The man Saul of Tarsus was once a terrible name to the infant Church of Christ as he was noted to carry out torture and execution at least indirectly to those who believed, preached and lived the Gospel message of Jesus the Christ. One of these persecutions of the Church led to the martyrdom of the first Christian martyr called Stephen, a man described to be “full of faith and the Holy Spirit,” (Acts 6:5).
God in His perfect wisdom found a place for this man called Saul from Tarsus in His vineyard. By the grace of God, Saul became Paul as he experienced a life changing encounter with the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ Himself on his journey to Damascus to carry out similar persecution of the Church. (cf. Acts 9) Years later after this encounter with Christ, Paul became one of the most instrumental authors and figures of the New Testament, and a man of heroic virtue and extraordinary charism (gifts).
Although St. Paul was not among the original 12 Disciples of Christ, he is acknowledged as an Apostle of Christ and compared and even paired up with St. Peter the Prince of the Apostles. Many people mistakenly think that St. Paul wrote the Acts of the Apostles because of his other excellent New Testament writings/epistles. In fact, the author of the Gospel of Luke is the same person behind the Acts of the Apostles. Those two writings were addressed to a man named Theophilus (cf. Luke 1:3 and Acts 1:1).
In our days today, just as the days of the Apostles, many people have directly or indirectly pick-and-choose what to believe and what not to believe in the Gospel. The Gospel is the heart of the whole revealed truth of God to man. It is in the Gospel that the greatest miracle ever took place which involved God becoming man through what is historically called the Incarnation. It is in the Gospel that Jesus the God-Man taught us all we need to know about God and how to be pleasing to Him. It is in the Gospel that Jesus as the Bread of Life offered Himself freely that those who believe and eat His body and drink His blood will have everlasting life. It is in the Gospel that Jesus as the Messiah suffered for our sins and died for the whole world. It is in the Gospel that Jesus Christ resurrected from the dead. It is in the Gospel that Jesus Christ ascended into Heaven and stated that He would come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. It is in the Gospel that man is reconciled with God.
Just as many people treat the King James Version translation of the Bible (KJV) as though it were the original manuscript (MSS) of the Scriptures, so sadly too, many treat parts or whole of the writings of St. Paul as though it were the Gospel of Jesus Christ, or much worst contradictory or superior to the Gospel message found in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The letters of St. Paul are supplementary but not self-sufficient and independent from the Gospel of Christ.
It is said that we should not Rob Peter to pay Paul. That is true, we should heed Peter to understand Paul and by so doing eliminate any fatal consequences. By heeding Peter, let us consider one of his letters to the Church:
“And count the forbearance of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, beware lest you be carried away with the error of lawless men and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:15-18 RSV)
I firmly believe that one needs to keep the above Scripture in mind anytime one is reading the writings of St. Paul in particular since there are some things in them hard to understand as St. Peter informs us. St. Paul also gives us some instruction which support this:
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel– not that there is another gospel, but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, If any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:6-9 RSV)
In his letter to the Church in Rome, St. Paul writes:
“I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish: so I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’” (Romans 1:14-17 RSV)
To the Church in Thessalonica, St. Paul reminds them of keeping the traditions:
“So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.” (2 Thessalonians 2:15 RSV)
Finally, St. Paul commends the Christians in Corinth for maintaining the traditions:
“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you.” (1 Corinthians 11:1-2 RSV)