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:
The preaching and teaching ministry of the Apostle Paul, as seen in the Book of Acts, was supported by the original apostles of Jesus Christ along with James and the other elders at the church in Jerusalem. However, what about Paul’s letters? Many critics of Paul believe his letters point to a major disagreement between Paul and the apostles?
Some scholars point to differences between Paul’s letters and the letter James wrote to early Christians as evidence that Paul changed the message of Christianity. Is that true?
The first New Testament writing may have been James’ letter. Many scholars place the date of writing at about 45 AD. That would have been prior to the Jerusalem Council where James, the apostles and other elders of the church met to discuss the question of preaching the Gospel to Gentiles. It was at that meeting where both sides of the issue were debated. When the dust cleared, James made this pronouncement –
“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.”Acts 15:18-19
The date of the Jerusalem Council is estimated to be between 48 – 50 AD – a few years after James wrote his letter. That means what James wrote in his letter – “To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad” – was before he came to an understanding about Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles. James makes no mention in his letter of a preaching ministry to the Gentiles by Peter, Paul, Barnabas or anyone else. It was not an issue James raised with the Jewish believers who were “scattered abroad.”
Here are main points in James’ letter:
- Trials in following Christ
- Doers of the Word
- Danger of personal favoritism
- Faith without works is dead
- Danger of the tongue
- Wisdom – Heavenly or demonic
- Danger of pride
- Importance of humility
- Do not judge a brother
- Do not boast about tomorrow
- Judgment of wealthy oppressors
- Importance of patience and perseverance
- Prayers for the sick
- Turning a brother from sin
These are rather basic theological points within Christianity. However, the one about faith without works being dead has caused much debate through the centuries.
“What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”James 2:14-26
James was writing to members of the twelve tribes of Israel who were ‘scattered abroad.’ Those Jews would be descendants of Jewish people taken captive by Babylon centuries earlier who did not return to Judah after the Persians granted them freedom to do so. The ‘scattered tribes’ would be the Jewish families living outside of Israel, many of whom would make annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem.
It may be that many of the Jews who received James’ letter had become followers of Christ during Pentecost about 15 years earlier. Acts 2:5-11 details that many of the people who heard Peter’s sermon in Jerusalem on Pentecost were visitors from Mesopotamia, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, Libya, Cyrene and Rome. James was head of the Jerusalem assembly of Christ followers and wanted Jews living outside Israel to know what he was teaching believing Jews living inside Israel. James may also have addressed things he had heard about how believing Jews were living outside Israel.
Many scholars believe Paul’s first letter was the one he wrote to the Galatians – probably between 49-51 AD. Other scholars believe Paul may have written to the Thessalonians before he wrote to the Galatians.
Paul mentioned a timeline in his letter to the Galatians that included three years and 14 years –
“Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James, the Lord’s brother. (Now concerning the things which I write to you, indeed, before God, I do not lie.) Afterward I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. And I was unknown by face to the churches of Judea which were in Christ. But they were hearing only, ‘He who formerly persecuted us now preaches the faith which he once tried to destroy.’ And they glorified God in me … 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 1:18-24; 2:1-10
Based on Jesus’ death and resurrection about 30 AD and Paul’s conversion between 32-33 AD, the 17 years Paul mentioned in Galatians would place the Jerusalem Council about 49-50 AD – a few years after James wrote his letter to the ‘twelve tribes which are scattered abroad.”
One reason for differences between what Paul and James wrote in their letters, if there are differences, might come from what they both ‘knew’ at the time of the Jerusalem Council. We’ll look at that next time as our special series continues.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.