Let’s look at each reference you mentioned.
The question is not frivolous or trivial: was Paul an Apostle of Jesus Christ or a fraud? We’ve seen from the history of the early Church in Luke’s second letter to Theophilus (known to us as the Book of Acts) that Jesus Christ personally called Paul to be an apostle (Acts 9) and that the Holy Spirit called Paul to open the door of faith to the Gentiles (Acts 13).
About half of the Book of Acts references Paul’s ministry to Jews and Gentiles, and Paul wrote almost half of the New Testament. However, even with that overwhelming evidence, many people still refuse to believe that Paul was an apostle and go as far as to call him a fraud. In calling Paul a fraud they also call his writings fraudulent, which is a major issue for Christians. Most of the Paul-challengers I’ve heard from also believe 2 Peter is fraudulent, partially because the letter supports Paul’s apostleship and his authorship of Scripture.
If Paul is fraudulent, then what do we make of the writings of one of Paul’s most famous students, Luke? Can Luke be trusted if his mentor is a fraud?
As any good atheist would have done more than 40 years ago, I ridiculed the history of Israel as recorded in the Old Testament of the Bible. How could anyone believe what the Jews wrote about their national history when they were just trying to promote their own brand of ”religion?” Why should I believe them?
The problem with that line of thinking, I discovered, was what to do about the histories of other ancient nations that gave credibility to many of the historical records in the Old Testament? Were the historians of other countries who served other gods somehow joined in the Jewish conspiracy to promote the one God of Israel? That didn’t seem logical to me, so I looked deeper into several archaeological discoveries to see if I could find the truth. Could archaeology have the answer to my challenge to “Convince me there’s a God?”
We are answering questions from people who believe Paul was a liar and a fraud. These people say they believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, so the questions go beyond the usual opposition we receive from Muslims, Jews and others about Paul’s apostleship. The questioners claim to love Christ and His Word, but deny half of the New Testament. That is a concern when we see in Acts that Jesus personally chose Paul for a special ministry to the Gentile world (Acts 9) and that the Holy Spirit chose Paul to open the door of faith to the Gentiles (Acts 13 – 14).
Because half of the New Testament is in question, we are addressing the questions we’ve received in recent months in the hope this will help the people who sent them and others who are not open to hearing from God in Paul’s letters. (Many of the people who do not accept Paul’s letters as Scripture also do not accept 2 Peter and other Books of the New Testament as Scripture.)
We’ve spent the past 10 posts in the Book of Acts building a case for the connection Paul had directly to Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, the 12 Apostles, and the disciples of Christ in Judea, Samaria and Syria. We’ve also demonstrated confirmation by the 12 Apostles of Paul’s call to be an apostle to the Gentiles. Not once in the Book of Acts do any of the 12 Apostles call Paul a fraud or apostate.
We come now to the direct challenge to Paul’s Apostleship. Many who believe Paul is a fraud use the “steamroller approach,” asking scores of questions accompanied by Scripture to give the questions an appearance of truth. Don’t be fooled by that technique. The proof is in the quality, not the quantity.
I’ve been contacted by multiple people about my quoting from Paul’s epistles, so I’ll take their questions in order.
“Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.” Galatians 5:1-4
The Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD and the deaths of the Jewish apostles led to a decline in the numbers of Jewish followers of Christ in Israel who held to circumcision and obedience to the Mosaic Law. However, that did not mean the opposition to Paul’s message to Gentiles disappeared. Even though the decision of the apostles at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) should have ended the opposition to Paul’s apostleship and ministry to the Gentiles, Jewish followers of Christ continued to make trouble for Paul and the Gospel he preached “among the Gentiles (Galatians 2:2).
Some Christian friends have asked me why I’m writing a series to answer questions about the legitimacy of Paul’s apostleship. Almost every Christian I know personally believes that Paul was an apostle of Christ and that the Holy Spirit inspired him to write letters to 1st century churches (e.g. Romans, 1&2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, etc). So, why bother with what appears to be a fringe group of people who call themselves Christians, but do not accept Paul’s apostleship? I am concerned about three important matters.
