Was Paul of Tarsus really an Apostle or a Deranged Imposter?

Peace of Christ, everyone!

I’m not sure how to respond to this in its entirety. Is St. Paul really conniving and contradictory?

Pax,
Charles

The use of the word “deranged” is so over the top, that I cannot take this seriously as any kind of objective scholarship.

Is Paul to be committed to a mental facility (as implied by the word “deranged”) because he a danger to himself or others… or just because this author doesn’t agree with him about something?

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Pax Christi, Mitchell!

The author of the blog takes various passages and teachings from The New Testament to show Paul as an inconsistent grifter ruthlessly attempting to supplant a sect of apocalyptic Judaism with a religion of his own.

Well… I read it anyway. And I find the arguments as poor any I have seen. He might have had something worthwhile to say if his aim was just a little more reasonable.

Are there contradictions between different things attributed to Paul? Yes. Though one simple explanation is that Paul didn’t write all those things.

Are there contradictions between Jesus and Paul? Not of any great significance that I can see. The ones put forward by the author are so improvised and superficial, it is hard to believe he isn’t joking. And why do we pay so much attention to the writings of Paul? Because his theological clarity was so much greater. He was educated better. A much better approach is to simply suggest that the teachings of Jesus be a lens through which the writings of Paul should be understood. That would be worthwhile suggestion which I can totally get behind.

And the other arguments against Paul being an apostle are even worse. “Apostle” really means nothing more than one who is sent and that frankly describes Paul better than any of the 12 because he actually went out to preach the gospel more than all the other 12 put together.

Another way over the top description of Paul who doesn’t come across that way at all! What two millennia of Christians have seen in him is quite the opposite: which is the example of a very sincere Christian. I believe I have more cause to question whether such a critic is the one lacking in an authentic Christian experience.

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The question to ask of the author is, what happened to you? In answer to his take, if we want a natural, rational story mine would have and impute more good will. If Paul was a deranged impostor, then so was Jesus. Good will? Yes, someone should write the novel and one day they will. In which Jesus and His followers are portrayed as believing what they said, and the best take on that, which is non-violent radical inclusion, equality of outcome, social justice in this life and the next, you know, truly good news, not damnationism. But there is no God. So they were neither actually. But they believed they were Apostle and Messiah respectively. Filling in the details is rationally easy. It is very easy to rationally deconstruct all of the supernatural elements and reconstruct a provincial artisan moral genius who saw Himself in the TaNaKh.

It’s the best case natural explanation, because Paul is even more understandable as natural in response to the historical fact of the earliest, true, humane communist Church. He was the Gestapo to it and it broke him. He reconstructed himself most effectively after the psychotic break his conscience forced upon him for murdering Stephen. It is easy to argue that Christianity is Pauline in every sense since, he continued in the trajectory of the carpenter genius, all the way to Rome, where of course Peter never went. The rest is, literally, history. A priestly class rapidly arose in Rome, obviously on the same culturally leading edge trajectory, as they gave us the Pericope Adulterae bodged in to ‘John’, the most beautiful account of divine human intelligence there is. The gospels were Jewish-Greek afterthoughts that fed in to Rome, with the other most beautiful account also in ‘John’, of Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene.

I want to believe otherwise. That Jesus was God incarnate. But if He wasn’t, there is still rational hope for humanity. We came up with this story and its peerless pathos, ethos and logos.

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The very first thing I do when I read an attack on Paul is I try to find out more about the attacker’s background and their worldview. Fortunately, in this case, the blogger tells his readers quite a bit about his background and current worldview. Going to Home, I read:

  • Welcome! This blog describes my personal journey from conservative Christianity to a non-supernaturalist world view. Below is a list of books by scholars, Christian apologists, and by former Christians and other skeptics that I have read on the subject of Christianity and in particular, the Resurrection of Jesus. I believe it is important to be familiar with the positions of both Christians and skeptics on these issues. I would encourage all Christians and all skeptics to read these works.

