The Apostle Paul’s Place
The subject of our study is one of the most admired men who
ever lived. He penned more of the New Testament than any other inspired
writer. Probably more books have been written about him, second only
to Jesus. Perhaps the most widely studied work on Paul in the 19th
century is The Life and Epistles of St. Paul (2 vols., 1852)
written by W.J. Conybeare and J.S. Howson. Another valuable book
is St. Paul The Traveller and Roman Citizen (1895) by William
M. Ramsay. These books present a scholarly and conservative approach
to the life of the great apostle. There is a current revival of interest
in the life of Paul, and the books about him that are coming from so many
of the modern “scholars” are not of the same character as Conybeare, Howson
and Ramsay. The latter books about the apostle seem to serve some
political agenda of modernism.
In New Testament Christianity
Paul has been the subject of many high profile revisionists
who are taking another look at the great apostle. The Arkansas
Democrat Gazette (February 7, 1998) carried an article by Hieu
Tran Phan, entitled, “Blinded by the Light: Paul’s Role in the Formation
of Christianity Again Being Scrutinized” (p. 4B). Also, the news
magazine U.S. News & World Report ran an article by Jeffery
L. Sheler, entitled, “Reassessing an Apostle,” with the subtitle, “The
quest for the historical St. Paul yields some surprising new theories”
(pp. 52-55). The basis of both of these articles is to re-examine
Paul’s place in the establishment of Christianity. The revisionist
“scholars” of today claim that Paul “planted the seeds of a global church
– something Christ never envisioned” (ADG, p. 4B).
Some “scholars” now believe that Paul was more instrumental in the founding
of Christianity than anyone else, including Jesus (USN&WR,
p. 52.). It is now said that Paul was “Christianity’s true founder”
(USN&WR, p. 55). Over the past few years, “scholars”
have intensified their quest for the “historical Jesus,” and they have
now enlarged their focus to include the “historical Paul.”
When one considers what these revisionist “scholars” mean
by Christianity it is easy to see that they are not even close to a correct
understanding of the apostle.
Revisionists believe that Paul developed a spiritual
Christology by borrowing from pagan mythologies. “Religions such
as Mythraism had themes of a virgin being impregnated by some divine being,”
Plumer* says. “There were stories
of some godly person being killed on a tree or cross with the promise that
he would return. . . . There’s no way to prove that Christianity is historically
deficient, but it seems likely.” (ADG, p. 4B).
Among the more provocative theories that have emerged from
these types of studies are the following, as listed in the U.S. News
article (p. 52): First, “As a Christian missionary and theologian, Paul
knew little and cared less about the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth.”
The claim is made that Paul simply may not have known the teachings of
Jesus because he tells no stories about Jesus. Second,
Paul was intensely apocalyptic and believed that
Christ’s Second Coming was imminent. Consequently, he did not intend
his sometimes stern judgment on doctrinal matters and on issues of gender
and sexuality to become church dogma applied, as it has been, for nearly
In other words, Paul was busy anticipating the end of time
and did not expect his writings to constitute a divine pattern. Third,
Although an apostle to the Gentiles, Paul remained
thoroughly Jewish in his outlook and saw the Christian movement as a means
of expanding and reforming traditional Judaism. He had no thought
of starting a new religion.
Fourth, “For all of his energy and influence, Paul wrote
only a fraction of the New Testament letters that tradition ascribes to
him, and even some of those were subsequently altered by others to reflect
developments in church theology.”
In a world of “scholars” currently talking trash about
Paul, it would be well for us to assess Paul’s place in New Testament Christianity.
The history of first century Christianity is contained in two names – Jesus
and Paul. Unquestionably, most of the history of the early church
is embodied in the life of that great apostle to the Gentiles.
How Important Was Paul
It would be hard to overestimate the importance of Paul in
the spread of first century Christianity. His ability to work and
suffer for Christ was without parallel (1 Corinthians 15:10; 2 Corinthians
11:23-28). His influence was second only to that of Jesus Christ
(1 Corinthians 11:1). His writings that were inspired of the Holy
Spirit are more numerous and have more powerfully directed the course of
human thought and action than any others. Peter, a great apostle
though he was, was confronted by Paul once because he “walked not uprightly
according to the truth of the gospel” (Galatians 2:11-14), but who ever
confronted Paul because he was to be blamed for anything?”
in the Spread of Early Christianity?
