Skip to comments.Why Paul is Important to Christianity
Posted on 06/16/2018 4:18:45 PM PDT by pcottraux
Why Paul Is Important to Christianity
By Philip Cottraux
Skeptics often ask what makes Christianity right and all other religions wrong. The implication is that various contradicting faiths renders none of them right. But the Christians best answer is to point out how well Christianity holds up under historical scrutiny. The ministry, death, and aftermath of Christ is the most well-documented event of the ancient world. The time span between His life and the first historical mentions of Him is the shortest in history; and even when we dont include the sheer volumes of ancient copies of the four gospels, extra biblical references to Him put all other figures to shame, including William Shakespeare and Alexander the Great. When put next to Buddha, Muhammed, or any other religious leader, Jesus clearly triumphs.
Theres no serious doubt to whether Jesus actually lived or that He was crucified. The real question is whether or not He rose again, which would definitively prove whether He was who He claimed to be. His followers play an important role here, because if He didnt rise from the dead, they lied or fabricated the resurrection somehow. The problem is that they seemed to be lacking any motive to do so, especially considering the lives of suffering and persecution they willingly took on for preaching in His name.
Stephen was stoned. James was killed by the sword. Peter was crucified upside down. Thomas, Matthew, and many others were willingly arrested, beaten, imprisoned, and died horrible deaths for the cause of Christ. These are not the actions of conspirators who stole His body and staged a phony resurrection.
But the 800 pound gorilla in the room is the Apostle Paul.
When people ask What is the difference between Christianity and other religions? my favorite answer is No other religion has a character quite like Paul. The other apostles loved Jesus and may have had some interest in keeping the memory of Him alive, seeing all the good He had done. But if that is the case, Paul is a complete enigma.
Saul of Tarsus, a Benjamite, was raised in an influential Pharisaical family. To call him a devout Jew would be an understatement. Saul was radical and ambitious, devoting his life to ascending to the San Hedrin. In his zeal for enforcing the Law, he wanted all Christians dead, imprisoned, or forced into recanting. He also knew that stopping the growth of Christianity would boost his rise to power. Acts 8:3: As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.
When I say the disciples had no motivation to fake the resurrection, Saul factors into the equation in a completely different way; he had every bit of motivation to continue persecuting the church. Yet suddenly, inexplicably, he threw everything he had worked for his entire life away. Not only did he lose out on ever becoming a high priest, he brought shame to his family joined his enemies, becoming their most zealous apostle. This gets even more perplexing when we consider the life Paul willfully took on. II Corinthians 11:24-27: Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.
And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: (Acts 9:3-5).While on a journey to root out more Christians, a light fell and knocked him to the ground, followed by the voice of Jesus. This experience was profound enough to change his life forever. Trying to assign Paul some kind of sinister motive, like giving up on his chances of becoming high priest and making the whole thing up to achieve power over the Christian church, is laughable; if that were the case, much of the New Testament wouldnt have been written. Pauls epistles often addressed major betrayals and uprisings against his own teachings.
So we can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that Paul genuinely believed in the experience he had on the road to Damascus. But that doesnt prove that it really happened. There could be a natural explanation: perhaps it was a mirage? After all, dehydrated on a long journey through a hot desert climate and perhaps dealing with subconscious guilt over his persecution of Christians, maybe Paul hallucinated and saw a manifestation of their professed Savior calling out to him.
Lets carefully examine the scriptures to shed further light on this. While the vision of Jesus is appearing to Saul, Acts 9:7 gives us a peculiar detail: And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.
If this is true, it rules out the possibility of a mirage. The men with him heard the voice but didnt see anyone. Now lets put this in its proper historical context. The book of Acts was written in about AD 63 by Luke. His gospel and Acts are twin volumes, funded by a church elder in Macedonia named Theophilus. Luke is credited for being one of the most thorough historians of the time period. Archaeological discoveries from recent years have confirmed details in Luke and Acts with startling accuracy, proving that it was written in its alleged setting. Examples are too numerous to get into, but include:
-An inscription found on a temple to Emperor Tiberius confirms Lysanias as Tetrarch of Abilene, near Damascus, as mentioned in Luke 3:1-2.
-A coin discovered bearing the name of Quirinius as proconsul of Syria and Cilicia as mentioned in Acts 5:37.
-Countless references to Herod, Pontius Pilate, Agrippa, and other kings and rulers mentioned in Luke and Acts are confirmed by ancient historians such Flavius Josephus, Philo, Tacitus, Phlegon, and Thallus.
-Throughout the two books, historians have identified 32 countries, 54 cities, and 9 islands mentioned by Luke. So far, not a single mistake has been found.
As a result, no real scholar questions that Luke and Acts are both genuine products of early-to-mid first century Roman-occupied Palestine. Furthermore, the failure to mention one of the most catastrophic event in Jewish history, the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, proves beyond a shadow of a reasonable doubt that Acts 9:7 was written around 63 AD. The conversion of Saul can be placed in a window somewhere between 33-37 AD. So 30 years or less had passed from Sauls encounter on the road to Damascus to Lukes written account of the event.