Then I went to About, where I read:

  • I grew up in a fundamentalist Baptist family. I prayed to Jesus to be my Lord and Savior and to forgive me of all my sins at the age of nine. I was baptized shortly thereafter. During my teen years, I felt a lack of assurance of faith, and once again prayed to Jesus to save me…just to be sure.
  • In my early twenties I left evangelical Christianity due to a lack of “feeling” God. Everyone else seemed to feel God “move” them or “lead” them. I did not. I decided something must be wrong with me.
  • In my thirties and early forties I attended liberal mainline Protestant churches from time to time, when I was in the mood for a religious experience, but I was not devout.
  • In my mid forties I married and had children. The responsibility of raising children and the thought that I would determine their spiritual/religious views brought me back to fundamentalist Christianity. I did not want to “lead my children astray”. I did not want to cause my children to go to Hell. I joined the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod and believed that I had discovered “true” Christianity.
  • I was very happy as a conservative (confessional) Lutheran. It is a beautiful liturgical Church. In this branch of Christianity, my eternal salvation is based on GOD’S act of justification in Holy Baptism, not on my good works, nor on my possession of adequate faith and repentance in an evangelical born again experience. The doctrines and teachings of the Lutheran Confessions seemed to me to correctly interpret the Bible.
  • Then one fateful day as I was surfing the internet, I came across the blog of an ex-fundamentalist Baptist pastor turned atheist. I was horrified to read his blasphemy against my Lord and Savior. I took it upon myself to bring this “back-slidden sinner” back to Jesus Christ. I believed that if I just exposed him to TRUE Christianity (confessional Lutheranism), he would see the light and return to Christianity. How wrong I was! Four months later it was I who had seen the “light”…
  • …I had become an agnostic.
  • What did this former pastor/turned atheist say that convinced me that my cherished, beloved Christian faith was false? Well, to put it simply, he told me to read the books of former evangelical Christian turned agnostic, New Testament scholar, Bart Ehrman, starting with “Misquoting Jesus”.
  • If you have questions regarding your Christian faith, I would encourage you to read Ehrman’s books. From there, read this blog and the blogs of other skeptics, atheists, and agnostics; interact with former Christians who have been through the same struggles that you are now experiencing.
  • And I will give you this piece of advice: If your faith is more important to you than knowing the truth, don’t read one more sentence of this blog or that of any other ex-Christian blog. But if the truth—the real truth no matter how cold, ugly, and painful it may be—matters more to you than the comfort and security of your faith, step out of the Christian “bubble” and explore the criticisms of your Christian belief system. Find out why there are so many ex-Christians, of all denominations, who believe that the Christian belief system is based primarily on assumptions, hearsay, superstitions, and wishful thinking. There is scant evidence to support the fantastical supernatural claims of this ancient religion.
  • Above all, think for yourself! Don’t let anyone intimidate you with fear tactics. Don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t know enough to make an intelligent decision as to the believability of the central Christian claims. You don’t need a degree in theology to determine the probability that first century virgins were impregnated by ghosts or that first century dead men really could rise from the dead. Study the evidence and come to your own conclusions, my friend.

And I came to the conclusion that there’s nothing more in the blog that I need to know about the blogger. He began his “journey of faith” as a kid in a Baptist household and is now an agnostic. My own journey has had similar parallels at some points, but now I’m an “enlightened” believer in the crucified, resurrected, and ascended Jesus of Nazareth. In other words Gary the blogger doesn’t offer anything to me to shed light on my own journey of faith, … or on my opinion of Paul, an apostle called by my Lord to preach “the Gospel”.

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Yes, I read his about page and I skimmed some of his blog posts. I got the impression that he has a lot of anger, bitterness and resentment in him. Certainly, he seems to be coming out with a lot of the kind of rhetoric that I see in certain former YECs-turned-atheists.

There are a lot of people like that who, when they look at Christianity, they focus on the cockaloopy factions such as young Earth creationists and antivaxxers and people who stormed the US Capitol on 6 January, and then they look at the bits of the Bible that are difficult to understand, and then they tar everything else in Christianity and everything else in the Bible with the same brush. He doesn’t seem to have a single kind word to say about any Christian of any persuasion, he attacks the very concept of a PhD in apologetics as fundamentally dishonest, he believes that the entire enterprise of theology is a waste of time, and he uses very loaded language to express it all. Heck, he even thinks that sensible Christian apologists such as Randal Rauser are intellectually dishonest.

Basically, the only thing he’s retained from his days as a Christian is the extreme black-and-white thinking that was built into him by fundamentalist hard-liners. He’s completely lost sight of the fact that life and people are complex, multi-faceted and nuanced, that there are massive cultural differences that we need to remember, and that subjects that deal with the vagaries of humans and other living beings are every bit as legitimate and important as exact subjects such as maths and physics. In the process, he’s ended up throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

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From glancing through his blog “Escaping Christian Fundamentalism”, I think I largely agree with others above here … It would seem he escaped Christianity more than he escaped Fundamentalism. Many will leave their faith for this or that reason. What they can’t seem to leave behind is their fundamentalism that helped lead them out the exit in the first place.

