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


[April  26/2003]


Our writer continues...[his/her words in BOLD; mine in regular, but indented]




"Paul had great confidence in the truth of his personal revelation.


As did Moses, Isaiah, Jesus, Peter…


"He seemed unaware of the teachings of the Gospel on the importance of the Law. It is of course possible that Paul did not know what Jesus had actually preached as he had not heard him and makes no reference to his teachings in his letters.


We have already seen in the first two parts of this discussion that this is fundamentally mistaken. Paul's teachings are barely distinguishable from Jesus' or Peter's, for example…and Paul's allusions/references/dependencies on the gospel material are substantial, as we saw in Parts ONE and TWO…


"Paul writes: '...those who rely on the keeping of the law are under a curse, since scripture says; Cursed be everyone who does not persevere in observing everything prescribed in the book of the Law. The Law will not justify anyone in the sight of God, because we are told: the righteous man finds life through faith. The Law is not even based on faith, since we are told: the man who practises these precepts finds life through practising them. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by being cursed for our sake, since scripture says: Cursed be everyone who is hanged on a tree.' (Gal 3:10-13)

We have already seen above that 'justification by faith' was taught by Jesus, so Paul's statement here is nothing new.

But we should note that the 'redemption' of which he speaks in this verse is NOT 'redemption from the Law' but 'redemption from the CURSE of the Law'--it is redemption from the judgment of death which the Law should have pronounced upon us for our evil.  We are freed--by the gracious substitutionary death of Jesus--from bearing the just judgment (curse/death) which the righteous Law pronounced upon lawbreakers like us. [This particular passage does NOT teach that we are 'redeemed/released from under the (Mosaic) Law'.] This statement is in keeping with another Pauline 'redemption' statement:


the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus; 14 who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. (Titus 2.13b-14)


In other words, we are redeemed from the judicial consequences of our 'every lawless deed'--by virtue of the fact that our Jesus stood in our place of our punishment.


Elsewhere, though, Paul can talk about the 'change of Law' predicted by the Old Testament/Tanach (and expected by the Jesus), in which the Messiah ushered in a New Age with a New Law (see finaltorah.html). [This, of course, is a major theme in the non-Pauline Book of Hebrews.] Paul can speak of not being under the Mosaic Law, but still under the "Law of Christ" (i.e., the Law of Love):


For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. (1 Cor 9.19)


 Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Gal 6.2)



And of course, Paul was not alone in describing our freedom from the Mosaic-Law-as-a-way-to-earn-a-relationship-with-God. So Peter says:


knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, 19 but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. (1 Pet 1.18)


and again, in his Jerusalem speech (about making Gentiles keep the Law):


And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 “And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; 9 and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. 10 “Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 “But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.” (Acts 15.7)



The apostolic community understood that Jesus came to usher in a new period of time (and a New Covenant), based upon faith and with a new 'Law'. This was not simply a 'Pauline invention' by any means.



"The teachings of Paul created great controversy at the time.


As did the teachings of Noah, Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, and Jesus…it almost seems to be a necessary consequence of truth…(smile)


Of course, you can have controversial claims that are outrageously false (i.e. opposition seems to be a necessary, but not a sufficient condition of life-issues truth…smile), but it is rare in history for 'sober, incisive, and humbling truth' to EVER go without controversy, opposition, and censure…Nothing surprising here either.




"There is evidence from Paul's letters and from other sources that they were not well received by the Jerusalem Community or its leaders.


This sentence is seriously flawed because it only uses a part of the data, uses only 'ambiguous' aspects of the data, and seems to ignore even the qualifications in that portion of the data. It certainly ignores the most relevant data on the subject: the explicit statements about this exact issue!


The clearest statement we have about Paul's relation to the Jerusalem Community comes from Acts 15--all other 'circumstantial data' has to be interpreted in light of this statement by James, and by the actions/letter of the 'majority Jerusalem Community'  in Acts 15:


After they finished speaking, James replied, “My brothers, listen to me. 14 Simeon has related how God first looked favorably on the Gentiles, to take from among them a people for his name. 15 This agrees with the words of the prophets, as it is written,


16 ‘After this I will return, and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which has fallen; from its ruins I will rebuild it, and I will set it up, 17 so that all other peoples may seek the Lord— even all the Gentiles over whom my name has been called. Thus says the Lord, who has been making these things18 known from long ago.’


