An on-going argument: How "non-Jesus" was Paul, really?

Part ONE


[draft Jan 3/1998]

Someone recently sent me the URL for a site by a Muslim, in which he basically attacked Paul's beliefs, integrity, and legitimacy. When I read the material, the section on Paul was so appalling (pun intended) that I had to respond.

Now, let me be clear about a few things about the writer's position.

My intent in this response is very limited:

  1. to show that the writer's use of the data is incorrect;
  2. to show that the writer only uses an unrepresentative minority of the evidence available
  3. to show that the writer's argument is apparently unaware of the majority of the data on the subject;
  4. to show that the writer's argument cannot be trusted to give an adequate and accurate portrayal of Paul's views

I DO NOT intend to develop and defend the correct position on each point, nor do I intend to give lengthy counter-arguments. I DO intend to briefly state evidence and arguments that count against the writer's argument, in keeping with my purpose. I simply want to make the case that readers should NOT trust this writer's arguments as relating to Paul. (His accuracy concerning Islam will have to be left to those more knowledgeable than I, at this point.)

As usual, the writer's words will be in "BOLD" QUOTES, and mine in regular font. And, since the writer will be quoting 'uncritically' from the New Testament, I will do the same without asking questions of authenticity, spurious additions, etc.

He begins...

 

"In modern Trinitarian Christianity, Paul, called 'the apostle', assumes central importance. It is his epistles which form the foundation of the religion of the 'crucified Christ' teaching salvation through faith in the resurrection.

If he is saying that this 'religion of a Crucified Christ' was Paul's invention, then this is simply incorrect and misleading.

One of the strongest messianic strands of thought in the Tanakh/OT is that of the Rejected Messiah/Persecuted Messiah/Pierced God. The passages of Isaiah 53 (and the other so-called 'servant songs'), Zech 12.10; Psalm 110, and Psalm 2 form the core of this expectation of a rejected Messiah. This expectation shows up in standard rabbinical writings, as well as the literature of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The aspect of a Rejected/Persecuted messiah was pre-Pauline, and is very well-documented.

And the prophecy of the actual DEATH of the messiah was also explicit in the messianic hope of the Jews of Jesus' day. Isaiah 53 said specifically that the messiah would be killed, and the early apostles (not Paul!) used Psalm 16 about David's 'not seeing decay' as prediction of BOTH the death AND the resurrection of the messiah. The aspect of an executed messiah was pre-Pauline.

And the Tanakh/OT predicted that this death would come at the hands of Israel (e.g. Zech 12.10) AND with the collaboration of Gentiles (e.g. Ps 2; Is 30). [At the time of Christ, this would have virtually required it to be a crucifixion!]

And what about the words of Jesus? Did He proclaim the 'crucified Christ' or would this have been a surprise to Him? Let's see some of Jesus' words:

And as Jesus was about to go up to Jerusalem, He took the twelve disciples aside by themselves, and on the way He said to them, 18 "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death, 19 and will deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify Him, and on the third day He will be raised up."(Matt 20.17)

And it came about that when Jesus had finished all these words, He said to His disciples, 2 "You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man is to be delivered up for crucifixion."(Matt 26.1)

He is not here, but He has risen. Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, 7 saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again." 8 And they remembered His words (Luke 24.6)

From that time Jesus Christ began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. 22 And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, "God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You." 23 But He turned and said to Peter,"Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God's interests, but man's."(Matt 16.21f) [Notice how when the apostle Peter tried to tell Jesus to stop talking about His coming execution, Jesus accused him of being oriented towards Satan's interests! Those who deny that Jesus the Messiah could/did die should take notice of Jesus' firm judgment on this position! To call Jesus a great prophet and then disagree with His own prophecy here FORCES one to deny the accuracy of this verse--before one examines the data!! There is not the slightest evidence that this verse is 'spurious' or a 'later addition', but this Muslim writer will be forced to either take such a position, or be forced to say that Jesus meant something else!]

And while they were gathering together in Galilee, Jesus said to them, "The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men; 23 and they will kill Him, and He will be raised on the third day." And they were deeply grieved.(Matt 17.22f)

How much clearer can the data be?! The concept of a 'crucified Messiah' was in the Tanakh/OT and on the lips of Jesus--it was certainly not original with PAUL!!

How about the other apostles? Peter, James, John, and others--do they speak of a 'crucified Christ'? Of course they do!

Not only do all four gospel authors [Matthew, Mark (writing for Peter), Luke, and John] explicitly and repeatedly say that Jesus was crucified (Mt 20:19;Mt 23:34;Mt 26:2;Mt 27:22;Mt 27:23;Mt 27:26;Mt 27:31;Mt 27:35;Mt 27:38;Mt 27:44;Mt 28:5;Mk 15:13;Mk 15:14;Mk 15:15;Mk 15:20;Mk 15:24;Mk 15:25;Mk 15:27;Mk 15:32;Mk 16:6;Lk 23:21;Lk 23:21;Lk 23:23;Lk 23:33;Lk 24:7;Lk 24:20;Jn 19:6;Jn 19:6;Jn 19:6;Jn 19:10;Jn 19:15;Jn 19:15;Jn 19:16;Jn 19:18;Jn 19:20;Jn 19:23;Jn 19:32;Jn 19:41), but the non-Pauline preaching in Acts and the non-Pauline epistles document this as well:

Peter, for example, ends his first sermon in Acts with these words (2.36): "Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ-this Jesus whom you crucified." And again in 4.10: "by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead"

The number of allusions and references to the death of Christ on the cross in his epistles is impressive:

How about James, the brother of the Lord? We have almost no information about this, but what little NT data we do have doesn't contradict a Crucified Christ position. The Epistle of James is largely 'practical' in its bearing (similar to his peacemaking roles in Acts 15 and 21), but it does have one allusion to the post-resurrection exaltation of Jesus: "do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism (James 2.1) [Note the reference to a 'glorious' post-crucifixion Jesus!].

This is more important than the brevity might indicate, because his epistle assumes a foundation of belief in the exalted LORD Jesus Christ. In other words, the practical injunctions that make up the epistle of James presuppose the work of Christ. [Even the discussion of justification in the epistle concerns how to appropriate that work--without a single reference to 'Law'.] Basically all we know about James' beliefs about Christology are in the titles he calls Him: our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 15.26), the Lord Jesus Christ (James 1.1), and our glorious Lord Jesus Christ (James 2.1). These are, of course, rather exalted terms for a 1st century Jewish Messiah, and this must count as data about James' Christology. But we have so little data...

Anybody else in the NT? Yes, how about the Book of Hebrews--there is a very overt reference in there (6.6: "since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame. ") and other allusions to aspects of it such as 10:29: " How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified" and 9.14: " how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God".

[I have already written on John in the Gospel of John, but the motif of Christ's sacrificial death is present in his epistles as well: "the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin" (I Jn 1.7), "He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world" (I Jn 2.2), "In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (I Jn 4.10). He is also the writer that records that John the Baptist called Jesus the 'Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world".]

I want to make one 'critical' remark here: the teaching that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified and died under Roman Rule cannot be plausibly denied--especially if one accepts the New Testament at any level of credibility. This belief that Jesus was crucified (sacrificially) is inseparable from the NT documents. It is present in every strata of the gospels, the earliest preaching of the apostles in Acts, and the earliest epistles. What is called the "Passion Narrative" by scholars is considered by some German scholarship to have been in its final, formal, and official shape within SEVEN YEARS of the event itself! [I am referring to Rudolph Pesch's massive work on Mark (see his own overview in GAG:106-148.)] Every early manuscript of the NT we have--some within decades of the event--have full-blown passion narratives and resurrection accounts. It is beyond reason to believe that a substantial lie about his death could arise so quickly, so powerfully, and so pervasively as to infect EVERYBODY in the Jerusalem church (the apostles were in the Jerusalem church for at least twelve years after the event), and ALL the New Testament authors! This is NOT a matter of a geographically-diverse church four centuries later "adjusting" individual manuscripts to fit their individual whims and political needs!--this is radically, radically different!

So, what do we have?

