THE THEOLOGICAL ENGINEER
Why bawl at Paul?
By Jeff Laird
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Even beyond specific scriptures, attacking Paul as a heretic leads directly to an important question for those who reject his theology. Namely, are they willing to follow that to its logical conclusion? If Paul is completely heretical, those who approved of Paul's ministry can't be trusted in their theology, either (Psalm 101:7, Proverbs 13:5, 1 Thessalonians 2:4, Matthew 7:15). One cannot reject Paul's theology as aberrant while simultaneously accepting any books of the New Testament, other than Matthew, James and Jude. Consider the following:
• Luke clearly approved of Paul's message, since he chose to travel extensively with him on missionary journeys. So, critics of Paul should be skeptical of both the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts.
• Hebrews may or may not have been written by Paul, but it constantly speaks of justification by faith and the movement from an Old Covenant (the Law) into a New Covenant. Someone calling Paul's teachings contrary to Christ presumably won't accept a book that could have been written by Paul himself.
• Peter commends Paul and his writings, even after Paul's death (2 Peter 3:14-18). So, Peter's writings would be theologically suspect.
• Following this, Paul's attackers should eliminate the Gospel of Mark, since it was recorded by an immediate disciple of Peter, if not dictated outright by Peter himself.
• Revelation encourages Ephesus, a church Paul founded and then stayed with for three years, to return to its "first love", to the way that church was in the past. It explicitly praises them for weeding out false teachers, mentioning several (Revelation 2:6, Revelation 2:14-15), yet makes no mention of Paul as one of them (Revelation 2:2-5). Paul preached extensively and successfully in the regions near the seven Churches, and died before John wrote most of his works. And yet, neither Paul nor his teachings are mentioned as heretical in any part of John's writing. So, John apparently had no problem with what Paul preached, making all of his writings questionable as well.
For those keeping track, the above affects every New Testament book but Matthew, James and Jude. All but three New Testament books were either written by Paul or by someone who did not object to his ministry when given a clear opportunity. And those three books don't mention Paul or his ministry at all. Virtually the entire New Testament was either written by Paul, or by someone who approved of his message. Rejecting him not only means rejecting most of the New Testament, but questioning the spiritual judgment of two of the original Apostles, John and Peter.
Those who condemn Paul as a false apostle, but accept books like Mark or Luke or Revelation are dealing in serious contradictions. In practice, I don't know many upbraiding Paul who actually follow through by rejecting all of the books "contaminated" by his theology.
Rejecting the writings of Paul is simply not Biblically justifiable. This does not prevent the anti-Pauline camp from being passionate, aggressive defenders of what they believe. Unfortunately, in my experience, most who reject Paul do so with an arrogant and hostile attitude. They rely heavily on repetition of arguments, all based on Scriptures which can be easily understood when read in context. Testing our faith is good, and necessary (Acts 17:11, 1 John 4:1), but reason is only useful when someone wants to be reasonable.
For that reason, I don't recommend spending a great deal of time debating the issue, should it come up. In particular, those who have made up their mind about Paul — at least in my experience — are highly unlikely to discuss it reasonably. It's good to have an answer for every possible argument (2 Corinthians 10:5), but not everyone is going to be receptive to what we say (Matthew 7:6). If all we do is make a reasonable case, then let the Holy Spirit take care of the rest (Mark 6:11), we've done enough.
Image source: "Saint Paul in prison" by Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn, Germany, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, 1627; Public Domain
Tags: Controversial-Issues | False-Teaching | Theological-Beliefs
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