The foundation of Christianity lies on one man: the Apostle Paul. Much of what distinguishes Christianity as a standalone religion, separate from Judaism, are Paul’s teachings. Without the writings of Paul, the New Testament (in particular the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke) paint the picture of a very Jewish Jesus primarily concerned with the Israelites and adherence to the Law of Moses.
It was only with the arrival of Paul that Gentiles (non Jews) were brought into the fold of the early Church. Paul is also the one who introduced doctrines that are completely alien to Judaism, such as Original Sin and justification by faith alone (meaning you are made righteous purely through belief and not good works). These doctrines weren’t part of the original teachings of Jesus. Remove Paul from the equation and Christianity is not much different to traditional Judaism, with the only significant difference being the acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah.
Since Christianity hinges on Paul then the question naturally arises, does Paul provide a solid foundation for Christianity?
THE OLD TESTAMENT: PAUL’S STUMBLING BLOCK
We will now look at several examples from Paul’s writings where he wrongly references the Old Testament in an attempt to support his theology:
1. Chopping off parts of verses and taking verses out of context.
Here Paul has half quoted Deuteronomy 30:14:
Notice that Paul has left out the part that states “that thou mayest do it”. Paul believed that obedience to the Law of Moses was no longer necessary, a claim that is contrary to the way that the life of Jesus is portrayed in the Gospels. In quoting the Old Testament, Paul seems to have omitted the instruction to obey the Law.
Furthermore, the fuller context of Deuteronomy 30:9-11 reveals why Paul couldn’t quote the full set of verses in context:
“And the LORD thy God will make thee plenteous in every work of thine hand, in the fruit of thy body, and in the fruit of thy cattle, and in the fruit of thy land, for good: for the LORD will again rejoice over thee for good, as he rejoiced over thy fathers: If thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to keep his commandments and his statutes which are written in this book of the law, and if thou turn unto the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul. For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off (not too difficult to obey).”
“And the LORD thy God will make thee plenteous in every work of thine hand, in the fruit of thy body, and in the fruit of thy cattle, and in the fruit of thy land, for good: for the LORD will again rejoice over thee for good, as he rejoiced over thy fathers:
If thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to keep his commandments and his statutes which are written in this book of the law, and if thou turn unto the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul.
For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off (not too difficult to obey).”
Not only does the above state that obeying the Law with all your heart and soul would make people prosper, but it also further states that the Law was not too difficult to follow nor is it beyond the reach of the people. This contravenes Paul’s claims that the Law is like a prison sentence and a curse:
“Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed.” [Galatians 3:23] “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us…” [Galatians 3:13]
“Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed.” [Galatians 3:23]
“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us…” [Galatians 3:13]
2. Quoting from the wrong version of the Old Testament.
“and in this way all Israel will be saved. As it is written: “The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.” [Romans 11:26]
“and in this way all Israel will be saved. As it is written: “The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.” [Romans 11:26]
Contrast Paul’s above quote with the Old Testament verse he is referencing, Isaiah 59:20. Open up any English version of the Bible and you will see that the reading for Isaiah 59:20 is similar to this (this is taken from the New International Version of the Bible):
There is clearly a mismatch between what Paul quotes in the New Testament, stating that the Messiah will remove godlessness, or sin, from “Jacob” (meaning the Israelites), and what the Old Testament actually contains – the Messiah will come to those who have already repented from sin.
What’s going on? Paul may have been quoting from the Septuagint, a Greek version of the Old Testament:
So we have two variant readings for Isaiah 59:20, the one in the Greek Septuagint that Paul seems to quote from, and also the one that is used in all English versions of the Bible which originate from the Hebrew Masoretic Text. It turns out that the reading that Paul seems to quote from, the Greek Septuagint, is the incorrect reading. This is because the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest surviving manuscripts for the Old Testament, support the reading that is found in the Masoretic Text (compare the two, they are very similar):
Masoretic Text – “The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,” declares the Lord.