  1. the Tanakh/OT fore-taught the crucifixion/death/ resurrection of the Messiah.
  2. Jesus taught the same thing.
  3. All four gospel authors taught it.
  4. Non-Pauline authors of epistles in the NT either teach it clearly (i.e. Peter, Hebrews, John) or don't give us reason to doubt it (James, Jude).

So, is there any reason AT ALL to believe that Paul was the founder of this teaching?!

On to the next point...



"There is very little in his writings about the Gospel revealed to Jesus...."


First of all, the gospel was not exactly 'revealed to Jesus'--He actually WAS Both the proclaimer of the good news: "the promised Kingdom is coming", AND the content of the good news: "the kingdom is present in the Person of the King".

Just to rehearse this:

1. The Tanakh/OT promised that one day a Kingdom of God would displace earthly kingdoms. So, Daniel 2.44: "In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever."

2. Jesus specifically taught that the foretold time was present and that HE was the one referred to:

3. Jesus repeatedly called people to "believe the good news" and people during his lifetime were evaluated on that basis! Let me just give some of the many, many verses on this:

Notice that this selection of passages come from all of the gospels, with a special group of those from the Gospel of John (written by "John" of "Peter, James, and John", IMO--a very Jewish guy!).

Now, at this point I could very simply ask if Paul preached these three things:

  1. That the Tanakh/OT promised a future messianic age, in which God would irrupt into history with His kingdom of righteousness and salvation.
  2. That Jesus was the fulfillment of this Tanakh/OT expectation (including of the 'kingdom of God')
  3. That they key issue was responding to the Messianic status of Jesus of Nazareth.

I cannot imagine anyone answering "no" to this(!), but just to give a quote or two from Paul...

    1. "Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, 4 who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom 1.1ff.)
    2. "For as many as may be the promises of God, in Him they are yes" (2 Cor 1.20)
    3. "But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe" (Rom 3.21)

[And lest there be any argument about Jesus preaching 'the kingdom' and Paul NOT preaching 'the kingdom', please note the following Pauline passages and Acts passages (about or citing Paul):

So, at least on a rather detailed surface look, the data looks strikingly familiar! Jesus and Paul do not (at this level of looking) look that far apart relative to the 'gospel'.

Now, for the 2nd half of the sentence...



"There is very little in his writings about ... the life of Jesus."


This has always seemed like an odd objection to me, because NONE of the non-gospel writings have much to do with Jesus life either! Why would anyone single out Paul? Because there are more of his writings? Consider the references to the details of the life of Jesus in the non-gospel writings (non-Pauline sections):

In Acts we have the very general comments of Peter about Jesus' earthly life:

This is quite a meager amount of historical information, and none of it detailed!

But let's try the General (non-Pauline) epistles (and Revelation) for information about Jesus' earthly life:

Given this data, there is no reason whatsoever to expect Paul to do any differently! So this accusation against Paul is totally irrelevant!

But, let's consider something else. Let's consider Paul's usage of Jesus' words or teachings. The Muslim writer MAY have been referring to the general teachings of Jesus when he used the phrase "the Gospel revealed to Jesus". So, if that is the case (and this is a frequent objection levied against Paul) is there indeed no evidence that Paul knew and/or used the words of Jesus?

What we are looking for here are allusions to, or echos of, Jesus' teaching in the Gospels. We are NOT looking for quotes (with chapter and verse, before they appeared half a millenium later!), but echos and word-choices and similarities of teaching that make sense as having come from Jesus (ultimately). Are there any in Paul?

Tons.

On one scholarly extreme is Alfred Resch, the German author who early in this century found 1, 158 Pauline allusions to Jesus (this is in slightly over 2,000 verses of Pauline writings!). On the other end of the spectrum is Victor Furnish who can only find eight air-tight cases (Rom 12.14, 17; 13.7; 14.13-14; 14.14; 1 Thess 5.2, 13, 15)--although his search was focused on the ethical teaching of Paul only [see discussion by Dunn in SHJ:154ff]. This wide disparity between the extremes shows how speculative this search for direct dependence can be, but at the same time, shows how close in teaching content Paul and Jesus are!!! Dunn sums this (in the above ref):

"Nevertheless, the very fact of the debate and the range of opinion arising from it are of significance. For the character of the debate is itself a reflection of the character of the evidence; the inconclusiveness of the debate reflects the inconclusiveness of the evidence. All are agreed that Paul does cite or refer to dominical tradition at two points at least (1 Cor 7:10-11; 9:14). All are agreed that there is a further group of passages in Paul which look very much as though they contain allusions to or echoes of Jesus tradition. And all are agreed that there is a further group of passages of indeterminate dimensions where there is at least some similarity of them or wording with elements of the Jesus tradition. In other words, there is a degree of consensus--on the character of the evidence within the Pauline letters."

