Explaining Paul (Part 1)

Wow…it’s been a long time since I have written anything.  Sorry about that.  It’s incredible how busy you can become.

In the time since I last wrote, many things have happened in my life.  Firstly, I have been appointed as an elder of the congregation where I attend.  It is a lot of work, but it is incredibly rewarding.  I am very honored and very happy to serve in that capacity and I pray that my work will be pleasing to both God and to those that I have been charged to watch over.

I have also resigned my position as Committee Chairman of the Cub Scout Pack I was working with.  I knew that the work for God would cut into the time I would have to spend on that, and decided it was important that someone who could devote more attention to it pick up the mantle.  I’ll miss it and all the people, but they will be better off not having to deal with my divided time…

My wife also underwent heart valve replacement surgery to repair a congenital birth defect in January.  The outpouring of prayer was incredible.  God’s family wrapped us in their arms and were there for our every need.  She went through the surgery great, stayed in the hospital a very short period of time (4 days) and is ticking along just fine.

I have also started a conversation with a friend and former co-worker that has also been consuming a lot of my time.  It is that conversation that I am going to write about today and probably for several more articles.

My friend is Messianic.  I will save the topic of the Messianic beliefs until I have become more familiar with their doctrine.  However, my friend sent me a list of questions that he asked me to answer.  The purpose of the questions is to point out supposed contradictions between Paul and Jesus and, thereby, discount Paul as a true apostle of Jesus.

I answered the questions and have been having a lively debate with him for a while.  The other day, he asked me to post my answers for public consumption, and that is why I am writing this article.

Just some notes first:

  1. I will post my answers in chunks to keep these from getting too long.
  2. I will color code the question in red, my original answer in blue, and any further comments that I am just now thinking about in purple.
  3. Some opening comments on my overall thoughts about this topic come before I start answering the questions.

Ok.  Let’s get started.

First, I would like to give my overall thought on Paul.  This may become a “catch-all” answer, but I will try not to use it frequently.  But, before I even do this, I would like to address the use of YHWH, Yeshua, and also a couple of points about translations.

I don’t object to the use of YHWH and Yeshua as the Hebrew words for Jehovah and Jesus.  I realize that Jehovah, God, and Jesus are all westernized translations of the actual Hebrew names.  My question is do you use Hebrew names for all things in the scripture?  Do you call it Yeriho instead of Jericho?  What about Yona instead of Jonah?  I’m not saying it is wrong to use the original names, but I’m also not saying it is wrong to use God and Jesus as names for the same people.  Since, God was the one who confused the languages at the Tower of Babel, if he had wanted all languages to use the same pronunciation for His name, He could have made that happen.  Regardless, I’m pretty sure they know who I’m talking about, so I’m not gonna get hung up on using the Hebrew pronunciation (even though in many cases the actual true pronunciation is unknown).  I hope you aren’t hung up on that as well.  The important part is that we know who we are talking about.

Secondly, the KJV is at the same time one of the best and worse things to ever happen to followers of God.  It’s good because it gave the common man the ability to own a complete copy of the scripture and be able to read it themselves.  However, it’s one of the worst things to happen because of the translation messes it has made.  If we go strictly with the KJV, then Easter is authorized as are deaconesses.  So, when I study, I don’t use just the KJV.  I use many translations and I even go back and read a literal word for word from the Greek or Hebrew.  Through my studies, I have found the ESV to be a very accurate translation.  Even the word “baptism” and “baptize” where words that were completely made up during translation.  The literal translation is “immerse”.  How many problems have been caused because the translators of the KJV made up a word instead of using an existing word?  Today baptize has multiple meanings to multiple people when if it had just been translated “immerse” as it should have been, there would be fewer problems surrounding it.  And Satan laughs.

English translations are also sometimes hard to understand because of tensing problems with a translation into English.  Many times, Greek writers used the present tense to try to “put you in the scene”.  For instance, in Matthew 26:38 the Greek there actually says something like “He now says to them”.  This was a common Greek way to tense things.  But, in English, we prefer a past tense so our translations say “Then he said to them”.  This tensing problem isn’t just with the KJV but with all English translations.  So, this is something to keep in mind.

Having said all of that though, I am not a Greek or Hebrew scholar.  I try to study out of multiple translations so that I can understand better.  And I use literal translations so that I can see how the sentence was formed in the original language.  If I need to, I dive into a study of a particular word in Greek or Hebrew, but most of the time I don’t have to do that.

Ok, now that I have rambled about that for a while, I will give you my overall thoughts on Paul.

It seems many of the questions you ask and many of the things that I see posted on Facebook in response to your comments by friends have a common theme.