19 Therefore I have reached the decision that we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God, 20 but we should write to them to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood. 21 For in every city, for generations past, Moses has had those who proclaim him, for he has been read aloud every sabbath in the synagogues.”


22 Then the apostles and the elders, with the consent of the whole church, decided to choose men from among their members and to send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leaders among the brothers, 23 with the following letter: “The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the believers of Gentile origin in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. 24 Since we have heard that certain persons who have gone out from us, though with no instructions from us, have said things to disturb you and have unsettled your minds, 25 we have decided unanimously to choose representatives and send them to you, along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. 28 For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials: 29 that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”


This would certainly constitute strong and unambiguous evidence against the position that Paul was NOT received positively by the Jerusalem community.


And, from the other side, Paul reflects the same experience of acceptance in his explicit words:


And from those who were supposed to be acknowledged leaders (what they actually were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those leaders contributed nothing to me. 7 On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel for the circumcised 8 (for he who worked through Peter making him an apostle to the circumcised also worked through me in sending me to the Gentiles), 9 and when James and Cephas and John, who were acknowledged pillars, recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do. (Gal 2.6ff)


These are the only two passages that deal explicitly with the relationship of Paul with the Jerusalem community and leadership, and they BOTH indicate a closeness, mutual acceptance and respect, and mutual support for their ministries and teachings. Whatever other data is brought forward about this issue MUST be interpreted in light of these very, very clear passages indicating unity and cooperation between Paul and Jerusalem. Let's be clear on this.



They were so different from the teachings of the prophets, including Jesus, that Christian scholars are still writing explanations of his views.

Two major problems with this statement:


1. There is tremendous continuity between the Prophets, Jesus, and the Apostles (including Paul). One can simply look at all the OT citations, allusions, and arguments in the NT that are based on OT themes to see this. Paul constantly grounds his theology, practice, and self-understanding on the OT/Tanach, as did Jesus. One has only to study Romans 3-4 and 9-11 to see how important this was to Paul. And Jesus' self-understanding of His identity as God's Davidic Son, the Messiah, the Danielic Son of Man, and the Suffering Servant of Isaiah was completely grounded in the Hebrew Bible. And Paul, of course, doesn't differ from other NT authors in this regard either. The author of Hebrews has major points of continuity (Heb 8-10) with Jesus' use of the New Covenant (Luke 22.20), as it does with Paul's use of the New Covenant (1 Cor 11.25; 2 Cor 3). Peter refers to the same OT/Tanach 'Stone of Stumbling' (Ps 118.22ff, cf. Is 8.14) as the image of the 'Controversial Christ' (1 Pet 2.8) as did Jesus (Matt 21.42) and as did Paul (Rom 9.32f). It is simply false to label these early teaching strands as "so different".


2. Christian scholars are still writing 'explanations' of the views of Moses, Isaiah, Jesus, Paul, Peter, James, etc.…this means nothing, relative to Paul's fidelity to the truth of God.




"Paul a Controversial Figure


Again, this doesn’t mean anything relative to the relation between Jesus and Paul… Jesus was controversial, too.



"Paul's defensiveness in the letters which can be clearly attributed to him, suggest that he was under constant and sustained attack. He denies that his message comes '...from any delusion or impure motives or trickery' (1 Thes 2:3) and denies that he seeks to flatter human beings (Gal 1:10) or seek honour from them (1 Thes 2:6). His authority to preach is questioned for he comments ' are asking for a proof that it is Christ who speaks in me' (2 Cor 13:3). He complains that he is not universally accepted as an apostle, writing: 'Even if to others I am not an apostle, to you at any rate, I am, for you are the soul of my apostolate in the Lord' (1 Cor 9:2). He is also most sensitive to the charge that he lives off the church members and wants to emphasise how hard he and his companions work and how they suffer (1 Thes 2:9; 2 Thes 3:7, 1 Cor 4:12-13).  That he was at some stage referred to as the 'enemy' is intimated in his Letter to the Galatians in which he asks 'have I turned into your enemy simply by being truthful with you?' (4:16).

Several comments here:


1. First of all, being under constant attack is similar to being 'controversial', and means absolutely nothing. Jesus was under constant attack by the Pharisees, Jeremiah by the false prophets, Elijah by the king/queen of Israel, and Moses by a steady stream of troublemakers (e.g, the 'rabble', Korah & Co., even Miriam & Aaron).


