It seems like everyone wants to jump on the bandwagon of Paul hijacking Christianity and turning it into something different than what Jesus Christ intended. Another way people have presented it to me is that Paul “invented” Christianity. Others say that Paul was a “dupe” of a false Jesus.
Is that true? Did Paul hijack Christianity? Did he invent it? Was he a dupe of a false Jesus?
If you think Paul was a dupe or a fraud, please read Paul – Apostle or Fraud. It should answer many of your questions about him and his position in the early Church.
If you wonder what the early Church thought of Paul’s writings, please read Convince Me There’s A God – The New Testament Part 7.
As for whether Paul hijacked or invented Christianity, let’s look at what Paul knew and when he knew it.
Saul of Tarsus (Paul) became a follower of Jesus Christ soon after Christ’s resurrection (many scholars believe within 2-4 years of the resurrection).
Saul was well known for being a chief persecutor of the early Church, a persecution which helped expand the reach of the Church beyond Jerusalem and Judea.
“As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison. Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.” Acts 8:3-4
Saul became a follower of Jesus Christ soon after the Lord confronted him as he was on his way to Damascus to arrest people for following Jesus. The Lord sent a man named Ananias to speak with Saul and baptize him as a follower of Christ.
“And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized.” Acts 9:17-18
Son of God
Luke’s history of the early Church includes these words about the early days of Saul as a witness for Christ –
“So when he had received food, he was strengthened. Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus. Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God.” Acts 9:19-20
Saul preached in the Jewish synagogues in Damascus that Jesus Christ “is the Son of God.” That’s an amazing statement in light of what Saul believed as a Pharisee. Here is how Saul (Paul) defended himself before King Agrippa –
“My manner of life from my youth, which was spent from the beginning among my own nation at Jerusalem, all the Jews know. They knew me from the first, if they were willing to testify, that according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee. And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers. To this promise our twelve tribes, earnestly serving God night and day, hope to attain. For this hope’s sake, King Agrippa, I am accused by the Jews. Why should it be thought incredible by you that God raises the dead? Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities.” Acts 26:4-11
Paul admitted that he had done many things “contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.” He knew what the disciples of Christ claimed about Him. We know that Paul was present at the stoning of Stephen and heard what Stephen said about Jesus. Paul probably also knew what Peter, John and other apostles had preached about Jesus in Jerusalem –
“Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know— Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it.” Acts 2:22-24
“Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear. ‘For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself: ‘The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool. Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ. Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?’ Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” Acts 2:29-39
And then there was what Stephen said –
“You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.’ When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, ‘Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” Acts 7:51-56
Saul was not surprised by what Stephen said because Stephen had been saying many of these same things in public. Saul knew that disciples of Jesus believed He was both Lord and Christ. Saul knew disciples of Jesus believed He had been murdered, but had risen from the dead. Saul knew disciples of Christ believed He had ascended to Heaven and was at the right hand of God. Saul knew disciples of Jesus believed He fulfilled Messianic prophecy. Saul knew and was “exceedingly enraged against them.”
Notice in Paul’s defense before Agrippa that he admitted to having “compelled” the followers of Christ “to blaspheme.” Paul knew the disciples believed Jesus Christ was the Son of God, so Saul’s persecution was focused on punishing them and causing them to blaspheme by saying that Jesus was not the Son of God and that God had not raised Jesus from the dead.”
So, for Saul to preach that Jesus Christ “is the Son of God” was a huge departure from what he had believed as a Pharisee. It was a true “conversion” in that Saul made a giant turn from believing Jesus was not alive and was not the Son of God to believing Jesus was alive and was the Son of God.
What changed Saul’s mind? Jesus Christ, alive and powerful, confronted Saul on the road to Damascus. Saul’s defense continued before Agrippa –
“While thus occupied, as I journeyed to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests, at midday, O king, along the road I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we all had fallen to the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me and saying in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ So I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you. I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.” Acts 26:12-18
Acts 9:19-20 states that Saul preached the Deity of Jesus Christ “immediately” after spending “some days” with the disciples at Damascus.
Does the word immediately mean Saul was preaching Christ’s Deity within days of his conversion? Or was it weeks, months or years? The Greek word tinas (some) carries the idea of a “certain” number or person or thing. The word does not indicate the specific number of days Saul spent with the disciples leadings up to the word “immediately.”
The Greek word translated “immediately” is eutheōs and means “at once, directly.” It comes from the word euthus which means “straight, straightway, without detours, without delay.”
