Yet, it seems Christians increasingly speak with a divided voice when it comes to issues such the use of force, whether it be in self defense, “just war” theory or in the application of the death penalty. Many Christians have limited their beliefs to the words spoken by Jesus during his earthly ministry; indeed, many have reduced the Bible to Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. To them, Jesus is a pacifist who speaks of forgiving and who accepts everyone just as they are. Since Jesus never gave assent to the death penalty or to war, they reason, they could never endorse it.
What this view leaves unconsidered, of course, are those other areas of Scripture that also deal with these topics. For example, the Apostle Paul weighs in on the proper role of government, including the use of capital punishment, in his letter to the Romans: “if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it [the government] does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.” Romans 13:3-4
Passages like this don’t sit well with the modern believer. Since the passages seem to be at odds with some of Jesus’ words, many nominal believers conclude they must choose between the “two views.” So, naturally, they opt for Jesus. But such a view is ultimately self defeating, because the Bible makes clear that Jesus endorses Paul’s view. Hence, they cannot be in conflict, and Paul’s views must be considered and reconciled, and not simply rejected.
Prior to his conversion, “Saul of Tarsus” was a major persecutor of Christ’s church. He participated in the execution of Stephen which began a great persecution in Jerusalem. Acts 8. “Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.” Acts 8:3. He breathed “threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” Acts 9:1 That is, of course, until he encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus and underwent his conversion. Acts 9:3-9. That Paul’s authority is confirmed by Jesus could not be made any clearer than does the Book of Acts: “he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” Acts 9:15-16.
Of course, the followers of Jesus rightly suspected Paul: Paul “was trying to associate with the disciples; but they were afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple.” Acts 9:26. But eventually they realized that Paul’s conversion was in fact genuine and they accepted him, because Jesus had commissioned him. See eg. Acts 11, 13, 21. Paul was embraced by the leaders of the infant church and began his missionary journeys.
As Christians, we affirm that all Scripture is divinely inspired and suitable for correction and training. 2 Tim 3;16. The Book of Acts is the continuation of Luke’s gospel and has been considered Scripture from the earliest days of the church. How much sense would it make for Jesus to use Paul for inspired purposes but to get the message wrong?
So next time you debate a Christian who rejects Paul message, or believes that a choice must be made between Paul and Jesus, remind them of the history of the early Church. Like much of Scripture, understanding this divinely inspired message is not easy. Indeed, fair-minded believers may disagree as to the meaning, the extent or the modern application of a particular passage. But the Bible was never meant to be an easy read. It was not meant to be a book of phrases that we could pick and choose from as the need arose. It was, and remains, the account of God’s interaction with his creation.
Jesus selected Paul for a very specific purpose, and Paul played a central role in the development of the Church and its teachings. It is important, therefore, that we approach his writings in that way.
Posted by Al Serrato