It is common for those of us who try to defend the biblical teaching on many matters to hear the retort: “But Jesus never mentioned homosexuality,” or “Jesus never said anything about going to church on Sunday,” etc. Of course my next instinct is to quote any number of passages in the New Testament wherein the practices in question are rather clearly condemned or commanded. But this does not seem to impress the dissenters, who wave their hands and say that Paul (or Peter, or James, or John) was not Jesus, and if it did not come from the very mouth of Jesus it is not valid.
Thus the dissenters subdivide the Word of God and conclude, in effect, that revelation ended with the Ascension of Jesus rather than with the death of the last Apostle, as the Tradition has always held. Also, they essentially deny that the same Holy Spirit who inspired Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, also inspired Paul, Peter, James, John, and Jude. St. Paul especially is excoriated by many moderns as homophobic, misogynistic, intolerant, etc. Yes, St. Paul and the other epistle writers have become for them a kind of “deuterocanonical” source at best, and a discredited source at worse.
And thus they partition the Scriptures.
The next stage of their erosion of biblical authority is already well underway, and consists of questioning even the very words of Jesus based on certain preconceived notions of what Jesus “should” be like. Thus when Jesus says pleasant things about being the Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep, or when He speaks of mercy, or when He welcomes the poor and the outcasts, etc.—this is the real Jesus. But when He warns of judgment and Hell, speaks firmly against divorce and remarriage, and insists that we will answer to Him for every idle word and secret deed, many scoff and say that this is not the “real Jesus,” or this is not the “Jesus I know.” And to every moral demand, even from the mouth of Jesus, comes the retort: “But Jesus is love,” or “That is not the Jesus I have come to know.”
Hence what we are really dealing with is a “designer Jesus”—a Jesus who meets preconceived notions of what the minimalists say love should be. The real Jesus linked love to the keeping of the commandments (e.g., Jn 14:15). But increasingly, many modern notions are simply dismissive of any demands and seem to prefer a love that is abstract. The only thing many seem to want forbidden are “mean” people, who think the commandments and traditional biblical morality are to be observed as the result of true love and grace.
But let’s return to the first erosion of biblical authority wherein many today are dismissive of the moral teachings found in the Epistles (letters) of Saints Paul, Peter, James, John, and Jude. Again they seem to assert that if it didn’t come straight from the lips of Jesus, it isn’t valid to quote even another New Testament source (let alone an Old Testament one). This bifurcating (dividing into two parts) of Scripture is to be dismissed on several levels.
First, it violates any Catholic Sense of Scripture, which sees the Holy Spirit as the true author and inspiration of every biblical text. Here are some teachings from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
- Through all the words of Sacred Scripture, God speaks only one single Word, his one Utterance in whom he expresses himself completely: You recall that one and the same Word of God extends throughout Scripture, that it is one and the same Utterance that resounds in the mouths of all the sacred writers, since he who was in the beginning God with God has no need of separate syllables; for he is not subject to time (# 102).
- God is the author of Sacred Scripture. “The divinely revealed realities, which are contained and presented in the text of Sacred Scripture, have been written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. For Holy Mother Church, relying on the faith of the apostolic age, accepts as sacred and canonical the books of the Old and the New Testaments, whole and entire, with all their parts, on the grounds that, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author, and have been handed on as such to the Church herself” (# 105).
- God inspired the human authors of the sacred books. “To compose the sacred books, God chose certain men who, all the while he employed them in this task, made full use of their own faculties and powers so that, though he acted in them and by them, it was as true authors that they consigned to writing whatever he wanted written, and no more” (# 106).
- The inspired books teach the truth. Since therefore all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures (# 107).
Therefore we should not quibble as to whether a particular teaching or moral precept is found in Paul, or James, or is said by Jesus. The Holy Spirit of Jesus and the Father speak through Jesus and His appointed apostles and evangelists. Holy Scripture is ultimately one voice, one Word, one message; inspired by one author, the Holy Spirit (albeit working through various men); conveying one message.
Second, it ought to be remembered that Jesus preached in a particular time to a people with particular issues. We should not be surprised that Jesus said nothing about either abortion or homosexuality, and only a little about fornication. The Jewish people of Jesus’ time did not widely, if ever, abort their babies; they desperately wanted children. Homosexual acts were not “celebrated.” Rather they were regarded for the disorder (the biblical word is abomination) that they are. This was not disputed among the Jews, to whom Jesus preached. Fornication was more rare, but certainly it was agreed among all that it was a serious wrong. These were just not issues that Jesus needed to address in that culture at that time.
However, as the Gospel began to spread to the Greco-Roman world, fornication, adultery, and homosexual acts were more common and less understood by the pagans for the moral evil they are. So were things like idolatry and superstition. Hence it makes sense that St. Paul and the other Epistle writers would address these more specifically than did Jesus. As we shall see, they were doing exactly what Jesus had commissioned them to do: applying what He had taught them and speaking in His name.
