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Apostle Paul Attacked Part II - Defending Paul's Character

Updated on November 1, 2011

Overview

Not long ago I discovered that there are those who follow Christ who deeply believe that Paul is a false apostle. Based on their interpretation of scripture, they attack Paul's character, his teachings, and ultimately deny that Paul was ever selected to be an apostle at all. They believe Saul changed his name to Paul so he could go among the apostles without being recognized and spread false doctrine. They believe that Paul was rejected by the other apostles and sent away. In fact, Paul's teachings are said to have completely contradicted the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. The conclusion they draw from this is that Paul hijacked Christianity and started his own religion that were primarily about his own teachings rather than those of the Christ he claimed to follow.

This is part 2 of the series "Apostle Paul Attacked". Part 1 focused on attacks on Paul's apostleship. Below, I will outline the attacks against Paul's character and provide an alternate view based on what I find in scripture. Please feel free to comment and provide your own perspective as well.

Lying About the Damascus Experience

The Evidence:

Paul's conversion experience on the road to Damascus is used to show that Paul blatantly lied to King Agrippa during his defense. Acts records this story three times (chapter 9, chapter 22, and chapter 26). In chapter 9, Luke describes the events as part of his narrative. The second account in chapter 22 is considered to be very similar to the first. They take issue with the third account in chapter 26, which is Paul's defense to King Agrippa. It turns out that the differences are fairly obvious. According to the account in chapter 9, Jesus simply told Paul to go into the city for further instructions. Now as Paul is describing the event to King Agrippa, Jesus is instead portrayed telling Paul all about his mission right there on the road to Damascus. This is used to show that Paul is a liar who can't seem to keep his story straight.

From Scott Nelson's "Paul and Christianity":

"Now wait just a minute Paul! According to what you and Luke have previously testified, when you asked Yahshua what you were to do, he told you to do absolutely nothing other than to go to Damascus, and there you would be told "all things" you were to do! Now you want us to believe Yahshua told you all of this on the spot?"

Rebuttal:

It's very easy when we read the Bible to make the mistake of assuming that what has been written down for us are the exact words of Jesus or Peter or Paul. We know this not to be the case simply by examining and comparing the dialogue in the four gospels. The miracle where Jesus fed the 5000 shows up in all four gospels, and yet the dialogue is slightly different in each. This is especially noticeable in the account found in John chapter 6, in which Jesus tests Phillip directly which isn't actually recorded that way in any of the other gospels.

The story of Jesus calling Peter to follow Him is found in all four gospels as well (Matthew 4:18-20, Mark 1:16-17, Luke 5:1-11, John 1:40-42), and yet here the differences are much more significant. Luke records significantly more detail of these events than anyone else did, showing a progression to the events that led up to Peter's decision to follow Jesus. Matthew and Mark simply painted a picture of Jesus walking up, calling them, and off they went! John didn't record the fishing encounter at all. Instead, John shows Andrew meeting Jesus and racing to bring his brother Peter to the Messiah. None of this is a crisis. In John's account, Jesus didn't actually call Peter and Andrew to follow him during that encounter. It seems clear that these events happened prior to the meeting found in Luke chapter 5. Regardless, the point is that the scriptures do not give us word for word what was said anymore than they give us every detail of Jesus' life. To take the dialogue so literally that we begin to accuse these characters of lying simply because the stories don't match just isn't reasonable.

If Luke had recorded Paul's speech word for word (which I doubt, because there were no tape recorders back then), it's entirely likely that Paul was simply trying to convey the gist of the events without having to go into every little detail. He was talking to a King who only had so much time to hear Paul's side of the story. It seems clear that Paul would want to be as brief as possible here. On the topic of whether or not Paul had actually heard this message directly from Christ himself, Acts 9:11-12 shows that Paul was praying and receiving visions according to Ananias. The bottom line is that there is no evidence here that Paul was lying at all.

Paul's Other Lies

2 Corinthians 12

"Now for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be burdensome to you; for I do not seek yours, but you. For the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children. And I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved. But be that as it may, I did not burden you. Nevertheless, being crafty, I caught you by cunning! Did I take advantage of you by any of those whom I sent to you?" (2 Corinthians 12:14-17) NKJV

Because of the underlined part in this passage, Paul is accused of admitting to lying and dishonesty. They say that the Hebrew word for cunning (dolos) is only ever used in a negative way. In other words, he's not saying he was simply being clever here because the word does not mean that in Greek. This to me is a silly and pointless argument. From a context perspectve, it's clear that this is meant to be tongue in cheek. If I look at my wife and say "You lie, woman!" with a big grin on my face, I can tell you from experience that she would not feel that I was actually accusing her of dishonesty.

Acts 26

“Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth." (Acts 26:9) NKJV

Even this verse is used to accuse Paul, taken completely out of context. Paul is actually alluding to his role as a persecutor of Christians prior to his Damascus experience. This is clearly the context of the passage. In fact, the verses immediately following (shown below) make that clear.

