“Yeah but that was Paul. I’m following Jesus.”
One of my pet peeves is to hear something like this when I’m having a conversation with someone about religion or spirituality. It usually happens that these people will frame their entire view of God and Christian belief solely through the lens of the four gospels, totally ignoring both the Old Testament and the rest of the New Testament. They justify this by saying “Yeah that was Paul not Jesus.” This is when I stare at them in wonder, because they just do not understand the logical abortion they have just committed.
First of all, let us all agree that Jesus never wrote anything (him making chicken scratches in the dirt doesn’t count). There are no copies of the “Gospel according to Jesus Christ” in the Bible. All that we know about this man called Jesus of Nazareth comes from the writings of four men whom Christian tradition identifies as Sts. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Two of these men, Matthew and John, actually were close followers of Jesus of Nazareth, and Mark may have followed him as well. St. Mark is said to have gotten his information from St. Peter the Apostle, so Mark’s gospel is really the gospel according to St. Peter. St. Luke is said to have gotten his information from eyewitnesses and people who lived during the time of Jesus. So everything that we know about Jesus actually comes to us via his Apostles and their associates.
The Apostles wrote other writings besides the gospels. St. John wrote three epistles and the book of Revelation, St. Peter wrote two epistles (yes, I believe he wrote II Peter), and St. Paul wrote thirteen epistles. We also have an epistle written by St. James, the brother of Jesus, and one unnamed epistle written to the Hebrew Christians. These writings help make up the New Testament and were all written prior to the four gospels (with the possible exception of the book of Revelation). Before there ever was a gospel written, the early Church had these letters written by the Apostles.
Now here is where the inconsistency begins. I have had discussions with people, Christians even, who seem to have no problem accepting as truth the things about Jesus from the gospels, but they seem to reject the authority of the Apostles in their own writings. If there is any perceived contradiction they will immediately throw St. Paul under the bus to side with the Jesus of the gospels. True story! The inconsistency here is that if you cannot trust what the Apostles wrote was divinely inspired by God to be authoritative teaching for the Church, how then can you trust what the Apostles said about Jesus? You cannot sir or madam! These people err when they make tiers of authority within the New Testament, placing greater weight upon the gospels and ignoring or at least minimalizing the epistles. St. Peter tells us that “all Scripture is God-breathed,” not just the gospels.
We also have to keep in mind that the word “Apostle” means ambassador. In the ancient world, the ambassador of the king held his authority wherever he went. If the ambassador of Persia came to your kingdom his word was as good as King Darius’ would have been. So the words of St. Peter and St. Paul are just as authoritative in their writings and inspired preaching as the words of Christ were, because they were his ambassadors and filled with his Spirit. Let me just sum this all up by saying that you cannot love Jesus and despise his Apostles.