In every area of activity, Paul cast a longer shadow than
any other disciple or apostle (1 Corinthians 15:10). He who was
once the scourge of the church became the surge of the church.
He was remarkably changed from a persistent persecutor to the great apostle
to the Gentiles (Acts 22:4-5; Romans 11:13). The Gospel was preached
to “every creature under heaven” during his lifetime (Colossians 1:23).
Paul Broadened the
Two factors contributed to the great success of Paul’s labors:
First, the universality of the Gospel message (Mark 16:15; Romans 1:16),
and second, the strength of personality which enabled him to carry that
Horizons of the Gospel
It was primarily through his efforts that the Gospel was
preached in Cyprus, Galatia, Macedonia, Greece, Asia and other places of
the Greco-Roman world. Modern day revisionists think that this is
something Christ did not envision for Christianity. Not only did
the Lord envision it, he commanded it! (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15).
Exclusivism was no part of Paul’s preaching unless that exclusivity is
in Christ! (1 Corinthians 1:23). Paul came out of Phariseeism, but
Pharisaic narrowness had no place in his preaching (Acts 23:6). Neither
did he produce a “Pauline Christianity” as opposed to a “Jewish Christianity”
(1 Corinthians 1:12-13). Paul knew that the Gospel was God’s power
to save every man (Romans 1:16).
Paul Revealed Christianity
Paul demonstrated that God’s love for national
Israel had merged into a wider love for spiritual Israel:
as a Spiritual Religion
“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth
any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. And as many as
walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the
Israel of God” (Galatians 6:15-16).
The falsehood is propagated by revisionists that Christianity
was just an extension of Judaism. It would appear that they do not
know any more than those first century antagonists who considered the church
to be a sect of Judaism (Acts 24:5; 28:22). According to the U.S.
News article, authors Richard Horsley and Neil Silberman, in their
1997 book, The Message and the Kingdom, argue that
Paul never considered his Damascus Road experience
a “sudden [conversion] to a new religion.” Instead, they argue, he
found it a revelation of “previously unknown details of God’s unfolding
plan for Israel’s salvation at the End of Day.” What Paul then began
to fervently preach was not a new faith but a refined and fulfilled version
of the old. (p. 54).
To the contrary, Paul was a chosen vessel to Jesus, not to
Moses (Acts 9:15). Paul preached the new covenant, which is a covenant
and not a conglomeration (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 8:6-9). Paul opposed
the Judaizers who attempted to forge Judaism with Christianity (Acts 15:1-5).
No one ever drew a clearer distinction between the Law of Moses and the
Gospel of Christ than Paul did! (Galatians 3:15—4:7).
Paul Spoke God’s Word
Liberal critics love to pit Paul against Jesus on matters
of social conscience. It is claimed that Jesus was a social radical
whose “love” theology was accepting of all cultural deviations, while Paul
was a renegade apostle who was not in lock-step with his Master.
Take, for example, the matter of the role of women in worship. Paul
said, “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the
man, but to be in silence” (1 Timothy 2:12). The remote context of
this statement is proper behavior in the life of the church (1 Timothy
3:15). The reasons for these limitations transcend culture (1 Timothy
2:13-14). Modern feminism feels the brunt of Paul’s words.
The “Rev” Nancy Hastings Sehested, “pastor” of the Sweet Fellowship Baptist
Church in Clyde, NC, said, “I’ve been beat up by St. Paul for the past
20 years” (USN&WR, p. 54). She “sees much of the
antifeminist stance as an outgrowth of Paul’s writings” (Ibid.).
Some critics reinterpret Paul’s words to mean that he was preserving order
in worship rather than limiting the role of women in the worship service.
on Two Important Issues
Paul’s teaching on homosexuality is equally provocative
(cf., Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11). The claim is made that
Paul was not repulsed by homosexuality per se, but the abuse of sodomy
– homosexual rape and sexual addiction that often occurred in Greco-Roman
Paul should certainly be appreciated for the great apostle
that he was, and who, second to Jesus, was the greatest exponent of Christianity
that the world has ever seen. His work and words still stand as the
plan of God to redeem sinful man.
*This is Fred Plumer,
pastor at United Church of Christ in Irvine, California, and an associate
of the Jesus Seminar, a radical panel deconstructing the
Bible. It is worthy of note that Deconstruction is
a method of literary criticism that “bases interpretations on the philosophical,
political and social implications of the use of language in the text rather
than on the author’s intention” (Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary).