whose
memory was packed with the Gospels and who constantly meditated upon
them, the following fit into place:
- There are several indications that Paul expected his
readers to understand that the majority of what he was saying was
basically a reflection of the words of the Lord Jesus. He tells Corinth
that " to the rest speak I, not the Lord" Jesus (1 Cor. 7:12). He
hasn't earlier said: Now I'm going to remind you of the words of the
Lord Jesus'. He takes it as understood that as usual, his reasoning has
been a reflection of the words of Jesus (in the context, 1 Cor. 7:11 =
Mt. 5:32; Mk. 10:9; " put asunder" is s.w. " depart" ). But now he says
that he is going to go beyond Christ's words (as in 1 Cor. 7:25). This
doesn't mean he wasn't inspired; it means that he is drawing their
attention to the fact that he is doing something unusual for him, i.e.
to give teaching which is not an allusion or repetition of that of the
Lord Jesus. My point is that the implication of this is that he
expected his readers to take as read that he normally was only
repeating the thinking of Christ. Likewise in 2 Cor. 11:17: “That
which I speak, I speak it not after the Lord” (i.e. as I normally
would). Every few verses, even according to our limited analysis, he
was making a noticeable allusion to the Gospels. When he says that he
is speaking to the Thessalonians " by (in) the word of the Lord" Jesus
(1 Thess. 4:15), this doesn't mean that what he was about to say was
more inspired than anything else. What he meant was that he was
specifically repeating the teaching of Christ (which he does through a
series of extended allusions to Mt. 24 and 25).
- Is it going too far to think that when Paul writes
about believers being sanctified and justified, in that order (1 Cor.
6:11), he reflects his absorption of how his Lord had referred to the
Father as firstly sanctified and then justified in Jn. 17:11,25?
- Paul's words of Acts 23:3 were surely said in the
heat of the moment: " God shall smite thee, thou whited wall!" . Yet
even in hot blood, not carefully thinking through his words (for this
doesn't seem the most appropriate thing to come out with!), Paul was
still unconsciously referring to the Gospels (Mt. 23:27 in this case).
- There are many such unconscious allusions in
Hebrews. This absolutely fits in with the evidence that Hebrews is the
transcript of a breaking of bread exhortation given 'off the cuff' by
Paul to the Jerusalem ecclesia (1). We
can imagine him speaking to them with the emblems before him, his mind full
of his Lord, and the allusions, both consciously and unconsciously,
would have just come bubbling out.
- " Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the
world" (1 Cor. 6:2) is referring back to Mt. 19:28, which
promises all those who have followed Christ that they will sit on
thrones of judgment. That this promise was not just to the disciples is
evident from Lk. 22:30; 1:33 cp. Rev. 3:21. It's as if Paul is saying:
'Now come on, you ought to know this, it's in the Gospels'. He expected
other believers to share his familiarity with the words of Christ.
There's another example in Rom. 6:16: " Know ye not, that to whom ye
yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are...whether of
sin...or of obedience?" . This is alluding to Mt. 6:24 concerning not
serving two masters. Paul is surely saying: 'Come on, this is Matthew
6, you can't serve two masters! That principle ought to be firmly
lodged in your heart!'. Another example is 1 Cor. 10:16 = Mt. 26:26;
hence Paul reasons: " The cup of blessing...is it not the
communion of the blood of Christ?" - i.e. 'Isn't it? I mean, this is
familiar to us from the Gospels isn't it'.
- The letters to Corinth must have been very difficult
to write. Paul was walking an absolute minefield. Therefore he
says that his attitude to Corinth was that he wanted to know nothing
among them, saving Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2); he
wanted to keep his mind fixed upon the Lord Jesus and the intensity of
His passion, rather than get sidetracked by personality issues and
ecclesial politics. And his letters reveal this. They contain many
unconscious allusions to the suffering and death of Christ. Paul refers
to Christ as " Lord" throughout all his letters about once every 26
verses on average. And yet in Corinthians he does so once every 10
verses on average. The Lordship and suffering of Jesus were therefore
very much in Paul's mind as he wrote. His Christ and cross-centred
perspective is a real example to us, living as we do at a time when the
body of Christ increasingly distracts us from the central object of our
devotion: the Son of God who died for us, and was raised again for our
- Paul's references to the Gospels suggests that he
had carefully meditated upon the passages to which he consciously
alludes. The fact and way in which he alludes rather than
quotes verbatim reflects the fact he had thought through and absorbed
the teaching of the passages rather than learning them parrot fashion.
For example, in Mt. 19:18,19 the Lord Jesus combines two quotations
from the Law: Ex. 20:12-16 followed by Lev. 19:18. Paul, in a different
context, to prove a different point, combines those same two passages,
although separating them by a brief comment (Rom. 13:9). This surely
indicates that he had meditated upon how his Lord was using the Law,
and mastered it so that he could use it himself.
- The manner in which Paul alludes to the Gospels also
indicates that this was the result of the Spirit using Paul's human
memory and absorption of the Gospels, rather than him just being used
as a Fax machine by the Spirit. Thus if you analyze the data in our
previous study, it is evident that there are groups of
allusions to the Gospels in Paul's letters. Thus there may be several
allusions in one chapter, none in the next, and then another group in
the next chapter. This is the sort of pattern one would expect from a
human memory. Sometimes 1 verse in the Gospels is alluded to by Paul in
different ways in different letters. Thus Mt. 5:16 (" let your light
shine before men" ) is applied by him to within the ecclesia (2 Cor.
