Who went further in the knowledge of God—the apostle Paul or the apostle John? The following comparison points to an answer to this question that may be at odds with certain perspectives that many believers have been taught, especially concerning their understanding of gospel ministry.
Based on the information that we have available, eight points of comparison between Paul and John should be noted:
Contact with John the Baptist
Paul : no information about his having contact personally with John the Baptist
John: disciple of John the Baptist
Discipleship experience with Jesus
Paul: disciple of Jesus after His resurrection appearance to Him; no information that Paul knew Him personally during His earthly ministry
John: disciple of Jesus since His earthly ministry who knew Him personally
Extent of knowledge of Jesus’ Miracles
Paul: no information that he knew of the miracles that Jesus did that were not recorded in Scripture
John: had first-hand knowledge of a multitude of signs that Jesus did that were not recorded in Scripture
Contact with Mary
Paul: no information about contact with Mary, the mother of Jesus
John: knew Mary personally; cared for her in his home after the Crucifixion; thus he very likely knew a vast amount of information about Jesus that we have no way of determining if Paul also had that information
Contact with the glorified Jesus
Paul: saw the glorified Jesus
John: last disciple to see the glorified Jesus
Vision of heaven
Paul: had a vision of heaven and saw and heard things that he was not allowed to share; thus we have no way of determining what Paul did or did not know as a result of that vision
John: had a vision of heaven and saw and heard a vast number of things that he was directed to write about for our profit; we have no way to know if Paul ever knew of this information or not; it is very likely that he never knew all that John knew in this respect
Profiting from other Scripture
-likely had no knowledge of what John wrote in at least his letters and in Revelation;
-perhaps he also had only limited knowledge of much of what John wrote in his Gospel;
-may have profited from 1 & 2 Peter and Hebrews
-very likely did not have any access to the book of Jude
-likely profited from all of Paul’s epistles for at least a decade and a half before writing any of his books
-very likely profited from 1 & 2 Peter and Hebrews
-likely profited from the book of Jude
Authoring of Scripture
-Wrote 13 epistles; did not write a Gospel; did not write any book comparable to Revelation
-Did not write any of the final five books of the NT in the current topical order
-Did not write any of the final five books of the NT chronologically
-Wrote 3 epistles (7 more epistles in Revelation 2-3); wrote the final Gospel long after the Synoptic Gospels (and also all the Pauline epistles) had been written; also wrote Revelation— John thus wrote three different genres of inspired NT books while Paul only wrote one; he has the unique honor of being the only one chosen by God to do so
-Wrote four of the five final books of the NT in the current topical order, including the last book
-Wrote all five of the final books of the NT chronologically; John thus gave us all the final inspired revelation that we have
Based on this information, it seems that we should hold that John, and not Paul, had the most profound knowledge of the things of God of any of the writers of Scripture. His writings, therefore, should be viewed as at least as theologically advanced as anything that Paul wrote.
Thus any analysis of a subject that does not thoroughly account for whatever John may have written about that subject is necessarily lacking and should not be accorded ultimate authoritative status for the doctrine and practice of the people of God. Moreover, when formulating our understanding of any subject, we should value whatever John may have written about that subject at least as much as anything that Paul has written.
A key area in which our understanding of biblical truth and our practice needs to be addressed in light of the discussion above is our understanding of apostolic gospel ministry. Specifically, we must recognize that God did not give us everything that we need to know about this subject through Paul’s writings. For if he had, what need would there have been for yet another Gospel to be written after the Synoptics and the Pauline Epistles had already been written?
We must not, therefore, attach undue importance to passages such as 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 at the expense of key truths that we are taught through John’s record of Jesus’ own dealings with people in salvation accounts. For example, when each of the salvation accounts in John 3, 4, and 5 are thoroughly analyzed, we see that Jesus evangelized lost people with an emphasis on truths that are not mentioned explicitly in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 (e.g., Jesus as the One sent by the Father; Christ as God’s judicial agent).
Our understanding, therefore, of apostolic gospel ministry cannot be limited basically to what Paul taught in this passage. We must fill out our understanding of it through truths that are taught in many other key passages, including several that are found in John 3-5.