Consider just a few of these parallels and/or allusions [I can only scratch the surface of these!], with a wide range of obviousness, many from skeptical authors in the field, and the clearest in the original Greek (Jesus first, then Paul's reference):

(JESUS) Luke 6.27-28: "Love your enemies...bless those who curse you"
(JESUS) Matt 5.24: "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you"
(PAUL) Romans 12.14: "Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse"

(JESUS) Mark 7:15: "there is nothing outside the man which going into him can defile him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man.
(PAUL) Romans 14:14: " I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is profane in itself"

(JESUS) Matt 17:20: "if you have faith...you will say to this mountain, 'Move'..."
(PAUL) I Cor 13.2: "if I have all faith so as to move mountains..."

(JESUS) Matt 19.21: "If you would be perfect, go, sell all your possessions and give to the poor..."
(PAUL) I Cor 13.3: "if I give away all my possessions..." (contra Rabbinical advice! Cf. b. Ketubot 50a and Mishnah Arakin 8.4)

(JESUS) Matt 24.43: "But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. 44 "For this reason you be ready too; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will.
(PAUL) I Thess 5:2,4: "For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night...But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day should overtake you like a thief;

(JESUS) Mark 9.50: "live at peace with one another" (verb forms are absolutely identical)
(PAUL) I Thess 5.13: "live at peace among yourselves"

(JESUS) Mark 4.22: "For nothing is hidden, except to be revealed; nor has anything been secret, but that it should come to light.
(PAUL) I Cor 4.5: "who will bring to light the secrets of darkness and will make public the purposes of the heart"
(PAUL) Rom 2.16: "God judges the secrets of people, according to my gospel through Jesus Christ"
(PAUL) I Cor 14.25: "The secrets of his heart are made public"

(JESUS) Mark 14:36: "And He was saying, "Abba! Father" (very uncommon usage)
(PAUL) Gal 4.6: "And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!""
(PAUL) Rom 8.15: "you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, "Abba! Father!"

(JESUS) Luke 10.21f: ""I praise Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that Thou didst hide these things from the wise and understanding and didst reveal them to babes. Yes, Father, for thus it was well-pleasing in Thy sight.
(PAUL) I Cor 1-2 (various verses): "hidden things" (2.7), "the wise" (1.19), "the understanding" (1.19), "God has revealed" (2.10), "to infants" (3.1), "God was pleased" (1.21)

(JESUS) ark 14:22-23: "And while they were eating, He took some bread, and after a blessing He broke it; and gave it to them, and said, "Take it; this is My body." 23 And when He had taken a cup, and given thanks, He gave it to them; and they all drank from it. 24 And He said to them, "This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.
(PAUL) I Cor 11:23: "For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, "This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me." 25 In the same way He took the cup also, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me." 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes." [the whole thing!]

(JESUS) Luke 10.7: "And stay in that house, eating and drinking what they give you; for the laborer is worthy of his wages.
(PAUL) I Cor 9.14: "So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel. "
(PAUL) I Tim 5.18: "For the Scripture says, "You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing," and "The laborer is worthy of his wages."