"This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them . 11 And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities." (Acts 26:10-11) NKJV

And yet they still use this verse to claim that Paul was being dishonest and was secretly against the teachings of Christ.

Romans 3

The most tricky verse is the one below because it's the easiest to misunderstand. The NLT seems to be the translation that most clearly show's Paul's intent, but the translators apparently had to paraphrase some to get there. Here is the passage from the New King James Version:

But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unjust who inflicts wrath? (I speak as a man.) Certainly not! For then how will God judge the world?
For if the truth of God has increased through my lie to His glory, why am I also still judged as a sinner?And why not say, “Let us do evil that good may come”?—as we are slanderously reported and as some affirm that we say. Their condemnation is just. (Romans 3:5-7) NKJV

The underlined part of the passage is used to show that Paul admits that he is a liar, when in actuality Paul is simply asking a question speaking with the words of someone else so that he can argue with him. He is simply pointing out what arguments people would use against him so that he can show that they are wrong. This actually starts in verse 5 in which he introduces an argument he doesn't agree with and then says "I speak as a man." Then in the next verse he disagrees, saying "Certainly not!" In verse 7, he says that people are slanderously reporting that he teaches these things and then he adds "their condemnation is just", meaning that they deserved to be condemned for treating him and his friends this way. Yet again, it's clear that this verse is used out of context to discredit Paul.

Conclusion

There are other examples used to show that Paul is a liar but each can be easily discredited as shown here. In each, Paul's words are either being used out of context for the passage or are taken from the narrative in Acts and coupled with an invalid assumption on which their argument rests. What we discover from all this is that Paul is being slandered once again by people who want to discredit him and his teachings. Paul certainly has rubbed people the wrong way. Did he have issues with pride that would come through in his writings? Possibly, especially since that seems to be an issue with pharisees in general. He was human after all. It's unfair to expect perfection from Paul when only Jesus has ever been able to attain that level of perfection. Paul was clearly a man with faults like the rest of us. That in no way diminishes his accomplishments for the cause of Christ. In the next installment, we'll go through some of the key arguments used to show that Paul's teachings were in direct conflict with those of the Christ in whom Paul claimed to believe.

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    • gracenotes profile image

      gracenotes 5 years ago from North Texas

      It's clear to me that some detractors of Paul pretend that they do not understand figurative language, rhetorical questions, irony, or tongue-in-cheek remarks. Whether they genuinely don't understand, I don't know. The natural man does not comprehend the things of God, because they are spiritually discerned, our Bible says.

      Love the photo of your mini schnauzer Diego. I've got a salt & pepper schnauzer.

    • sonfollowers profile image
      Author

      sonfollowers 5 years ago from Alpharetta, GA

      Thanks, gracenotes. I totally agree with you. People hear what they want to hear, I think.

      Yeah, we've got two schnauzers actually. Diego's nephew came along a couple years later (we named him "Scooter"). The nephew is every bit as lazy as the original, it turns out.

      Thanks for stopping by!

    • North Wind profile image

      North Wind 5 years ago from The World (for now)

      I only recently became aware that there are some who believe that Paul had an agenda against Jesus and not for Him. I was stunned because I never thought that Paul could be viewed that way. I investigated the arguments but in reading the Bible all I could find was what the others who were with him in that time found - a changed heart, willing to work for the Lord Jesus Christ.

      Thanks for writing these hubs about this.

    • sonfollowers profile image
      Author

      sonfollowers 5 years ago from Alpharetta, GA

      North Wind,

      Yeah, me too actually. I had never heard of that until several months ago. It makes no sense to me, honestly. I need to finish my work on this series. I got side tracked with other stuff. My goal is to show a balanced view of Paul. He was an extraordinary man, for sure. Not perfect by any means, but he certainly was an intense Christ follower. He's one of my favorite Bible characters.

      Thanks for the encouragement. Have a great day!

    • profile image

      jeshuagal 5 years ago from La Fayette Ga.

      Sonfollower, I appreciate your work and clarity on this. Yes from since the days of W M Armstrong has his broken flock's gone amuck. The culprits are the Hebrew Roots Movement, Messianic Jews (a complete oxymoron) and the Sacred Names Movement, why do I say this. Because my family is divided by these people. I have had to study in depth many issues such as Apostle Paul being a phony. What one has pointed out Christ Jesus, Yeshua Ha' Machaiach indeed fulfilled the law and the prophets. And I very well understand the various times the 'law' is being used to which it is directed at. That is good subject to study and also points to which Christ fulfilled. Anyways back to your writings. Yes this false teaching about Apostle Paul is detrimental if one young in Christ should come across such. With their not full maturity in the word they will devoured as was predicted in scripture by wolves in sheep's clothing. I now have a cousin whom recently moved to Israel due to these teachings. What I seen i boil down to was the New Testament much can't be trusted only the old or Torah and Christians should listen to rabbi's words. This is worthy to expose for what it is, a blatant lie! Apostle Paul was filled of the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit dispersed guidance through all the apostles. He said that we establish the law and how well its in the epistles how. Paying close attention to what is (laws) reiterated in the epistles becomes quiet clear the Holy Spirit was indeed the guide and counsellor, as Jesus himself spoke he would be for the Church. These groups neglect that fact.

