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This has always been a big question for me.

I can understand that many Christians believe there is good evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, and that gives a basis for their faith in the teaching of Jesus and the gospels that speak about him and his disciples.

But the same Christians do not believe, for example, Mohammad's claims. One big reason is that Mohammad basically claimed a personal revelation that only he received. There could be any number of reasons for that, including epileptic episodes etc.

Now Paul by his own account had a personal experience on the road to Damascus, and it kind of resembles Mohammad's experiences. So that by itself wouldn't be enough to have a leap of faith and say that whatever Paul wrote is therefore true.

Having been investigating this matter for quite some time, all the evidence that I see points away from the conclusion that Paul and the author of Luke/Acts are trustworthy. However, if I list all this evidence, the question will get too long. As a result, I will write an answer as StackExchange encourages, and include the evidence there. However, due to the nature of the question and the unsatisfactory (to those who believe Paul implicitly) answer, I will probably get downvoted on both the question and the answer. Hopefully not, since this is a serious matter.

The reason it is serious - especially to Jewish Christians - is because:

  1. God said that many Laws are forever (examples)

  2. Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount that any Jews who set aside even the smallest commandment and teach others to do so, will be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 5:19)

  3. Rather than saying the Law was powerless to save, Jesus said, "if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments" (see Matthew 19:16–22). And in fact even as Jesus taught about the Son of Man being betrayed to the Gentiles, and will rise on the third day, he didn't say that the Law would be nailed to the cross.

This makes it crucial to ascertain if Paul and Luke are trustworthy, because if they are not, then it's dangerous for a Jewish Christian to stop following the Law, just because Paul said so.

To summarize the question: if you draw a graph starting with Jesus, and to his disciples and their disciples, you get Paul and Luke as basically "disconnected" from the graph. Paul claims he got the revelation from his own visions. Luke describes miracles Paul did. Luke endorses Paul. Paul endorses himself. Paul says he won the argument with Peter. There is no account from the disciples Jesus set up, about any of those things. Why do Protestants just assume Paul is right, and his theology is right, and Luke is trustworthy?

Just to prevent simple knee-jerk potential answers to this question:

  1. Paul is trustworthy because Acts describes him doing miracles. The issue here is that Acts is attributed to Luke, a student of Paul. This man also never met Jesus in real life.

  2. Luke is trustworthy because his details were verified. Being able to correctly name people and places around you doesn't automatically mean the miracle claims are true, how do we know this wasn't just propaganda to boost Paul among the Gentile churches?

  3. 2 Peter 3:16 endorses Paul. Yes as far as I know this is in fact the ONLY place outside Paul + Luke that Paul is even mentioned by name. However there is a huge problem. Most modern New Testament scholars don't believe 2 Peter was written by Peter. So if your only evidence for Paul's authority outside their own writings is 2 Peter, then that means you are disagreeing with most New Testament scholars. Also, the original Church acceptance was also quite contentious.

In short, do Protestants have any logical reasons to believe in the authority of Paul and Luke? These reasons have to be better than the reasons they reject in other cases, such as Mohammad, Joseph Smith, etc. I can understand that you can just choose to believe on faith, but I am looking for solid logical arguments.

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    Also, just to note: Luke authored Acts, which has Paul keeping Torah, e.g. his (probably) Nazirite vow (Acts 18.18), and offering sacrifices in the Jerusalem temple (21.17-26). – Mark Edward Jan 7 '15 at 16:55
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    Generally, most believers who accept the Bible as an authoritative document do in fact disagree with "most New Testament scholars". To my mind, the arguments for it's pseudepigraphal nature are weak and in this case largely circular. (One of the heaviest arguments is that it is dependent on Jude, which is not in any case obvious, and that Jude is pseudoepigraphal, which is not established except by the same body of scholarship that rejects Peter) See bible.org/article/2-peter-peter%E2%80%99s for more information. – Jason Bray Jan 7 '15 at 21:31
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    Does your question accept that any of the Bible is "provably" true? It's difficult to argue from the Bible if the Bible is not accepted as a reliable source, but it is almost our only source of any information. How would one know which parts of the Bible are usable as good evidence? Why trust the words ascribed to Jesus (as they're written and have been preserved)? – mojo Jan 8 '15 at 5:38
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    Regarding the serious import of your question, Christianity hangs on Jesus, not on Paul. Most Christians believe that Paul understood Christianity. Regardless of whether one accepts such a statement, it is through Jesus (and belief in him) that salvation comes. – mojo Jan 8 '15 at 5:41
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    @GregoryMagarshak I don't know how to accept only part of the Bible as authoritative. It seems logically untenable to trust any one thing if the whole thing cannot be trustworthy. How would I know if the part I'm reading is one of the reliable parts? If it's all a matter of my own logic, then what reason is there to believe any of it at all? – mojo Jan 8 '15 at 13:08
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Protestants trust what Paul and Luke wrote for the same reason Catholics, and all other Christians, believe what they wrote is correct: because the rest of the New Testament testifies to the veracity of what they say.