2. Actually, there is no solid reason to assume that these charges were actually leveled against Paul (although they easily could have been). It was commonplace to preclude such accusations, given the background of the time. These were common rhetorical devices, used to distinguish oneself from the (theoretical) mass of others:


"Religious and philosophical charlatans were widespread in the ancient Mediterranean, and genuine philosophers were thus at pains to distinguish themselves from the phony variety by denying these characteristics2:4.  This contrasting style (“not … but”) was a common way of emphasizing the point, whether or not these exact charges had been leveled against Paul and his companions. Pleasing God rather than people was an important part of Diaspora Jewish ethics. Divine authorization and inspiration were accepted as a sure sign that one was not a charlatan, although not everyone who claimed such inspiration was believed. 2:5.  Despite the encouraging proem (opening) in this letter (1:2–10), Paul disclaims dishonest flattery. False philosophers were often guilty of flattery, which could earn them more money by begging; demagogic politicians likewise catered to the masses, becoming “all things to all people". But most philosophers and moralists complained that flattery was not for the hearers’ good; although one should speak gently, a true teacher ought to correct faults boldly. Contempt for flatterers is thus one of the most common characteristics of ancient moral literature (cf. also Prov 28:23; 29:5)." [REF:BBC, at 1 Thess 2]



3. Arguments over apostolic authority were not limited to Paul! John the Apostle complains about this authority issue in 3 John, too. And don't forget the rejection of Jesus by much of the Jewish elite…


4. There is no reason to assume that Paul was ever referred to as an 'enemy' in Galatia--this is reading too much into the simple literary statement:


"It is not, of course, Paul’s own statement of relationships, but his evaluation of what seems to be his converts’ attitude: “So, [it seems,] I have become your enemy because I am telling you the truth!” [WBC, at Gal 4.16]


5. The Corinthians' 'asking for proof' was a pathology, not a 'repudiation' by earnest and honest Christians! They wanted a spectacular apostle, both in miracles and elite rhetorical skills--a worldly celebrity!


"The well-to-do in the Corinthian church want an apostle they can be proud of—one who conforms to their high-society expectations for a professional moral teacher. Thus they want Paul to stop working and to accept support from them, to become their client or dependent. Paul avoids playing into the hands of the well-to-do faction of the church by accepting support from others instead; here he replies in irony: “Forgive me!”…The powerful members of the Corinthian church despised humility, as did most of their pagan colleagues; but if they worried that Paul had been too humble before (11:7), their wretched spiritual state (12:20) is about to humiliate him further. So much for his boasting of them (9:3)! Because Judaism talked of God speaking by the prophets, Paul’s appeal to “Christ speaking in” him is probably an appeal to his prophetic gift. Paul often drives home God’s power revealed in the weakness of the cross to the Corinthians (1 Cor 1:18–2:8), mainly because the Corinthian Christians, like their pagan culture, valued rhetorical and miraculous power that drew attention to speakers and miracle workers, not to the supreme God. [REF:BBC, at 2 Cor 12.11ff and 13.3+]


6. The passages in 1 Thess and Corinthians about flattery, etc. are sometimes expressed in the 1st person plural ("we", "our") and applies not just to Paul, but to his companions as well. One main companion identified is Silas (and Timothy). Silas is a leader of the Jerusalem church(!) sent by the Council of Acts to 15 to verify it was from the Jerusalem Church! Not only does this show that Paul is not 'different' from the Jerusalem-centric leaders, but it also shows that they worked very, very closely together (they were traveling companions, in the missionary activity that generated the epistles).


There's just nothing in all this 'data' to truly differentiate Paul from the Jerusalem leaders, or to indicate that his 'defenses' and 'battles' were in any way unique. All the apostles were opposed, contradicted, persecuted, etc…






"The strength of his attacks upon his opponents suggest a fierce ideological struggle between the Pauline 'saved through the blood sacrifice of Jesus' school and the Jerusalem Community, advocating adherence to the Law and the Gospel of Jesus.


This is a strange statement: one cannot move from ‘Paul attacked someone strongly’ to determining what that ‘someone’ believed! The strength of a feeling cannot ‘suggest’ anything about the ‘content target’ –it is entirely speculative to attach Paul’s ‘attacks’ to some theoretical dispute with the Jerusalem community.


We have already seen that there is no radical difference between Paul and the “Jerusalem Community”, at least as represented by James, Silas, and Peter.


