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:
One of the reasons given most often by people who think Paul ‘hijacked’ Christianity is that Paul’s view of salvation differed from James’ view of salvation.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”Ephesians 2:8-10
“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.”James 2:14-24
The difference between what Paul and James wrote is obvious and has caused many debates within the Church for centuries. Paul wrote that we are saved by grace through faith and that it is a gift, “not of works.” It’s not of ourselves. Why? “… lest anyone should boast.” Once Paul established the correct order of saving grace, he added that we are God’s “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” Good works follows God’s gift of salvation.
Paul also wrote in his letter to the Christians in Rome “that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.” (Romans 3:28)
James, on the other hand, asked whether ‘faith’ can save a man? He wrote that “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” He also wrote that “a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.”
So, what do we do with this difference? Paul wrote that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law and that salvation is a gift from God, not of works. James wrote that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. Big difference?
I believe it has to do with what Paul and James knew and when they knew it. Let’s begin with James.
James was the son of Joseph and Mary and half-brother of Jesus. I say ‘half-brother’ because Mary was a virgin when Jesus was born. Joseph was not the earthly father of Jesus –
“Then Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I do not know a man?’ And the angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.”Luke 1:34-35
We also know that James was not a ‘disciple’ of Jesus during His earthly teaching/preaching ministry –
“Depart from here and go into Judea, that Your disciples also may see the works that You are doing. For no one does anything in secret while he himself seeks to be known openly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.’ For even His brothers did not believe in Him.”John 7:3-5
Some Bible students believe that Mark’s words in Mark 3:21 – “But when His own people heard about this, they went out to lay hold of Him, for they said, ‘He is out of His mind” – referred to Jesus’ brothers and sisters. Just a few verses later, Mark wrote that Jesus’ brothers and His mother stood outside of where He was speaking, “calling Him.” (Mark 3:31) That would include James, the author of the Epistle of James.
James became a committed disciple of Jesus Christ after Jesus appeared to him following His resurrection –
“For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.”1 Corinthians 15:3-8
Jesus most likely appeared to James, his half-brother, soon after the resurrection. Paul placed the Lord’s appearance to James before Jesus’ appearance to him (Paul). Acts 9 speaks of the Lord’s appearance to Paul. Then, we see half-brother James’ first mentioned by name in Acts 12.
James was referenced earlier in Acts when Luke named some of the people who went into the upper room after Jesus ascended to Heaven: “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.” (Acts 1:14)
The Gospel accounts list Jesus’ brothers as James, Joses, Judas and Simon (Mark 6:3). In response to what people said about Jesus in that context, the Lord responded –
“But Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house.”Mark 6:4
Jesus was saying that He, the prophet, was without honor in His own hometown (Nazareth), among His own relatives, and in His own house. That would have included His brothers and sisters. It seems obvious from what we read in the Gospels that Jesus’ brothers did not believe in Him until after He rose from the dead.
The murder of the Apostle James, son of Zebedee and brother of John, was mentioned in Acts 12:2. Herod had James killed by the sword. When Herod saw that the murder pleased the Jews, he had the Apostle Peter arrested and placed in prison with multiple guards making sure he didn’t escape. An angel of the Lord miraculously freed Peter from prison and Peter made his way to the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where many believers were gathered in prayer for Peter. When Peter got into the house, he told them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. He told them to go and “tell these things to James and to the brethren.” Since James the brother of John had already died at the hands of Herod, the James mentioned by Peter would have been the half-brother of Jesus. The next time we see James mentioned in Acts is at the Jerusalem Council where he was in a top position of leadership (Acts 15).
As we saw in our last study, James probably wrote his epistle prior to the Jerusalem Council. Based on that, we see that James, along with the other leaders (“apostles and elders”), concluded that what Paul was preaching to the Gentiles was legitimate and approved by God – even though it had some differences from what James and the other leaders in Jerusalem were preaching to the Jews –
“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. 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 15:13-21, 24-29
The Apostle Paul summed up the Jerusalem Council’s decision this way –
“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 2:7-10
Notice that Paul mentioned James’ name first .. before Peter’s (Cephas) and John .. and called them ‘pillars.’ Paul wrote that James and the others “perceived the grace” that had been given him and gave him and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship “that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.”
We know from Acts 21 that James stayed true to preaching the Gospel to the circumcised (Jews) many years after the Jerusalem Council. We know from Antiquities, written by 1st century historian Josephus, that James, “the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ,” was stoned to death in Jerusalem after appearing before the “Sanhedrin of judges.” The 2nd century Christian Hegesippus wrote that scribes and Pharisees took James (called the Just) to the summit of the Temple in Jerusalem and threw him down to the ground below. Hegesippus wrote that James did not die from the fall from the top of the Temple, so the Jewish religious leaders stoned him to death.
“And so he suffered martyrdom; and they buried him on the spot, and the pillar erected to his memory still remains, close by the temple. This man was a true witness to both Jews and Greeks that Jesus is the Christ.”Hegesippus, Book V, Roberts-Donaldson translation (2nd century AD)
Here’s a reminder from our last study:
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.”
Did Paul Know More Than James?