[Overall, there are significant amounts of allusion material in Paul to this synoptic mission discourse, some of which are as follows:

(JESUS) Matt 16.16-20: "And Simon Peter answered and said, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." 17 And Jesus answered and said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.
(PAUL) Gal 1.15,16: "But when He who had set me apart, even from my mother's womb, and called me through His grace, was pleased 16 to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood,

(JESUS) Mark 10.9f: "What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate." 10 And in the house the disciples began questioning Him about this again. 11 And He *said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; 12 and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery."
(PAUL) I Cor 7.10-11: But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband 11 (but if she does leave, let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not send his wife away

(JESUS) Matt 22.21: "Then He *said to them, "Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and to God the things that are God's." (reference to taxes and tribute)
(PAUL) Romans 13.7: "Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor" [linguistic forms are identical]

(JESUS) Matt 20.26: "It is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."
(PAUL) Romans 15.7: "For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision

(JESUS) Mark 10.44: "and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. 45 "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.
(PAUL) I Cor 9.19: "I have made myself a slave to all..."
(PAUL) I Cor 10.33: "just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of the many, that they may be saved.

(JESUS) Matt 5.33f: "Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, 'You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.' 34 "But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 "Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 "But let your statement be, 'Yes, yes' or 'No, no'; and anything beyond these is of evil."
(PAUL) 2 Cor 1.17-18: "Or that which I purpose, do I purpose according to the flesh, that with me there should be yes, yes and no, no at the same time? 18 But as God is faithful, our word to you is not yes and no."

To this list above could be added scores and scores (and probably hundreds and hundreds) of other examples, but that will have to wait for a different piece.

But not only did Paul know (and repeat) Jesus' teaching--often almost verbatim!--he constantly pointed his readers to the life of Christ as an example to follow.

Now, so far we have looked at a lot of data that seems to suggest a large amount of verbal and thematic overlap between Jesus and Paul. Just for reference, though, let's see if James manifests the same character of allusion in his book. [These are the parallels given by Dunn in SHJ:177.]

(JESUS) Matt 7.7,11: Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. 8 "For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it shall be opened. 9 "Or what man is there among you, when his son shall ask him for a loaf, will give him a stone? 10 "Or if he shall ask for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? 11 "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!
(JAMES) Jas 1.5,17: "But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him...Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights"

(JESUS) Matt 21.21: "And Jesus answered and said to them, "Truly I say to you, if you have faith, and do not doubt, you shall not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, 'Be taken up and cast into the sea,' it shall happen. 22 "And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive."
(JAMES) Jas 1.6: "But let him ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For let not that man expect that he will receive anything from the Lord

(JESUS) Matt 7.21f: "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. 22 "Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' 23 "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.'
(JAMES) Jas 1.22-23: "But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror;

(JESUS) Matt 7.1: "Do not judge lest you be judged. 2 "For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.
(JAMES) Jas 4.12: "There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?

(JESUS) Matt 5.34-37: "But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 "Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 "But let your statement be, 'Yes, yes' or 'No, no'; and anything beyond these is of evil.
(JAMES) Jas 5.12: "But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but let your yes be yes, and your no, no; so that you may not fall under judgment.

These examples from James are at the same level (or even somewhat less) precision and obviousness, when compared to Paul's examples.

Under this point, then, we see that Paul:

  1. Did preach the same/similar 'gospel' of Jesus;
  2. Manifests the same "lack of interest" in the pre-Passion Jesus as did the other NT literature;
  3. Manifests a tremendous amount of common verbal forms and teaching content with Jesus.
  4. Refers his readers to the example of Jesus' life and character.

Accordingly, the data above is QUITE STRONG--Paul is not as renegade as our Muslim friend would try to present him as...

Our friend continues...



"In fact Paul claimed to be proclaiming a new gospel. It was a gospel of accommodation with the Roman rulers of Palestine and their Herodian puppets."

"Paul wrote in his Letter to the Romans:

"You must all obey the governing authorities. Since all government comes from God, the civil authorities were appointed by God, and so anyone who resists authority is rebelling against God's decision, and such an act is bound to be punished. Good behaviour is not afraid of magistrates; only criminals have anything to fear.....The State is there to serve God for your benefit."(Romans 13:1-4) "Such an attitude was very different from that of those thousands of Jews who accepted the Gospel and who were 'zealous for the Law' (Acts 21:21). They abhorred pagan rule and the pollution of the Temple and of the land which it brought. Paul's departure from the teachings of the prophets was further highlighted by difference over the Law itself...