And the ‘saved through the blood sacrifice of Jesus’ theme is certainly not distinctly Pauline! It can be found in numerous non-Pauline expressions of the early church (most of whom represent leadership of the Jerusalem community):



1. Peter:


knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, 19 but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.  1 Pe 1:18-20.


and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.   1 Pe 2:24-25.


2. John:


but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 Jn 1.7)


But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 Jn 1.1f)


3. Jesus:


And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you;  28 for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.  (Matt 26.27)



4. John the Baptist:


The next day he saw Jesus coming to him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!  (John 1.29)


5. Author of Hebrews:


For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Heb 9.13)


For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp. 12 Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate.  (Heb 13.11)


There is simply no biblical warrant for claiming that Paul’s ‘blood of Jesus’ theology was different from other views of Jesus’ death in the early, core church.




He attacks the pro-Law advocates who have apparently had great impact upon the Galatians as 'troublemakers who are seeking to pervert the Gospel of Christ' (Gal 1:7) and goes on in the same chapter to put such people 'under God's curse'. He attacks them again as 'false brothers who had secretly insinuated themselves to spy on the freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, intending to reduce us to slavery' (Gal 2:4).


One has to be very careful about statements like this, since the opponents of Paul varied by community. The objector here somehow assumes that the ‘attacks’ by Paul in Thessalonians and the Corinthian correspondence apply to the same problem-group he encountered in Galatia (the alleged pro-Law Jewish group from Jerusalem). [The examples of Paul’s defense, given by the objector above, come from 1 Thess, 1 Cor, 2 Cor, and Gal.]


In fact, the consensus of modern scholarship is that these groups are not at all the same, and that a "pro-law Judaising group from Jerusalem" may not even be represented! Paul (and all the apostles) encountered many different strains of proto-heresy: “Judaising”, “libertine”, incipient Gnosticism (both Jewish and Christian), mysticism, early docetism, and simple ‘fleece the flock’ religious frauds.


Consider this modern assessment of the state (and rejection of the Jewish Judaizer position):


"Diversity in Opposition: The Variety of Paul’s Opponents. Baur’s attempt to portray all Paul’s opponents as Judaizers has been gradually modified and to some extent refuted over the years.  The oversimplification of dividing early Christianity into two opposing sections and the failure to distinguish between differing emphases within each section was soon found to be lacking in various respects, even in the last century. More recent studies by W. Lütgert, J. Munck and W. Schmithals offer alternative perspectives on the situations Paul addressed. Lütgert drew attention to the existence of spiritual enthusiasts of a gnostic libertine variety and saw them as Paul’s opponents in 1 Corinthians and (in company with Judaizers) also in Galatians. Munck stressed the particularity of each letter as addressing a specific and therefore probably a different situation. As noted, he saw the Judaizers in Galatians as originating from Gentile converts; nor were there any Judaizers at Corinth or even at Philippi (where at least some of the opposition came from Jews). In place of what J. D. G. Dunn ) calls Baur’s “pan-judaizer” hypothesis, W. Schmithals has proposed a “pan-gnostic” hypothesis so that the opponents in Galatians are viewed not as Judaizers but as Jewish-Christian Gnostics, and likewise in Corinthians and Philippians.

As has been shown above, comprehensive hypotheses are not fully adequate to account for the enormous diversity of the first century. Nor is it appropriate to see the heresies that were inflicted upon early Christianity as all emerging from Jewish sources. Current research as exemplified in the studies by D. Georgi, R. P. Martin, J. L. Sumney and C. C. Hill has sought a reappraisal of division within the earliest church. More attention has been devoted to the Hellenists and to their role in opposition to Paul. For example, it may be that Paul faced the same opponents in 1 and 2 Corinthians (though there were developments between the writing of the two letters) and that these opponents were pneumatics. The only real evidence for Judaizers is in Galatians, and, it may be argued that Munck’s thesis that they were of Gentile origin is worthy of serious consideration." [NT:DictPL, s.v. "Judaizers"; note--if this last scholarly statement is correct, then the entire objection under discussion disappears, since there IS NO such 'Jerusalem pro-law' faction involved in Paul's letters/attacks!]




Secondly, we must note that ‘defenses’ and ‘strong attacks on opponents’ are not unique to Paul! One has only to notice the condemnation of the Pharisees by John the Baptist and Jesus, of the Sadducees by Jesus, the false teachers by Peter and Jude, the ‘conceited preachers’ of  Philp 1, the ‘upstart’ in 3 John, the harsh condemnations of false teachers and false Jews by the Risen Jesus in Rev 1-3, and the various ‘opponents’ in James (e.g., rich, double-minded, partial-to-favorites, etc.). We should also notice the ‘unauthorized missionaries’ implicitly condemned by James and the Jerusalem community in Acts 15. Attacking and defending is not in any way an indication of a false position—Jesus himself predicted false prophets, persecutions, and synagogue-rejections for His followers.


