Opinions on faith and life

Refuting Slander Against Paul

Claim: None of the true apostles supported Paul or acknowledged him as one of them. Peter did not vouch for Paul (2 Peter 3:16), because 2 Peter was not written by Peter.

Rebuttal: It is an act of desperation to omit an entire letter of the NT in order to take away an explicit endorsement for Paul. But even without 2 Peter, there is still plenty of endorsement: Ananias (Acts 9:15), Barnabas (Acts 9:26–28), Luke (chronicled Paul’s travels throughout Acts), as well as the deafening silence of all the NT writers regarding his being a false apostle or enemy of the Gospel. He was known personally by no less than Peter, James, and John, and founded a great many of the early faith communities. If Luke cannot be trusted since he was sympathetic to Paul, then one must rip out the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, yet critics of Paul often use material from those sources in their arguments. And of course, to only distrust the parts that support Paul would be the fallacy of special pleading.

Ironically, the only evidence that any alleged apostles questioned Paul’s right to claim to be one, comes from Paul himself. The critics allege that John’s references to false Messiahs (1 John 2:18–20, Rev. 2:2) refer to Paul, but there is nothing to support the charge. (See the “Claim: Paul was an antinomian” for more.)

Claim: Paul was never a true apostle and opposed them.

Rebuttal: In making this charge, the critics often show ignorance of the fact that not all true apostles were of The Twelve. There were at least seventy Jesus sent out and explicitly named “apostles” (Luke 10:1). And if this is to be rejected because it was written by Luke, then where are the warnings and refutations by The Twelve? Where are the accounts of them referring to Paul as a fake? Surely John, the closest to Jesus, and not one to shy away from confrontation (3 John 1:9–10), would have exposed Paul as a false teacher bringing a false Gospel, and would have listed at least a few of the times when Paul was opposed and exposed.

Claim: Paul was both a Pharisee and an antinomian.

Rebuttal: One wonders how Paul could be both a Pharisee (legalistic) and an antinomian (lawless) at the same time. But the claim is that all the Pharisees were antinomians, because they rejected God’s laws for their own (the Talmud or oral traditions). Yet Paul did no such thing; he never taught anything promoted in the Talmud. One is hard-pressed to look over its teachings and match them to Paul’s, and it is the fallacy of poisoning the well or guilt by association to presume Paul still held, after his conversion, to the Talmud. His statement in the present tense about being a Pharisee (Acts 23:6) was clearly for the sole purpose of dividing the Sanhedrin that had convened to prosecute him, just as he used his Roman citizenship to his advantage when needed. And one must ask why the Pharisees there were upset with him at all. In fact, it was they who kept hounding Paul throughout his travels, for doing what his modern critics accuse him of doing. That is, if Paul was teaching the Talmud, why were all the other Pharisees trying to kill him?

So since Paul was not guilty of teaching the Talmud, his critics must appeal to his teaching Christians that they were free from the laws of Moses. The first place to look for non-Pauline teachings on this matter is of course Hebrews, which is no longer thought to have been written by Paul. Yet the critics must reject it in its entirety since it teaches, as Paul does, that Christians are not under the laws of Moses. Yet not even James, widely but erroneously thought to uphold the laws of Moses for Christians, insisted that it be kept; at the most, his letter can be construed as teaching salvation by works. But the works are not specified as keeping the laws of Moses; rather, they are of doing good deeds in general.

Yet the critics miss this key point: Paul never taught that Jews who were still outside of faith in the risen Messiah Jesus were no longer under the laws of Moses. He taught this only for those who became Christians. And of course, no Gentiles were ever under that law at all.

Claim: Paul contradicted Jesus.

Rebuttal: The critics of Paul insist that only the actual quotes of Jesus can be trusted. But even the Gospels do not have the actual words of Jesus, since he spoke Aramaic and was only directly quoted on two occasions (Mat. 27:46, Mark 5:41, 15:34). Yet Paul did not contradict Jesus anyway. Jesus did indeed keep the laws of Moses, because he had to be a flawless sacrifice. He also had to fulfill all the prophecies about that sacrifice. And everything he said, he said to Jews before the cross and before the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost. He came expressly for “the lost sheep of Israel” (Mat. 15:24), not the as-yet unknown Congregation (“church”). And as already noted, Paul never taught freedom from the laws of Moses to Jews but only to Christians. Nothing Paul taught violated or contradicted anything Jesus taught, either to Jews or to Christians.

Claim: Jesus treated women as equal to men, but Paul was a misogynist.

Rebuttal: For very detailed rebuttals to common misinterpretations of Paul on this topic, see my book or commentary.

Claim: Paul (and/or Luke) was a liar.

Rebuttal: This ridiculous charge is based upon two allegedly contradictory accounts of his conversion on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3–9, 22:6–21, 26:12–18). Acts 9:7 states that the others traveling with Paul heard a voice but saw no one, while Acts 22:9 states that they saw a light but did not understand the sound (there is scholarly debate on whether they did not hear any sound at all, or simply did not understand it, based on the Greek grammar). Yet none of this is contradictory; seeing a light is not the same as seeing Jesus himself, and there is no irrefutable proof that the voice was understood. The same is true for one account having more detail than the other. And had all instances been identical, one would rightly suspect a made-up story; people often add or omit detail upon later tellings of an experience.

Claim: Paul believed he was a co-savior with Christ.

Rebuttal: Of all the charges against Paul, this one is easily the most preposterous, and it can only be made by taking statements out of context. Paul clearly loathed his former life and considered all his past accomplishments a pile of manure (Phil. 3:8). He also considered himself the least of all the apostles (1 Cor. 15:9) and never denied being a sinner. And he stated explicitly that he did not die for anyone (1 Cor. 1:13). Yet in spite of all that, his critics will take statements like Col. 1:24 at face value and ignore the context in which they were said. The full text is, “I now celebrate my sufferings for your sakes and do my share to complete in my own flesh whatever is lacking in the physical sufferings of the Anointed, for the sake of his body which is the Congregation.” It was never the physical sufferings of Christ that saved us, but his death and resurrection, as Paul himself even said (1 Cor. 15:1–5). And Jesus said that whoever followed him must “take up their cross” and would suffer persecution. But note also that Paul says the body he refers to is the Congregation, not the physical body of Jesus.

Conclusion

The alleged case against Paul as a true, hand-picked apostle of Jesus is based upon fallacy and failure to consider context, to such an extreme as to make the canon of the NT depend entirely on which parts support Paul and which can be twisted to condemn him. They engage in a double standard by only accepting from Paul and others the parts that support their accusations. There are even some who will take the fact that Paul was picked by Jesus as insignificant, since Jesus also picked Judas. Such poor logic and cherry-picking renders the criticisms of Paul too absurd to take seriously. Yet because of the sheer number of such critics, we must expose them as they so gleefully expose Paul. Let them endure the same scrutiny.