Third, on many occasions Jesus made it clear that he was commissioning and equipping the Apostles to speak and teach IN HIS NAME. On many occasions the Scriptures speak to this reality. Thus, when the Apostles wrote their Epistles, we are hearing Jesus, who empowered them to speak and write in His name. Let’s look at some of these texts. I supply a little commentary in plain red text.
- Very truly I tell you, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me (John 13:30). Jesus spoke this to his Apostles at the Last Supper. Hence those who read and accept Saints Paul, Peter, James, John, and Jude are in fact reading, hearing, and accepting Jesus.
- Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me (Luke 10:16). Here too is an even more serious admonition. Those who reject Saints Paul, Peter, James, John, and Jude also reject Jesus. Calling St. Paul a misogynist, homophobe, etc. is to reject Jesus and to call Him these things. For they are His appointed spokesmen. And though St. Paul entered the college of apostles “as one untimely born” (1 Cor 15:8), he is no less an apostle and is one appointed by Jesus to be “my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel” (Acts 9:15). Hence it is clear that those who dismiss St. Paul and the other Epistle writers dismiss Jesus.
- He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. “He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward” (Matt 10:40-41). In other words, the Apostles are the Lord’s prophets and we do well to heed them just as we would Jesus.
- Jesus said, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. “All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:23-26). Here too Jesus is at the Last Supper speaking to His apostles. He says clearly that anyone who loves Him will obey His teaching. Thus love and obedience to the law are linked. To disobey is to show a lack of love. Jesus then tells his Apostles (and us) that He will send the Holy Spirit to His Apostles in order to remind them of all He said and taught so that they might convey it to us authoritatively. This is another guarantee that to read the Gospels and the Epistles of the Apostles is to hear Jesus. To accept these sources is to accept Jesus; to deny and refute them is to deny and refute Jesus and his Holy Spirit, who inspired the Apostles to teach and preach authentically in his name.
- When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning. (John 15:26-27). This is another affirmation that the testimony of the Apostles is protected by Jesus and the Holy Spirit from error, and that their teaching authentically hands on what Jesus taught for our salvation.
- I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you (Jn 16:12-15). Thus not only will the Holy Spirit recall to them all that Jesus taught for our salvation, but He will also assist them in applying His teaching to what is “yet to come.” Hence the Apostles not only taught authoritatively by accurately quoting Jesus, but they also taught authoritatively by applying the wisdom of the God in which they were charismatically steeped.
- But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth (Acts 1:8). Authority and power were granted them by Jesus to be His witnesses, to be those who testified to all he said and taught, and to apply His teaching to every place and situation they encountered.
- Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Matt 28:19-20). They are commissioned to teach all that He commanded. Jesus left nothing in writing. He assigned them the task of revealing what He had taught to them and preaching it in such a way that would draw others to obey what Jesus had commanded. They began this work by preaching and then continued it by writing the Epistles and later the Gospels. In all of this, Jesus is with them unto the end of the age. To hear and read them is hear and read Jesus.
- He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:46-49). Thus the Apostles are sent as witnesses and told to preach repentance. Here too, Jesus promises once again the guarantee of the Holy Spirit, who would grant them power and authority to preach “in His name.” To hear them is to hear Jesus.
Therefore those who would like to discount the writings in Paul or the other Epistles as not being “said by Jesus,” are not heeding the clear words of Jesus Himself, who authorized these men to speak in His name and promised them the gift of Holy Spirit to be able to recall all He had said without error in their proclamation. To hear them IS to hear Jesus. There is no other reasonable conclusion. Those who would put the words of St. Paul on a lower tier than those of Jesus ignore the very words of Jesus Himself, who said of his apostles that in hearing them, we hear Him, and in rejecting them, we reject Him.
St. Paul affirms the authority of his words and those of the other Apostles as coming from the Lord:
- And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe (1 Thess 2:13).
- God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God (2 Cor 5:19-20).
- Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction of ours does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit (1 Thess 4:8).
- As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain (2 Cor 6:1).
St. Peter also says something similar:
God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible, not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. “And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead (Acts 10:40-42).
So there they are—the Apostles, anointed, appointed, and assigned to preach and speak for Jesus. To hear them is to hear Jesus.
Enough of this attempt to divide up Scripture and water down its comprehensive authority by asserting that some authors are more authoritative than others. It is true that some early legislation (e.g., kosher laws) were abrogated by later legislation in Scripture. But this is done by the same authority (God) who once required it and later, its purpose being fulfilled, abrogated it. But WE are not free to set aside what Jesus clearly taught by dismissing it on the basis that it was said by an Apostle. They speak for Jesus by His own declaration and we have no business refusing to listen to them or calling them names (e.g., homophobe, or misogynist). For in refusing to listen to them we refuse to listen to Jesus. In disrespecting them we disrespect the Lord Jesus.