There is no reason—from these passages—to assume any disagreement between Paul and the authoritative Jerusalem community. (Indeed, we have explicit data to the contrary, remember).





Although it had been instituted by God, Paul claimed that return to observance of the Law would mean that the Galatians would again 'be fastened to the yoke of slavery' (5:1). He warns his followers against those who wish to obey the Law and the Gospel, describing them as 'self-mutilators' (Phil 3:2). He accuses Cephas and Barnabas of insincerity in his account of what occurred in Antioch after some people came from James in Jerusalem (Gal 2:13). This attack upon the very people whom he elsewhere refers to as 'God's holy people in Jerusalem' (1 Cor 16:1-4; and 'Pillars of the Church' (Gal 2:9) suggests, at the very least, a deep ambivalence in the relationship between them and Paul.


Good grief! This conclusion is seriously mistaken! Yes, he rebuked Peter—for a single act of inconsistency! This doesn’t mean (or ‘suggest’) ANYTHING about some ‘deep ambivalence’ in their relationship! [I have “rebuked” my precious kids on numerous occasions, but this couldn’t be construed as evidence of some ‘deep ambivalence’ toward them!!!] Paul speaks highly of Peter/James in Galatians, Peter speaks highly of Paul in 2 Peter, Paul treasured his relationship with Barnabas on and after  their missionary journeys (and were only separated over the pragmatics of taking a ‘deserter’ along with them on a missionary journey), Paul takes James' advice upon a later trip to Jerusalem (Acts 21.17), and James/elders speak highly of Paul at the council. These data points are so much less ambiguous and so much more weighty than “conclusions” drawn from a single inconsistency in early Church praxis!


How many times did Jesus rebuke Peter (and others) for acts of inconsistency?! Plenty—but this doesn’t ‘suggest’ any ‘ambivalence’ on Jesus’ part toward Peter! When the problem/inconsistency in the case of the “Greek widows” in Acts 6 came up, the Church learned, changed, and resolved the issue—just as happened at Galatia (as evidenced by Peter’s later position in Acts 15: “And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 “And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; 9 and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. 10 “Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 “But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.””). Paul was disapproving (and communicative of that disapproval) of Mark, but that didn’t stop him for utilizing him later in his ministry.


Also, the charge against them was not insincerity, but hypocrisy. It was a charge of inconsistency in their praxis. Peter unquestionably held to the same substitutionary death view of Paul:


knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, 19 but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.  1 Pe 1:18-20.


and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.   1 Pe 2:24-25.


Another important point: there is no reason to connect the ‘problem teachers’ in Galatians with James’ own point of view (or Peter’s and that of the Jerusalem community as well). This reconstruction of the events at Antioch is simply a-historical and false. As Bockmuehl notes:


"All the evidence, therefore, suggests that the "men from James" (Gal 2:12) genuinely represented him and were not pretenders or impostors. More importantly, they and their mission must be carefully distinguished from Paul's opponents in Galatia and elsewhere, including in Galatians the false brethren (2:4: ; cf. 2 Cor 11:26), the agitator (5:10), the troublemakers (5:12) and those who fear Jewish persecution and therefore undergo and promote circumcision (6:12-13). The same is true a fortiori for the super-apostles of 2 Corinthians (11:5-13; cf. 12:11). In all these cases, the Pauline opponents are people who make a direct approach to Gentiles in order to persuade them to be circumcised. In none of them is there any mention of table fellowship or of the name of James. The opponents and agitators are far more likely related to the unauthorised Jerusalem Christians mentioned even in the Apostolic Decree of Acts 15:24 (cf. 15:1-2): they are people "whom we did not send," but who have gone out among the Gentile Christians and "said things to disturb you and unsettle your minds."...By contrast, the men from James address themselves solely to Jewish Christians; and this would of course be the only appropriate stance in keeping with the Jerusalem agreement as reported in Gal 2:7-9. James appeals to the constituency for which he feels responsible, and on a topic of particular relevance to Jewish life in the Holy Land. His emissaries therefore cannot be Judaizers, as is still often presupposed." [NT:JJCO:180f]


So, the objection is making a 'problem' where there is none…the combative situation between Paul and Jerusalem leadership simply cannot be detected in the texts before us. The data is simply otherwise.