Peter asserts Paul's writings are scripture in 2 Peter 3:14-16. The first several chapters of Acts are about everyone but Paul. And, from Paul's conversion to his ministry is a period of several years, wherein the other Apostles are followed and written about.

In Acts 15, where the Council at Jerusalem is recorded, several Apostles affirm Paul's work.

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    Would you be able to expand your answer to address the responses already anticipated in the question? See what the question says about 2 Peter, and please answer that. Also, since Acts was written by Luke, how is Luke endorsing Paul any different than Mohammad's students endorsing Mohammad? Why would that make people believe Paul more, if Luke was Paul's personal friend and learned of these events because Paul told him? – Gregory Magarshak Jan 7 '15 at 22:38
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    @GregoryMagarshak Is Luke's gospel also suspect because he was a friend/student of Paul's? Even though you say that Paul didn't know much (of the details, at least) about Jesus earthly ministry, could we still rely on Luke's account at all? – mojo Jan 8 '15 at 5:47
  • Well I guess logically if Luke wasn't an eyewitness then his gospel is based on secondhand accounts. And as you said, the same issue as with Acts remains - in fact some people think Luke + Acts was originally a single work. – Gregory Magarshak Jan 8 '15 at 6:59
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    @GregoryMagarshak Paul's epistles were written before the Gospels. I believe that is worth considering on this issue. Kutschkem was headed in the right direction with his answer. Namely, there's no record of the other apostles objecting to Paul. Since the Gospels came a few decades later, one would think that there would be epistles addressing Paul's inaccuracies, if there were some. – 3961 Jan 8 '15 at 7:10
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    @GregoryMagarshak - it seems your actual issue is with the entirety of the NT. If you believe it's unreliable, then of course you'd think Luke + Paul are unreliable. – warren Jan 8 '15 at 13:31
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Consider what the Apostle Paul cited as the proof of his authority:

2 And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)

  • In early 1985, a woman shared 1 Corinthians 13 (about love) with me. Weeks later I became a Christian.

  • Months later, in Fall 1985, my new Bible study leader asked me to memorize Galatians 2:20-21:

20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”

A month after memorizing it, the Lord took away my fear of death.

  • A few months after that, in February 1986, I attended an Intervarsity Christian Fellowship retreat where we studied Philippians 2, which speaks of the joy that springs from sacrificing our own needs to serve others in imitation of Christ. Despite having suffered from depression for many years, a few weeks after the retreat, I was overwhelmed with joy for a month, and was led to a sound church where I worship still, 33 years later. Later meditations on Philippians a few years later finally delivered me from depression completely. Thirty years later, it still has not returned.

  • In 1992, after four months of compounded losses (relationship breakup, job loss, car breakdown, a differnt Bible study leader leaving the church and the faith, and other things), a pastor taught from Romans 6 about dying to self as a necessary precursor to being resurrected in Christ. I ended up considering that year to be the best year of my life, so great was the spiritual progress that I made.

1 Corinthians. Galatians. Philippians. Romans. I will spare you the personal results of my careful study of Ephesians and Paul's other letters. Paul said that his Words and ministry were accompanied by and authenticated by demonstrations of the Spirit's power. That has been my personal experience. I cannot speak for all of Protestantism, but that power has not diminished in the centuries since Paul walked among us. And every time I experienced a blessing, I was pointed by those words not to Paul, but to Christ.

