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Paul's Unorthodox & Contradictory Statements About Christ 

 

Paul defends a pre-existent being who has the form and image of God, who had an "equality with God" (more on that in a moment), who himself was a created being (Col. 1:15) but who created everything else. 

Paul has been shoe-horned into defending Trinitarianism but the above notion does not fit Trinitarianism. 

Interestingly, Anthony Buzzard, a Unitarian minister who trusts Paul as an inspired voice, but believes Jesus was not Himself pre-existent to His birth, was forced to admit the problem of Paul. In the quotes below, Buzzard says Paul is very hard to understand, and even seems contradictory. Buzzard clearly says that consequently we need to place Paul inferior to Jesus to know the truth about Jesus' nature, or about salvation, or about doctrine in general. This appears in several quotes by this conservative Unitarian minister.

Thus, without directly adopting the Jesus Words Only principle, Buzzard says in effect we need to rely only upon and obey the words that came from Jesus, not Paul. 

In Buzzard's The Doctrine of The Trinity (Oxford: International Scholars Publications, 1998), we find our first example at pages 98-99:

Not without reason, the words of Paul have been vulnerable to the criticism that they sometimes seem contradictory. This has added fuels to the flame of the Trinitarian controversy. Peter warned that there are in Paul's writings 'some things hard to understand, which the unlearned and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the scriptures, to their own destruction.' (2 Peter 3:16).

Then Buzzard discusses Philippians 2:5-8 which says Jesus existed in the form of God and did not count an equality with God worthy to hold onto, etc. And therein Buzzard takes Philippians 2:5-8, and tries to use Paul's other quotes where he speaks of one God to try to erase the impression of Philippians 2:5-8 that Jesus was pre-existent and shared an equality with God prior to birth. But Philippians itself is too clear that balancing Paul against Paul does not work -- not by rational comparisons. Buzzard knows this, which is why he began by saying that there is good "reason" to believe Paul's words are "contradictory." But Buzzard prepared us to see the explanation is Paul's fault of having "some things hard to understand" in his epistles, as Second Peter tells us.

Next, we find at page 332 the following which appears more a comment on the gospel than unitarian contentions:

[332] A return to Jesus the Messiah will involve a rediscovery of the synoptic Gospels and the Gospel about the kingdom of God, the much neglected saving message of the historical Jesus and the apostles. Much contemporary preaching proceeds as if all that counts is selected sections or verses of the apostle Paul and the cross of Jesus. 

Very impressively, on pages 340-42, we hear the echo of our principle of JWO:

[340] Christians are evidently supposed to believe everything that Jesus said, whether it be exhortation to Christian conduct or sayings relative to his own person. The two are inseparable in the Bible, so that "doctrine" may not be set in opposition to matters of conduct. A relationship with Jesus can be built only through his word. Christ's words are the vehicle of his self-impartation. By them, the "atmosphere" and mind of the Spirit is transferred to the believer. It may be that Christians are breathing contaminated air of Greek philosophy and would witness a striking improvement in their spiritual health if they try breathing the pure  atmosphere of the Hebrew Biblical thought world.

[340] Successful Christianity depends on the Savior's instruction that "you abide in me and my words abide in you." (John 15:7. Cf. 2 John 9.) All false belief is dangerous, because it is built upon a rejection of what Jesus said. No apology need be made, therefore, for trying to find out what, in fact, according to John and the other Gospels, Jesus did say about himself and his relationship to God. Throughout all the Gospels believing Jesus is synonymous with belief in what he said as well as what he did and does – and indeed will do at his return in power and glory to establish his Kingdom on the earth. It matters very much, therefore, what a Christian understands and believes. Current opinion often tells us that "doctrine" divides and should be avoided. The very opposite is true: doctrine based on the witness of Jesus' words is the one hope for unity in the present chaotic division in the churches. The Church appears to have overlooked the core of Jesus' teaching: that repentance and forgiveness depend on the convert's intelligent reception of the Messiah's own gospel about the kingdom of God. (Mark 4:  11-12; Luke 8:12).