It would appear from what we read about the Jerusalem Council that Paul knew something the apostles and elders didn’t know. Even though God had given Peter some insight into the Gospel and Gentiles, many of the Jewish believers continued to believe that Gentiles should become Jews through circumcision and obedience to the Law of Moses (Torah observance) –
“Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: ‘Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.’ This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.” Acts 15:1-2
“Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, ‘The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses. The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them …” Acts 15:5-7
“The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them.” Acts 15:12
“Then after fourteen years, I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. I went in response to a revelation and, meeting privately with those esteemed as leaders, I presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain.” Galatians 2:1-2
Something else to add to our understanding of what Paul knew and when he knew it comes from a reading of 2 Corinthians –
“It is doubtless not profitable for me to boast. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord: I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven. And I know such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. Of such a one I will boast; yet of myself I will not boast, except in my infirmities. For though I might desire to boast, I will not be a fool; for I will speak the truth. But I refrain, lest anyone should think of me above what he sees me to be or hears from me.”2 Corinthians 12:1-6
Paul added that he was given a thorn in the flesh “a messenger of Satan” to buffet him lest he should “be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations.” Paul’s heavenly vision was more than just a quick visit to Paradise. His vision included an abundance of revelations. He heard “inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.”
Scholars believe Paul wrote 2 Corinthians about 55 AD. Subtracting 14 years (“who fourteen years ago”) means Paul had his heavenly vision about 41 AD, many years before the Jerusalem Council.
Based on what we read in Galatians 1:18-24, Paul would have been preaching the Gospel in Syria and Cilicia during the years following his 15-day visit to see Peter in Jerusalem and his time with the apostles and elders at the Jerusalem Council in 49 AD. As Paul wrote about that period of time, “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 todestroy.’ And they glorified God in me.”
This information makes it easier to understand why Barnabas searched out Paul after seeing what God was doing in Antioch –
“Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch. When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch. When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul. And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.”Acts 11:22-26
Historians believe Barnabas found Paul (Saul) and brought him to Antioch about 45 AD, four years after Paul’s heavenly vision and four years before the Jerusalem Council. That means Paul’s preaching and teaching with Barnabas in Antioch and during their first missionary journey was based on what Paul had learned from His time with Christ in the desert of Arabia and his heavenly vision with the abundance of revelations. Jesus gave Paul extraordinary access to both Himself and heavenly revelations that would have given the young apostle the right to preach and teach something the other apostles would not have known – yet.
So, we have several things to consider as to what Paul knew and when he knew it, especially as compared to what James knew and when he knew it.
- Paul spent three years learning from Christ in Arabia .. many years before the Jerusalem Council
- Paul experienced his vision in Paradise and received an abundance of revelations about Christ and the Gospel he would preach at least four years before the Jerusalem Council
- Paul and Barnabas taught at Antioch, Syria and conducted their first missionary journey prior to the Jerusalem Council
- Some believers from Jerusalem traveled to Antioch, Syria, and told the Gentile believers in the church there that they could not be saved unless they were circumcised
- Paul and Barnabas got into sharp dispute and debate with the Jewish believers
- Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem “in response to a revelation” and met privately with those who were esteemed as leaders of the church there (apostles and elders)
- The apostles and elders considered the issue for a long time (“after much discussion”)
- Peter shared his story about preaching to Cornelius and his family and friends (Gentiles)
- Paul presented to the Council the Gospel he preached among the Gentiles saying he wanted to make sure he was not and had not been running his “race in vain”
- Paul and Barnabas shared about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them
If the apostles and elders in Jerusalem knew the correct answer, why the lengthy discussion to discover the correct answer? If they knew what Paul knew, they would simply have said it at the beginning and ended what was apparently a lengthy meeting. It wasn’t until after Peter reminded the apostles and elders how God had opened the door to Gentile believers through his preaching and until Paul and Barnabas shared about the Gospel they preached to the Gentiles and the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles that the apostles and elders came to an agreement about how to deal with Gentiles who were coming to faith in Christ (Acts 15:13-29; Galatians 2:6-10).
The agreement was in line with what Paul had been preaching to Gentiles for many years. Paul didn’t come away with any new knowledge about the Gospel and how it should be preached, but James did –
“As for those who were held in high esteem—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not show favoritism—they added nothing to my message. On the contrary, they recognized that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised. For God, who was at work in Peter as an apostle to the circumcised, was also at work in me as an apostle to the Gentiles. James, Cephas and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised.”Galatians 2:6-9
James was a godly man and leader. When he listened to the testimony of Peter, then of Paul and Barnabas, he realized that what they were sharing was true about the Gentiles. In fact, James said this after listening to them –
“James spoke up. ‘Brothers,’ he said, ‘listen to me. Simon has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written: ‘After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things’— things known from long ago. ‘It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.”Acts 15:13-19
James heard the testimony of Peter, Paul and Barnabas, compared it with what he had read in the Hebrew Bible and made a judgment about how they should relate to Gentile believers. Notice that James made the ‘judgment.’ The apostles and elders agreed with James, but he made the initial judgment.
Yes, Paul did know more than James. He knew it earlier than James, which may help explain why the Epistle of James doesn’t mention Gentiles and the Gospel that Paul preached to them since it was probably written prior to the Jerusalem Council.
We mentioned at the beginning of this article that one of the reasons given most often by people who think Paul ‘hijacked’ Christianity is that Paul’s view of salvation differed from James’ view of salvation. Is that true?
The Gospel of Christ is that Jesus died on a Roman cross, was buried in a tomb, rose from the dead, and was seen alive by a large number of witnesses.
Paul and James believed and preached that Gospel. Their audiences were different (Paul to the uncircumcised Gentiles .. James to the circumcised Jews), but they preached the same Jesus Christ: dead, buried, risen and seen alive.
What was different was Jesus called Paul first to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 9:1-19). Paul did what Jesus called him to do. That is a credit to Jesus, not Paul. Paul simply obeyed what Jesus told him to do. Jesus controlled everything about the building of His Church.
In the next part of our special study, What Paul Knew and When He Knew It, we will compare Paul’s ministry with that of the Jewish apostles.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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