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Okay I will attempt to give an answer to this question that is based on evidence. It goes along the lines of the following websites:

http://www.rejectionofpascalswager.net/paulorigin.html http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pauline_Christianity

My answer is that Protestants believe Paul's and Luke's writings for one main reason: they wound up in the New Testament Canon, and that the Holy Spirit wouldn't allow Jesus' message to be corrupted so the final Canon contains only 100% inspired and trustworthy writings, all heretical and apocryphal writings and having been eliminated from the Canon. Although this may be a circular reason, it has a logic to it -- after all, if the message has been corrupted, how do we know what to believe in the Bible?

In fact there seems to be quite a bit of evidence that would seem to make it very difficult to automatically place full trust in Paul and Luke. I will try to analyze the evidence step by step here.

First, Paul's own testimony should be scrutinized. For whether he is trustworthy or not, his own testimony should give us a basis to judge. Paul himself says that he didn't go to study with the actual students of Jesus after his conversion, but continued to receive visions and spread his message from his own understanding. After three years he went to see Peter, and wound up meeting with no one but James. Then fourteen years later he finally went, according to his own words, to meet with the "Pillars of the Church" - the one Jesus had established and gave authority to - and present them with his own gospel to the Gentiles he'd been spreading. As he tells it:

1Then after fourteen years, I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. 2I went in response to a revelation and, meeting privately with those esteemed as leaders, I presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain. 3Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. 4This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. 5We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.

6As for those who were held in high esteem—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not show favoritism—they added nothing to my message. 7On the contrary, they recognized that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the uncircumcised,a just as Peter had been to the circumcised.b 8For God, who was at work in Peter as an apostle to the circumcised, was also at work in me as an apostle to the Gentiles. 9James, Cephasc and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. 10All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.

Paul Opposes Cephas

11When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned...

We aren't told the events from the point of view of Peter or James. We simply assume Peter must have realized Paul was right, and that they told Paul they approve of everything he's doing. To me, this is already a very strange conclusion -- simply taking Paul's word for it. What's even more strange is that it almost seems from what Paul writes that the Great Commission wasn't even given. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew%2028:16-20

Paul's writings quote the OT from the Septuagint, showing Paul was a Greek Jew from Tarsus (modern day Turkey). Many have remarked that Paul's writings don't show a great knowledge of Jesus' actual ministry and parables during his life.

This is a very serious question because without Paul's writings it's not obvious that Jesus taught not to follow the Law. It seems, in fact, that Jesus seems to have taught the opposite. First of all he said he came to the lost sheep of Israel:

He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel." http://biblehub.com/matthew/15-24.htm

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught you shouldn't teach Jews to ignore the commandments given through Moses, something Paul explicitly did:

Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

http://biblehub.com/matthew/5-19.htm

Rather than saying the Law was powerless to save, Jesus said this about the Ten Commandments:

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+19%3A16-22&version=NKJV

In fact even as Jesus taught about the Son of Man being betrayed to the Gentiles, and will rise on the third day, he didn't say that the Law would be nailed to the cross.

This creates a high burden of proof that Paul and Luke are trustworthy, because if a Jew becomes a Christian he essentially has to take Paul's word for it that the law has been nailed to the cross. He has to place his faith in the words of Paul and meanwhile will have to bend over backwards to reconcile it with the explicit words of God in the Old Testament, which he has much better reasons to believe, as well as the words of Jesus:

http://biblelaw101.com/Home/The%20Law%20of%20God%20is%20Forever.htm

Basing Paul's authority on his own epistles or the writings of his students is the same as Joseph Smith or Mohammad. Protestants are not Muslims or Mormons, so if they apply the same standard, that rules out this reason for accepting Paul.

The only place I know where leaders of the Jerusalem church are said to vouch for Paul is here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Epistle_of_Peter ... but the problem is that most NT scholars don't believe it was written by Peter. As far as I know this removes the last piece of evidence that would give authority to Paul.

On the contrary, we see leaders of the Jerusalem Church following the Law long after the resurrection and even Pentecost, when they received the Holy Spirit and gained a lot of understanding. Furthermore, we know the historical Church in Jerusalem became marginalized over time, and the Ebionites, Nazarenes and Judaizers -- basically Jewish Christians -- were branded Heretics. Remember, though, Jesus said he was sent only to save the lost sheep of Israel. And he established a Church led by Peter and James. But something happened to them and the apostle to the Gentiles went on to found a bunch of Churches who then eclipsed the authority of the original Church.