“Now when they had come and gathered the church together, they reported all that God had done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. So they stayed there a long time with the disciples.” Acts 14:27-28
Saul (Paul) and Barnabas returned to Antioch of Syria after many months on a journey that began with the Holy Spirt saying, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” (Acts 13:2) That “work” included preaching the Gospel in several countries and opening “the door of faith to the Gentiles.” This was something that “both” Barnabas and Saul did, so again we see a powerful connection back to the Jewish apostles in Jerusalem who sent Barnabas from Jerusalem to Antioch as their representative.
It was Barnabas, representative of the Jewish apostles in Jerusalem, who saw what God was doing in Antioch and traveled to Tarsus to find Saul. It was Barnabas, representative of the Jewish apostles in Jerusalem, who brought Saul back to the Antioch Church to minister to the congregation of Gentiles and Jews. It was Barnabas, representative of the Jewish apostles in Jerusalem, who the Holy Spirit sent with Saul to open the door of faith to the Gentiles. It was Barnabas, representative of the Jewish apostles in Jerusalem, who returned to Antioch with Saul to tell the church congregation all that God had “done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.” It was Barnabas, representative of the Jewish apostles in Jerusalem, who traveled with Saul to Jerusalem to face those same apostles about what they had done in opening the door of faith to the Gentiles.
Was Paul an apostle or a fraud? Let’s see what happened when he and Barnabas met with the apostles in Jerusalem. If they thought Paul was a fraud, this would be their opportunity to call him out and set the record straight forever.
“Now the apostles and brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those of the circumcision contended with him, saying, ‘You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!” Acts 11:1-3
Uh-oh, Peter’s in trouble. The other apostles and brethren who were in Judea heard what had happened in Caesarea. Those of the circumcision (Jews) “contended” with Peter about his going into the home of uncircumcised men (Gentiles) and eating with them.
Watch what happens next because it sets the stage for what God is going to do through Paul (Saul).
We’re continuing an investigation into whether Paul was a true apostle of Jesus Christ or a fraud. A surprising number of people who call themselves Christians believe Paul was a fraud. They say that doesn’t affect their faith in Christ at all and even makes it stronger because they are following Christ and not “Paul.”
Paul wrote almost half of the New Testament, so people who believe he was a fraud do not obey the writings of Paul. Many of them also believe that 2 Peter is fraudulent, which just happens to support Paul’s apostleship. Others have doubts about some of John’s writings. However, most accept Luke’s Gospel and at least the first part of Acts, also written by Luke who was mentored by Paul.
We are laying an historical foundation for answering questions about the involvement of Saul of Tarsus in the growing movement of Jews who followed the crucified and risen Jesus Christ. There are many people today who identify themselves as followers of Jesus Christ who believe Paul was a fraud and not a true apostle of Jesus Christ. Because of that they do not subscribe to Paul’s epistles as Scripture, thus cutting out almost half of the Books of New Testament. Many of them believe 2 Peter is also fraudulent, which contains Peter’s support of Paul as an apostle and author of Scripture.
Paul made it clear in his epistles that he was “an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God” (Ephesians 1:1) and that he was speaking and writing what Jesus had revealed directly to him (1 Corinthians 9). So, for a group of Christians to deny that Paul was an apostle and to declare his writings as fraudulent is a major problem.
This is not the first time in the history of the Church that groups have opposed Paul’s apostleship and questioned his writings. As we continue laying the historical foundation for answering serious questions by these groups, we will also look at the history of anti-Pauline theology.
This is the third part in a special series looking at the question of whether Paul was a true apostle of Jesus Christ or a fraud. We’re investigating Paul because many people believe that Paul was a false teacher and opposed to Christ and His teachings. That has led those people to deny almost one half of the New Testament (Paul’s letters). They say that what Paul wrote does not represent the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is a serious objection and one that must be dealt with thoroughly.
