Friday, 20 December 2013

Paul - False Apostle?

As I've had some time off over the holiday season, there's been more opportunity for me to listen into what IWWB are saying via their weekly broadcast bible studies. The majority of it is just mundane hoo-ha about how they're being setup to be the future world-leaders and so must be persecuted, lied about and hated of all men - all of which I've covered many times before. Nothing new there! 

However, listening in on the tail end of a study titled: "Blessed First Resurrection PT2," the fellowship discussion turned towards whether Paul the Apostle was truly a real apostle, or an impostor bringing a false gospel.  

Firstly, here is the discussion in mind, edited by myself to get rid of long pauses:

Before I get into the obvious contradictions that exist between Paul's writings and others within the New Testament, it is worth making a few notes on what is said by the IWWB brethren - 

Firstly, you'll note that Mitch Kuhn expresses surprise multiple times ("really?") at the notion of Paul being considered a false apostle. This just tells me that brother Mitch is extremely poorly read when it comes to church history. Now I'm not claiming to be an expert myself, but it is obvious, given prior statements Mitch has made that he is simply unfamiliar with scholarship as it pertains to the New Testament. He would prefer, it seems, to wallow in ignorance and dress it up as "the gift of faith."

Secondly, Mike Vinson's pronouncement at the end of the discussion had me literally laughing out loud. I kid you not. Like Mitch, Mike really does view the bible as a "history book" with factual information of literal events that actually took place. This is commonly referred to as "biblical inerrancy." 

If you take a listen, Mike says quite plainly the following: "and you really would need to throw Jesus out too because he met him on the road to Damascus and sent him off to do what he did..." As a point of context, Mike said this because someone prior had said that if Paul was a false prophet, then by default, much of the New Testament writings would be undone. 

What these sincere but extremely ignorant men fail to realize is that their paper idol, the bible, is not one complete book, written in some kind of relay-running form, with each author signing off and then passing the baton onto the next eager scribe. No - far from it. Instead, what you have are various authors writing with a particular agenda and audience in mind and like it or not, contradictions exist within the text that reveal very human struggles and contentions. This becomes clearly obvious within the context of the New Testament, and certainly, over the issue of Paul's apostleship.

With that in mind, let's take a look at some obvious bungles that lie (no pun!) within the scriptures. Most of the information presented here has been taken verbatim from Neil Godfrey's excellent website Vridar, and in particular, this post. Ironically, Neil is a former World Wide Church of God member who, instead of burying his head further in the bible and starting another WWCoG splinter group, came out of the labyrinth and in the process, gained some real world perspective on matters.

The Silent Witness?

Firstly, bear in mind that Paul seemingly knows nothing of the gospel accounts and fails to mention anything pertinent to the life of Jesus Christ. Paul says nothing of the supposed virgin birth, and repeats not a single line of anything Jesus is purported to have said within the gospels. If you are interested in exploring this matter further, can I recommend the work of Canadian writer Earl Doherty

Doherty is well known as one of the recent progenitors of the "Christ Myth Theory," the idea that a mortal man was an after-the-fact consideration, and one that came much later within the evolution of the Christian religion. For whatever it is worth, I find myself leaning that way, but I don't hold to it as a religious dogma. 

On his "Jesus Puzzle" website, Doherty states the following:

Do the New Testament epistles tells us anything about the Jesus of the Gospels? Are the epistle writers aware of such a man, and do they have any knowledge of the Gospel story? 
New Testament commentators have long remarked, frequently with some perplexity, on the dearth of references in the early Christian correspondence to details of the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. "The early church lost all interest in the earthly career of the man they turned into God." This has been the standard method of explaining the extensive silence on the human Jesus to be found in the canonical epistles
Be sure to head over to Doherty's site if this topic interests you further, it's certainly an intriguing hypothesis put forth, and one worth becoming familiar with.

A Tale of Two Conversions

In the Book of Acts (9:1-30) we read the following:

Paul was persecuting the church until he was struck down by a divine call on his way to Damascus, he was then baptized in Damascus by a lowly disciple (Ananias), and after some time ("many days") he fled to Jerusalem because of Jewish persecution. 

Further, Paul's contacts in Jerusalem were limited but only on first arriving. Barnabas then acted as his Janus-like gateway by taking him to the apostles – who, we learn elsewhere in Acts, were led by Peter and James. Brethren then took him away to Caesarea and then to Tarsus to protect him from the Hellenists.

In sharp contrast, within the epistle to the Galatians (1:13-24), we read a different story:

Paul used to persecute the church until Christ revealed himself by revelation "in him," after which he then went to Arabia. Only after he had been in Arabia did he return to Damascus. After three years in Damascus he went to Jerusalem because he wanted to see Peter. His contacts in Jerusalem remained limited — the Judean churches did not see Paul.
He met Peter (staying with him a mere 15 days) and James only, and Paul then returned to the regions of Syria and Cilicia.

Looking at them like this, side by side, the stories vary and it seems the author of Acts was keen to place Paul within the auspices of church authority. Paul on the other hand tells the story quite differently, and points out several times that his authority was not conferred on him by any man, but came rather from God alone:
Galatians 1:1,11 - Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;)... I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin.
It should also be noted that for whatever reason, Paul really wants the reader to know he is an apostle. Is it vanity? Or insecurity? Perhaps sheer arrogance? Who knows. 
But whatever the case, Paul seems particularly taken with the title, despite the admonition of Christ that his disciples not use vain titles (Matt. 23:9 - "call no man father") and rule over each other as the gentiles do (see Mark 10:42). 