This section is particularly interesting in that it actually reveals one of the internal challenges in Islamic thought--the tension between the cultural and the religious spheres. It is not my purpose here to discuss this issue [see WR:CFOF, chapter three: "Islam in Crisis"], but merely to point out that the same problem the Jew faced in NT times, is faced by the Muslim in many of the non-Islamic cultures it conducts missionary activity in today. In the words of H.A.R. Gibb:

"The question for the future is whether Islam will remain what it has been in the past, a comprehensive culture based on a religion, or become a 'church', a religious institution accepted by larger or smaller bodies of adherents within the framework of secular civilisation" [Concise Encyclopedia of Living Faiths, ed. R.C. Zaehner, p. 208]

All of the regulations of kingship (which our Muslim author will list in a later section) apply to an autonomous Israelite state--as during the pre-exilic periods (pre-600ad, roughly). After the exile--and up until very recent times--Israel has been under the authority of Gentile nations. And Paul's 'religion of accommodation' to secular powers was specifically ordered by Yahweh in the Tanakh/OT prophets, exemplified by Jesus Christ, and supported by non-Pauline authorities in the church!!!!

Consider these briefly:

The Jews in captivity (and even immediately before the captivity) were told to support the foreign, pagan authorities--because those authorities were 'sent by God'. Some of these authorities were so evil as to provoke severe crises of faith for the Lord's prophets (e.g. Hab.).

Consider first the letter from the prophet Jeremiah to the captive Jews in Babylon (29.1ff):

"Now these are the words of the letter which Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the rest of the elders of the exile, the priests, the prophets, and all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. 2 (This was after King Jeconiah and the queen mother, the court officials, the princes of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen and the smiths had departed from Jerusalem.) 3 The letter was sent by the hand of Elasah the son of Shaphan, and Gemariah the son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to Babylon to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, saying, 4 "Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, 5 'Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens, and eat their produce. 6 'Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. 7 'And seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.' [This would have involved supporting the city officials and trade, among other civic responsibilities.]

King Gedaliah of Judah, like Jeremiah, counseled this as well (2 Kings 25.24):

And Gedaliah swore to them and their men and said to them, "Do not be afraid of the servants of the Chaldeans; live in the land and serve the king of Babylon, and it will be well with you." [Gedaliah was a good king, whose family was closely aligned with Jeremiah.]

The LORD had ordered the nation of Judah to surrender to Babylon, through the prophet Jeremiah (27.12ff):

And I spoke words like all these to Zedekiah king of Judah, saying, "Bring your necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him and his people, and live! 13 "Why will you die, you and your people, by the sword, famine, and pestilence, as the Lord has spoken to that nation which will not serve the king of Babylon? 14 "So do not listen to the words of the prophets who speak to you, saying, 'You shall not serve the king of Babylon,' for they prophesy a lie to you; 15 for I have not sent them," declares the Lord, "but they prophesy falsely in My name, in order that I may drive you out, and that you may perish, you and the prophets who prophesy to you."16 Then I spoke to the priests and to all this people, saying, "Thus says the Lord: Do not listen to the words of your prophets who prophesy to you, saying, 'Behold, the vessels of the Lord's house will now shortly be brought again from Babylon'; for they are prophesying a lie to you. 17 "Do not listen to them; serve the king of Babylon, and live! Why should this city become a ruin?

In Dan 2.36, Daniel tells Nebuchadnezzar that God 'ordained him' to power:

"This was the dream; now we shall tell its interpretation before the king. 37 "You, O king, are the king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, the strength, and the glory; 38 and wherever the sons of men dwell, or the beasts of the field, or the birds of the sky, He has given them into your hand and has caused you to rule over them all. You are the head of gold. [Notice that it was YHWH that delivered all the authority to Nebby. Sounds like 'ordained of God' to me.]

This had been foretold by YHWH through Jeremiah in 27.6ff:

"And now I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, My servant, and I have given him also the wild animals of the field to serve him. 7 "And all the nations shall serve him, and his son, and his grandson, until the time of his own land comes; then many nations and great kings will make him their servant. 8 "And it will be, that the nation or the kingdom which will not serve him, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and which will not put its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, I will punish that nation with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence," declares the Lord, "until I have destroyed it by his hand. 9 "But as for you, do not listen to your prophets, your diviners, your dreamers, your soothsayers, or your sorcerers, who speak to you, saying, 'You shall not serve the king of Babylon.' [This is rather clear: God wanted the people to "obey the rulers"--sounds a lot like Romans 13 doesn't it?!]

