Did Paul Have the Full Gospel?
Ancient types can illustrate and illuminate, but every important phase of the gospel needs to be established by the plain New Testament witness.
Paul is Christ's greatest teacher-theologian (Education, p. 66). The Lord chose other men to be witnesses of the historic events of His ministry on earth, but Paul was especially chosen as the apostle to the nations. He did not witness Christ's earthly ministry, but God chose Him to teach us the meaning of Christ's incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension to heaven.
Not only was the gospel put in Paul's trust,(1) but the full disclosure of the gospel was committed to him for the nations. To the Romans he declares: "Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God . . . I have fully preached the gospel of Christ." Rom. 15:19.
The main heresies that Paul had to deal with (such as in Galatia, Corinth and Colosse) arose because the churches did not appreciate that Paul's message was the full gospel. Most of these heresies arose from a group which eventually came to be called Ebionites. They did not consider that they were rejecting what Paul brought to them; they just saw themselves as going beyond Paul's "initiating" message. The Galatians aspired to go on to perfection by means beyond their Christian initiation (Gal. 3:1-3). The Colossians tried to apprehend the fulness of the Spirit, which they supposed was not offered to them by the great apostle's message. And the Corinthians supposed that Paul's gospel left them very deficient in necessary spiritual gifts.
Paul did not look at these additives or efforts to go on as harmless innovations. He had brought them the full gospel. Anything else was "another gospel" and "another Jesus" (Gal. 1:6; 2 Cor. 11:4). Anything that offers more than the full gospel preached by Paul is a human additive.
Elders R. J. Wieland and D. K. Short have said:
" . . . the message of 1888 was neither a restatement of the doctrines of Luther and Wesley, nor a mere re-emphasis of the teaching of the Adventist pioneers; but that it was rather a more mature conception of the 'everlasting gospel' than had ever been perceived by any previous generation of human beings, a preaching of 'righteousness by faith' more mature and developed, and more practical than had been preached even by the Apostle Paul." —A Warning and Its Reception, p. 50.
That is an astounding statement. Few of us would be as bold as Wieland and Short in saying that the 1888 message was in advance of Paul, but often the idea has prevailed that the Advent message must contain something more than was preached by the great apostle. We should remember that the people at Galatia, Colosse and Corinth thought the same way. Of course, if the last-day message is to be beyond what Paul offered, we would not really expect that that message could be proved by the greatest New Testament writer. And if not by the greatest New Testament writer, then certainly not by the lesser ones.
Therefore this review begins very definitely with the premise that God gave a full disclosure of the gospel to the apostle Paul. The faith which he delivered to the Romans, to the Thessalonians, to the Colossians and to the Corinthians was sufficient to equip them for life and to prepare them for death, judgment and the coming of Christ. The tragedy was that the early church did not really believe Paul gave them "the whole story." Wherein they looked at Paul's message as mere, they had a passion for more. They succeeded only in manufacturing another way, until the temple of truth became cluttered with human devisings and aberrations.
(1) Rom. 16:25-26; Col. 1:25-29; Eph. 3:l-8; Gal. 1:12; 1 Cor.3:10; 2 Tim. 2:8; Titus 1:3; 2 Cor.12:1-5, 12; 1 Tim. 1:11.