“A most astonishing misconception has long dominated the modern mind on the subject of St. Paul.  It is to this effect: that Jesus preached a kindly and simple religion (found in the gospels) and that St. Paul afterwards corrupted it into a cruel and complicated religion (found in the epistles).  This is really quite untenable.  All the most terrifying texts came from the mouth of our Lord; all the texts on which we can base such warrant as we have for hoping that all men will be saved come from St. Paul.  If it could be proved that St. Paul altered the teaching of his Master in any way, he altered it in exactly the opposite way to that which is popularly supposed. . . .

The ordinary popular conception has put everything upside down.  Nor is the cause far to seek.  In the earlier history of every rebellion there is a stage at which you do not yet attack the King in person.  You say, ‘The King is all right.  It is his Ministers who are wrong.  They misrepresent him and corrupt all his plans — which, I’m sure, are good plans if only the Ministers would let them take effect.’  And the first victory consists in beheading a few Ministers; only at a later stage do you go on and behead the King himself.  In the same way, the nineteenth-century attack on St. Paul was really only a stage in the revolt against Christ.  Men were not ready in large numbers to attack Christ himself.  They made the normal first move — that of attacking one of his principal ministers. . . . St. Paul was impeached and banished and the world went on to the next step — the attack on the King himself.”

C. S. Lewis, in J. B. Phillips, Letters to Young Churches (London, 1955), pages ix-x.

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2 thoughts on “Jesus and Paul”

  1. This is helpful, Ray. I confess I’ve had the very thoughts Lewis describes, but as I study the gospels, I see it’s Jesus who says the hardest things to believe.

    I love what Lewis says in Reflections on the Psalms, “[Jesus] hardly ever gave a straight answer to a straight question. He will not be, in the way we want, ‘pinned down.’ … Systems cannot keep up with that darting illumination. No net less wide than a man’s whole heart, nor less fine of mesh than love, will hold the sacred Fish” (p. 189, 192).

    1. Ray Ortlund says:

      Thanks, Jennifer.

      My dad once commented that everything man-made will let us down, including ecclesiastical systems and even theological systems. At the time, I doubted him. But I was wrong. He was right.

      If we put our trust in the Lord himself, and him alone, we are safe.

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Ray Ortlund


Ray Ortlund is senior pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and serves as a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.

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