Some people believe that the Apostle Paul “hijacked” Christianity and turned it into something God never intended. How Paul, a mere human being, could have done that to God’s plan is not explained very well, but they still believe it. Some say Paul was a dupe. Others say he was a fraud. If you believe that, please read Paul – Apostle or Fraud. It should answer many of your questions about Paul 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. If you have not read previous parts to this series, please click below:
The Gentile Question
In the last part of our study we saw how God used Peter to open the door to preaching the Gospel to Gentiles in Acts 10, even though Jesus called Paul (Saul of Tarsus) to take the Gospel to Gentiles in Acts 9. Why would Jesus give that responsibility to Paul first, but use Peter to open the Gentile door? Let’s look a little further into Acts to get some answers.
Peter and Paul
Peter’s experience with Cornelius in Acts 10 played an important role in a confrontation between Paul and some of the Jews in Jerusalem we find in Acts 15. That event occurred after Paul and Barnabas had finished their first missionary journey to take the Gospel to Gentiles and Jews.
A group of Jews from Judea visited the church in Antioch, Syria, and told Gentile Christians that unless they were circumcised according to the custom of Moses they couldn’t be saved. That was contrary to Paul’s preaching to Gentiles and upset the Gentiles in Antioch. Paul and Barnabas disagreed strongly with and stood up to those Jews. The ensuing argument led to a special council in Jerusalem with all of the apostles and elders in attendance.
The question then was similar to the question before us now. Did Paul hijack Christianity? Did Paul change the Gospel of Jesus Christ into something God never intended? If that was Paul and Barnabas’ plan, the council meeting in Jerusalem would certainly call them both out for making a big mistake in preaching to the Gentiles.
First, here’s how Luke described the meeting in Acts –
“And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’ Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question. So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, describing the conversion of the Gentiles; and they caused great joy to all the brethren. And when they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; and they reported all things that God had done with them. But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.’ Now the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter. And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them: ‘Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.’ 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.” Acts 15:1-21
Next, here’s how Paul described that same meeting in his letter to the Galatian Christians –
“Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and also took Titus with me. And I went up by revelation, and communicated to them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to those who were of reputation, lest by any means I might run, or had run, in vain. Yet not even Titus who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. And this occurred because of false brethren secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage), to whom we did not yield submission even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you. But from those who seemed to be something—whatever they were, it makes no difference to me; God shows personal favoritism to no man—for those who seemed to be something added nothing to me. But on the contrary, when they saw that the gospel for the uncircumcised had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcised was to Peter (for He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised also worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles), and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do.” Galatians 2:1-10
Do you see in the words of Peter or James at the Jerusalem Council any hint of an accusation that Paul had tried to hijack Christianity and turn it into something God never intended?
Not even a hint.
In fact, we see that the Apostle Peter spoke up for Paul and Barnabas and supported their ministry to the Gentiles based on what God had showed him (Peter).
Luke and Paul Conspiracy?
Many of the people who have contacted me through the years about this issue believe Luke and Paul were co-conspirators in hijacking Christianity. They say we can’t trust what either one wrote in the Bible. So, I ask them if they trust what Matthew wrote. Most have told me, yes, they trust Matthew. I ask them if they trust what John wrote. Most have told me, yes, they trust what John wrote. I ask them if they trust what Peter wrote. Most have told me, yes, they trust what Peter wrote. I ask them if they trust what James wrote. Most have told me, yes, they trust what James wrote.
Question: did any of these ‘trusted’ apostles and authors say anything about Paul hijacking Christianity? Did any of these men who preached the Gospel of Christ and wrote Gospels and letters that became part of the Holy Bible warn Christians to beware of the teaching of Paul? Did they sound the alarm for Christians to steer clear of anything Luke wrote (e.g. Gospel of Luke, Book of Acts)?
They did not. In fact, the Apostle Peter wrote this about Paul –
“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
Does that sound like a word of warning from Peter about Paul? No, it sounds like a solid confirmation that what Paul was preaching and teaching was according to the wisdom God had given him. Peter went so far as to say that “untaught and unstable people” had twisted what Paul had written in “all his epistles” “to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.”
Whoa! Sounds like Peter is on Paul’s side – which is to say they both were in agreement and solidly on God’s side concerning the issue of preaching the Gospel to Gentiles.
What about John or James or Matthew or Jude? Anything negative about Paul or Luke in their writings? Nope. Not a word.
