Paul's genuine apostleship

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Paul's genuine apostleship

Post by steve » Wed Sep 04, 2019 1:00 pm

Was Paul a False Apostle who Corrupted Christianity?
Steve Gregg

For some reason, there are a number of Christians who (as was the case in the first century church) feel compelled to question Paul’s apostleship. This they do, I assume, because they either misunderstand his words, or else understand and disagree with his teachings. They sometimes pretend that he taught a different gospel or a different Jesus from what was taught by the other apostles. The claim is made that he corrupted Christianity by undermining the Torah, and that his Damascus Road conversion story can’t be trusted because there were insufficient witnesses to the event.

A movement called “Jesus’ Words Only,” which appears to be an extremist branch of the Hebrew Roots Movement (so prolific in the production of heretical offshoots), has vociferously rejected and slandered Paul. Ironically, though they claim to be advocates of Jesus’ words, they violate the words of Jesus, in John 13:20, where he equates accepting Him with accepting the ones that He sends. Thus, the question becomes one of whether Jesus sent Paul (i.e., as an apostle, as he frequently claimed), or whether Paul was either deceived or an impostor. Those who reject Paul, if mistaken, are also rejecting Christ, according to His own words. There is too much at risk to allow for a flippant or cavalier dismissal on the basis of flimsy arguments.

The idea that Paul did not have sufficient witnesses to his conversion is absurd. The Pharisees made the same criticism of Christ—viz., that there were not two witnesses (only Himself) to back up His claims (John 8:13). Jesus told them that there were, in fact, numerous witnesses (John 5:31-39; 8:17-18)—including God, and Jesus’ own works. If Jesus considered such “witnesses” as these to be adequate to back-up His claims, then how could the same witnesses not be accepted to back-up Paul’s claims?

Of course, Jesus could also call upon John the Baptist as a witness (John 5:33-34), but what, exactly, did John see and bear witness to? He was present to see Jesus filled with the Spirit, and to hear God’s audible commendation of Jesus (John 1:32-34). Significantly, Paul could similarly call on just such a witness in Ananias (Acts 22:12-14), who also heard from God audibly commending Paul (Acts 9:15), and who also was present to see Paul filled with the Spirit (Acts 9:17-18). This criticism of Paul (like all the others raised) is ill-informed, and without warrant.

Paul’s apostleship was not merely self-proclaimed. The conversion and commission of Saul of Tarsus was witnessed by others who were with him (Acts 9:7). Ananias was sent, by direct revelation from Christ, to baptize him (Acts 9:10-18). The transformation of Saul on the road to Damascus must be accounted for by some worthy explanation. It changed his disposition completely, and provided him with the power to work apostolic miracles.

Paul’s conversion was certainly questioned by the original apostles—at first (Acts 9:26)! However, they were soon persuaded otherwise, initially, by Barnabas (Acts 9:27)—who was a trusted emissary of the twelve (Acts 4:36; 11:22-24), and whose own apostleship was declared by the Holy Spirit, in partnership with Paul’s (Acts 13:2; 14:14)

Peter, James and John recognized the same spiritual commission in Paul toward the Gentiles, that resided in Peter toward the Jews. They declared themselves to be in partnership with him by the “right hand of fellowship” (Gal.2:7-9). Paul could hardly have been lying about this, since the whole transaction was also witnessed by Barnabas and Titus (Gal.2:1), and could easily have been confirmed by anyone, simply by inquiring of the Jerusalem church.

Those who think Paul was a false apostle are taking a view of him with which the other apostles disagreed. Though they were initially skeptical of his claims to conversion, they soon became fully-convinced, and heartily recommended him as a true servant of Christ (Acts 15:25-26; 2 Peter 3:15-16). This change, no doubt, occurred because of the obvious proofs of his genuineness, including the facts that:

1) God confirmed his ministry through “signs of an signs and wonders and mighty deeds” (2 Cor.12:12);

2) The man had been observed to maintain impeccable integrity;

3) He would take no pay during his 30+ years of selfless service;

4) He voluntarily lived a life of constant suffering and threat of death for his testimony; and

5) His teachings (though sometimes difficult to understand), were recognized as divine “wisdom” (2 Pet.3:15).

At one early point, there was a perceived difference between the teachings of James and those of Paul, but the Jerusalem Council convened to explore the matter (Acts 15). As it turned out, the gathered apostles, and James himself, vindicated Paul’s teaching, and wrote a letter to the churches declaring this to be the case.

In any case, the Jerusalem apostles were quite acquainted with him, and with his teachings and letters. They knew very well that he referred to himself as “an apostle of Christ” (just as they did)—yet they never raised any objection to this. Instead, Peter referred to Paul as “our beloved brother” (2 Peter 3:15)—not what one would expect, if Peter and the others believed Paul to be a false teacher or a false apostle.

