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There a claim in some circles that Paul is a "false apostle", creating a new religion from whole cloth. I fear trying to flesh out any one particular version of such a claim, but one such example is chapter 7 here: http://www.judaismvschristianity.com/. This seems like a relatively recent historical claim.

Are there any scholarly discussions of the matter? I know Vermes wrote something from the Jewish perspetive awhile ago, making some version of the above argument. I would be especially interested in a robust criticism of this doctrine.

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This is not exactly a repeat of How do we know Paul wasn't a false Apostle? since I am asking for scholarly references. –  Peter F. Sep 11 '12 at 22:07
There are some pretty scholarly debates out there about whether or not we've interpreted Paul correctly in (I don't buy it at all but see the New Perspective on Paul stuff for more) but I have never seen anything remotely scholarly on the idea of him being entirely false. There are people claiming Christianity was Paul's idea and not Jesus, and stuff like that, but their claims don't hold up to study or history so they don't attract a lot of attention from serious scholars. I'm not sure how much we're going to be able to come up with here. –  Caleb Sep 12 '12 at 10:35
I am among the unstable referenced. It seems to be axiomatic that the Christian community is so invested in the idea that Paul is foundational and thus not susceptible to criticism. I am not a part of the jesuswordonly crowd, but I do not understand how they can be dismissed so easily. Obviously 2 Peter presents problems with critics of Paul. Is it possible that 2 Peter was a forgery by possibly a supporter of Paul (or anyone else)? –  Robert Rey Black Mar 27 '13 at 21:30
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5 Answers

To understand the question I have read chapter 7 from http://www.judaismvschristianity.com/ and here is my impression of the argument as someone who has spent thirty years studying the scriptures, church history and doctrine.

First, the article is not remotely scholarly nor is their any scholarly debate to support it. Outside of a few confused interpretations of a few biblical events, it does not cite any external history or facts to support the argument. For this reason there is no 'scholarly refutation' of the argument, since the argument is not recognized academically. Therefore, my response may be the closest thing to scholarly as I am at least willing to investigate the claim and provide a reasoned response to it, whereas most scholars would not be bothered.

Second the article uses information that naturally oppose the argument itself making it not only not scholarly but completely illogical.

As the argumentation is so flimsy and unsupported by scripture and church history I will only outline the authors primary argument and show how easily it can be dismissed as sham logic.

It is argued that his Apostleship was unrecognized by the other Apostles.

Answer: Anyone familiar with scripture would realize that he was fully recognized by all the Apostles, otherwise the letters of the other Apostles would have warned congregations of this 'false Apostle'. Instead they gave him full support. For example, Peter knowing Paul often referred to himself as 'an Apostle' in his letters (because there were false teachers who challenged his Apostleship) said this:

Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. (NIV 2 Peter 3:15-17)

Here Peter infers Paul's letters are also the scriptures which unstable people distort. That means when Paul said he was an Apostle, Peter included the statement as scripture.

This verse also, so succinctly describes the argument of this author in his article on the website. Everything argued in so contrary to serious thought and expresses such ignorance of the scripture that it must come from an 'unstable mind'. Even a stable minded unbeliever would recognize that if Paul had hijacked Christianity history would have recorded great conflict between Peter and Paul, yet no such conflict is recorded in Christian history. Furthermore, a stable mind that does believe in Christ would find it highly improbable that the Messiah would have established a new kingdom and glorious phase of Salvation history upon a Rock (which the gates of hell could not prevail against) and then immediately allow a false Apostle, quickly overthrowing that kingdom. (Ref Math 16:18)

The rest of his arguments are similar and as easy to shred into pieces, but since the foundation of his theories are already laid waste their is no apparent purpose to proceed.

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It easy to prove that Paul is the false apostle the one the Lord spoke about in Revelation 2:2 — See my site.

Also see the site Jesus Word's Only and book by the same name, great book by a very scholarly author.

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I see this as a common belief among hose that fit the profile of "red letter Christians", an you linked to jesuswordsonly.com, which seems to fit hat profile. Is the belief that Paul is false apostle a central belief to the RLC view? –  David Stratton Oct 12 '12 at 4:45
@Douglas - "Jesus words only" is very much preaching a very specific interpretation of what Jesus said... something IMO literally not possible to do. So it seems to me they are on the one hand saying you as an individual should only follow Jesus (not Paul), but then they quickly try to play the role of teacher themselves. –  Hammer Oct 12 '12 at 6:43
These sites are relevant to this question, but we don't like to see answers that are just pointers to offsite content. Can you please edit this answer to include at least summaries of the case made in the linked pages? You can keep the links for those who want to more research but we need to have enough data here to make this a stand-alone answer. Thanks for understanding. –  Caleb Dec 12 '13 at 13:07
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We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

I have long suspected Paul was a false apostle. Many in the past have, and many today still do, believe this to be the case.

