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  • Writer's pictureDr. Nathan T. Morton

In Defense of the Defamed Paul

“Was Saint Paul really such a Jerk?”

This was the headline of an op-ed piece in the Washington Post dated October 16, 2015. The article (written by Paul Baumann who then was the editor of Commonweal) was a review of Karen Armstrong’s book, St. Paul: The Apostle We Love to Hate.[1] I mention this, not as a preface to my own review of Armstrong’s work, but to make the point that in academic circles, even some labeled Christian, Paul is derided and ridiculed.

At times an outspoken dislike for Paul is accompanied by a list of justifying reasons for the disdain however, I suspect the actual source for much of the current Pauline hate goes a bit deeper than the listed excuses and is probably rooted in human desire, personal preference, and/or ulterior motivations.

Historically Paul’s letters predate the writing of the gospels, some would say by as much as ten years. This makes Paul’s writings on Christ’s life and redemptive work some of the church’s earliest. Furthermore, Peter’s reference to them in 2 Peter 3:15-16 is an indicator of the respect the collective church held for them even during Paul's lifetime.

Because of the distilled theological content, these hastily written letters addressing various problems and challenges in the original Christian communities, act as both compass and source for informing much of historic orthodoxy. They have been, without question, the dominant theological voice in all of Christianity.

And yet, more and more is being published with the hope of either reinterpreting Paul’s writings to make them mean something other than what Paul originally intended or discrediting them entirely. One often repeated and popular sentiment is, “Jesus good and Paul bad.” This mantra pits Jesus against Paul attempting to marginalize Paul’s letters while preserving the teachings of Jesus as recorded by his other followers ... as if such a thing were possible with credibility.

I cannot recount the number of times I’ve heard or read, “but Jesus never said ...” by speakers and authors attempting to assign greater value to their assumptions regarding Jesus’ silence than to Paul’s clearly written declarations. For these critics, even Luke’s interviews and 2nd hand accounts are considered to be of greater value than the actual words written and signed by Paul himself.

By his detractors, Paul is labeled misogynistic, homophobic, antisemitic (yes, I see the irony), hypocritical, and even antichrist.[2]

What is shocking is that these criticisms. which first originated among the detractors of Christianity have, in the last 30 or 40 years, become the assertions of many scholars inside the boundaries of mainline Christianity.

I could make the accusation of poor scholarship, but I don’t believe that to be the truth. Many of Paul’s contemporary detractors, like the Judaizers of the first century, are quite intelligent and learned, and like those Judaizers, they have an agenda.

Whereas the ancient Judaizers accused Paul of lawlessness because they did not like his message of grace, modern detractors accuse Paul of legalism because they don’t like his message of godliness that shuns idolatrous immorality ... among other things.

However, these critics attempting to invalidate large swaths of the New Testament, have overlooked the fact that without Paul much of our understanding of the eternal purpose of Christ’s death, burial, resurrection, and ascension is lost. Not only that but a great deal of the Old Testament, which has been illuminated by Paul’s knowledge of Christ, now returns to the mysterious darkness of unknowing.

It needs to be acknowledged that the writings of Paul are too intertwined with the Gospels to be separated from them. And, either these critics have not properly calculated the cost, or they don’t care.

There is no essential doctrine or historic practice in the church that does not have a great deal of its foundation in the writings of Paul. To reject Paul is to reject Christ and yet, these critics gladly do so as they squint to read between the lines of scripture what is not even there so that they might accommodate and justify the moral compromises within contemporary Christianity.

“... forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness.” –Peter the Apostle


[1] [2] Nasser, Syed M.S. Paul & the Pharisee Conspiracy Against Jesus (Christianity & St. Paul: The Antichrist Book 1) (p. 2). Utopia International Limited. Kindle Edition.

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