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 part to this series, please click below:
In the last part of our study we saw that the Apostle Paul and his missionary partner Barnabas were supported in their unique calling and ministry to Gentiles by none other than the Apostle Peter. The other apostles and elders in Jerusalem agreed with what Peter, Paul and Barnabas shared about God’s work in the lives of Gentiles and approved the writing of a letter to the church in Antioch.
“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 15:23-29
Notice that the apostles, elders and brethren of the church in Jerusalem called Paul and Barnabas ‘beloved’ and men who had “risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” That is a strong show of support for Paul’s ministry by the leaders of the Jerusalem assembly.
So, how did Paul hijack Christianity? How did Paul make Christianity into something God never intended? That thought lacks logic and common sense in light of the evidence. The men Jesus Christ selected as apostles during His earthly ministry gave verbal and written support to Paul’s ministry and message.
The apostles, elders and brethren of the Jerusalem church sent “chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, namely, Judas who was also named Barnabas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren (Acts 15:22).” When those men arrived in Antioch, they gathered the people together and delivered the letter. The members of the Antioch church read the letter and “rejoiced over its encouragement” (Acts 15:31).
Judas (Barsabas) and Silas were both Jewish prophets and stayed in Antioch for awhile and “exhorted and strengthened the brethren with many words” (Acts 15:32). Judas eventually returned to Jerusalem to convey special greetings from the Antioch believers to the apostles. Silas remained in Antioch and would become Paul’s second missionary partner.
Let’s look at that for a moment because it is another confirmation of Paul’s ministry.
Silas was one of the “leading men among the brethren” in Jerusalem. He was a Jewish believer and leader who the apostles entrusted to deliver their letter to the Gentile believers in Antioch. Barnabas, you may remember, was also one of the leading men among the brethren in Jerusalem who had searched out Paul when he saw what God was doing in Antioch. Barnabas became Paul’s first missionary partner and Silas became Paul’s second missionary partner to the Gentile world.
Here is how the Jerusalem church’s confirmation for Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles is adding up –
- other apostles
That looks like a strong contingent of Jewish believers from Jerusalem in support of Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles.
Another form of confirmation for Paul’s ministry to Gentiles was based on contention. Paul wrote about it in his letter to the churches in Galatia.
“Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, ‘If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews? We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified. ‘But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Certainly not! For if I build again those things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.”Galatians 2:11-21
Paul and Peter were friends and had been for many years. Peter was well-known and respected as being a leader and spokesperson for Christ. Why would Paul oppose Peter in such a public way?
It was because of the very thing Paul and Peter had presented to the Jerusalem Council of apostles and elders. Peter’s fear of the ‘circumcision’ group from Jerusalem and subsequent withdrawal from public fellowship with Gentile believers had to be addressed publicly – and that is what Paul did.
How did Peter respond to that public rebuke? We have no biblical record of Peter’s response, but we do have Peter at the end of his life writing about Paul. His comments may give us some clue about what Peter thought about Paul’s ministry and message –
“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
Again, strong confirmation from the Apostle Peter that the ministry and message of Paul was part of God’s eternal plan.
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.