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The Christ that Paul Preached

 


 

The Apostle Paul was passionate about the Christ that he preached. He understood that he was a “bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God” (Rom. 1:1). Paul had a distinct and interesting style of writing. He wrote in conversational Koinē Greek, unlike the highly polished literary style[1] of James, Jude, and the author of Hebrews, but yet not in “vulgar” (or simple) Greek as with apostle’s John and Mark. Unquestionably, Paul was utterly fearless in his proclamation of the gospel and his pointed refutations against the growing false doctrines of the day (e.g., Acts 17:2-3, 16-17; Phil. 1:7, 16; 2 Tim. 3:16; Titus 1:9, 13; etc.). However, Paul’s chief focus and passion was the Person and nature of God the Son, Jesus Christ and His cross-work—justification through faith alone. Virtually every one of his Epistles was written primarily to affirm and defend the nature of God (esp. the deity of Christ and His infallible cross-work) and refute a particular false teaching.[2]

 

Before exploring the Christ that Paul preached, consider some distinct characteristics within Paul’s writings. First, all of his Epistles were marked with his Salutation: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (e.g., Gal. 1:3). Note that Paul does not say that the grace and peace flow from God the Father “through” Jesus Christ, but rather the grace and the peace flow equally from (Gk. apo) both God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Second, when Paul calls Jesus “Lord,” he is calling Him LORD (kurios) in the most complete sense that the term can be ascribed. The terms “Lord” (kurios) and “God” (theos) were equal descriptions of deity in the mind of Paul.

 

For the Septuagint (LXX; i.e., the Gk. trans. of the OT) translates the Tetragrammaton (YHWH) as kurios (“Lord”). Hence, the Christ that Paul preached was fully God, that is, the Yahweh of the Old Testament.[3]

 

 

 

I. The Christ that Paul preached

was God in the same sense as God the Father:

 

In Philippians 2:6, Jesus is said to be “existing/subsisting in the nature of God.”[4] In Titus 2:13, Paul calls Jesus “the great God and Savior” (cf. 2 Pet. 1:1). Writing against the flesh-denying Gnostics, in Colossians 2:9, Paul categorically affirms the full deity of Jesus Christ: “For in Him all the fullness of Deity [theotētos] dwells in bodily form” (NASB). The lexical[5] meaning of the term theotētos (“Deity”) is well attested by recognized Greek lexicographers and scholars, e.g., Thayer: "the state of being God”; Trench: “all the fullness of absolute Godhead . . . He was, and is, absolute and perfect God”; Bengal: “not merely [to] the Divine attributes, but [to] the Divine Nature itself”; Reformed Theologian Robert Reymond: “the being of the very essence of deity”; B. B. Warfield: “the very deity of God, that which makes God God, in all its completeness.” So strong is the meaning of theotētos (“Godhead”; KJV, NKJV) that the Bible of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the New World Translation, translated it as, “divine quality,” rather than its lexical meaning to avoid, to be sure, Paul’s intended meaning: Jesus was fully God in human flesh.

 

In the entire Pauline corpus, the apostle taught implicitly and explicitly the full deity of Jesus Christ. This was his “teaching priority” (e.g., Rom. 9:5; 10:13; 1 Cor. 2 Cor. 2:8; Phil. 2:6-11; 2 Col. 2:9; 2 Thess. 1:12; 1 Tim 3:16; Titus 2:13). Perhaps Paul’s high Christology was due to the definitive words of Christ Jesus, which may have rung continuously in his mind: "For if you should not believe that I Am, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24; trans. mine).[6]

 

 

 

 

 

II. The Christ that Paul preached was fully God distinct from the

Father and the Holy Spirit:

 

In Paul’s mind, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are three co-equal, distinct Persons or Selves. This is seen in his Salutations[7] also in passages such as Ephesians 2:18 and especially 2 Corinthians 13:14: “The grace of the [tou] Lord Jesus Christ, and [kai] the love of God [tou theou, “the God”], and [kai] the fellowship of the [tou] Holy Spirit be with you all.” Grammatically, the three Persons are distinguished from each other by the repetition of the article (tou, “the”) and conjunction (kai, “and”).[8]

 

 

 

 

III. The Christ that Paul preached

 was the two-natured-Person—God-man:

 

The Incarnation (i.e., God becoming flesh; cf. John 1:14) was a part of Paul’s gospel (e.g., 1 Cor. 2:8[9]; Rom. 1:1-4; Gal. 4:4; Phil. 2:6-11; esp. 2 Tim. 2:8). Further, as with the Apostle John in 1 John 4:2; 2 John 7, Paul teaches that presently Jesus is God-man (e.g., Acts 17:31; 1 Tim. 2:5).

 

 

 

IV. The Christ that Paul preached

was the Creator of all things:

 

As in John 1:3, Paul presents Christ as the Agent of creation. This is especially brought out in Colossians 1:16-17:For by Him all things were created . . . all things have been created through Him and for Him.  He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (cf. 1 Cor. 8:6).