He does exhort people to persistently pursue hard truths wherever they lead. Which is good advice - and medicine he should not imagine himself as no longer needing. Many of us here will give the same advice because, you know … Truth is a thing. More than just a thing where any healthy faith will be concerned.

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Regardless of the author’s history this is a growing position I hear from believers and nonbelievers alike. Even in here I’ve heard some reject Paul as an apostle, and I’ve heard some who believes he was an apostle point out that he was a man just like anyone else and that he wrote things from his perspective, not necessarily Christs, and was wrong at times. Me personally I accept Paul as an apostle. I also don’t believe being a Christian is based off of if you accept Paul or not. Since I think Paul is in sync with the other apostles and Christ I guess part of my concern would be if you are rejecting something Paul teaches then to me that’s the same as also rejecting something Christ and the apostles also believed to be true.

But there are some things that I have also wondered about because at times Paul seems to act as if he’s being sheepish about it his words are aligned or not.

Such as in 1 Corinthians 7 when Paul says “ these are my words not Christs” concerning divorce and remarriage. However I think that’s ok and I think ultimately he was simply saying Jesus never addressed this particular aspect of marriage and divorce and so he can’t quote Jesus on it but that this is what the spirit is saying”.

But to address the a few of the authors claims.

  1. The idea that there could only be 12 apostles or that the others did not consider him to be an apostle. Well I’m this case what I believe he’s referring to is not simply one sent out, but one sent out by Christ himself with the power of the Holy Spirit through the form of laying on of hands. However, that’s beyond the scope of this post and the majority of people don’t ever both to study this or even are aware of it. Most don’t really understand what set one of the 13 apart from the others. Six as Judas though one of the original 12 disciples, was never a man set apart with the ability to lay on hands. He died prior to this event occurring.

But he claims that none of them refers to him as a person of authority within the church other than Luke. But according to like Jesus himself called out to Paul on the road to Damascus and selected him personally.

We also see Peter making this statement about Paul.

2 Peter 3:14-16
New American Standard Bible
14 Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found spotless and blameless by Him, at peace, 15 and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, 16 as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which there are some things that are hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.

Peter here accepts Paul’s letters as wisdom. He does not disagree with what Paul says. So Paul is not contradicting their movement. It also mentions “ wisdom given him” and though it’s debated what it means I think it’s referring to the Holy Spirit giving special knowledge to Paul which was also one of the firsts mentioned throughout the Bible that existed prior to their cessation.

We also see evidence in another way. Paul wrote letters to many congregations. But we never see the other apostles or any of the churches outside of their initial fear of his conversion be wary of him. They all seem to have eventually accepted him , including the other apostles as we seen in Peter’s letter.

He mentions that there could only be 12. That’s not an actual biblical argument. It’s based around the idea that since there was 12 tribes. But that itself is not 100 accurate because there was also “the half tribes” of Manasseh and Ephraim. One thing that is important to note here is that those are all strictly Jewish tribes. The Samaritans became a sort of tribe in of themselves where they did not 100% culturally fit in with Jews or gentiles. We know though many Old Testament events and things Jesus said that the message was for the Jews and gentiles. Paul refers to himself as the “apostle of the gentiles”. So it’s bringing in a whole new tribe the tribe of gentiles.

  1. Most of the churches he’s been too preached from Paul’s writing. I bet that’s not all the way true. I mean I’m sure they preached from Paul and probably even mostly preached from Paul but I bet they also read from the gospels, from peters letters and from Jude. They most likely read from all the New Testament books. The reason why Paul if probably read most often is because he contributed to writing the majority of the accepted new testsment epistles. So it’s not really a argument of “Paul worship”.

  2. He mentions no way God would have selected a killer. But we know Moses killed someone. But sure we can hide behind he killed a bad guy. But David murdered a perfectly innocent man all because David slept , or maybe even raped, that dudes wife after spying on her like a pervert taking a bath. So David did something very terrible. If David was the president of a nation and it was found out he had a war general purposely sent off to die in the deserts after sleeping with thst guys wife he would have most likely been stripped of power and sentenced to many years in prison.