He can only mean the Jerusalem leaders when he states that he does not consider himself at all inferior to the 'super-apostles' and writes that 'those super-apostles had no advantage over me' (2 Cor 11:5,12:11).


Actually, scholars do not normally make this connection at all. The quote above by Bockmuehl alone shows that these 'super-apostles' are NOT Jerusalem pro-law Judaizers…The objection is simply false in this identification.



Paul in fact recognised no earthly authority above himself, claiming that he had been appointed an apostle by Jesus, not any human being (Gal 1:1).


This is no different from the other apostles. Peter says as much in his ‘defense’ to the Jewish leaders in Acts 5.29 and 4.19! Apostolic authority came from Jesus—not from Councils, or rabbi’s, or even from other apostles. Paul DID, however, recognize the differences in ministry-authority, for he delimits his authority to the Gentile arena--in cooperation with Jerusalem:


But on the contrary, seeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised 8 (for He who effectually worked for Peter in his apostleship to the circumcised effectually worked for me also to the Gentiles), 9 and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we might go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. ” (Gal 2.7ff).




Others, of course, recognized this God-given authority. The local communities believed that “The Spirit said ‘set aside Paul and Barnabas for the work…’” (Acts 13:2f: "And while they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.").


We should note, by the way, at this point in the discussion that instead of finding major differences between Paul and the ‘others’, we are actually finding major points of commonality (e.g., under attack, defenses, sense of divine calling/authority, focus on the death of Christ for sin, etc). Increasingly, Paul looks like ‘everybody else’…



This tremendous sense of total correctness led Paul to interpret all opposition to him as devilish. He suggests that those who oppose him include 'counterfeit apostles' and 'dishonest workers' (2 Cor 11:13) and even Satan's servants disguised as 'servants of uprightness' (2 Cor 11:14-15).


Again, Paul is in good company…Compare Paul’s statement with these ‘characterizations’ on the part of Jesus (in the gospels), Jesus (Risen, in Revelation), the Apostle John, and Peter:


·         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.” (Jesus, Matt 16.23)


·         Jesus answered them, “Did I Myself not choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is a devil?” 71 Now He meant Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray Him. (Jesus, John 6.70f)


·         You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature; for he is a liar, and the father of lies. (Jesus, John 8.44f)


·         But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back some of the price of the land? (Peter, Acts 5.3)


·         I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. (Risen Jesus, Rev 2.9; cf. 3.9)


·         and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; and this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. (Apostle John, 1 Jn 4.3)




This was not “Pauline”—this came from the awareness of the early church that there was a spiritual dimension of existence that was opposed to God and to His love for people, and which resisted His efforts to breathe peace, warmth, and life into our world…and that this malignancy would express itself in ‘false prophets’ and ‘false teachers’:


Jesus said…


Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. (Matt 7.15)


 “And many false prophets will arise, and will mislead many. (Matt 24.11)


“For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. (Matt 24.24)



And this awareness can be found in other (non-Pauline) writings in the New Testament:


The Apostle John:


Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.  (1 Jn 4.1)


The Apostle Peter:


But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. (2 Pet 2.1)




These types of expressions (on the part of Paul), accordingly, cannot be ‘used against him’ in trying to make him look pathological or different from the rest of the leadership. These expressions reflect a common understanding of Jesus and the apostolic community.





He wishes that his opponents would 'mutilate themselves' (Gal 5:12). The advocates of the Law were self interested people who just wished to boast about their success (Gal 6:13),


Self-interested, boastful religious leaderships, of course, was a common problem of the day—as well as for ours!


Jesus commented about how some of the Pharisees liked to ‘be important’ and successful in the eyes of the people:


"Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. 2 “When therefore you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 3 “But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing 4 that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will repay you. 5 “And when you pray, you are not to be as the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners, in order to be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. (Matt 6)


And similar accusations are raised by John, Peter, and Jude:


·         These men are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them.  18 For they mouth empty, boastful words (2 Pet 2.17f)


·         I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us.  (3 Jn 9)


·         These men are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage. (Jude 16)






 wished to stir up disagreements (Rom 16:17)


This statement from Romans is not at all exclusive to the “Judaizers”…In Romans, it applied to Jews who wished to be superior to Gentiles, and to Gentiles who had no use for the Jews (e.g., part of Romans 9-16 is to show that God still loved the Jews and planned to save them in the future).



 and who preached differently to Paul 'out of malice and rivalry' or 'out of jealousy, not in sincerity' (Phil 1:15-19).