 

 

 

 

V. The Christ that Paul preached

redeemed us through His physical death:

 

Having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him. . . . yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach (Col. 1:20, 22; cf. also Rom. 5:7-10; Eph. 1:7).

 

 

 

 

VI. The Christ that Paul preached

was the substitutionary atonement for believers:

 

Substitutionary Atonement simply means that Christ died on behalf of the ones that are justified (cf. Isa. 53:11; Mark 10:45; Rom. 5:7-10; 8:32; 2 Cor. 5:14; Gal. 3:13; 1 Pet. 3:18). Because man is dead (cf. John 8:34, 36; Rom. 3:10-18; Eph. 2:5) man has no ability to hear, come to, submit, or please God (cf. John 6:44; 8:47; Rom. 8:7-8). Thus, only God alone can regenerate, “make alive” the dead sinner, which then causes him to walk in the ways of the Lord. He becomes a new species in Christ, born again, with a new heart (cf. Ezek. 36-36-37; John 1:13; 2 Cor. 5:17-21; 1 Pet. 1:2-4). By His death, we are declared righteousness: The Christ that Paul preached was delivered up for us (huper)—in our place (cf. Mark 10:45; 1 Tim. 2:5-6).

 

Faith, repentance, and the ability to believe are granted by God: e.g., John 6:37-40, 44; Acts 5:31; Eph. 2:8; Phil. 1:29; 2 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 1:9; 2 Pet. 1:1.

 

The Christ that Paul preached saves infallibly,—for salvation is through Him alone (cf. Rom. 10:9; 1 Cor. 1:30; Eph. 2:18).

 

 

 

 

 

 

VII. The Christ that Paul preached

was physically resurrected:

 

In 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, Paul defines his gospel, which he includes the physical resurrection: “For I delivered to you as of first importance . . . that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures”—it was a *physical* resurrection (cf. John 2:19-21).

 

For this is the Christ that Paul preached, who was the Yahweh of the Old Testament, Creator of all things. For the Christ that Paul preached became flesh, thus, the two-natured Person—perfect God and perfect man. The Christ that Paul preached IS the actual substitutionary atonement for us, His elect; He died the death that we deserved—on our behalf. And this Christ was resurrected to life. This is the Christ of biblical revelation, the Christ that Paul preached, the Christ who is coming back again!

 

 


NOTES


[1] The Pastoral Epistles, however, were written in literary Greek, which has caused some to question its authorship.

[2] For example, in both Romans and Galatians, Paul provides a refutation to the false faith + works theology of the Judaizers. In Colossians, he provides a sharp refutation to the flesh-denying Gnostics (as with John in 1 & 2 John). And he provides a positive affirmation that (a) Jesus Christ is the Creator of all things (cf. 1:16-17), (b) He is fully God (cf. 2:9), and (c) that through His death and bodily sacrifice “we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (1:14, cf. vv. 20, 22).

[3] There are many places where a NT author quotes an OT passage referring to Yahweh, yet applies it to the Son, which clearly shows that the Son is Yahweh; e.g., compare Heb. 1:10 with Ps. 105:25; Rom. 10:13 with Joel 2:32; John 12:41 with Isa. 6:8; Phil. 2:10-11 with Isa. 45:23; etc.

[4] The Greek reads: en morphē theou huparchōn, lit., “in nature of God existing.” First, the term morphē (“form”/“nature”) denotes the specific qualities or essential attributes of something. The term huparchōn (“existing”) is a present active participle, which indicates a continuous existence or continually subsisting. Thus, Jesus Christ is continuously existing in the nature of God. That one denies that the Son was truly the morphē of God would be to deny that the Son was truly the morphē of man as verse 7 indicates: “He emptied Himself, taking the form [morphē] of a bond servant” (cf. 2 Cor. 8:9).

[5] The lexical definition of a term is simply the dictionary definition, thus, the meaning in its original significance.

[6] Ean gar mē pisteusēte hoti egō eimi apothaneisthe en tais hamartiais humōn (cf. also John 8:28, 58; 13:19; 18:5, 6, 8).

[7] In the Greek, Paul’s Salutations contain no articles (ho, “the”) before “God” and “Lord.” Hence according to the rules of Greek grammar (viz. Sharp #5; see n. 8 below), “God” and “Lord” are presented as two distinct Persons.

[8] This grammatical rule is known as Granville Sharp’s Greek rule #6, which generally states: When multiple personal nouns in a clause are each preceded by the article ho (“the”) and linked by kai (“and”) each personal noun denotes a distinct person (cf. Matt. 28:19; 1 Thess. 3:11; 1 John 1:3; 2:22-23; Rev. 5:13).

[9] Here Paul calls Christ “the Lord of Glory” a phrase that signifies both His deity (Ps. 24:7-10 calls Yahweh, “the King of glory”) and His humanity (only man can be crucified: “for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory”).