The original religion of Jesus and his followers was called "The Way". And I see no way to rule out the possibility that Paul's ideas were, like Joseph Smith's and Mohammad's, basically innovations based on personal ideas and revelations. Paul was a Greek speaking Jew who always quoted from the Septuagint. Jesus' teachings focused on the Law and holiness, the Messiah and the Kingdom of God. Paul's ideas about Jesus being a blood sacrifice sound closer to the mystery cult religions of the Gentile nations at the time, which may explain why some people today like to make strained comparisons to the cult of Mithras or something similar. Jesus isn't clearly shown to teach anything like that.

So to sum up -- although I am not at all saying that Paul invented Christianity out of whole cloth, and not saying that Paul and Luke couldn't be saying the truth, I am aware of no solid reasons to automatically trust everything they wrote, and a lot of reasons that make it difficult for me to trust them when it comes to what God said and the teachings of Jesus, which stand on their own. My answer is that Protestants put faith in the way the Canon was compiled, and because of the way Christianity developed, Paul became quite a central figure to the early Church fathers and thus it is dogma today to put absolute faith in his writings. One might question, but that would be going against the official position.

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    This is an excellent answer ... to the opposite question that you've asked! I cannot upvote it. However, if you ask the question, "What is the reasoning to not accept/trust the writings of Paul and Luke?" and post this as an answer to it, I'll surely upvote. – 3961 Jan 7 '15 at 22:53
  • On a note about formatting, perhaps try to imitate what I do for quotes and links. Here's my most recent answer. In general, non-descript links ie http://website.com/... are not very helpful. They do not tell you anything about the target page. You are certainly encouraged to develop your own formatting style, but you should probably emulate mine because it is the best one ;) – 3961 Jan 7 '15 at 23:01
  • Yeah I agree, that is a much better way to format the links. I'll try doing that from now on! – Gregory Magarshak Jan 8 '15 at 0:57
  • You say, "Jesus said he was sent only to save the lost sheep of Israel," but those are not his exact words. The word "save" is not in what he said. His words could be understood differently if taken together with the great commission: he came to the Jews, his followers are sent to all nations. – mojo Jan 8 '15 at 5:31
  • Mojo I understand, but my bigger point was that Jesus taught the Jews to follow the Law. As for the Great Commission, I take your point but that just makes one think - how do you explain Paul's words that are quoted in the question, that the elders of the Church basically agreed to delegate all the responsibility for going to the gentiles to Paul and Barnabas? Does taking Paul's words literally seem logical? – Gregory Magarshak Jan 8 '15 at 9:18
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You forget that basically all epistles that we have (be it from Paul or not) have been written to combat false doctrine creeping in. If what Paul was teaching was so far off, there should be record of the other apostles speaking up against him. But there isn't.

Note also that in Acts (I know, by Luke, but bear with me), it's actually Peter who starts with teaching the Gentiles, having a vision that teaches him not to regard them unclean. He is the one that starts with "We should not require keeping the full law of non-Jews, since God has given them the spirit as he has us, while not having given them the law." This says nothing about Jewish christians, but still, the idea was there.

You get another important thing wrong - it's not (only) the miracles that give Paul authority, it is the Holy Spirit that was manifest during his works. People were converted because they received the Holy Spirit, not only because Paul showed miracles (indeed, he even had some problems that were caused by people seeing the miracles he performed).

And by the way, that's the same as with Joseph Smith. We as LDS believe him because we feel the Holy Spirit in what he did. In fact, one central important theme of our religion is receiving spiritual confirmation by God of our own. We don't believe J.S. because he said whatever he said or did whatever he did (mircaulously or not). We believe him because God has moved our hearts to believe him, by sending the Holy Ghost in response to prayer. I feel that is the same way in which Paul should be believed or not believed (and has been).

With Mohammed, I can't judge the days where he lived, but nowadays I feel overpowered by Muslims, not inspired. While certain people I know have definitely benefited from converting to Islam, I have never felt that the reason to believe Mohammed was given as "seek personal confirmation from God". In fact, many muslims I talked to didn't quite believe such a thing was possible. What I heard was "Mohammed is the last prophet, because Coran says so. And miraculous proofs are X, Y and Z." That is not to critique Islam or Mohammed or Muslims, since that's a valid point. But I want to point out that this is very different from Joseph Smith.