Claiming that Paul and Luke were involved in a conspiracy to hijack Christianity is in itself a conspiracy of major proportions. The evidence supporting Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles is overwhelming in the New Testament.
Keep in mind that Paul preached and wrote over a period of about 30 years. It would seem that if Paul was hijacking Christianity from the Jewish followers of Christ that the Jewish apostles would have warned the Jewish church about Paul. Shouldn’t we find something in their letters attacking Paul and what he preached?
Another thing to consider is that Jesus had the ‘last word’ in the New Testament. He appeared to the Apostle John after all of the other apostles had died and told him to “write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this” (Revelation 1:19). Jesus told John to write to seven churches in Asia Minor. Don’t you think that if Paul was hijacking Christianity from what Jesus intended it to be that the Lord would have told John to write something bad about Paul? Don’t you think Jesus, the Builder of His Church, would have warned His churches against Paul’s preaching and teaching ‘if’ Paul was trying to hijack the Church?
Jesus didn’t say anything about Paul in the church letters He dictated to John. John never mentioned Paul in any of his letters or in the Revelation. Nothing. Why? Because Paul, who died more than 25 years before John wrote, never did, said or wrote anything that Jesus didn’t want Him to do, say or write.
Don’t you think that if Jesus had told John that Paul had tried to hijack the church, John would have written about it or said something to his disciples? Some of John’s disciples wrote letters after John’s death and never said anything negative about Paul and his teaching and preaching. Read the writings of Ignatius of Antioch. He was a disciple of John and never said anything negative about Paul. Polycarp of Smyrna was a disciple of John and never said anything negative about Paul. The same is true for the disciples of Ignatius and Polycarp. They said nothing negative about Paul. In fact, all of them quoted from Paul’s writings!
Here are some examples that help us understand how disciples of the Apostle John viewed Paul. We begin with Polycarp’s Letter to the Philippians –
For neither am I, nor is any other like unto me, able to follow the
wisdom of the blessed and glorious Paul, who when he came among you
taught face to face with the men of that day the word which
concerneth truth carefully and surely; who also, when he was absent,
wrote a letter unto you, into the which if ye look diligently, ye
shall be able to be builded up unto the faith given to you,
which is the mother of us all, while hope followeth after and love
goeth before–love toward God and Christ and toward our neighbor. For
if any man be occupied with these, he hath fulfilled the commandment
of righteousness; for he that hath love is far from all sin.”
I exhort you all therefore to be obedient unto the word of
righteousness and to practice all endurance, which also ye saw with
your own eyes in the blessed Ignatius and Zosimus and Rufus, yea and
in others also who came from among yourselves, as well as in Paul
himself and the rest of the Apostles;
being persuaded that all these ran not in vain but in faith and
righteousness, and that they are in their due place in the presence
of the Lord, with whom also they suffered. For they loved not the
present world, but Him that died for our sakes and was raised by
God for us.”
But he who cannot govern himself in these things, how doth he enjoin
this upon another? If a man refrain not from covetousness, he shall
be defiled by idolatry, and shall be judged as one of the Gentiles
who know not the judgment of the Lord, Nay, know we not, that the
saints shall judge the world, as Paul teacheth?
But I have not found any such thing in you, neither have heard
thereof, among whom the blessed Paul labored, who were his
letters in the beginning. For he boasteth of you in all those
churches which alone at that time knew God; for we knew Him not as
yet.” Translated by J.B. Lightfoot
Next, Ignatius of Antioch’s Letter to the Ephesians –
12:1 I know who I am and to whom I write. I am a
convict, ye have received mercy: I am in peril, ye are
12:2 Ye are the high-road of those that are on their
way to die unto God. Ye are associates in the
mysteries with Paul, who was sanctified, who obtained
a good report, who is worthy of all felicitation; in
whose foot-steps I would fain be found treading, when
I shall attain unto God; who in every letter maketh
mention of you in Christ Jesus.”
Ignatius of Antioch’s Letter to the Romans –
4:3 I do not enjoin you, as Peter and Paul did. They
were Apostles, I am a convict; they were free, but I
am a slave to this very hour. Yet if I shall suffer,
then am I a freed-man of Jesus Christ, and I shall
rise free in Him. Now I am learning in my bonds to put
away every desire.” Translated by J.B. Lightfoot
Polycarp, Ignatius of Antioch and other early Church leaders did not warn the Church that Paul had attempted to hijack the Church from the Jewish purposes of Jesus Christ. Quite the opposite.
In the next part of our special series we will look at another early aspect of What Paul Knew and When He Knew It.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.