Now, you know me.  I like to boil everything down to a “root cause” question.  It’s how I think.  For me, most any problem, argument, discussion, or debate can be simplified into what I call a logic tree.  I’ve been doing this since I was a child.  At it’s most basic level, I ask a series of “Yes/No” questions to help me organize my information.  Sort of like a flowchart of thought.  So, when I’m presented with a problem, I start with simple questions and then build on them.  Answers will be accepted or rejected based on logic.  To guide that logic, I’ve developed a series of “rules” that I work from.  Here are those “rules”:

  1. I Corinthians 14:33 tells us that God is not the author of confusion but of peace.  We know then that whatever we learn from studying the Bible must make sense.  If it doesn’t make sense, then it is because of our limited understanding or because of our inability to think like God.  Isaiah 55:9 says “my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  I may never understand some things because I can’t think like God.  In those cases, I must keep studying, praying for wisdom, and not become discouraged because I can’t understand it.  Even though there are things about scripture we may never understand, we can understand those things that we need to understand for salvation.  Colossians 1 talks about the mystery that has been revealed to the saints.  This revealed “mystery” is that Christ died for us to save our souls.  This is the most important thing I must understand.  However, on things that I don’t seem to be able to understand, I mustn’t give up.
  2. The scripture contains no contradictions – There is a saying that I have adopted from another book that says “Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think that you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.”  So, if I come across something in scripture that seems to be a contradiction, I must have a thinking problem.  I need to figure out which one of my premises is wrong.
  3. Malachi 3:6 says “I am the Lord, I do not change”, Hebrews 13:8 says “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever.” – I must recognize that whatever God says about something, it is what he always thought about it, is what he thinks about it now, and is what he will always think about it.  If I find something in scripture that looks like God changed his mind on something, then that is a contradiction and I must refer to rule 2.  We do find places in scripture where it looks like God changed his mind, but if we check our premises, we will find that isn’t the case.

So, on the topic of Paul, my overall question after reading your list of questions, your comments on Facebook, and the responses to your comments by others is this: Was Paul an inspired writer?  I mean, that seems to be the base question in this argument.  After all, if Paul was not an inspired writer, then I need not listen to him.  If, however, he was inspired, I should listen closely to what he had to say.

The great thing about a simple “yes/no” question like this is that I can apply other logical principles to it.  For instance, I can apply deductive reasoning.  In other words, I don’t have to prove that one answer is true if I can prove that the other answer is wrong.  As Spock once said, “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however impropable, must be the truth.”

So, my “catchall” answer is this: I find it impossible that Paul is not an inspired writer.  Here is part, but probably not all, of the logic that leads me to think this.  Keep in mind that I believe that all scripture is the inspired word of God.  That every word is true and there can be no contradictions.  I also believe that God is not fooled by man.  God would not lead man astray by allowing his Holy Scripture to contain teaching from false teachers.  So, once a man is proven false, none of his writing can be trusted as inspired.  Furthermore, if a man is guided by God through the Holy Spirit (has the gift of prophecy), he could not be fooled by a false teacher to write something untrue.  So, here is my logic tree:

Let’s just start with the presumption that Paul is NOT inspired.  That means that he was a false teacher and I must remove all of Paul’s writings from scripture.  That leaves me with the following:

Matthew
Mark
Luke
John
Acts
Hebrews (possibly)
James
1 Peter
2 Peter
1 John
2 John
3 John
Jude
Revelation

Now, since Paul was a false teacher, I must remove all positive mention of him from scripture.  But not just that.  If a writer wrote about Paul, and Paul is a false teacher, then the writer who wrote about him must not be inspired either since a truly inspired writer would have been guided by God through the Holy Spirit who is not fooled by false teachers.  So, if a writer wrote in a positive light about Paul and Paul is a false teacher, then that writer can not be an inspired writer.  In this case, I’m mostly talking about Luke.  If Luke was inspired, he would not have written positively about Paul if Paul was a false teacher.  This also means that Peter who called Paul “a beloved brother” must not be an inspired writer.  So, we have to remove any writings of these two men.  That leaves:

Matthew
Mark
John
Hebrews (possibly)
1 John
2 John
3 John
Jude
Revelation

Now, since Luke and Peter are proven to be uninspired false teachers (since they taught that the false teacher Paul was correct), I iterate this cycle again and remove any mention of Peter and Luke and also remove any writings by any authors that mentioned either of those two in a positive light.  This means these writings remain:

Hebrews (possibly)
Jude

It is commonly held that Paul also wrote Hebrews since it contains many of the Pauline trademarks.  So, just to be safe, we better throw that one out.

That’s leaves us with Jude.

By reading Jude alone, I can know that there was a Christ and his name was Jesus.  I can also know that Jude was writing to people who were sanctified by God the Father and were preserved in this Jesus.  I can learn that there is a salvation and that the people he was writing to need to stick to their faith.  I can learn that I should follow this Jesus and that I should try to get others to follow him as well.  I can learn that there are false teachers going around that should be avoided.  I can also learn that people who do wrong will be destroyed.