Part of the modern cancel culture is centered around men in power who abuse their power and often their victims are female subordinates under them. It’s something even many places regulate as unethical when it’s a mutual interest. Such as in the army a drill sergeant cannot date or sleep with a recruit. In many businesses a manager and a hourly worker can’t date unless one of them moves to another branch.

So for sure David did something very evil. Yet God said he was a man after his heart. David is viewed as a good guy by men and God.

Which also brings up this issue. No one is perfect. Imperfection does not justify evil. But it does mean that we all fall short. None of us reflect Christ perfectly. More importantly though is that the whole point of the gospels and of Christ coming is to help those in darkness move into light. Jesus himself said to the guy next to him on the cross you’ll see me in paradise and Jesus repeatedly hung out with those viewed as terrible. Jesus came for us. So it’s not against Christ at all to bring in a repented killer who became a man willing to die and suffer for the gospel.

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I hadn’t noticed any. Could you cite some specific examples?

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I can cite one which came to mind immediately which is his claim in 1 Tim 15 that women are saved through the bearing of children which is contrary to his theology in Romans and other letters that salvation is a gift not earned by anything we do. But then the majority of Biblical scholars do not believe that Paul wrote 1 Timothy or 2 Timothy or Titus.

I used “contradictions” plural more as a concession that there may be more for the same reason, but I will leave it to others to cite other examples they may know. Since I don’t know of any non-superficial contradictions other than this, I am perfectly willing to concede that this could more correctly be “contradiction” singular rather than the plural. But I do not think this one example is a superficial one, but rather one that I find quite offensive and misogynistic.

I would add the passage where Paul states,” There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female—for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Contrasted to his writing elsewhere that places women in subordinate roles. I suppose much of that is cultural and can be explained by the context, but it does seem in conflict. I think Paul had a philosophical understanding that sometimes was superseded by the pragmatic issues that faced churches in day to day life. It becomes a problem when those pragmatic issues addressed are read as divine edict. Much like the bind pastors are placed in with masks and social distancing in their congregations. I know our pastor has agonized as to whether the relaxing of social distancing has caused death and suffering as the dominant culture has forced the church to ignore precautions for the most part.

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I’m not certain why this particular subject is not better taught to congregations.

1 Timothy 2:15
New American Standard Bible
15 But women will be preserved through childbirth—if they continue in faith, love, and sanctity, with moderation.

Whenever reading something in the Bible that seems to not jive with everything else it usually comes down to this problem. The verse is pulled out of context. It happens often with this verse.

When we read it the first big inportant thing is to recognize it says we will be saved through, not because of by. It does not say women will be saved because of child birth. It does not say will be saved by having kids.

It says women will be saved through childbirth. Women will be brought safely through child birth.

So that’s the first step. The second step is to see what does that phrase actually mean. Does that mean that all women who are Christians who have kids will be safe? No. Obviously not. Even Paul would have known good women often died while giving birth. So it can’t mean that because it’s so illogical no one should even think that’s a legitimate positition.

So we have to consider more than just a definitions approach to it but a cultural. Contextual analysis is more than just a literal understanding of the worlds and it involves paradigms around phrases and hyperlinks.

So is there anywhere else in the Bible , something they would have been familiar with, that this verse can be hyperlinked to in order to see it correctly. A verse where salvation and sin, birth and death are connected?

Just happens that there is such a place. All the way back in genesis. Almost all of this section of Timothy hyperlinks back to genesis 3.

Genesis 3:16
New American Standard Bible
16 To the woman He said,

“I will greatly multiply
Your pain in childbirth,
In pain you shall deliver children;
Yet your desire will be for your husband,
And he shall rule over you.”

The first thing to establish with these verses is that they are from a mythological section of the Bible. So what it is about is not actual history or science but a theological principle. Thst principle hits multiplied things here.

  1. It hits the serpent. It says becsuse of this sin the serpent and his offspring will suffer. They will crawl on their bellies and eat dust. It’s saying even to move around this planet it will be done as though in suffering “ groveling in the dirt” is the concept here.

  2. It says the man’s existence will also be one of suffering. That to provide for his family will be a struggle. It will call out blood and tears. The ground itself , just like for the snake, will fight back against the man.

Then for the woman. The picture that it is painting is that of the typical women. Most women have kids. Most women are not “barren” just like most men are not “seedless”. Or whatever weird phrases are used. The point is that most couples have a family. At that time it seems that most women had kids and most men labored under the sun to take care of thst family.

