Was Paul a false apostle? This is a question I had never really considered before. But I was forced to consider it due to a conversation I started on my Facebook page. Here’s how this question came up.
First, I presented a brief line of reasoning to prove that God will save all. This line of reasoning is based on one of my longer essays called Just How Great Is God’s Love? Here is exactly what I shared:
A line of reasoning:
- God is love. (1 John 4:7,8)
- God wills that all be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. (2 Peter 3:9, 1 Timothy 2:1-4)
- Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)
Question: If God is love, and love never fails, then how can God fail to save all people as He has stated He desires to do?
Many of my readers objected with various arguments, but one of my readers presented a rather unique objection. He said, “I believe you just helped prove that Paul, who wrote ‘Love never fails’ is a false apostle. God cannot lie.”
As we began to go back and forth, he gave me nine reasons he believes Paul was a false apostle. By extension, he believes that Paul’s epistles should not be part of the New Testament. I have listed each of the nine objections below along with my rebuttals.
1. Jesus warned of blind guides, Paul was blinded.
The main passage where Jesus mentions blind guides is in Matthew 23. Here is part of it:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.”
Jesus was speaking directly to the Pharisees and pointing out their hypocrisy. When he accused them of being blind, he was speaking figuratively. The Pharisees weren’t literally blind, only spiritually blind.
We can infer from this passage that Jesus was not only warning us of the hypocritical Pharisees, but also of guides who are spiritually blind.
Paul, on the other hand, was blinded physically. He literally could not see and had to be led into Damascus.
This argument, as presented, implies that physical blindness is the same as spiritual blindness and that people who are physically blind are not qualified to teach about spiritual things. I think it’s fairly clear that this is not the case.
2. Jesus warned of the Pharisees, Paul was a Pharisee.
Jesus spoke against the Pharisees repeatedly for their hypocrisy (see above). Paul was indeed a Pharisee. But God changed Paul’s heart. After Paul’s conversion, we see a distinct change. From that point on he speaks against Judaism as a means of salvation and emphasizes that we are saved by grace alone, not by works.
The book of Hebrews, which most agree was written by Paul, is all about how to immigrate from the old covenant to the new covenant. I personally think it is clear that Paul abandoned his Pharisaical background and became a champion for Jesus instead. Thus, Paul was no longer a Pharisee when he wrote his epistles.
3. Jesus warned of the doctrine of the Pharisees, that they were lax about the law, and added in for doctrine the commandments of men. Paul’s doctrine is against the law, and he adds in his own commandments, such as women cannot speak in Church, and cannot wear Jewelry.
I don’t find any basis for the idea that Paul’s doctrine is against the law. In Romans 3:31, Paul writes, “Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.”
In Romans 7:12, he says, “So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.”
And in 1 Timothy 1:8, he says, “Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully.”
So we know that Paul repeatedly affirmed the law in his writings.
Now, did Paul add his own commandments to the law? It might appear that way. For example, in 1 Cor 14:34-36, it appears that Paul is prohibiting women from speaking in church. Did he really do this? To answer this question, I would like to quote Stephen Jones, who writes the following:
Much confusion has occurred over the years from Paul’s writing in 1 Cor. 14:34-36. where Paul is thought to insist that women keep silent in the church. What people do not realize is that this passage was not Paul’s teaching. He was answering a letter from the Corinthian Church and decided to quote from it before refuting it. This would have been clear to the Corinthians, but later generations have misunderstood it to mean that Paul himself was teaching these things.
The Corinthians had written to Paul about church protocol, probably after a Jewish believer had come in and was insisting that the church follow the Jewish practice of disallowing women to speak (prophesy) in the church. Paul quotes the letter:
(34) Let the women keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but let them subject themselves, just as the Law also says. [What law? That was only the Jewish tradition—their interpretation of the Law.] (35) And if they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church. [End of quote]
Paul’s response to the above quotation is this:
(36) WHAT??? Did the word of God come forth from you (rather than by the Spirit)? Or did it come to you (men) only?
In other words, Paul was refuting this idea. The word of God can come from either men or women. For instance, Philip had four daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:9). Does anyone think that they had to prophesy only to their husbands at home? Can they prophesy in the street but not in the church? No, Paul says that the prophetic word of God can come through both men and women.
In the Old Testament, Miriam was a prophetess (Ex. 15:20). Deborah was a prophetess (Judg. 4:4). Huldah was a prophetess (2 Kings 22:14). Isaiah married a prophetess (Isaiah 8:3), who bore him sons that were named prophetically. So it is plain that the word of God can come forth from women as well as men. I cannot speak for anyone else, but I want to hear the word of God regardless of who it comes through. And I believe that the Apostle Paul believed the same, because he was appalled (no pun intended) that the Corinthians would be swayed to think otherwise.
So Paul was not actually adding anything to the law, rather he was refuting an idea that the Corinthians were attempting to add to the law.
4. Jesus warned and specifically commanded us to not believe it if we heard reports of a Jesus out in the wilderness or the private rooms. Paul claims he met a Jesus on the road to Damascus which is in the wilderness, and later, through private revelations.
Before I address this point, let us first read the passage that is being referenced:
5 For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. (Matt. 24: 5)
23 Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is the Christ, or, Here; believe it not.
24 For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.
25 Behold, I have told you beforehand.
26 If therefore they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the wilderness; go not forth: Behold, he is in the inner chambers; believe it not.
