We hope you have enjoyed this special series about what the Apostle Paul knew and when he knew it. We started this series more than three years ago to address challenges from people who believe Paul “invented” Christianity, “hijacked” Christianity or was a “dupe” for a false Jesus. I believe the evidence we’ve presented during the previous nine parts of this series, along with other resources we’ve shared, have demonstrated that Paul was a legitimate apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul and the Mystery
One of the reasons people give for their belief that Paul invented or hijacked Christianity is because of this claim:
For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles— if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you, how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets: that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel, of which I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power. To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him. Ephesians 3:1-12
Did God really reveal something to Paul that was a mystery to the other apostles until Paul told them about it? Or was Paul lying or delusional?
I think we’ve laid out the evidence in previous articles that Paul did know important things before the other apostles. We read about that in Acts 15 and Galatians 2. 2 Corinthians 12 demonstrates Paul’s special revelations years before he embarked on his first missionary journey to preach the Gospel of Grace to Gentiles.
Does that mean the other apostles didn’t know anything? Not at all. The first use of the Greek word mustērion is found in Mark 4:
But when He was alone, those around Him with the twelve asked Him about the parable. And He said to them, ‘To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables, so that ‘Seeing they may see and not perceive, And hearing they may hear and not understand; Lest they should turn, And their sins be forgiven them.’Mark 4:10-12
Jesus revealed the “mystery of the kingdom of God” to the twelve apostles. He explained the real meaning behind the parables He spoke to the crowds that followed Him. However, the apostles still didn’t understand what Jesus called Paul to do. Why? Because Jesus had another mystery (secret) to reveal and He revealed that to Paul.
God revealed many mysteries to people throughout the Bible. He chose both the timing and the recipent(s) for revealing the mysteries. Jesus selected twelve men to be His apostles. They understood what He told them to be about bringing in the prophesied Kingdom of God that would elevate Israel to a place of world dominance with Messiah Jesus in charge.
For example .. Jesus spent 40 days after His resurrection speaking to the apostles “of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). How did the apostles respond to the Lord’s teaching? On the day Jesus ascended back to Heaven, the apostles asked Him this question. Notice the question and the Lord’s response:
Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, ‘Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ And He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.Acts 1:6-8
With all the apostles had learned from Jesus before and after the resurrection, their question focused on Jesus restoring the Kingdom to Israel. That meant Jesus on the throne of David and the end of Roman occupation. Jesus had taught them that when He came in all His glory, along with the holy angels who would be with Him, He would sit on the throne of His glory and judge all the nations (Matthew 25:31-33). That’s what Jesus had taught them and that’s what they expected would happen. The question the apostles asked Jesus on the day of His ascension came from their understanding of the order of how things would happen in bringing in the Kingdom of God. Jesus responded that it wasn’t for them to know when that would happen, but it was their responsibility to be witnesses to Him in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the end of the earth. What the apostles needed to do was wait to receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them.
As we follow the preaching of the apostles on the day the Spirit of God came upon them (Pentecost) and the following days, weeks and months, we see that their emphasis was on preaching salvation to Jews through the name of Jesus. Even replacing Judas Iscariot as an apostle was based on the person having accompanied the other apostles all the time that Jesus had ministered on earth — “beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us.” The apostles cast their lots and the lot fell on Matthias, so he was numbered with the eleven apostles (Acts 1:21-26).
Jesus had another mystery to reveal, but He chose to do that through an enemy:
Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ And he said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ Then the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ So he, trembling and astonished, said, ‘Lord, what do You want me to do?’ Then the Lord said to him, ‘Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.’ And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one. Then Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank. Acts 9:1-9
Jesus then spoke in a vision to a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. Jesus told Ananias to go to the street called Straight and inquire at the house of Judas for Saul of Tarsus. Ananias expressed concern about doing that because Saul (Paul) was well known as a persecutor of the saints in Jerusalem. Here’s how Jesus responded to Ananias:
But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.Acts 9:15-16
Jesus chose Paul separately from His other apostles because He was going to reveal the mystery Paul preached and wrote.
The Mystery Explained
Paul explained the mystery as Jesus doing something the Hebrew prophets and other apostles did not anticipate:
- The death of Jesus on the Cross made two oppositional people groups, Jew and Gentile, one new people group — “so as to created in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity” (Ephesians 2:15-16).
- Spiritual blindness in part happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles comes in (Romans 11:25).
Jesus did not reveal those two important truths to the Twelve Apostles while He was on earth. Even after His resurrection from the dead, though Jesus taught the Twelve many things about Himself from the Hebrew Bible, He did not reveal to them the mystery of creating “in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace.” The Twelve didn’t know that Jesus would make a new man from the two enemies (Jew and Gentile), and that He would set aside Israel until a time when the “fullness of the Gentiles” had come in.
You can read more about the mystery Jesus gave Paul to reveal from Acts 9 – 28 and Paul’s epistles. It’s important that we understand the two mysteries Jesus revealed to His apostles: the mystery of the Kingdom of God to the Twelve and the mystery of the Body of Christ to Paul.
I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God, the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily. Colossians 1:24-29
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 duped. 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, here are some of the previous studies in our series. If you have not read them, please click below:
You can download and share two free eBooks from this series:
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Faith and Self Defense © 2022