Daniel himself had served the pagan government with strictest fidelity (Dan 6.4):

"Then the commissioners and satraps began trying to find a ground of accusation against Daniel in regard to government affairs; but they could find no ground of accusation or evidence of corruption, inasmuch as he was faithful, and no negligence or corruption was to be found in him. 5 Then these men said, "We shall not find any ground of accusation against this Daniel unless we find it against him with regard to the law of his God. [Sounds like Daniel, who zeal for the Law was demonstrated QUITE clearly in Daniel 1, didn't have a problem serving a pagan king!]

And Daniel's attitude to his pagan king was one of support (4.19):

"Then Daniel, whose name is Belteshazzar, was appalled for a while as his thoughts alarmed him. The king responded and said, 'Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or its interpretation alarm you.' Belteshazzar answered and said, 'My lord, if only the dream applied to those who hate you, and its interpretation to your adversaries!

Yet Daniel was quite clear to Nebby that his reign was at the discretion of the Soverign God (4.25ff):

"until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whomever He wishes. 26 'And in that it was commanded to leave the stump with the roots of the tree, your kingdom will be assured to you after you recognize that it is Heaven that rules. [Sounds like "ordained of God" to me.]

Eventually, the pagan king Cyrus (of the Persians) would come to power. He would not 'know the LORD'. He was also prophesied about, and specifically called "the LORD's Anointed"!!!!

Who has aroused one from the east Whom He calls in righteousness to His feet? He delivers up nations before him, And subdues kings. He makes them like dust with his sword, As the wind-driven chaff with his bow. (Is 41.2) [Nebby all over again?]

"It is I who says of Cyrus, 'He is My shepherd! And he will perform all My desire.' And he declares of Jerusalem, 'She will be built,' And of the temple, 'Your foundation will be laid.'" (Is 44.28) [Sounds even stronger--like 'ministers of God' in Romans 13...hmmm]

Thus says the Lord to Cyrus His anointed, Whom I have taken by the right hand, To subdue nations before him, And to loose the loins of kings; To open doors before him so that gates will not be shut: 2 "I will go before you and make the rough places smooth; I will shatter the doors of bronze, and cut through their iron bars. 3 "And I will give you the treasures of darkness, And hidden wealth of secret places, In order that you may know that it is I, The Lord, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name. 4 "For the sake of Jacob My servant, And Israel My chosen one, I have also called you by your name; I have given you a title of honor Though you have not known Me. (Is 45.1-5) [Again, "anointed" is a rather strong word of "ordained" and "minister of".]

Nehemiah understood that God had placed the pagan kings over the Jews (deut 28.47), because of covenant unfaithfulness (Neh 9.36):

"Behold, we are slaves today, And as to the land which Thou didst give to our fathers to eat of its fruit and its bounty, Behold, we are slaves on it. 37 "And its abundant produce is for the kings Whom Thou hast set over us because of our sins; They also rule over our bodies And over our cattle as they please, So we are in great distress.

I must say, these OT/Tanakh quotes look an awfully lot like Paul's Romans 13 passage...I wonder if Jesus had any comments on civil (or even politico-religious) authority? Let's see:

The Jews answered him, "We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God." 8 When Pilate therefore heard this statement, he was the more afraid; 9 and he entered into the Praetorium again, and *said to Jesus, "Where are You from?" But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 Pilate therefore *said to Him, "You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?" 11 Jesus answered, "You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me up to you has the greater sin." (John 19.7ff) [Sounds like 'ordained' to me!]

"Then He *said to them, "Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and to God the things that are God's." (Matt 22.21) [Sounds like some level of compliance to me...]

Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, 2 saying, "The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; 3 therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things, and do not do them. 4 "And they tie up heavy loads, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger. (Matt 23.1) [Even the religious leaders of questionable legitimacy is somehow deferred to by Jesus.]