27 For as the lightning cometh forth from the east, and is seen even unto the west; so shall be the coming of the Son of man. (Matt. 24 : 23-27 ASV.)
Did Paul claim “I am Christ”? No, he did not.
Did Paul claim “Here is the Christ”? Or did he try persuade people that Christ had returned and was in the wilderness or inner chamber? No, he did not.
Paul said that Jesus appeared to him, but Paul never claimed that Jesus had returned. Here is how Paul describes his conversion experience in Acts 22:
“As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’ Now those who were with me saw the light but did not understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me. And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.’ And since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus.
“And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, came to me, and standing by me said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that very hour I received my sight and saw him. And he said, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.'”
Paul tells us that he saw a bright light and heard a voice. The voice identifies himself as Jesus. Clearly, Paul is not seeing Jesus in the flesh or even Jesus in his new body. Yet this does not invalidate Paul’s experience.
There were two witnesses to this experience who also saw the bright light, but could not hear the voice.
Paul’s experience reminds me of Moses’ encounters with God in Exodus 34. After Moses had been in God’s presence, his face shone brightly. Moses then had to wear a veil when he talked to the people.
5. Paul has no valid witnesses of his conversion experience; the two men on the road with him did not hear or see anything intelligible, and were not named, and gave no testimony.
Paul says two men were with him when Jesus appeared as a bright light on the road to Damascus. The two men saw the bright light just as Paul did, but they could not hear Jesus’ voice.
It is correct that we do not know their names and have no record of their testimony. This does not mean they did not speak of their experience to others. We simply have no record of it. I personally do not think this invalidates Paul’s testimony.
Nevertheless, is there somebody else who served as a witness? Yes.
Later, Ananias comes to Paul and restores his sight. Ananias is described as “a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there.” So Ananias lends much credibility to Paul’s experience when he says, “The God of our fathers appointed you [Paul] to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard.”
I find that Ananias’ testimony is credible and I have no good reason to believe otherwise.
6. Paul himself in Galatians says the other Apostles added nothing to him.
I don’t see how this is a “proof” of Paul being a false apostle. Paul says he received a direct revelation from the Lord. The other apostles never sought to add anything to Paul’s teaching, neither did they seek to correct him. And yet Paul considers himself the “least” among the apostles. He writes,
“For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. Therefore, whether it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.” (1 Corinthians 15:9-11)
Peter calls Paul “our beloved brother,” and says that the untaught and unstable twist Paul’s words to say things Paul did not intend. Here is the passage:
“…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 3:15-16)
The word “beloved” comes from Strong’s Greek 27 “agapetos,” which means “loved, beloved, with two special applications: the Beloved, a title of the Messiah (Christ), as beloved beyond all others by the God who sent Him; of Christians, as beloved by God, Christ, and one another.”
The word “brother” comes from Strong’s Greek 80 “adelphos,” which means “a brother, member of the same religious community, especially a fellow-Christian.”
Putting these two words together, we can see that Peter viewed Paul in a positive light and considered him to be a fellow Christian brother who was beloved by God and the other apostles.
The most interesting part of this verse is actually the last part, which says “as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.” Here Peter is implying that Paul’s epistles are part of the Scriptures. Rather than attacking Paul, Peter is vouching for his apostleship.
7-9. John/Peter/Revelation 2 warn of false apostles, and Paul fits the warnings perfectly.
Let’s address these passages one at a time, starting with the warning in 1 John.
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. (1 John 4:1-3)
By John’s definition, Paul has the spirit of God because he confessed that Jesus came in the flesh, died on the cross, and rose again. Unless I am missing something, I don’t see how Paul fits this description of false prophets.
Let’s look at the next passage in 2 Peter.
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. (2 Peter 2:1-3)
Firstly, the phrase “destructive heresies” is somewhat vague. Did Paul preach “destructive heresies”? It would be impossible to tell based on just this part of the verse.
Next, Peter says some of these false teachers will even deny the Master (Jesus) who bought them. Paul never denied Jesus after his conversion on the road to Damascus. Ironically, it was Peter who denied Jesus not once, but three times. (This is not to say I think Peter is a false apostle. He was restored by Jesus after He rose from the dead.)
Getting back to 2 Peter, did Paul follow his sensuality or was he greedy? No, on both counts. After all, he worked as a tentmaker to support himself so as not to be a burden to others (Acts 18:3, 1 Thess. 2:9, 2 Thess. 3:7-8).
So, again, I don’t believe Paul fits Peter’s description of false prophets.
The final passage used to try to prove Paul’s false apostleship is Revelation 2:2, which reads:
“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.
“‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false.'”
The church in Ephesus lasted from 33-64 AD. Here Stephen Jones comments on the passage:
The [Ephesus] church had done many good things. The church had good discernment in those days, so that they could distinguish between those who were genuine apostles and those who were not. This implies that there were more than just twelve apostles (eleven plus Paul, who ultimately replaced Judas). The twelve were obvious, although some disputed Paul’s apostolic authority. Yet Ephesus had confirmed Paul and others as well.
So if the Ephesus church confirmed Paul as an apostle, then it is clear that Paul cannot be among those referred to when it says “those who call themselves apostles and are not.”
I have now examined the nine claims that attempt to prove Paul was a false apostle, and I personally remain unconvinced. I don’t think the Bible or the arguments presented provide sufficient evidence to throw out Paul or his epistles.
That said, I stand by my line of reasoning as presented at the beginning of this essay that proves God will save all.