The simple refutation to the anti-Paul camp is that they are in disagreement with the apostolic church in their assessment of him. That is reason enough to classify such people as heretics, vis-à-vis Apostolic Christianity.

The Jesus’ Words Only advocates argue that Paul was a false apostle. Many of their arguments against Paul’s apostleship are transparently nonsensical and bigoted, not even deserving the dignity of a response. However, there is one argument from this camp that some Christians might find disturbing.

They draw an interesting connection between the fact that Paul, in the late 60s AD, complained to Timothy that “all who are in Asia” had deserted him (2 Tim.1:15), on the one hand, and the reference by Christ (written around the same time), on the other, that the Church of Ephesus had tested and rejected false apostles (Rev.2:2).

The suggestion then is that, if Paul had been abandoned by the very churches which Christ commended for testing and rejecting false apostles, then perhaps Paul’s company are the very culprits to whom Christ refers. They suggest that Paul’s Ephesian opponents in the synagogue, who “spoke evil of the Way” (Acts 19:9), might actually have been the true Church in that town, whom Christ commended for rejecting him as a false apostle. As attractive as this suggestion sounds to those who wish to maintain Torah observance, and who find Paul’s statements on the subject an annoyance, the theory breaks down under several considerations.

First, the simplest point to dispense with: Those who “spoke evil of the Way” were not Christians, but unbelieving Jews of the synagogue, from whom Paul and the true disciples (believers) withdrew themselves (Acts 19:9). These were not a more-pure branch of Christians than those who accepted Paul, since they had not even heard of Jesus prior to Paul’s visiting there.

The churches of Asia, including Ephesus, were converted through Paul’s preaching (Acts 19:10). He was their spiritual father. They were in no position to test his apostolic claims or to assess his genuineness. If they had done so, they certainly would have discovered in him “the signs of an apostle” (2 Cor.12:12), because, over a period of three years, special miracles were done by his hands in their city (Acts 19:11-12). Even the demons, in Ephesus, acknowledged him as being in league with Jesus (v.15)—just as they had earlier acknowledged Jesus Himself to be in league with God (e.g., Matt.8:29; Mark 1:24).

Peter and Jude both warned their readers to beware of false teachers insinuating themselves into the churches (2 Peter 2; Jude). They identified these teachers, predominantly, by their conduct. They said that these teachers would be motivated by greed (2 Pet.2:3, 15) and sexual lust (2 Pet.2:14; Jude 4, 8, 10, 16, 18)—exactly as we see to be the case in modern false teachers! Paul’s life and ministry, conducted over the course of three decades, was the opposite of this description.

If people ever tested Paul on the basis of his character, then nothing could have been found against him, since (as he reminded the Ephesian elders) he had lived a pure and faultless life before them for three years, had taken no money from them, and served them tirelessly (Acts 20:18-21, 31, 33-35). The last time the Ephesian elders saw Paul, they were full of affection to him (Acts 20:37-38). At what point, then, and on what basis, would they later have tested Paul’s apostleship, and found it lacking?

If the Ephesian church had faithfully tested those who claimed to be Christian ministers, and found them liars, they did so at Paul's urging (Acts 20:28-31). Long after Paul's death, their continued diligence in exercising such discernment of false teachers was a matter for which Ignatius later commended them, though he was a firm believer in Paul’s apostleship (Ignatius, To the Ephesians, 6:9).

Paul himself spoke of false apostles in Corinth, who compared unfavorably with himself by every measure (2 Cor.11:13). If the Ephesian church had discovered some false apostles, this would be agreeable with Paul’s expectations, and he would not be one of them.

If, at some later time, the Ephesians had “tested” those who claimed to be apostles, and had done so on a theological basis, then Paul’s teachings would have stood up to those of Jesus (1 Tim.6:3), and of Peter (whose first epistle appears to be largely a summary and rehash of Paul’s Ephesian and Roman epistles), who commends “all” of Paul’s epistles, in 2 Peter 3:15-16.

When Paul said that “all those in Asia” had deserted him, this was certainly hyperbole. Timothy himself was in Ephesus, as were the “faithful men,” whom Timothy was exhorted to train (2 Tim.2:2, 14, 22). Tychicus (1 Tim.4:12) and Trophimus (2 Tim.4:20) were also both church leaders of Asia (Acts 20:4). They were still loyal companions of Paul. The Christians of Ephesus certainly had not, en toto, abandoned Paul or his Gospel.