9:11,13) and to among the world (1 Cor. 14:25). This has the ring of
truth about it. I often take the same verse to mean different things,
or I change my view concerning it's application. This doesn't mean Paul
wasn't inspired; it just indicates that his personal interpretation of
the Gospels was used by God.
- Paul alludes to some parts of the Gospels more than
to others. The record of John the Baptist, the sermon on the mount, the
parables and the record of Christ in Gethsemane are all referred to far
more than average. This surely would not be the case if the
connections between Paul's writings and the Gospels were only
the result of the Spirit irresistibly carrying Paul along. We have
suggested (2) that Paul's enthusiasm for the record of John the Baptist
was because he had probably first heard the Gospel from John; i.e.
there was a reason personal to Paul as to why he alludes to much to
that particular part of the Gospels. And so with his sustained
allusions to Gethsemane, far more than we would expect statistically.
Presumably the picture of the Lord Jesus struggling against His own
nature, driven to the brink of eternal failure, was an image which
echoed in Paul's mind. Likewise the parables were intended to be
memorized and meditated upon; Paul did just this, and that's why he
alludes to them more than average. This sort of pattern is just what we
too experience; there are parts of Scripture which stick in our minds,
often for personal reasons. And so it was with Paul. Mt. 11:25 was a
verse which was perhaps very much in his mind as he wrote to Corinth;
it is alluded to in 1 Cor. 1:19; 2:8; 14:20- and nowhere else. Likewise
I suggest that the words of Jesus at the judgment, inviting the
faithful into the Kingdom (Mt. 25:34), likewise rung in Paul's mind:
Acts 20:32; Gal. 3:29; 4:7; Eph. 1:11; Col. 1:12; 3:24; Tit. 3:7. Other
examples are Lk. 1:47 = 1 Tim. 1:1; 2:3; Tit. 1:3; Lk. 18:7 (" elect" )
= Rom. 8:33; Col. 3:12; 2 Tim. 2:10; Tit. 1:1; Lk. 13:32 (" perfected"
) was in his mind as he wrote to the Hebrews (2:10; 5:9; 7:28); and Mk.
10:30 = Acts 14:22; 2 Thess. 1:4,5; 2 Tim. 3:11,12; and consider how
Christ's frequent use of the word " watch" is matched by Paul's usage.
This is typical of human memory; one verse or phrase sticks in our mind
very intensely for a certain period. The same is true with any piece of
information or phrase which is sticking in our mind. On a much lower
level, I go through phases of saying " I guess..." rather than "
I suppose that...." after I've been in the company of Americans.
- The fact we copy the language patterns of those we
are with was true for Paul. The Gospels were so much in his heart that
he can hardly speak or write without some reference, consciously or
unconsciously, to the Lord Jesus. Thus in 1 Cor. 13:2 I sense that Paul
as he is writing (on a human level) was looking round for a superlative
to express just how useless we are without love. And the superlative
expression he picks is unconsciously taken out of the Gospels (Mt.
17:20): " Though I have all faith so that I could remove mountains
and have not charity, I am nothing" .
- It is significant that Paul in Acts and the earlier
letters seems to allude more heavily to the records of Christ's
sufferings and resurrection than he did later (1). His trend is towards
alluding to the parables more. This again is an indication that Paul's
writing was in the first instance an outpouring of his own absorption
of the Lord Jesus, albeit confirmed by the Spirit.
- Paul's description of Christ 'ascending up far
above all heavens' (Eph. 4:10) seems to be rooted in his vivid
re-living and imagining of the scene in Lk. 24:51, where the record
says that Christ was " parted from them, and carried up" . This would
be typical of human use of the Gospels.
- Likewise one phrase of Paul's, in Acts 13:46,
combines allusions to two verses in Matthew (21:41; 22:8). Those verses
are close to each other. As Paul thought about 21:41, he would have
gone on to 22:8, and then brought them both together in his allusion-
ultimately controlled by the Spirit, of course.
- A nice insight into the intensity with which Paul
meditated is provided by his comment on Mt. 27:11-14, where we read
that Jesus before Pilate said just one word in Greek; translated " Thou
sayest" . It is stressed there that Jesus said nothing else, so that
Pilate marvelled at His silent self-control. Yet Paul speaks with pride
of how the Lord Jesus " before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good
confession" (1 Tim. 6:13). You'd expect him to be alluding to some
major speech of Jesus. But it seems, reading his spirit, Paul's saying:
'Lord Jesus, your self control, your strength of purpose, was great. I
salute you, I hold you up to Timothy as the supreme example. Just one
word. What a witness!'.
- The influence of the Gospel records upon Paul is
evident by his allusions to Christ's teachings in ways which do not
rely upon mere verbal similarity of allusion. Thus when he tells the
Corinthians that he had delayed coming to them because he wanted to
spare them, in allowing them time for repentance and spiritual growth
(2 Cor. 1:23), he surely has in mind the implications (rather than any
specific verbal statement from the Lord Jesus) that the Lord's return
likewise will be delayed for the sake of our repentance and spiritual
An analysis of Paul's allusions to the Gospels reveals
that there were some parts to which he alluded far more than others. I
want now to consider how he uses these sections.