This statement seems to misunderstand the context of the Philippians passage. Those preachers were NOT preaching ‘law’ but were preaching ‘Christ’—Paul’s message. Paul, indeed, was even happy that these ‘rivals’ were preaching, because their message was correct. He certainly would not have said something like this about any Judaizers!


So, [WBC]:


"There are several important things to notice in this section: (1) Whatever Paul might say later about his “brothers,” he affirms first and foremost that all of them preach Christ. To emphasize this fact he uses three different verbs successively and synonymously—lalei`n (v 14, “speak”), khruvssein (v 15, “preach”) and katallevllein (vv 17, 18, “proclaim”). Christ himself, or the message (lovgo") about Christ, including the account of his death, burial and resurrection (cf. Acts 4:29–31; 1 Cor 1:23; Col 1:27–28; 4:3), is the gospel that they were preaching, and this pleased the apostle (v 18a). The content of their message was sound. Therefore, it is impossible to say with Lightfoot that the group whose motives Paul questioned were of the Judaizing party. For the Judaizers preached a different gospel, which to Paul really was not a gospel at all. Rather to him it was a distortion of the gospel of Christ and contrary to the gospel he approved and preached (Gal 1:6–9)."


The Philippians passage cannot be used to support the objector’s thesis here at all.





Although certain that he was following the correct path, Paul could not totally ignore the community of those who followed the Gospel of Jesus. The prestige of those who had walked with him and heard his Gospel as he had preached it, the Jerusalem Community and its three leaders, James, Cephas and John, could not be ignored. To have some credibility with the Gentiles and overseas Jews, Paul had to have their support or at least their apparent support. He is much concerned with the collection being taken for 'God's holy people' the Jerusalem Community leaders (1 Cor 16:1-4), a theme continued in both his Letters to the Corinthians. That he felt it necessary to answer the charge that he might embezzle the collection (2 Cor 8:20-21) shows the suspicion with which he had to contend.


This is another case of where Paul is defending himself against ‘global suspicion’ not ‘suspicion of Paul’. This is like the earlier cases we saw where he ‘defended himself’ against accusations typically made of various classes of people (e.g., traveling teachers). There is no reason in the least to believe that Paul was suspected or accused of being an embezzler, although the situation with Judas Iscariot (who WAS an embezzler) perhaps made the other apostles more sensitive about this issue, and perhaps encouraged them to ‘go overboard’ to preclude the question.


This is, again, just a cultural expectation and NOT an implicit 'accusation' of Paul:


" In a culture obsessed with shame and honor, Greco-Roman writers were quick to emphasize that leaders and other beneficiaries of the public trust must be open and of irreproachable moral credentials. Judaism also stressed that charity collectors must act irreproachably to prevent even false accusations. Verse 21 echoes the Septuagint of Proverbs 3:4 and the proverbial saying that grew out of it; Jewish teachers stressed doing what was good in the sight of both God and people." [REF:BBC]


These careful precautions for the above-reproach character of conveying the money to Jerusalem is evidence of a wise leader and sensitive public agent--it is NOT evidence of some actual 'charge'.


But in any event, the data of these biblical texts indicates no on-going or theological differences between Paul, Peter, James, John, etc. In fact, the data we have seen indicates the opposite—that Paul stood squarely in the salvation-by-grace-through-the-Cross tradition as taught by Jesus, and promulgated by the apostolic band.




He must claim the authority of the Jerusalem Community for the validity of his teaching to the Gentiles (Gal 2:1-10)


Not quite. His statement only showed that he thought it important or instructive to the Galatians for them to know that his message was NOT in contradiction to Jerusalem, and that 'true Jerusalem Jews' agreed with his teaching/mission to the Gentiles. There is no warrant in the text to support the position that Paul felt it 'necessary' to get approval per se…



and he writes that 'they asked nothing more than that we should remember to help the poor'.


Notice how this single statement would overthrow the objection. That the Jerusalem leadership did not try to 'correct' Paul's theology would single-handedly establish the continuity between the two!


