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Apostle Paul Attacked Part I - Was He a True Apostle?
Should Paul's letters be considered valid and profitable for church doctrine?
Recently I discovered that there are those who follow Christ who really believe that Paul is a false teacher. I had never heard this until about a month ago. The more I researched it, the more fascinating the idea became. As I continued to ask questions, the person who I was talking to began to tell me about how Paul the "scribe and pharisee" was the "great deceiver" (a false prophet) who hijacked the gospel of Christ, made the gospel his own, and taught things that went against the teachings of Jesus. I've since found other sources for this information and I'm beginning to understand more and more about their teachings.
What I've discovered is that they believe Saul changed his name to Paul so he could go among the apostles without being recognized and spread his false doctrine. Paul's teachings are said to have been completely at odds with those of the Christ he claimed to follow. For example, Jesus taught that to enter the kingdom of God you must do the will of the Father. Paul taught that we are no longer bound by the law. Paul admitted that he was imperfect and was even a murderer and a liar. Paul did not see value in following the law. In fact, it turns out that Paul is actually the Antichrist, leading us astray from the one true God.
The rationale for this belief system primarily lies in an acceptance of only a subset of the Bible. I've been told that Paul's writings should never have been in the Bible at all. This is true of the writings of Luke also, who they consider to be Paul's "press secretary" because the book of Acts suddenly became entirely about Paul partway through. In addition, they claim that Peter's letters were actually written by Paul and are therefore invalid as well. With so much of the Bible considered off the table, it can be difficult to find acceptable verses that contradict their views (difficult, but certainly not impossible).
Let's explore this anti-Paul theology a bit and try to understand why they are teaching these things about Paul and what verses they're using to support their ideology.
Paul is attacked on several unrelated fronts. We'll discuss these in the following order:
- Rejection by Apostles
There is too much information to cover it all here. Instead, other related hubs will follow to cover each of these areas in more detail. This hub will deal specifically with the apostleship of Paul. Was Paul in fact an apostle as he claimed? If not, does this invalidate his message?
Of all of the arguments I've heard against Paul, this one really is the most compelling. Revelation specifically says that there are "twelve apostles of the Lamb." Jesus said that there would be twelve thrones where the apostles ruled over the twelve tribes of Israel.
"And Jesus said unto them, 'Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.'" (Matthew 19:28)
"And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb." (Revelation 21:14)
We know that there were eleven remaining of those originally chosen (Judas was no longer counted). Shortly after the ascension of Jesus, Peter took the lead and convinced the others to choose a replacement for Judas.
"And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles." (Acts 1:26)
So now there are twelve again. There are no reports of any other apostles falling away or that additional replacements were needed. So why would Paul consider himself an apostle when Jesus already had twelve?
When Jesus chose and commissioned Paul for his ministry to the gentiles, Paul actually wasn't the first to know. Jesus effectively commissioned Paul directly to a man named Ananias who clearly testified (at least to Luke) that the Lord spoke to him and validated Paul's ministry to the gentiles. This is a critical piece to the puzzle.
"And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, 'Ananias.' And he said, 'Behold, I [am here], Lord.' And the Lord [said] unto him, 'Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and enquire in the house of Judas for [one] called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth, and hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting [his] hand on him, that he might receive his sight.'
Then Ananias answered, 'Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name.'
But the Lord said unto him, 'Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake.'
And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, 'Brother Saul, the Lord, [even] Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.' (Acts 9:10-17)
We have no reason to doubt the authenticity of Luke's account of the message Ananias received.There are no documents from that time that contradict his description of these events. The advantage we have with the life of Jesus is that there are four different accounts of his life, each with it's own perspective. With the events described in the book of Acts, only Luke wrote about them so we cannot compare his version to that of other eyewitnesses (or interviewers of eyewitnesses). I feel that we must conclude that Luke's account in the book of Acts is every bit as accurate as that in his earlier book about Jesus (which is largely corroborated by and never contradicts the three other writers).
I have heard that the twelve apostles were apostles to the twelve tribes of Israel and Paul was the only apostle to the gentiles. This still doesn't fit with the number specified both by Jesus and in John's revelation, especially since Revelation calls them the "twelve apostles of the Lamb." If they are the twelve apostles of the Lamb, whose apostle is Paul? I prefer to consider Paul an honorary apostle who fits most of the criteria but not all. Jesus appeared to him and spoke to him on the road to Damascus, he was commissioned to Ananias as the messenger to the gentiles, and he performed miracles just like the other twelve. It's true that he was not with the apostles from the beginning (something that was important to Peter in the choosing of Matthias), but that does not invalidate my assertion. Peter's criteria used to select Matthias did not come directly from Christ in a vision and are not necessarily the criteria Jesus would have used in personally selecting Paul for his mission. God's choices have consistently been contrary to those we might have made for him (Rahab and Judah in the genealogy of Jesus, Moses being sent to Pharaoh, etc.). Matthew was clearly not chosen based on his prior good behavior. None of them were.
I believe that Paul was chosen in some ways because of his lack of prior good behavior. For the man who was persecuting Christians and having them arrested to suddenly do a 180 degree turn and become a true leader of the faith brings an incredible amount of glory to God. What could create that kind of change in him seemingly overnight except for an intimate encounter with the almighty God? He was large and in charge in the Jewish community and had been given power to have people arrested by the Roman government. What reason could Paul have had to give that up? Some believe that Paul was a deceiver who infiltrated the fellowship of the apostles and wasn't genuinely converted. They believe this because to validate Paul's conversion experience would be to validate both his commission and his message. So Paul could not have been motivated based on a love for Christ. But, if that were true then Paul's actions would have eventually shown his intent. He never denied the faith after having received it, and he never betrayed the apostles to the Roman authorities.
Paul had clearly accepted a new mission. Despite imprisonment, trials, and death threats, Paul's life continued to be about the commission he was given. He never wavered from it. This is evident in his writings and in the account in the book of Acts. In order to attack Paul's commission, you must somehow deal with the fact that Paul never showed himself as other than what he claimed to be. He obviously believed the things he was saying and was willing to face intense persecution (the kind he himself had distributed freely in the past) unwaveringly and in a manner reminiscent of the Christ he preached so boldly.
Character of Paul
Paul's character has come under attack as well. This is largely due to statements from his letters that I believe are taken out of context and misunderstood. In part 2, we will examine the arguments that attempt to slander his character and determine if they in fact hold water.