However, there are a couple of precious things that I can’t learn from Jude alone.  I can’t learn who this man, Jesus, was or all that he did.  I can’t learn what I am supposed to DO to follow this man.  I can’t learn HOW to get other people to follow him.  I can’t learn HOW to identify those false teachers.  I can’t learn WHY this man, Jesus, is an authority I should be following.  I can’t learn what the EVIDENCE is that he was the saviour.  I can’t learn HOW this knowledge came to man.

So, what am I to do?  How can I follow a man I don’t know anything about?  How can I do what’s expected when I don’t know what’s expected.  I’m in a lot of trouble.

By pulling on and unravelling that one thread, I’ve put myself into a position that is impossible for me to do anything about.  Worse, God has put me in an impossible position since he inspired Jude to write that I should follow Jesus or be destroyed but didn’t tell me how to follow Jesus.  God would not do that.  So, my initial assumption must be false.  Since my initial assumption is proven untrue, whatever remains must be the truth.  Of our two possibilities (Paul was either inspired or not), the only one that remains is that he was an inspired writer.

But things are rarely that simple.  People can come up with all kinds of arguments, so let look at a few more.

One argument is that Paul (and the others) wrote some inspired things and other non-inspired things.  Once again, this causes logical problems…how am I to know what was inspired and what was not inspired?  I don’t have the knowledge to figure that out.  Would God really help me become confused by doing this to me?  That would make God an unjust God by not giving everyone an equal chance, but by only accepting those who can figure out some magical Good Paul vs. Bad Paul formula.  This is outside the nature of God, isn’t it?

Basically, this causes too many logical contradictions.  It puts me in a position where I have no hope and nowhere to turn.

Another argument is that Jude is also uninspired but I just can’t prove it.  If he is uninspired, then I know absolutely nothing about Jesus and must then fall back on just the law and prophets for my salvation.  Again, this puts me into trouble since I am a Gentile.  Since I have nothing telling me that God brought this message to the Gentiles and since I don’t know what tribe (if any) I am from, I don’t even know if I’m one of God’s chosen people.  If I’m not a descendent of a tribe, then God’s word is not for me anyway.  Even if I am a descendent of a tribe, I have no idea where to find a Levite for a high priest.  Again, I have no hope and no where to turn.

Another argument I can think of is that all of the scripture is uninspired and just completely made up.  This makes me an atheist.  I reject this completely.

Another argument is that there are other inspired writings that we don’t know about.  This one leaves us twisting in the wind until we can find those writings.  Until then, what do we do?  I suppose this one has merit, but I really don’t think that a just God would do this since He desires all men to come to Him.  It wouldn’t make much sense for Him not to tell us how to do that.

By discounting Paul as an inspired writer and following the logical threads, I have doomed myself in every case.  Why would I do this?  Why would I want to be hopeless and helpless?

It’s just simply wrong.

Now, I could use this argument to answer all of the questions you presented to me, but I won’t.  I will try to answer each of them to show how everything actually meshes between the writings of Paul and the teachings of Christ as well as the rest of the apostles.  Before that, I have one more thing to address.

I have seen some of the comments on Facebook that questions why people put Paul above Christ.  I want to get that out in the open right now.  You will NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, EVER find me putting Paul above Christ in anything.  I completely understand the order of things.  My order is as follows:

1.  God (Father)
2.  Christ (Son)
3.  The rest of us

Included in that “rest of us” are the apostles, disciples, elders, deacons, teachers, preachers, and everyone else.  Paul is not above me, nor is anyone else.  And I am not above them, nor anyone else.  We are all to be servents.  The apostles had a part to play in that servitude and I have a different part to play.  They had talents that I don’t have (namely miraculous gifts of the Spirit) and I have gifts they didn’t have.  All those who follow Christ are brothers and sisters and are all part of his body.  Furthermore, all who follow Christ are fellow heirs with Him.

The idea that I would put Paul above Christ is disgusting.  But, the idea that I would put Paul below any of the rest of us is equally disgusting.  Paul was a fellow brother (as Peter pointed out) and was given a very unique task.  That task was to deliever God’s message to the early church as it was being established.  Peter was a fellow brother and was also given a unique task.  That task was to deliver the first sermon thereby starting the church.  John was a fellow brother and was given a unique task.  His task was to warn people of things that were coming.  I am just another brother who has a task.  My task is to spread the word of God to as many as I can.  We are all just vessels.  It’s the contents of the vessel that matters.

Now, that isn’t to say that there isn’t authoritative concepts.  Paul was an apostle.  Peter was an elder and an apostle.  I have also been placed as an elder in the congregation I attend.  There is some authority that comes with certain positions.  But, that authority is only by the authority that Christ gives.  Paul couldn’t do anything outside his authority and still be right.  Neither could Peter.  Nor can I.

So, since I believe that Paul was an inspired writer, and I believe that the words that Paul wrote are from God, I guess it could be said that I do follow Paul.  But, by that definition, I also follow Peter and Moses and Isaiah and David and Daniel and Luke and John and…  If God dictated the words, it doesn’t matter who took the dictation.

In the next part, I’ll start the actual answers…

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