I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen someone post on a Christian Internet forum and ask “Ugh…Paul…why do we care what he says?” It seems that the latest trend in revisionism within Christianity is to snipe Paul out of the picture. A couple decades ago, people aimed to take Jesus’ divinity and miracles out, but now many have set the scope on a lower target.
All this may stem from Paul’s influence in scripture. Paul’s epistles take up a significant amount of the New Testament canon. He writes a great deal about cultural issues, some which are too unambiguous to sidestep. Also, in an age where our culture is very liberal towards sexual issues, Paul is the immovable annoyance that keeps God from condoning any sexual relationships outside of a heterosexual union. I know this is a very tough issue and I’m not going to focus on Paul’s sexual mandates in scripture, but rather, I’d like to turn attention to the supposed validity of arguments against Paul’s placement in Christian dogma.
There are a few main common gripes on Paul that come up repeatedly, so I’d like to take a look at each one and raise questions about how each objection holds up. Here we go…
Argument #1. Paul is not Christ and we should put a lot more weight on Christ’s words in scripture rather than Paul’s
This seems legitimate on it’s face. I mean, Christ is the absolute authority and cornerstone of our faith. The Gospels are testimonies to the work Christ did for us. It is true and right to say that Christ’s words are more important and dear to us than Paul’s. Paul is really just kind of grabbing the coattails of this growing Galilean movement by the time he shows up, so maybe we’re correct to be suspicious. And yet…there are some things which don’t add up with this theory.
For starters, the gospels are considered by almost all scholars to have been written after Paul’s epistles. The epistles can be dated sometime between 51 and 58 AD. The gospels have been dated sometime between 68 and 100 AD. Luke is regarded to have been written by Luke, who was a student of Paul’s.
Taking all this into consideration, it seems more plausible that Paul was a higher influence on the text of the gospels than the gospels were standalone works themselves. I don’t actually believe Paul manipulated the gospel texts in any way, but if he did, you’d think he would have shored up his own apostleship more. The Christians back in the day already had a lot to suspect against Paul, so it wouldn’t have worked out well for him to start messing with the stories the disciples of Christ were already circulating.
Argument #2. Paul’s words shouldn’t be taken as seriously as the were only addressed to a certain group of people in a certain context.
There is a grain of truth to this argument, but I think we need to be careful about making such a sweeping assertion, considering Paul’s works were considered vital enough to remain in the Biblical canon. Paul did write to specific congregations and was addressing issues that needed an authoritative hand to straighten out. However, the epistles that made it into the New Testament canon were included specifically because they held some value to the universal church. Why were the the epistles of Peter or Clement and other epistles left out of the canon over time? Well, it’s because these epistles were either highly abused by heretical groups at the time or they contained a lot of localized mandates for the churches they were addressed to. A Christian could still read these letters and gain much value for his/her walk with God, but they were still not considered useful for the instruction of the entire body.
It’s important to remember that the canonization process has really never ended. It’s just that certain councils came together and confirmed or denied what popular as beneficial to the church at the time (before Guttenberg, mind you). Certain ones, stuck around and were universally accepted. Pretty much all of Paul’s epistles passed the test through numerous councils.
Argument #3. Paul’s conversion was a fake and as Jew he was trying to sabotage Christianity from within.
Now, this is just pure speculation. But let’s suppose it’s true for a second. If Paul was truly trying to twist Christianity as a Jew, he really did a piss-poor job. I’m sure vehemently defending Christian freedom to the Gentiles against the Judaizers won him a lot of friends in Jerusalem. Paul even went toe-to-toe with Peter regarding Peter’s sympathies with the Judaizing crowd. (Gal. 2:11) Thanks in large part to Paul and a vision to Peter while he was crashing at Simon the Tanner’s house, us Gentiles don’t have to be circumcised (yay!).
Paul also had a separate conversion from the rest of the Apostles. He was a Pharisee through and through until he met Jesus. (Phil. 3:5) So, this often gives people hesitancy and makes them think he might have been a double-agent. However, if we’re to believe that one well-known Pharisee who persecuted the church could’ve put the blinders on Peter and the rest of the disciples, we’re pretty much “up a creek without a paddle”. One man would have utterly destroyed the Church before it even began and Jesus’ promise to Peter that “the gates of hell” would not prevail against it would have come true. Even if one could make a case that there’s always been some sort of “true sect”, then that also means that the disciples failed to keep the teachings of Christ throughout the world where they were sent.
Here’s how I see, Paul: He was an emissary to the growing Christian world in a time where things were drastically changing. The 12 disciples were also Christ’s emissaries, but they had a bit of a different mission, to plant the Gospel. Paul’s job was to water it. That is why we have more writings. Also, let’s face it…he was also much more educated and had the capacity to face-off against the philosophies of the age with wit and vigor. If you think Christianity would be less pagan without Paul, then you should probably read more Greek philosophy. Paul, Clement, Irenaeus and many more during the first few centuries of Christianity defended the Christian faith against the rising tied of pagan thought by tackling the most popular philosophies of the day.
Don’t diss Paul. He isn’t the outlier many make him out to be, neither is he more important than Christ.