When Bible teachers seek credibility for their messages they will often cite Scripture to give divine authority to their teaching. Some may seek confirmation from other like-minded teachers quoting books or periodicals. It is not uncommon to speak about the historicity or tradition of their message.
Teachers in the Bible used these methods for credibility: quoting Scripture, quoting other prophets, and recognizing the promises made to ‘the fathers’.
John the Baptist began his ministry preaching the authority of the prophet Isaiah:
“For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” – Matt 3:3
During his earthly ministry, even Jesus came to ‘confirm the promises made to the fathers’ (Romans 15:8). He taught what was in the ‘law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms’ (Luke 24:44). Filled with the Holy Ghost, Zacharias said Jesus’ ministry contain what was spoken by ‘his holy prophets, which have been since the world began’ (Luke 1:70).
After the Christ’s ascension, Peter, also filled with the Holy Ghost, preached a gospel which they had been speaking ‘since the beginning’ – the gospel of the kingdom (Acts 1:22, Mark 1:14-15). Peter after Pentecost preached about Jesus as was ‘spoken by the mouth of his holy prophets since the world began’ (Acts 3:21).
No doubt there were sincere students of Scripture who when they heard these claims would go and verify them within the divine text. In fact, the noble Jewish Bereans did just that (Acts 17:11).
A message without a history
Although the message taught by John, Jesus, and Peter was verified by the historical Scripture, Paul makes an extraordinary claim. He claims that his message was not revealed to anyone prior! It was kept a ‘secret’ and ‘hid in God’ (Rom 16:25, Eph 3:9).
This is not to say that Paul taught heresy or never quoted Scripture. Paul often quotes Scripture. However, Paul blatantly distinguishes his message from any previous revelation, teacher, or historical tradition.
“But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ” – Gal 1:11-12
His teaching was not after the tradition of man nor was he taught it by anyone. It was revealed to him by Christ himself from heaven.
Instead of using the ‘mouths of his holy prophets’ as a source of support, Paul says that his message was kept secret from those prophets.
“Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began,” – Romans 16:25
Paul had no doctrinal history to appeal to, since he claims that his mystery message was hid from ages and generations.
“Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints:” – Col 1:26
Declaring such a message it is no wonder why Paul had no small dissenstion even with other believers (Acts 15:1-2, Gal 2:6-11).
Paul says he was the first to take part in the blessings of this glorious new dispensation from God.
“Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting. “ – 1 Tim 1:16
In another place Paul claims authority over the disciples’ ministry as he pronounces himself to have laid the foundation.
“According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.” – 1 Cor 3:10
When we consider that Peter was given authority to lay a foundation in Matthew 16:18-19, this is a very bold statement. We must consider that either Paul was arrogant beyond reason [See 'Was Paul arrogant?'] and was deluded in his thinking or that it was true that a new dispensation was committed to him (1 Cor 9:17).
When compared with Peter’s appeal to what was ‘spoken by the prophets since the world began’, there can be no doubt that there should be a distinction made with a message which had been ‘kept secret since the world began’ (Romans 16:25, Acts 3:21).
Paul considered what he taught to be a new revelation not spoken of before, and the beginning of something new. He refers to this message as the ‘mystery’ and the ‘dispensation of the grace of God’. There would be much to gain from an understanding of the distinctive content of this further revelation given to Paul.