When we read the epistles attributed to Paul or even the book of Acts many red flags seem to appear. For starters, Paul began by arresting/persecuting Christians. In the book of Acts we are told Paul was present at the murder of a Stephen who was a known Christian. Acts goes on to tell us Paul experienced a conversion on his way to Damascus to further persecute Christians. This account is mentioned in 9:1-31, 22: 1-22, and 26: 9-24. This whole story is suspicious for a number of reasons. First, the way Jesus appears to Paul in the story is not biblical. Jesus always appeared in the flesh, not as a light as specified in Paul's supposed account. Second, the account given is contradictory. Verse 9:7 tells us the individuals traveling with Paul heard Jesus' voice but saw no one. Verse 22:9 tells us instead the individuals with Paul saw a light but did not hear Jesus' voice. Third, is the improbable claim that Paul was on his way to Damascus to round up Christians. This is very unlikely considering Damsacus was a predominantly pagan territory at the time under Nabataean control. Paul would have had no authority to round any one up. Fourth, where are those individuals that were with Paul to verify this incident? It surely would make it more believeable if there were witnesses.

In the New Testament Paul is referred to as an apostle 22 times. Only twice is this done by someone other than Paul himself. It is not from Jesus, or any of the original apostles(disciples), but from Paul's friend and personal press secretary Luke. It is obvious from reading the accounts of Paul, Acts for instance, that the disciples did not believe him to be one of them. There was obviously no love loss between the disciples and Paul.

Another area of contradiction is in Paul's teachings. Paul was a stout supporter of faith. This in itself is not a bad thing. The problem is Paul emphasized faith over everything else; including action. Paul's teachings on salvation apart from works contradicts other clear teachings in the New Testament such as Matthew 5:19, Matthew 25:31-46, John 15:10, James 1:22-25, and James 2:24. Other than Paul, the New Testament teachings are predominantly works based. Another area of difference in Paul's teachings and the rest of the New Testament are his views in the Jewish Law. Paul's letters contain a substantial amount of criticism of the Law. This view would not have held well with the Jewish Jesus and his Jewish disciples.

Many people over the centuries have doubted Paul. Many considered themselves Christian (followers of Jesus).

Ebionites (possibly the first Christians) believed him to be a false apostle.

"These men (Ebionites), moreover, thought that it was necessary to reject all the epistles of the apostle [Paul], whom they called an apostate from the law" - Eusebius 325 AD

Some significant early church fathers had issues with Paul.

Macarius Magnes (early church theologian) found Paul to be contradictory.

"[Paul] says, ‘As many as are under the Law are under a curse’ (Gal 3:10). The man who writes to the Romans, ‘The Law is spiritual’ (7:14), and again, ‘The Law is holy and the commandment holy and just’ (7:12), places under a curse those who obey that which is holy!... In his Epistles … he praises virginity (I-Tim 4:1, I-Cor 7:25), and then turns round and writes, ‘In the latter times some shall depart from the faith,... forbidding to marry’ (I-Tim 4:1-3).... And in the Epistle to the Corinthians he says, ‘But concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord’ (I-Cor 7:25)." - ca. 300

Augustine (early church theologian) accused Paul of being a liar.

"If it be possible for men to say and believe that, after introducing his narrative with these words, ‘The things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not’, the apostle (Paul) lied when he said of Peter and Barnabas, ‘I saw that they walked not uprightly, according to the truth of the gospel’,... [then] if they did walk uprightly, Paul wrote what was false; and if he wrote what was false here, when did he say what was true?" - 397 AD

Jerome (early church theologian) accused Paul of hypocrisy.

"Porphyry ... accuses Paul of presumption because he dared to reprove Peter and rebuke him to his face, and by reasoning convict him of having done wrong; that is to say, of being in the very fault which he himself, who blamed another for transgressing, had committed.... Oh blessed Apostle Paul— who had rebuked Peter for hypocrisy, because he withdrew himself from the Gentiles through fear of the Jews who came from James—why are you, notwithstanding your own doctrine, compelled to circumcise Timothy (Acts 16:3), the son of a Gentile, nay more, a Gentile himself?" - 404 AD

Jerome's continued criticism of Paul.

"Paul does not know how to develop a hyperbaton [i.e., a change of normal word order for emphasis], nor to conclude a sentence; and having to do with rude people, he has employed the conceptions, which, if, at the outset, he had not taken care to announce as spoken after the manner of men, would have shocked men of good sense." - 411 AD

Many modern Christian theologians have found reason to doubt Paul.