Dead Sea Scrolls – “And a Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression, says the LORD.”
3. Misquoting verses.
Here Paul has misquoted a curse made originally in Deuteronomy 27:26:
The key phrase in the text is “confirmeth not”. It is not pronouncing a curse on everyone who does not meticulously or ‘mathematically’ keep the whole of the Law, as Paul implies. Rather, it is an exhortation to Israel to affirm the Law and then to do the best they could in applying it, basically “putting their money where their mouth is”. The curse condemns those rebels who rejected the covenant and did not confirm the validity of the Torah.
4. Misinterpreting verses.
Here Paul has referenced the Old Testament verse Genesis 17:19:
This is probably Paul’s silliest argument of all, because in the Hebrew language there is no ‘seeds’, only ‘seed’, as it’s a collective noun. Like in English, if I say bring your sheep, it can mean one or many. This is beside the point, as in Genesis 13:16 it gives us the correct interpretation as it says:
So then, “seed” refers to many descendants and not just one (Jesus) as Paul misinterprets.
5. Merging together unrelated verses (also known as “cutting and pasting”).
Click on picture to enlarge:
Here Paul has linked together unrelated verses of the Old Testament to come to the conclusion that no one is able to keep the Law, all are guilty of breaking it and are therefore unrighteous, and that the entire purpose for God revealing the Law to Moses in the first place was to make us realise that we can’t keep it. What Paul quotes is a compilation of no less than six separate passages that have been taken out of their original context from the Psalms and the book of Isaiah, given an interpretation that cannot be found there, and strung together to appear as one coherent passage.
Let’s examine one of the verses he has referenced. The first passage he quotes comes from Psalm 14:
In this passage David is not speaking of every human being, but rather of a distinct group of people whom he describes as “corrupt”. These evil people are then contrasted with a second group of people referred to as “my people” and “the generation of the righteous” This is obviously not the picture that Paul wants us to get from these Old Testament verses. Notice also Paul’s embellishment of this passage, he would have us believe the phrase, “no, not one” is used in association with the word “righteous”. The word “righteous” only shows up later in verse 5, and there it directly implies that there are those who are righteous, the opposite of what Paul would have us believe.
Christians tend to defend this by saying that Paul used a catena (or “chain”, a form of biblical commentary made up entirely of other verses). Apparently this was an acceptable and common practice back in his day. Whilst it’s true that there’s nothing wrong with chaining verses together, one cannot change their meaning in the process, otherwise you can make the Bible say just about anything. In Paul’s string of quotes, he took snippets of Old Testament verses out of their context from Psalm 14:1-5, Psalm 5:9, Psalm 140:3 , Psalm 10:7, Psalm 36:1 and Isaiah 59:7-8. In each and every case, the unrighteous individuals spoken of in the passages are specifically evil men, and in the greater context of the passages, the evil men are contrasted with those who are called “the righteous”, “the upright”, and “the innocent”. So, not only is there no support for Paul’s picture in these passages, but in their proper context, the exact opposite of what Paul intended is firmly established.
If Christians still think this is an acceptable practice, then they are invited to embrace my own concocted chain consisting of snippets from Acts 23:6, Matthew 23 and Matthew 16:12 which ‘prove’ that Jesus warned us against following Paul:
6. Was the End nigh or was the End not nigh, that is the question.
Another area that we can use to put Paul’s claims of apostleship to the test, is future prophecies. The Bible gives us a standard, a yardstick by which we can measure Paul’s claims to divine inspiration:
So we can see that anyone that makes a claim about the future which then fails to come true, cannot be inspired by God.
Now there are numerous statements by Paul that suggest he believed the End was expected in his lifetime
We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who have died. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died[b] will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. [1 Thessalonians 4:15–17] And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. [Romans 13.11-12] Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. [1 Corinthians 15:51-52]
We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who have died. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died[b] will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. [1 Thessalonians 4:15–17]
And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. [Romans 13.11-12]
Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. [1 Corinthians 15:51-52]
Perhaps the clearest of these is 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 where Paul states that “we will not all sleep”. Sleep here is a metaphor for death, so Paul seems to be saying that not all of the believers in his day would die before the return of Jesus. Obviously this is a false prophecy, as it has been 2,000 years since Paul wrote those words, and both the End times and return of Jesus still haven’t taken place.