      And yes gracenotes hit the nail on the head they simply are taking things out of textual purpose for relay of another message. We all speak in allegories, for instances, emphatic, and etc at times. It became clear to me that Apostle Paul was very well schooled in Judaism and new exactly which he spoke. He only layered upon the foundation that Christ had laid as did Peter, James, and John. I go back to when Jesus told Peter that he would build his church upon this 'rock'. His rock is the gospel the kingdom of God and all who are born of 'spirit' are carrying this inside them. He said he abide in us and we in him. Jesus told the disciples what to expect and yes warned them of the anti-christ. The antagonist to Paul of today are no different than his antagonists of yesterdays. Judaisers and Gnostics both tried to claim Apostle Paul was phonyl however; the Holy Spirit revealed who was and who wasn't. Apostle Paul's epistle are in the Holy Bible his naysayers of past where are their epistles today?

      These people pull out what they want and tend to leave the layers of Christ's truth and his ways that were taught by his disciples and his Holy Spirit.

      It again is just another way to excuse the term, 'Judaise' a christian. I have also come across a website nazareneway.com which seems to want to convert weak Christians into the essene way and they also use this propaganda of phony Saul/ Paul. Thank you for your work. Can I advertise your hub on facebook my family would enjoy this study and I pray can help us show certain other family members the rabbi's aren't the people we listen to its Jesus Christ through the guide of his Holy Spirit. Again thanks! Shalom!

    • sonfollowers profile image
      Author

      sonfollowers 5 years ago from Alpharetta, GA

      zaggle,

      I agree with you on their attack of Luke as well. It's interesting that, while there are facts in Luke's gospel that don't exist in the others, there is nothing that is blatantly contradicted by one of the other writers. There is nothing there to conclude that Luke is an unreliable source. It doesn't seem reasonable that Luke's gospel could be reliable and somehow his other book could be as tainted as they claim.

      At the end of the day, their arguments don't make much sense when you examine the verses they try to use. To me, it seems to show a desire to twist the words they find so that they mean what they want rather than accepting the content at face value.

      Thanks for visiting!

    • MickeySr profile image

      MickeySr 5 years ago from Hershey, Pa.

      The point at which this resistance, even rejection, of Paul starts is when people embrace a false Jesus of their own (or other's) imagination and resist, even reject, the authentic Jesus of history . . . you can truly have one without the other, Paul was Jesus' personally chosen servant, chosen to set forth the truth of the gospel. You cannot genuinely understand the Old Testament or the work of Jesus without the ministry that God gave to Paul.

      Jesus was not what men expected, even the 12 who lived with Him and who He personally trained were continually missing His point - still asking till the very end, as Jesus ascended into heaven "Now will you establish your kingdom?". They too, the 12, were put-off by Paul, Peter wrote about Paul's writings "There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction" - but he called him "brother". The apostles met with Paul in Jerusalem to settle the matter of if his teachings were in accord with Jesus' ministry or not - and they gave Paul the right hand of fellowship.

      If you don't 'get' Jesus' teaching and work then you won't 'get' Paul, if you make-up a 'Jesus' you prefer over the true Jesus then you won't like Paul - but if Jesus is beautiful and desirable to you, if you love Jesus as He is, then you will love Paul.

    • sonfollowers profile image
      Author

      sonfollowers 5 years ago from Alpharetta, GA

      jeshuagal,

      Thanks for the comments. I'm sorry that this false teaching has created division in your family. I can't imagine what that's like. May God bless you and strengthen you as you deal with this struggle. We certainly are called to love those who disagree with us. Hopefully your love for them will help them see a better way. Struggles like this in the family are tough. I commend you for holding so strongly to what you believe.

      Thanks for sharing!

    • shofarcall profile image

      shofarcall 4 years ago

      God is so great and all powerful. I have no doubt that if YHVH had not intended Pauls writings to be in Scripture, then they would not be there!

      This also has to do with faith and recognising that Abba Father is sovereign over all. Thanks for a very intersting hub Sonfollower. God Bless. (voted interesting and up)

    • sonfollowers profile image
      Author

      sonfollowers 4 years ago from Alpharetta, GA

      Hey there, shofarcall!

      I totally agree. It really starts with whether or not we believe that God is big enough to manage and protect the text of His "love letter" to us. Clearly they do not believe that He has done that (not sure why). We see God's hand clearly in the hundreds of Old Testament prophecies that were fulfilled hundreds of years after they were written. It's easy to trust that part of the Bible, though many still can't make the leap.

      Thanks for stopping by! See you around!

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