Paul named two false teachers, in particular, that he had in mind—Phygellus and Hermogenes—who may have been leaders with considerable influence in the Asian churches. These defectors from Paul might, conceivably, not even have been in Ephesus, since they are only said to be “in Asia,” the province of which Ephesus was the capital. We could not rule-out an implied distinction between “Asia” (in general) and “Ephesus”(where Timothy was)—just as Judea and Jerusalem are often distinguished (Mark 1:5; Luke 5:17; 6:17; Matt.4:25; Acts 1:8), even though Jerusalem was the capital of Judea. Paul may have been writing to this loyal leader of the faithful church in Ephesus concerning a general defection of churches throughout the province of Asia, even if the defection did not include Ephesus.

Paul’s despondent statement may not have referred to complete disloyalty of the churches, but could be referring to the lack of tangible support, in his present imprisonment, from those churches (cf. 2 Tim.1:8; 4:10, 16). He gives, as one exception to this general neglect, the case of Onesiphorus, who was “not ashamed” of Paul’s chain (2 Tim.1:16). At an earlier time, Paul told the Philippians (a church in Greece) that they alone had repeatedly sent him support in prison (Phil.4:15-16)—implying that the Asian churches had not done so. This would not mean the Asian churches had turned against Paul.

That the churches of Asia did not completely, or permanently, reject Paul is evident from the later church fathers’ assumption that the church in Ephesus, like themselves, fully recognized Pauline authority.

The original apostles recognized Paul’s genuineness, as did the most ancient church fathers —including Clement of Rome (To the Corinthians, ch.V), Ignatius (To the Romans, ch.IV; To the Ephesians, ch. XII), and Polycarp, the disciple of John (To the Philippians, chs.III, XI). John wrote Revelation, which contains the denunciation of the false apostles. If John regarded Paul (the founder of these Asian churches) as one of those false messengers, it seems unthinkable that he would not tell this to his disciple Polycarp—who was the bishop of Smyrna (one of Paul’s church-plants).

Just a generation after the Book of Revelation was written, Ignatius (who also may have been a disciple of John) wrote to this very church, at Ephesus. He had no awareness of this church defecting from Paul, or rejecting his apostleship. Ignatius described the Ephesian Christians as “fellow initiates of Paul, who was sanctified, who was approved, who is deservedly blessed—may I be found in his footsteps when I reach God!” (To the Ephesians, ch.XII). There is no evidence that the Ephesian Christians viewed this differently.

Those, today, who wish to undermine Paul’s apostolic credentials, suggest that he introduced two doctrinal errors—antinomianism and the deity of Christ. They suggest that these doctrines perverted the original teaching of Jesus and the first apostles.

On the question of antinomianism, Paul cannot be legitimately charged, since he argued that true holiness of conduct was mandatory for salvation. The two doctrines most often taught by the antinomians were that it is permissible for Christians to commit fornication, and to eat meat sacrificed to idols (see, e.g., Rev.2:14, 20).

No one (including Jesus) spoke out more strongly and frequently in condemning fornication than did Paul (e.g., 1 Cor.6:15-20; 10:8; Eph.5:3; 1 Thess.4:3-8). Paul was fond of making long lists of sins that must be avoided. His lists are heavily freighted with sins of a sexual nature that are not to be tolerated (e.g., Rom.1:29-31; 1 Cor.5:11; 6:9-10; Gal.5:19-21; Eph.5:3-5; Col.3:5).

On the matter of meat sacrificed to idols, Paul taught that Christians should not consciously seek to eat such meat (i.e., should not attend the idolatrous feasts or engage in idolatry), but that they might eat whatever is put before them, without worrying about the source of the meat (e.g., Rom.14:14-15; 1 Cor.8:1-13; 10:25-28). In this, Paul was simply echoing the teaching of Jesus (Mark 7:19; Luke 10:7-8).

There is not a hint of antinomianism in Paul’s teaching. He did not, it is true, enforce the Mosaic law code, but he did faithfully pass along the letter from the Jerusalem council (Acts 15:30). He also made it clear that all are obliged to follow the teachings of Christ (2 Cor.10:4-6; 1 Tim.6:3),which is precisely what Jesus also said (Luke 6:46; John 8:31; Matt.28:20).

