Was Paul a False Prophet?

Was Paul a False Prophet? November 30, 2023

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In my last article, I introduced the concept of false prophets and posed the question whether the self-proclaimed apostle Paul (Saul of Tarsus) could be considered a false prophet.  Let us examine the definition we are using to describe what we mean by prophet.

Prophet:  one who utters divinely inspired revelations: such as

  1. often capitalized: the writer of one of the prophetic books of the Bible
  2. capitalized: one regarded by a group of followers as the final authoritative revealer of God’s will.

I suspect that if we were to ask most modern Christians whether the writings and teachings of Paul, the probable author of seven of the letters attributed to him, make him a prophet, the answer would be “yes.”  Christians are taught that the words of Paul are to be considered as divinely inspired because he, by his report, received them from Yeshua himself, albeit a considerable time after Yeshua died and, by the scripture, ascended.  Paul’s theophany came in the form of a vision, understood only by him.

Do Yeshua’s theology and Paul’s match?

A close examination of the scriptures, the official record of both Yeshua and Paul, will yield, I believe, some doubt as to the authenticity of Paul’s theology and certainly his authority.

It is important to look at the historical context in which the reports of both men are placed.  Yeshua was a Jew living in the small town of Nazareth in Roman Judea.  He was born to the wife of a local man named Joseph who is described in the Bible as a craftsman or technician of some kind.  One English translation says he was a carpenter.  The Greek word “tektōn” is used.  It has been translated to mean carpenter, laborer, or craftsman.  We do not know whether Yeshua was literate.  The Bible does not tell us.  It does tell us that he was teaching in the temple when he was 12 years of age.  We know very little else about his life before his ministry began.

Who was Paul anyway?

Man in dark glasses
Image: RyanMcGuire-Pixabay

Saul, later Paul, was a Jew, a Pharisee by faith, and a Roman citizen.  He spent his time before his conversion, by his own report, persecuting the members of the Yeshua religion.  After his conversion, he spent his life in a mission to bring the good news of Christ to the world outside Roman Judea.

We know from Luke’s account in the book of Acts of the Apostles, Paul (Saul) was writing his letters within a few years of Yeshua’s crucifixion.

The gospels were written later.  “The four canonical gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—were all composed within the Roman Empire between 70 and 110 CE (± five to ten years) as biographies of Jesus of Nazareth, written about a generation after the crucifixion of Jesus (ca. 30 CE).” ( https://www.college.columbia.edu/core/content/new-testament/context )

Why does that matter?

It matters a great deal.  Paul never met Yeshua. His conversion came after Yeshua’s crucifixion. In fact, Paul was a Pharisee and was first opposed to Yeshua.

circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee;  as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Paul was also a Roman citizen.

Since Paul never met Yeshua and did not have access to the gospels we have today (they were written later), how did he even know about Jesus and his teachings?

The inevitable answer is that he got his information from other people, presumably from both believers in Yeshua and non-believers. The Bible does not give us any more information.

After his conversion, Paul set out to convert the Gentile world to the Yeshua religion. It did not, at that time, have the present name. It was known simply, as “the way.”

“The Way” is what early Christians called their belief system. In part, it refers to Jesus. “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Paul quoted Yeshua in only one of his letters.

Paul made only one direct quote from Jesus:

and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 

Paul insisted that he was not a liar.

Throughout Paul’s writing, he wrote very little about Yeshua’s life and teachings. His writings were concerned primarily with instructing his churches about salvation and also convincing them that he was not lying to them. This insistence on his part was a large part of his writings.  Interestingly, this fact is not emphasized by the proponents of Paul’s ministry, namely the Western Christian church and its derivatives.

Paul was concerned with whether Gentiles had to become Jews (and be circumcised) before they could achieve salvation. He concluded, importantly, that one did NOT have to become a Jew and that salvation is achieved ONLY through a belief in the death and resurrection of Yeshua, the Messiah of the Jews. Paul believed and taught that this message of salvation was for all the world, Jew and Gentile alike.

