Reformed Baptist Fellowship

Paul, the greatest expounder of Christianity?

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on April 2, 2013 at 8:38 am

Paul the Apostle

The Apostle Paul is, by common consent, the theologian of the writers of the New Testament. Geerhardus Vos claimed that Paul’s was “the greatest constructive mind ever at work on the data of Christianity.”[1] Thomas D. Bernard calls Paul “the great doctor of the Church.”[2]  Bernard sees this distinction between the writings of the other apostles and Paul’s:

If the others were the Apostles of the manifestation of Christ, [Paul] was the Apostle of its results; and, in the fact of passing under his teaching, we have sufficient warning that we are advancing from the lessons which the life, and the character, and the words of Jesus gave, into the distinct exposition of the redemption, the reconciliation, the salvation which result from his appearing. In this way it was provided that the two correlative kinds of teaching, which the Church received at the first, should be left to the Church forever in the distinctness of their respective developments; for this distinctness of development in the second kind of teaching is both announced and secured by its being confided to St. Paul.[3]

Paul’s writings bring Christian doctrine to its fullness and maturity. He was given the ability, like no other human author of Scripture, to apply the redemptive-historical accomplishments of Christ to the conditions and circumstances of first century Christianity. Paul’s epistles have a unique vocabulary. It is the vocabulary of the application of accomplished redemption. It is “in Christ” theology brought to the contingencies Paul’s converts faced. What Edward M. Blaiklock says of the entire corpus of the New Testament epistles applies in a unique way to Paul’s:

The letters of the NT form the corpus of Christianity’s theology, its Christology, its evangel, the nature of the church, the state of man, the plan of salvation, the integration of the Testaments, and Christian eschatology.[4]

The Gospels contain the facts of redemption accomplished–the life, death, and resurrection of Christ (i.e., his sufferings and glory); the Epistles, and especially Paul’s, contain the implications, consequences, and applications of redemption accomplished. Paul is the greatest expounder of the Christian gospel of justification by faith alone and of the wonderfully glorious Christ-centered, resurrection-dependent eschatological hope. This hope is dependent upon Christ’s resurrection as the first fruits of a great resurrection-harvest to come. The Holy Spirit is the pledge and down-payment that assures believers that what God did to the Messiah in his resurrection, he will do to all those in Jesus when he comes in glory. What God began to do in the life-history of every believer, he will complete when Jesus comes. It is in Paul’s epistles that these glorious redemptive realities are expounded and Christianity comes to revelational-theological maturity.

Richard Barcellos
Grace Reformed Baptist Church
Palmdale, CA

[1] Geerhardus Vos, The Pauline Eschatology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1930, Reprinted 1991), 149.

[2] Thomas Dehany Bernard, The Progress of Doctrine in the New Testament (New York: American Tract Society, n.d.), 155.

[3] Bernard, Progress of Doctrine, 155.

[4] Edward M. Blaiklock, “The Epistolary Literature” in Frank E. Gaebelein, Editor, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume I (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1979), 552.

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  1. Excellent observations here, Rich. One question, though. Given the absolute nature of these words: He was given the ability, like no other human author of Scripture, to apply the redemptive-historical accomplishments of Christ to the conditions and circumstances of first century Christianity. – does this require or presume the Pauline theory of Hebrews authorship?

  2. Personally, I think he wrote Hebrews. I am not sure how others who have said the same thing about Paul’s theological status, though denying Pauline authorship of Hebrews, have replied to your question. I suppose they would say something like, “No. Though Hebrews assumes a keen theological author, Paul’s letters cover a wider swath of issues.”

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