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    I was going to upvote until you said "People were converted because they received the Holy Spirit, not only because Paul showed miracles". People can be convince of anything and you would first have to demonstrate that the HS even exists (a contentious point among non-believers) for that argument to mean anything. It is not logical, as the question requested. It is nearly circular. You basically said We can trust Paul is from God because he is from God. – 3961 Jan 7 '15 at 22:39
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    Actually, I have to downvote because it is just so ... dumb. Because you then go on to say that's why JS is reliable, but then for some reason are able to dismiss the one billion people who believe upon Mohammed. – 3961 Jan 7 '15 at 22:40
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    @fredsbendtheGrinch I'm fine with your downvote, I think my answer doesn't address the intended meaning of the question very well. I tried to rescue the "dismissing" part, but appararently I didn't succeed, sorry for that. My main point is that JS and Mohammed are very different in their approaches as to why people should believe them, unlike what OP suggested. – kutschkem Jan 8 '15 at 9:45
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Why do Protestants trust what Paul and Luke wrote 100%?

They don't. In fact, Paul and Luke sometimes disagree, and Protestants tend to take Paul over Luke in those cases. Consider these quotes from The Theology of St. Luke by Hans Conzelmann, which was published in German in 1953 and translated into English by Geoffrey Buswell in 1961. They are descriptive of Lukan theology and how it differs from Paul. Then ask yourself, which do Protestants follow?

From pages 208-209:

...We can see this in relation to the Law: although the primitive community–including Paul–keeps the Law, Gentile Christians are free from it, and for a reason which is characteristically different from Paul’s.

He recognizes that Luke agrees with Paul in the fact of Gentiles being free from the Law (at least from the ceremonial aspects of the Law) but also openly acknowledges that he sees that Luke believes this for an entirely different reason from Paul. In other words, Luke’s explanation of why we don’t have to be circumcised, etc. is not Paul’s explanation. This is massively significant!

He doesn’t elaborate any on the difference between the two (at least not in this chapter), but the difference is obvious to anyone who can read: Paul’s reason, of course, is the boneheaded faith vs works rhetoric. But Luke’s reason is that the apostles got together in Acts 15 and under the guidance of the Spirit determined that Gentiles need not keep any of the Law but the moral commandments, and to abstain from idolatry, abstain from eating blood/”things strangled”, and abstain from sexual immorality. Could there be any two more different ways to explain the same fact?

From page 228:

The conception of sin [in Luke-Acts], compared with Paul’s, has a strong ethical colouring, and the same is true of deliverance from sin. The idea of ‘forgiveness’, which recedes right into the background in Paul, is predominant in Luke, but repentance is the condition of forgiveness.

My elaboration: Unlike Paul who speaks of justification instead of forgiveness and all but denies the necessity of repentance to ‘justification’. Luke’s theology which emphasizes forgiveness of sins on the basis of repentance clearly calls for repentance, whereas Paul’s justification by faith and not by works deters people from repenting by making them feel that they are justified in continuing to sin even with reckless abandon.

Again, later on the same page, and continuing to 229:

Forgiveness and repentance [in Luke-Acts] are inseparably connected…The combination which is characteristic of Luke is that of repentance and conversion, which shows that these two go together as the basis for Baptism and forgiveness and indicate a change of attitude in the way of life.

Compare that with the normal Protestant interpretation of Paul that its all by faith alone.

So do Protestants trust both Paul and Luke 100%? No.

Furthermore, Paul himself sometimes contradicts his own "by faith and not by works" theology, as in Galatians 3:26-27 where he says "We are all children of God by faith in Christ Jesus BECAUSE as many of us as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ." Here, he agrees with Luke against his normal Pauline theology, in making baptism essential to salvation rather than faith alone. Do Protestants trust this passage from Paul? No, generally, they do not.

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    JasonBray's comment on the question is certainly apropos to your exemplified scholastic source. I know a great many protestants who "trust Paul and Luke 100%" and who wouldn't agree with assertions about Paul contradicting himself or Paul and Luke disagreeing because they believe that both men knew the truth and taught it. Much of the ideological discord in your conclusion isn't necessary as it is not the only way to read the text. – mojo Jan 8 '15 at 13:06
  • @mojo, The point is not, of course, that anyone will admit they don't trust him 100%, but that its an objective fact that they don't. – david brainerd Jan 10 '15 at 7:21

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