This was some 17 years after his conversion, for as he states, he was in no hurry to confer with any human being as he had been selected in his mother's womb for this work (Gal 1:15-17). Even so, he was fearful that he and his gift might not be accepted by the Jerusalem leaders, writing: 'I pray that the aid I am carrying to Jerusalem will be acceptable to God's holy people' (Rom 15:31). 


Actually, it probably wasn’t the leaders he was concerned about, since his relationship with them was pretty good--as the little data we have clearly indicates. It was probably sub-groups within the Jerusalem church which were still 'growing in grace' that he was probably concerned about. This 'not finished yet' crowd is alluded to by James and the elders, upon Paul's visit:


When we arrived in Jerusalem, the brothers welcomed us warmly. 18 The next day Paul went with us to visit James; and all the elders were present. 19 After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20 When they heard it, they praised God. Then they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands of believers there are among the Jews, and they are all zealous for the law. 21 They have been told about you that you teach all the Jews living among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, and that you tell them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs. 22 What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. 23 So do what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow. 24 Join these men, go through the rite of purification with them, and pay for the shaving of their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself observe and guard the law. 25 But as for the Gentiles who have become believers, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication.” 26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day, having purified himself, he entered the temple with them, making public the completion of the days of purification when the sacrifice would be made for each of them. (Act 21.17ff)


It seems clear that James himself is a bit 'afraid' of this crowd for he/they warn(s )Paul about them. But James himself had praised God over Paul's missionary work in verse 20! And notice that Paul had no problem in following their advice--he did the vow and sacrifice thing. Remember, the Jerusalem leadership had their OWN problems with Judaizers--the 'unauthorized men' of Acts 15. When coupled with the remarks above, it is clear that the Jerusalem leadership faced similar problems with 'too pro-law' groups! Paul could be genuinely concerned about the 'sub-group' refusing gifts 'tainted by Gentile hands'--although the Jerusalem leadership obviously had NO PROBLEM WITH IT (since they had actually requested the same of Paul in Gal 2)…


Again, the data is contrary to the objection.




But still there might be another barb for these 'super-apostles' for Paul throws in the line 'One person may have faith enough to eat any kind of food; another less strong, will eat only vegetables' (Rom 14:2). James the Righteous, leader of the Jerusalem Community was a vegetarian and supporter of the Law and the Gospel.


I cannot tell where this comes from…no good Jerusalem Jew would have been a vegetarian (in spite of Eusebius' later comment about James!). The requirements to eat the meat at Passover and at many of the Thank Offerings and other sacrifices preclude a 'Good Jew' from being a vegetarian (especially in Jerusalem, where kosher meat products were easily obtained). And if it was only 'meat offered to idols' that is under discussion, there is nothing in the context to suggest such. James could NOT have been a vegetarian under then-current Jewish orthodoxy.


But this discussion on James' diet is immaterial, since we have already noted that one cannot identify the 'super apostles' of Corinth with the party of James. Our objector is obviously aware of this since he used the word 'might'.


But we will have more to say on James when we get to Part 4 of this series…




Concluding Reflection:


When I look back at the objector's argument here, I think I can see the basic problem. The objector is working with an outdated view of the early church. Decades and decades ago, Baur had set forth a simple model of "Jerusalem Law vs Paul" antagonism, and described the early church conflict in this simple polarity. As we noticed from some of the scholarly quotes above, that view has been abandoned, as we have learned more about the early church. There was plenty of division and discussion and factions and arguments--fierce and heated--in this period of rapid growth and definition. But the data we do have indicates that there was basic and extensive theological agreement between Paul and the other apostles during this time. There would always be disagreements--as a prelude to working through those disagreements (as seen in the Peter-Paul incident in Antioch)--but these disagreements were not permanent, nor constitutive of some major 'axis of difference' between Law and Grace.


We have seen in this part that the data the objector advanced to show the isolation/uniqueness of Paul could also be found in other, more "Jerusalem-ic" leaders as well. The continuity and similarities are pervasive and significant. The data of the New Testament indicates (a) radical continuity, and at the same time (b) challenges and disagreements which were catalysts to growth and development and (later) unity. At the end of the day, Paul still looks like a 'good Messianic Jew' in his terminology, dependence on the OT/Tanach, veneration of the Torah/revelation of God, assessment of humanity's need and only hope in the Messiah, and belief in the resurrection of the dead…


So, not only was Paul not 'non-Jesus', but he also was not 'non-James', 'non-Peter', 'non-John', 'non-Jerusalem', etc…



Ever and onward the road leads on…


Glenn Miller

April 2003


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