Luke recorded a number of testimonies by Paul (Saul) about his conversion, but they do not give us more insight into how quickly after his conversion Paul preached that Jesus “is the Son of God.” So, we look to Paul’s letters to see if we can learn more about that time immediately following his conversion.
We find more specific information in Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia:
“But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it. And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him fifteen days.” Galatians 1:11-18
Paul’s timeline included the following –
- Persecuting the Church for the purpose of destroying it
- God calling Paul through His grace, to reveal His Son in him that he might preach to the Gentiles
- Paul did not immediately confer with human beings (flesh and blood) nor go up to Jerusalem to speak with the Lord’s other apostles, but went to Arabia instead.
- Paul returned to Damascus
- After three years Paul went up to Jerusalem to see Peter and stayed with him for 15 days
We know from Paul’s timeline revealed in Galatians that there was a period of at least three years between his conversion in Damascus and going up to Jerusalem to see Peter.
Question: Did Paul spend three years in Arabia or in Damascus after returning from Arabia?
Answer: Most likely Arabia. Jesus spent about three years with his other apostles and may have given Paul a similar period of time to reveal the Gospel that Paul would preach to the Gentiles. It appears to have been a time of preparation for Saul for the ministry Jesus had called him to perform.
Question: What did Saul do while he was in Arabia?
Answer: Saul learned directly from Jesus Christ. “But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
Paul did not receive the Gospel from men and he wasn’t taught it. What Paul preached “came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
Imagine that! Saul, the formerly hostile, enraged persecutor of the followers of Jesus Christ received the Gospel directly from Jesus Christ.
That means Paul personally met with Jesus Christ in Arabia and received the Lord’s revelation (apokalupsis) concerning the gospel (euaggelion).
“Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God.”
The immediately in Acts 9:20 very well may have been what Paul did immediately after his conversion or immediately upon returning from the Arabian desert where he received the gospel revelation from Jesus Christ. Jesus had already spoken to Paul on the road to Damascus, so Paul knew from the Lord that He was the Son of God. Whether on the road to Damascus on in Arabia, Paul knew what he knew not because human beings told him or taught him. Paul knew what he knew because Jesus revealed it to him.
When Saul preached in the synagogues of Damascus that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, Saul preached what the risen Lord had revealed to him. Saul saw and heard the truth from The Truth.
“Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him fifteen days.”
Paul left Damascus and traveled to Jerusalem where he met with the Apostle Peter for 15 days. He did not meet with the other apostles except for James, the Lord’s brother (Galatians 1:19).
This is very important. Much has been said through the centuries about Paul, Peter and James, the Lord’s brother, being at odds with each other on Christian doctrine. The fact is Paul spent three years learning from Jesus Christ personally, then traveled to Jerusalem to meet with two of the most important leaders in the early Church. Did Jesus tell Paul to do that so Peter and James would know that the Lord had called and taught Paul even as He had called and taught Peter and the other apostles? Did Jesus want Peter and James to understand Paul’s specific calling to the Gentiles for what was going to happen to the Church in the future?
Paul and Peter/James represented two leadership teams in the early Church. Paul and those who traveled with him (e.g. Barnabas, Silas) had a divine mission to the Gentiles. Peter, James and those worked with them (e.g. John and other Jewish apostles) had a divine mission to the Jews. Jesus sent both teams into the world to build His Church.
Both Peter and James expressed their support for Paul’s doctrinal position at a later time, which goes to their support that began with the initial meeting in Jerusalem –
“Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation—as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.” 2 Peter 3:14-16
“Then all the multitude kept silent and listened to Barnabas and Paul declaring how many miracles and wonders God had worked through them among the Gentiles. And after they had become silent, James answered, saying, ‘Men and brethren, listen to me: Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written: ‘After this I will return And will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down; I will rebuild its ruins, And I will set it up; So that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, Even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, Says the Lord who does all these things.’ ‘Known to God from eternity are all His works. Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood. For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.’ Then it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, namely, Judas who was also named Barsabas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren. They wrote this letter by them: ‘The apostles, the elders, and the brethren, To the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia: Greetings. Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, ‘You must be circumcised and keep the law’—to whom we gave no such commandment— it seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who will also report the same things by word of mouth. For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.” Acts 15:12-29
In the next part of our special series about what Paul knew and when he knew it, we will look at more doctrines Paul preached in the early days of the Church.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.