Moreover, of the 22 times that Paul is referred to as an apostle, all but 2 come from his own hand! That in and of itself should tell you something.

The Jerusalem Road Trip

According to the Galatians letter, the reason Paul went to Jerusalem was to see Peter (Cephas). And he made this journey three years after his conversion. That smacks of both independence (the 3 year wait) and equality (seeking a personal meeting) between the two apostles.

The narrator of Acts has a different plan for Paul. He does not of his own volition decide to go and see Peter face to face. Rather, he is forced to flee Damascus because of persecution, and when he escapes to Jerusalem, he does not seek out Peter nor any of the apostles, but merely the other "common" disciples.

And the three years wait is reduced to a more modest "many days" before reaching Jerusalem, too.

So in Acts Paul does not seek out Peter, nor even go to Jerusalem, of his own volition. This, and the change from "three years" to "many days" serves to dilute the independence factor that is stressed so pointedly in Galatians. 

Acts further challenges the theme of independence found in Galatians by portraying Paul as seeing his place with the disciples, not the apostles.

Nevertheless, to explain knowledge of Paul’s meeting with Peter, the narrator brings in Barnabas to introduce him to the apostles. Peter is not singled out at all, although the reader is well aware that Peter would be included among those he met. 

But above all, it is not Paul who can, like an equal, walk up to Peter and introduce himself. He must be led to the apostles by the good graces of Barnabas. The author of Acts could not make Paul’s status to the apostles any clearer — nor more contrary to what Galatians implies.

Galatians also emphasizes the shortness of Paul’s stay in Jerusalem. It was, we are told, only fifteen days. There is no such time limitation intimated in Acts.

Second Jerusalem Meeting

In the book of Acts (15:1-16:3) we read the following:

Brethren arrived in Antioch from Judea, causing a dispute in the church. Paul and Barnabas were sent by the churches to Jerusalem to seek a resolution to the conflict. Peter spoke and James also spoke (as the leader with the final decision) and issued the decree to settle the matter harmoniously. Back in Antioch, Paul and Barnabas separated as a result of a disagreement (over John Mark) and Paul circumcised half-Greek Timothy, in order to please the Jews.

However, by contrast, the letter to the Galatians (2:1-21) informs us:

Paul was inspired by God to go to Jerusalem and he took Barnabas with him to discuss privately the gospel he preached with the Jerusalem leaders. Paul did not circumcise the Greek Titus to please the "false brethren." Paul addressed James, Peter (Cephas) and John, and there was harmonious agreement. Peter and others arrived in Antioch from James in Jerusalem causing a dispute (with Paul) in the church. Paul disputed sharply with them, and with Peter in particular. In this Antioch dispute, Barnabas sided with Peter and separated himself from Paul.

Not Known To The Disciples?

Paul in Galatians emphasizes that he never mixed with the churches in Jerusalem and Judea but liaised exclusively with the Peter and James. He presents himself as an equal of the apostles and in no way of a lesser rank, and also as one who has no calling to preach to the Jews. His remit is to the gentiles only. Peter’s and Paul’s commissions do not overlap.

How does Acts explain the failure of the Jewish churches to meet with Paul? By declaring they were afraid of his reputation as a persecutor. They refused to see him, not trusting his attempts to see them. But Acts wants to portray the church as a harmonious new Israel where all, Jew and gentile, are one in Christ. It attempts to gloss over the evidence of unresolved divisions. 

So after Paul is introduced to the apostles through Barnabas, the narrative is able to inform us that Paul was able to go freely in and out among all in Jerusalem. Paul preaches to Jews first, but also to gentiles. 


It is obvious when you look closely at the accounts of Acts and Galatians, that both authors wrote with a different agenda and purpose in mind. Paul's is somewhat polemic, and he seems especially eager to establish his own authority, independent of the apostles. 

The author of Acts meanwhile, wants to portray Paul as submitting to the auspices of the church and so fills in the narrative with this perspective in mind. 

How IWWB remain so ignorant of these differing accounts is quite simple - they refuse to believe they exist at all! In the mind of Mike and Mitch and the other key "elect," the bible is one complete book. Mike has even admitted on his website, that if contradictions do appear, it is only because he as yet does not understand what is being said. 

Here are some quotes from Mike that display his mentality on the subject of contradictions:
To the natural man God's Word is full of contradictions, and when you are faithful to those words of God, you too will be accused of contradicting yourself by the very people who "oppose themselves."
Only those who are now being judged can read and hear. Both 'read' and 'hear' mean 'to understand.' It is only those who read and understand how all of these apparent contradictions are actually great hidden truths which the world "cannot receive" that are "hearing a great voice as of a trumpet."
Mike is a sincere man, no doubt, but his attitude and his mindset simply do not permit him the use of his god-given reason. When you elevate the words of men to that of a god, your ability to distinguish truth from error is severely diminished, to say the least. 

In closing, I must again tip my hat to Neil Godfrey of Vridar for all of the concise information provided above, namely under the subheadings. As mentioned before, I've largely grabbed this verbatim off his website and dropped it in here. Do check out Neil's site if you have the time, it is well worth it.

To cap it off, here is Paul again, emphasising his own authority, and doing his best to downplay the authority of the apostles - Galatians 2:6,7,9:

But from those who seemed to be something - whatever they were, it makes no difference to me; God shows personal favouritism to no man - for those who seemed to be something added nothing to me. But on the contrary, when they saw that the gospel for the uncircumcised had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcised was to Peter (for He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised also worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles), and when James, Cephas (Peter), and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised

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