So the point of what Paul writes in Timothy is that women , those who are saved as evident by their fruit of the spirit , will be saved. That despite the suffering they will face through child bearing, ultimately they will still be saved through Christ.

It’s the same as if instead the verses read this and was directed towards the common man.

“I will greatly multiply
Your pain in providing for your family,
In pain you shall feed your children;”

It would refer to the suffering he will now be cursed with to provide for his loved ones.

Likewise imagine if Timothy said this as well.

But men will be preserved through working if they continue in faith, love, and sanctity, with moderation.

Again the point is not how you will be saved or what will save you but that despite living in this broken world and desk it s going through pain and suffering you’ll will be saved.

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Could not that verse be about value? It seems like it’s obviously about value. Paul was aware that men and women still existed. Paul was are that there was still slaves. What Paul seems to be saying is not about what roles people have in this world or what offices they hold in church but is instead about value. Paul says not all will be this or that. But all are equal on Christ. A woman is just as valuable as a man. A slave is just as valuable as a free man. A child is not as valuable as an adult. A gentile frontiersman is just as valuable as a Jewish professor.

The verses can only be abkut value. It’s not a statement about gender hot topic issues or abkut what kind of roles we have in life snd so on. Paul could have just as easily said in Christ there are no disabled or healthy becsuse we are all one. It would not mean a disabled person can suddenly go run 10 miles of their legs don’t work but it does mean that they are just as important to God and deserving of respect and honesty it and love.

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And I think YOU are the one cutting it out of context in order to read a more acceptable meaning into it. As much as I can approve of discarding the obvious meaning of the text, I honestly don’t think your reading of it fits the context at all. I certainly cannot approve of altering the text of the Bible to fit what we want it to say in such a way. Like @jpm I think it is more reasonable to put this down to the culture of whoever wrote it, whether Paul or someone else writing in his name. Intellectual honesty precludes such a whitewashing tactic. No. I am afraid this passage, 1 Timothy 2:11-15, will remain the one passage of the Bible I still have a serious problem with – the exception to the rule.

But… ok… lets go to the Greek. The key word is “dia” translated as “through.” The other usages in the Bible are talking of God’s words coming through the prophets, people coming through a gate – it is about the way and reason for something. In this case the way and reason for the salvation of women being childbirth. And since the subject of the sentence is NOT the women themselves but sothesetai, literally “will be saved” I don’t see how you make this mean women living through childbirth. It’s “will be saved through childbirth” in the same way that the word of God comes to us through the prophets.

Well what did I alter?

How is it not a hyperlink? The chapter repeatedly hyperlinks back to genesis 3.

What about the culture are you referring to rhst lead you believe Paul believed women must have kids , and if not they would not be saved.

Now if they were saved through having kids, what if they had kids but did not live righteously? Would that nullify their childbirth?

It really just does not sync up to anything textual, biblical or as far as I know culturally.

I never said it’s about them living through child birth. I said the opposite. Paul would have been aware that having kids did not mean being saved and Paul would have been aware that some good women still died having kids.

But I’m not regurgitating what I said.

But there is definitely no other better explanation. The Greek did not undermine anything i wrote either.

But it’s silly to think that Paul thought a woman needed to have kids in order to be saved. That’s not found anywhere in the Bible. Not in that verse or anywhere else. I have never heard of it being a Jewish cultural belief either.

Oh I COMPLETELY agree that the obvious meaning of the text makes no sense whatsoever in the context of the whole Bible. I am definitely not saying that we should accept that meaning as a message from God. I just don’t see how we can easily dismiss this as really meaning something different. In other words, it looks much more like a contradiction to me – something that doesn’t agree with the teachings of Paul in Romans and elsewhere.

It is one of those things I would be curious to discover where exactly did this text come from and why.

Paul’s Damascus Road encounter with Christ is the basis for his claim of apostleship, repeated several times in the Book of Acts. He said he was the least of the Apostles because he persecuted the church.

I wouldn’t use the word conniving, but we see a few instances where he stood his ground and had to work around some situations. The incident is peter eating with the Jews and not the Gentiles. Paul made the call, but what happened in the Jerusalem council regarding these reports and Pauls’s comment back to the church in Galatia regarding that council are really eye openers…and fully justified. Peter blew it but it opened the door for Paul and the gospel for the world

Conniving no…very smart yes.

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This is just a blogger with opinions. This isn’t actual scholarship that demands engagement from Christians.

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