[341] The object of this book, therefore, has been to propose ways of believing more accurately what Jesus believed about God and himself and thus bringing our own doctrine into line with his. "The one who abides in the teaching [of Christ] has both the Father and the Son." (2 John 9.)  Every word spoken by the Messiah is precious, for the words that he speaks carry "spirit and life." (John 6:63.) They are the only words, in fact, which can guide us to "life in the coming Age," the life of the kingdom of God.

****

[342] The recovery of belief in Jesus as the Messiah will dispel the fog of confusion which has enveloped the Gospel as it was proclaimed by Jesus. At present, much contemporary evangelism proceeds as though there was no Gospel preached until Jesus died. A glance at the Synoptics reveals this to be untrue. Jesus announced a gospel about the Kingdom long before he made any reference to his death and resurrection. For example, Mark 1:14,15; Luke 4:43; Luke 18:31-34. It is misleading to build a theological system on certain texts in Paul's epistles without first taking into account the Hebrew Bible and the Synoptic accounts of the Gospel as it came from the lips of Jesus.

Thus, this minister who otherwise regards Paul as inspired finds reason to prefer Jesus' words over those of Paul. And hence, those of devotest love for Christ find, when confronted with Paul's contrary teachings to those of Jesus, that they become aware we must prefer Christ's teachings over those of Paul.

Value of Sir Buzzard's The Doctrine of the Trinity

Incidentally, Buzzard's book is generally quite excellent, although I personally emphasize that Jesus was indwelled by the Father, which Sir Buzzard does not mention. Yet, Buzzard provides an erudite defense of the Unitarian view of the scriptures that cast the Trinity of 381 AD into question. I am not always quite convinced by several of his explanations of scripture. Yet, I do respect the intent and goal of Sir Buzzard.

Because Buzzard was willing to somewhat confront the problem of Paul, his presentation of the Unitarian case is the closest to being the most well-documented and convincing available. Here is the Amazon link to purchase a copy.

Yet, again, I think Buzzard and Unitarianism in general overlooks the original Matthew had the baptism where the Dove "enters" Jesus - and then God speaks from heaven "This day I have begotten thee" (see our link discussion), and then Jesus says Himself that the "Father dwells in me." Jesus was uniquely transformed at the baptism, and it was not solely as "Son of God" in a titular sense. And this change, reflected physically at the transfiguration,  explains many of the passages that I do not believe Sir Buzzard explained away adequately. Sir Buzzard may in the end prove entirely correct after more study, yet at this time, I do not agree with all his views. Regardless, if you wish to study all the contentions, pro and con, on the Trinity, Sir Buzzard's book is by far the best one for a lay-person to educate themself on the Unitarian view of the scriptures in question. 

Doug


 Study Aids

You will find additional quotes from Buzzard's book at our website at these links:

1. Jesus on Church Structure

We highly recommend Sir Buzzard's online article The Amazing Shift Away from Jesus in the Popular Gospel.

We particularly enjoy Sir Buzzard's mention of the following:

A widely-circulated tract entitled “What is the Gospel?”[1] [Published by The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, 1980] which contains no reference to the Kingdom of God, declares that Jesus “came to do three days work, to die, be buried and raised” and that “He came not primarily to preach the Gospel . . . , but He came rather that there might be a Gospel to preach.” It is difficult to reconcile these statements with Jesus’ declaration that He was commissioned for the very purpose of proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom (Luke 4:43)! Again, Billy Graham says: “Jesus came to do three days work.” But Jesus said, “I came to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom”; that is the reason why I was commissioned” (Luke 4:43).

Buzzard says that salvation has been reduced to proof-texting one passage from Paul, to the detriment of what Jesus taught was the means of salvation:

It appears that we have abandoned Jesus’ Gospel of the Kingdom. To abandon Jesus’ Gospel is to abandon Him (Mark 8:35, 38; 10:39). We have claimed, by prooftexting from one passage in Paul, 1 Corinthians 15:1-3, that the Gospel is a message only about the death of Jesus for our sins and His resurrection. That this is untrue is proved by the fact that Jesus and the disciples preached the Gospel, calling it “the Gospel about the Kingdom” and “the Gospel” long before a word was said about His death for sin and His resurrection!

Doug 

Criticisms of Sir Buzzard's Works

1. One critic -- Forananswer.org responds to Buzzard's position on John 1:1. See link.