No one who studies and understands the teachings of Paul, alongside those of Jesus, can deny that both were teaching precisely the same message. They affirmed every major doctrine in common. The specific teachings that are found in both Jesus’ and Paul’s teachings include:

1. Both proclaimed the arrival of the Kingdom of God (Mark 1:15; Matt.12:28; Luke 17:21; Acts 20:25; 14:22; Rom.14:17)

2. Both taught that God is a loving and merciful Father, whom we should imitate (Luke 15:20-24; Matt.5:45; 7:11; Luke 6:35-36; Rom.5:7-8; 11:32; 2 Cor.1:3; Eph.2:4; 4:32; 5:1)

3. Both taught the same things about Christ’s identity (ie., that He is God (John 5:18; 8:58; Phil.2:6-7; Rom.9:5); the Son of God (John 10:36; Rom.1:3; Gal.2:20); the Supreme Ruler or Lord (Matt.28:18; John 13:13; Acts 17:7; Rom.10:9); and Messiah (Matt.16:16-17; Acts 9:22).

4. Both taught that men must repent and believe to be saved (Mark 1:15; Acts 20:21)

5. Both taught that a man can be justified prior to doing any righteous deeds (Luke 18:13-14; Luke 23:42-43; Acts 13:39; Rom.3:26; 5:1; Eph.2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7)

6. Both taught that love for God and for one another is the supreme test of one's salvation (Matt.22:37-40; John 13:34-35; 1 Cor.13:1-3; Rom.13:10; Gal.5:6)

7. Both taught that good works (works of obedience to God) are essential to the Christian life and will be the basis of the final judgment. (Mat.5:16; 7:24-27; 16:27; 25:31-46; Luke 6:46; Eph.2:10; Rom.2:6-10; 6:15-18; Gal.5:16-25; Col.1:10; Tit.2:14)

8. Both taught that ceremonial laws do not rank in the same class as ethical and moral standards in the Law (Matt.12:7; 23:23-24; Rom.2:25-27; Col.2:16-17)

9. Both taught (for example) that Sabbath and festival observance and kosher diet were not absolute requirements (Matt.12:2-8; Mark 7:15-19; John 5:16-17; Rom.14:1-5; Col.2:16-17; 1 Tim.4:1-5; Gal.4:10-11)

10. Both taught that the Law of Moses was holy, just and good. (Matt.5:17-20; Rom.7:12; 1 Tim.1:8-10)

11. Both taught that Jesus fulfilled the ceremonial (e.g., the sacrificial) requirements of the Law (Matt.5:17; Mark 10:45; 1 Cor.5:7; Heb.9:25-26; 10:11-12)

12. Both taught that a New Covenant has been established, and ratified by Christ's death. (Luke 22:20; 2 Cor.3:6; Heb.8:13)

13. Both taught that following the teachings of Christ is the only true discipleship, and that those who do not agree with Christ's teachings are confused and dangerous. (Matt.7:24-27; 28:19-20; John 8:31; 1 Cor.11:1; 2 Cor. 10:5; 1 Tim.6:3-4)

14. Both taught that there will be a general resurrection at Christ’s second coming (John 5:28-29; 6:40; Acts 24:15; 1 Thess.4:16-17).

I challenge any critic of Paul’s to identify one doctrine of Paul’s that contradicts anything Jesus taught, or one major teaching of Christ that Paul did not affirm. This challenge cannot be met.

This being so, any suggestion that Paul was a false teacher or a false apostle is the sheerest nonsense, and exhibits a shameful lack of familiarity with, and/or a misunderstanding of, the teachings either of Jesus or of Paul—or both.

Thus, those who reject Paul’s authority are teachers of a doctrine which all of the apostles and the earliest fathers of the church would regard as heresy. To reject one whom Christ has set forth as His own emissary is to reject Christ Himself. There is no rational case for rejecting Paul’s apostleship, so those who do so (according to Christ) do so at the peril of their own souls.

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Re: Paul's genuine apostleship

Post by Seballius » Wed Sep 04, 2019 2:38 pm

Thank you for posting this!

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Re: Paul's genuine apostleship

Post by Paidion » Thu Sep 05, 2019 6:59 pm

I am puzzled that any genuine Christian would question the authenticity of Paul's apostleship—especially when one considers that 13 or possibly 14 of the 27 New Testament writings were written by Paul.

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Re: Paul's genuine apostleship

Post by steve » Thu Sep 05, 2019 7:19 pm

They also reject Acts, for the most part—because it is so pro-Paul. But if Luke can't be trusted to write objective history, we'd better eliminate his Gospel also. Hebrews also is too Pauline to be trusted, because it speaks of the new covenant ending the relevance of the old one. I assume they would also toss 2 Peter, due to the author's glowing endorsement of Paul.

I suppose they might (generously, I might add) allow us to keep 10 of our 27 books—so long as we don't recognize the dependence, for example, of 1st Peter upon the Book of Ephesians. In other words, they have sort of a reverse-Marcionite canon! The only books that Marcion accepted are, roughly, the very ones that they say we cannot trust!

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