Lets follow the chain of logic together:
-In all likelihood, at least some of the men following Saul on the road to Damascus were still alive at the time of Lukes writing.
-Both the Romans and Jews were trying hard to do to stop Christianitys rapid growth. Anyone trying to discredit Acts could have found the men and given them opportunity to deny it.
-So Luke, careful historian that he was, wouldnt have included it in the story if it were made-up. -Therefore, the men accompanying Paul really did hear the voice.
-Now we can rule out the possibility that Paul was merely hallucinating. His encounter with Christ was genuine.
See why that seemingly insignificant detail is so important?
Another clue that occurred to me goes back to the question of whether the disciples faked the resurrection, as their enemies claimed: And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers, Saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept (Matthew 28:12-13). While weve established that the disciples lacked motive considering the horrendous suffering they took on for the cause of Christ, the nail in the coffin for me is their acceptance of Paul. He was not one of the original 12 and didnt know Jesus personally. And since he was a former enemy, accepting him in the leadership of the church would have been far too risky. Any chance of him finding out about the scheme could have blown the lid on the whole thing and put the entire operation in jeopardy.
Im afraid no matter how you slice it, these simply are not the actions of conspirators staging a myth to keep faith in a dead person alive. Logically, we have to rule it out. Theres no question that the apostles and Paul all genuinely believed they had seen Jesus alive after His death.
And quite frankly, the only reasonable way to account for the facts is that these men did actually encounter the risen Christ. Which demonstrates that He really did come back to life after His crucifixion. The birth of Christianity as it happened simply doesnt make sense otherwise. We could still have a shadow of a reasonable doubt if only the disciples had bravely carried on His message. But Paul is a monkey wrench thrown into the whole mechanism. And contrary to what many contemporary critics claim, this also makes it clear why God appointed him to preach the gospel, and why his writings should also be considered a crucial part of the Word of God. You simply cant ignore Paul when investigating the truth of Christianity.
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My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge:
Good read. Thanks.
And I know you Don’t mean Paul Ryan!
Well, didn’t the Apostle Paul WRITE most of the New Testament? Not as a prophet, but as an historian?
Apparently, Luke actually traveled with Paul on a few different occasions.
In much of his narrative, he chronicles the events that Paul and his companions were doing.
But on occasion, he changes the personal pronouns from *he* and *they* to *us* and *we*.
It’s kind of interesting reading that in Acts and noting when it happens.
Paul’s writings include much teaching.
They were not written as historical accounts.
As a prophet and Apostle.
It was his companion Luke who wrote both Luke and Acts as a historical account.
I know plenty of people who would LOVE to see all of Paul’s writings purged from the New Testament, sad to say.
Jesus Christ is much more important than Paul.
I think the author would agree and actually says so.
When put next to Buddha, Muhammed, or any other religious leader, Jesus clearly triumphs.
Of course, this means Paul is more important that you know who.
“Not only did he lose out on ever becoming a high priest, he brought shame to his family joined his enemies, becoming their most zealous apostle.”
Excellent article, however, I wish to point out that Paul was not a Levite—Levi being the priestly tribe. He was a Benjamite. He could have risen to be a highly respected leader in Israel, but becoming the high priest or any priest was never an option for him.
“Jesus Christ is much more important than Paul.”
Absolutely agree. So surely you want to hear from the apostle our resurrected Lord chose to speak to you (a Gentile, correct?). It’s all about who HE chooses as his instrument. And he chose Paul.
I, for one, am thankful!
Where do you find this?
In the book of Acts.
In the book of Acts.
In Acts 20:1-6 if you read that passage, Luke changes the pronouns there.
Overall well done and written, except for this technicality, which pertains to a false charge of contradiction by adversaries:
And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice , but seeing no man. (Act 9:7)
And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. (Act 26:14)
And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me. (Act 22:9)
But the word for "voice" ("phōnē) can simply mean "sound" versus a the articulation, as in John 12:28-29:
Father, glorify thy name. Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again. The people therefore, that stood by, and heard it, said that it thundered: others said, An angel spake to him.
Thus the men traveling with Paul fearfully heard a sound without an apparent source, but did not hear the words "Saul, Saul," etc).
And what we need is "ears to hear:" Deuteronomy 29:4 Ezekiel 12:2 Matthew 11:15 Matthew 13:9 Matthew 13:43 Mark 4:9 Mark 4:23 Mark 7:16 Luke 8:8 Luke 14:35
Obviously, and the article expresses that it is in that interest that Paul is important:
Theres no serious doubt to whether Jesus actually lived or that He was crucified. The real question is whether or not He rose again, which would definitively prove whether He was who He claimed to be. His followers play an important role here, because if He didnt rise from the dead, they lied or fabricated the resurrection somehow.
It is as a most unlikely but profound witness to the resurrection of Christ that Paul is focused on.
However, Catholics typically evidence a marginalization of Paul and even the rest of the NT in order to prevent the gospels from being understood in the light of Acts and the epistles which explain the gospels. For the gospels do not show how the NT church understood the gospels, and in which Catholic distinctives are not manifest .
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