Even John the Baptist had an interesting confrontation with this issue (Luke 3.12ff):

And some tax-gatherers also came to be baptized, and they said to him, "Teacher, what shall we do?" 13 And he said to them, "Collect no more than what you have been ordered to." 14 And some soldiers were questioning him, saying, "And what about us, what shall we do?" And he said to them, "Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages." [Notice how John did not require the tax-collectors to give up their jobs, nor did he upbraid the soldiers for working for a pagan government!]

So, let's see what we have so far:

1. Paul seems to be quite in line with OT/Tanakh theology of the prophets (and he may have gotten the teaching from the OT)

2. Paul seems to be in line with Jesus (and actually, he may have gotten the teaching from his knowledge of Jesus' teaching)


So, what about the other non-Pauline elements in the early church? Was Paul in line with them as well?

Let's look at Peter first:

"Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, 14 or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. 15 For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. 16 Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. 17 Honor all men; love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. (I Peter 2.13ff) [This looks almost like a quote from Paul!]

Peter, however, knows where the boundaries between right and wrong are in this arena. He knows where the limits are. He has that famous verse in Acts 5.27-29:

"And when they had brought them, they stood them before the Council. And the high priest questioned them, 28 saying, "We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and behold, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and intend to bring this man's blood upon us." 29 But Peter and the apostles answered and said, "We must obey God rather than men. " [Notice that this is the group Jesus said to obey in the earlier passage...]

The book of James complains about the "rich" dragging the believers into court (2.6-9), but doesn't comment on any alleged lack of authority (although this may be the rich elite of Jerusalem), and John doesn't mention the subject in his epistles either. [But it is important to note that they do not speak out AGAINST the authority either.]

And John is credited with Peter in Acts 4.19 of saying that a special case of civil disobedience--based on overt communication from God--was acceptable and even required:

And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered and said to them, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; 20 for we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard."

So, with the single exception of the apostolic witness to the message of the crucified and risen Christ, we have the injunction of Peter as the only NT, non-Pauline instruction on the matter. And it is clearly supportive of the 'Pauline religion of accommodation'...

So, our conclusion?

  1. Paul seems to be quite in line with OT/Tanakh theology of the prophets (and he may have gotten the teaching from the OT)
  2. Paul seems to be quite in line with Jesus (and actually, he may have gotten the teaching from his knowledge of Jesus' teaching)
  3. Paul seems to be quite in line with the only non-Pauline data we have from the early church (i.e. Peter, and John the Baptist?)

Now, let me point out that my argument does not even remotely attempt to define the conditions under which civil disobedience is justified or demanded ethically. I merely wanted to build a clear and strong case that Paul was not a renegade in his teachings. I wanted to show that the Muslim writer had radically misunderstood the situation of the OT, the position of Jesus, and the early Christian movement.

Now, with that shown (or at least said), I can certainly agree with the writer that the Jews of Palestine 'chafed' under Roman rule (except perhaps the ruling elite, of course), and that their heroic struggles during the inter-testamental period were partially motivated by issues of religious fervor. And I am convinced that Jesus' actions at (1) refusing to accept a military/nationalistic kingdom (e.g., John 6.15ff) and (2) His explicit disavowal of an earthly kingdom before Pilate (i.e. Jn 18:36: "Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting, that I might not be delivered up to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm"),gave His followers reason to NOT identify His position as anti-Roman, but rather anti-evil.

Also, on a practical note, Paul (and Peter) were writing to Diaspora Jews (numbered in millions, as opposed to the 'thousands' in Jerusalem) who handled foreign rulers much better than did Palestinian Jewry! Amazingly, the Jews of the Diaspora were able to negotiate special privileges from the Roman authorities (exemption from forced idol worship being a big one!), and often from local authorities as well. Their 'chafing level' would have been much, much lower than the Jews of Acts 21!

I hope the reader at this point can sense from these broad areas of evidence and argument that Paul is not the radical that this writer (and many, many, many others) make him out to be! So far, he fits very nicely into the prophetic themes and trends in the OT/Tanakh, fits very nicely within the teachings of Jesus, and fits very nicely into what little of the teaching of the early church we have looked at...

But our writer continues, so the series will continue as well...


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