In one of his letters, a jailer asked Paul what he must do to be saved. Paul replied And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.

For Paul, salvation came ONLY through a belief in Yeshua and in his death and resurrection.

It is interesting to compare what Yeshua himself is reported to have said when asked about the requirements for salvation.

There are two times in the gospels that Yeshua was asked how salvation could be achieved:

The first is the parable of the sheep and the goats:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

We see clearly that Yeshua’s beliefs about salvation were different from Paul’s.

Yeshua said that one achieves salvation simply by treating other people as one would treat Christ. Period. Full stop.

The second instance in which Yeshua addresses the requirements for salvation is the parable of the rich young man:

17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

23 And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 

We see here that Jesus specifies two requirements: keep the law and one will “inherit eternal life;” sell one’s goods and donate the proceeds to the poor and one will receive “treasure in heaven.”

Yeshua also is reported to have said “take up thy cross and follow me.” This image would obviously resonate with Christians as a reference to the central symbol of the religion. Keeping in mind that the gospels were written long after Yeshua’s life, it is not particularly surprising to find anachronistic passages like this one which took place before the crucifixion.

These verses from the Holy Bible show clearly that Yeshua and Paul had very different ideas about salvation.

Paul stated clearly that salvation could be achieved ONLY through a belief in Yeshua’s death by crucifixion and his resurrection from the dead after three days.

Yeshua himself stated that treating people with love is the key to salvation. This is consistent with his teachings about the greatest and next greatest commandments:

35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” 

Here, Yeshua states clearly that one can be saved by keeping specific portions of the law and treating others with love.

Yeshua’s version of the requirements for salvation makes all of the monuments, magnificent church buildings, television networks, and other institutions that have been built by Christian denominations would be more pleasing to YHWH if they were sold and the proceeds used to help the poor.

We see that it is obvious that Paul has strayed far from Yeshua’s teachings in his own interpretation of Yeshua’s message.

Evangelicals miss the point.

In their quest to control the behavior of everyone, evangelicals today seem to be focused ONLY on the theology of Paul and I believe that they have missed the point and that some Christians have been missing the point since Paul himself was traveling, evangelizing, and writing.

The crucial concept of salvation is clearly spelled out by Yeshua himself.

The most crucial concept in Christianity, the concept of salvation, is presented by Yeshua, the Messiah, in easy-to-understand,  clear, and lucid language.  One simply has to love YHWH and be a good person in his dealings with others.  He does include a caveat.  A rich person, in order to show his love for others, would have to divest himself of riches and use the money to help the poor.  For the non-rich, there is no specific action required beyond treating people as one would treat Christ.

Saul, on the contrary, ignores the teachings of Yeshua and focuses on his death and resurrection.  If one simply believes that these events happened, as reported in the gospels, and one proclaims that belief, one is saved in spite of the wrongs he might have done.  This would, of course, be a comfort to Paul, whose earlier career was capturing and torturing those who believed in Christ.

So, the question remains:  Was Paul a false prophet?

Perhaps my approach here is simplistic, but it seems to me that Yeshua’s concrete and simple instructions to be good make much more sense than the belief in an event that defies logic and the laws of biology and physics.  The deity portrayed by Saul and the evangelicals can and has been used to justify wars, slavery, and genocide.

I cannot think of a way that Yeshua’s teachings could be used for these entirely evil purposes.

Which theology makes sense to you?

Did Yeshua get it wrong?…or was Paul a false prophet?

PLEASE comment.

About William T. Orr, Jr.
William T. Orr, Jr. is a retired educator, most recently the principal of a high school named in the Top 10 in the nation by Newsweek magazine. Orr has a B.A. in English Language and Literature, a M.Ed. in Education Administration and Supervision, and an Ed.D. in Education leadership. He’s also completed Postdoctoral study at Yale Divinity School and Dallas Theological Seminary. You can read more about the author here.
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