"In the teachings of Christ, religion is completely present tense: Jesus is the prototype and our task is to imitate him, become a disciple. But then through Paul came a basic alteration. Paul draws attention away from imitating Christ and fixes attention on the death of Christ The Atoner. What Martin Luther, in his reformation, failed to realize is that even before Catholicism, Christianity had become degenerate at the hands of Paul. Paul made "Christianity the religion of Paul, not of Christ. Paul threw the Christianity of Christ away, completely turning it upside down, making it just the opposite of the original proclamation of Christ." - theologian Soren Kierkegaard

"True Christianity, which will last forever, comes from the gospel words of Christ not from the epistles of Paul. The writings of Paul have been a danger and a hidden rock, the causes of the principal defects of Christian theology." - theologian Ernest Renan

"Paul himself stands in the twilight zone of heresy. In reading Paul, one immediately encounters a major difficulty. Whatever Jesus had preached did not become the content of the missionary proclamation of Paul. . . . Sayings of Jesus do not play a role in Paul 's understanding of the event of salvation. . . . Paul did not care at all what Jesus had said. . . . Had Paul been completely successful very little of the sayings of Jesus would have survived." - theologian Helmut Koester

"What kind of authority can there be for an 'apostle' who, unlike the other apostles, had never been prepared for the apostolic office in Jesus' own school but had only later dared to claim the apostolic office on the basis on his own authority? The only question comes to be how the apostle Paul appears in his Epistles to be so indifferent to the historical facts of the life of Jesus. . . . He bears himself but little like a disciple who has received the doctrines and the principles which he preaches from the Master whose name he bears." - theologian Ferdinand Christian Baur

"Paul. . . . did not desire to know Christ. . . . Paul shows us with what complete indifference the earthly life of Jesus was regarded. . . . What is the significance for our faith and for our religious life, the fact that the Gospel of Paul is different from the Gospel of Jesus?. . . . The attitude which Paul himself takes up towards the Gospel of Jesus is that he does not repeat it in the words of Jesus, and does not appeal to its authority. . . . The fateful thing is that the Greek, the Catholic, and the Protestant theologies all contain the Gospel of Paul in a form which does not continue the Gospel of Jesus, but displaces it." - theologian Albert Schweitzer

"It is most obvious that Paul does not appeal to the words of the Lord in support of his. . . . views. when the essentially Pauline conceptions are considered, it is clear that Paul is not dependent on Jesus. Jesus' teaching is -- to all intents and purposes -- irrelevant for Paul." - theologian Rudolf Bultman

"If one may be allowed to speak rather pointedly the Apostle Paul was the only Arch-Heretic known to the apostolic age." - theologian Walter Bauer

As I stated earlier, many today as well as many in the past, who doubt Paul's credibility consider themselves Christian. They have come to realize much aspects of Paul are anti-Jesus. This has led them to either become weary of Paul or just out right reject him. They believe a person can be a follower of Jesus without being a believer of Paul. I agree with them whole heartedly.

Let me conclude with the words of the author of the Declaration of Independence and the 3rd President of the United States.

"Paul was the great Coryphaeus, and first corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus." - Thomas Jefferson


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Well referenced and researched. –  David Stratton Dec 4 '13 at 2:06
Wow, thanks for all these references. Seeing as he wrote 50% of the bible and influenced so much of the other authors, where does that leave you? –  user1361315 Feb 11 at 22:41
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1 Galatians 16-17 #*Immediately, without consulting a single person, without going up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before me, I went off to Arabia, and afterwards returned to Damascus# Said Paul of himself. He sounds very arrogant! Although he described Jesus as a 'man' he seldom quoted Jesus, but frequently It quoted the Old Testament (Jewish scriptures). Most scholars today state that the letters of Paul were in circulation BEFORE the Gospels were written. I am not a scholar but simple reading of the letters suggests he does not quote the NT Gospels, certainly he never says anything like 'As Matthew Ch 2 verse 3 says ....'. Just reading his letters it is clear he sets aside Mosiac laws, such as circumcision and not eating pork. By contrast Jesus says #Matthew 5 v17-18 Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets. I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them. For I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota not a dot, will pass from the law until it is accomplished# It is hard not to draw the conclusion that Paul led the Church astray, an far away from Jesus' teachings

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I'm not arguing the validity of what you say. I had nagging doubts about Paul myself, but this would be a much better answer if you had supporting references. As it is, it reads like a personal interpretation rather than an established teaching. See What makes a good supported answer? –  David Stratton Dec 14 '13 at 3:54
By the way, welcome to the site. Don't take the previous comments as discouragement. It can be tough for new visitors to "get" what this site is about. (It's not what you'd think.) As a new visitor, I'd recommend checking out the following two posts, which are meant to help newcomers "learn the ropes": help page and How we are different than other sites? –  David Stratton Dec 14 '13 at 3:54
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I just don't understand how a one liner coild prove Paul an Apostle. Especially if he is contradicting himself and Christ's message. Really the only tough parts for discarding Paul's writing are the Holy Spirit and the relation of Christ to the temple of God. If those were discarded, that would change so much.

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Hello, Stan. Welcome to the site. You bring up valid objections, however, this space is meant for answers to the question. This site is designed with a strict question and answer format. You can comment on specific posts later, when you have enough rep (only 15). This post looks more like a comment on a different post. I would like to encourage you to look at some of the other questions and answers on the site and then post again soon. –  fredsbend Dec 22 '13 at 1:32
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