Jesus told His disciples to do everything He commanded them to do and if what Paul wrote to the churches includes the commands of Jesus Christ, we must obey them. However, if Paul was not an apostle of Christ and was in fact a fraud, then we must not do what he wrote in his epistles because they are a lie and do not contain the commands of Christ. Whether we include Paul’s writings into our churches and our lives is all based on certain historical facts which can be verified. In other words Paul is who he said he is or he isn’t. We need to figure out which one is the truth.
“You only have Paul’s word for being a ‘light to the gentiles’ and let’s face it Paul was known as a liar, he said so.”
“Jesus never tells us to follow Paul. Paul tells us to follow Paul.”
“Paul did not meet the criteria for being an apostle, therefore he wasn’t one except through his own mouth.”
“Why did none of the other apostles or disciples of Jesus ever actually call Paul an apostle??”
“No, the early Church did not accept Paul. He was utterly rejected by the Ephesians, even Paul testifies to that. Ephesus found him to be a false apostle and a liar.”
These comments probably appear strange on a Christian apologetics blog, but they are quotes from recent online discussions I’ve had with people who believe the Apostle Paul was a fraud. Was he? Are none of his epistles to churches of any worth to followers of Christ? What about the the Gospel of Luke and Acts of the Apostles? Are they also fraudulent?
“But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light. And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it. Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it. But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.” Revelation 21:22-27
We saw in our last test of The Hell Test that “anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:15) While that seems to be a statement of finality, there are still two chapters left in The Revelation of Jesus Christ. Maybe it will be there that we discover something missing in the argument of “Christian Universalism;” that God will one day redeem every human being ever born, no matter what they believed or what they did during their lifetime, and welcome them into the eternity of Heaven. Let’s see.
“Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.” Revelation 20:11-15
In our last testing of The Hell Test, we saw that Jesus Christ revealed Himself to the Apostle John and the seven churches of Asia Minor as the Great Judge of the earth. In Revelation 20 we see Jesus sitting on His “great white throne” and the earth and the heaven disappearing from His “face.” We also see the dead, “small and great,” standing before Him. Books were opened and the dead were judged according to their works, “by the things which were written in the books.” Another book was opened, “which is the Book of Life.” Anyone not found “written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.” Could God have been any clearer about His intent to judge the dead and to “cast” those not found written in the Book of Life “into the lake of fire”? Well, maybe not. So-called “Christian Universalists” believe God has something else in mind for that lake of fire.
“You might want to reconsider the argument in your post. No serious scholar thinks this story is about hell.”
That is one of the written responses I received after posting The Hell Test – Tested (Part 12). First, the premise cannot be proven because the term “serious scholar” is not defined and only known to the mind of the writer. Second, when described by a scholarly definition – “thoughtful and sober learned person who has done advanced study in a special field” (Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary) – we will find many “serious scholars” who would agree that Luke 16:19-31 is about hell. Third, what does it matter whether anyone agrees with what you believe if what you believe is clearly stated in Scripture?
“And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.” Luke 16:23
In our last study we saw Jesus declaring to the Pharisees the result of serving riches instead of God. It happened when the Pharisees heard Jesus telling His disciples the parable of the unjust steward. Jesus hit the Pharisees where it hurts – in their pride and pocket book.
“No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.’ Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him. And He said to them, ’You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” Luke 16:13-15
It was after those words that Jesus told the Pharisees about the rich man, Lazarus and Abraham. The story included the use of the word hade (hades).
“If the Rich Man and Lazarus story (Luke chapter 16) is real and NOT a parable, then we will be able to converse with our loves ones who did not make it into heaven. Would heaven really be paradise if this were true?” (The Hell Test)
The short answer to The Hell Test’s question about whether the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus is real or a parable is – it’s real. Check out our previous post for a background about parables in the ancient world.
Parables are about real-life issues, but not real-life people. When you see a story with the names of real people used in it (e.g. Lazarus, Abraham), you know the story is real and not a parable. Another clue is when the writer identifies a story as a parable.
To help us see that the story of the rich man, Lazarus and Abraham is real and not a parable, let’s first look at examples of Christ’s parables in the Gospel of Luke.