In fact most New Testament scholars conclude that Paul and his followers expected the imminent end of the world during their lifetimes. For example, the distinguished New Testament scholar Professor C.K. Barrett wrote in his commentary on 1 Corinthians:
The majority of Christian scholarship that disagrees with this observation comes from evangelical circles which are motivated to protect their doctrine of scriptural inerrancy.
Now some Christians try to defend Paul by claiming that he was speaking figuratively. For example they argue that when Paul used the first person plural to refer to believers (“we will not all sleep”), this does not necessarily mean he included himself among them, but rather he was referring to a group of believers at some unspecified time in the future.
So what did Paul inetend by his statement, should we interpret it literally or figuratively? In order to arrive at the correct understanding we need to interpret Paul in light of his other statements on the same subject; this is a consistent and unbiased approach. Now let’s examine Paul’s writings on the subject of believers getting married:
As you can see, Paul clearly believed that the End was coming during the lifetime of his followers. In these verses, Christians ask Paul to comment on marriage, and he responds by saying that it is better not to get married because the “time is short”. Can anyone honestly say that Paul did not believe that the End was right around the corner? Paul’s statement regarding marriage only makes sense if he believed the End was coming very soon. It does not make sense if the End was supposed to come thousands of years later. Surely, he was not speaking to Christians 2,000 years later, who are still waiting for the End to come! Thus we can safely conclude that Paul was not inspired by God because he fails to meet the criteria set out by the Bible itself – a genuinely inspired person does not make false prophecies.
A Christian response to all of these points might be that Paul was just a fallible human being who made genuine mistakes in interpreting the Old Testament.
In reality it’s hard to make excuses for him and assume he made honest mistakes because according to the New Testament itself he had been a student of the leading authority on Jewish Law in Jerusalem, the famous Rabbi Gamaliel:
So, far from being ignorant, Paul was highly trained and sophisticated in his understanding of Jewish theology. Even if we accept the Christian response, for the sake of argument, then an even bigger issue emerges:
If Paul, as he himself claims, was guided by divine revelation then why was he inspired to make so many mistakes in quoting the Old Testament? Christian readers would do well to ponder this point.
As we have seen, Paul presented no credible biblical (or other) justification for his innovated doctrines. Quite bizarrely, in justifying his theology there was no appeal by Paul to what Jesus said or did; Christians would do themselves a service to reflect on this point. In fact, the one really good argument that Paul could not use is this: an appeal to the practice and teachings of Jesus. That would have been a legitimate appeal to authority – see what Jesus said and did. But Paul did not make this argument, precisely because he couldn’t – none of the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament advocate Paul’s theology such as Original Sin and justification by faith alone. This further proves that what Paul taught was at odds with what Jesus himself practiced. Paul morphed the very Jewish teachings of Jesus into an unrecognisable religion for Gentiles, by basing it on lies and abuses of the Old Testament.
Perhaps even more fatal to Paul’s claim of an Apostle is his alleged divine inspiration. Any inspired message from God should be infallible, as by definition God is infallible. In this blog post I have tried to be fair and evaluated Paul not by Islamic standards, which incidentally he would also fail, but rather based on his own bold claims within the New Testament. It has been shown that contrary to his own claims, Paul’s message was very fallible, so it stands to reason that Paul was not genuinely inspired by God. So I ask Christian readers, why then should we pay attention to his teachings? I’ll leave you with the words of Jesus:
To learn more about Jesus in Christianity and Islam, please download your free copy of the book “Jesus: Man, Messenger, Messiah” from the Iera website:
1 – First Epistle to the Corinthians by C.K. Barrett, commentary on verse 52, page 381.