According to the prevalent understanding of Paul’s teachings amongst Christians, Paul was a major opponent of the Law. He taught that it is done away with, in Christ. That there is no need for us to obey the Law, as we are now under Grace. Are these claims really true? Did he believe and teach that the Old Testament is now abolished? That all who obey it are under a curse? Or is this all a 2000 year old misunderstanding of his words?
Consider Peter’s words and his warning regarding Paul’s Words
2Pe 3:15,16 And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest(pervert), as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.
If Paul’s words were hard to understand in the 1st century AD, and some were even using his words to teach something different to its original meaning at that time, are we so sure that our current understanding is so accurate?
Note: Let me be clear at the onset of this study, that this is NOT an attempt to say “we must keep God’s Word for Salvation”. On the contrary, God’s Word is clear that Righteousness/Salvation cannot be attained through keeping God’s Law. It is only attained through God’s Grace. As we move forward you will see that Paul’s whole ministry revolved around this idea – We are saved through faith & God’s Grace alone. But after we are adopted into His fold, we have to serve Him in obedience to His Commandments/Laws through the help of His Spirit.
The call for an Audit
If you are keen to learn the truth above all, and you are willing to go the distance and do whatever is necessary in obedience to our Heavenly Father, I call you to an Audit. Evaluate yourself and your beliefs. If what you understand is right, an audit will only strengthen your beliefs. If you see some questions raised that you never thought of, it will still help you to learn more and draw closer to God.
Remember that the first major reformation in Christianity as we know it, which happened in the 1500’s under Martin Luther, was a response to some of the incorrect doctrines that were taught and practiced by the Roman Catholic Church. If such an Audit of Doctrine had not been done, the majority of Christians today could have still been following the Catholic church without question.
My request to you is, that you do not approach this article with preconceived notions. Be like the Bereans(Acts 17:10,11) and search the Scriptures for the Truth. You are more than welcome to disagree with me. But I ask you not to disagree with Scripture. Test everything written in this article. See whether everything falls into place. Remember that there can be no disagreements between the Biblical Authors. There can be no conflict between two verses in the Bible, when taken in context. Our goal is to serve God Almighty in Truth and Spirit.
Fitting it all in – a personal testimony
If any person believes that they have the whole of Scripture figured out, they are only deceiving themselves. The Scriptures are the pieces of a great Puzzle. All of the pieces in the puzzle needs to fit perfectly. We cannot force pieces of the puzzle to fit where we want it to. It needs to be in perfect harmony to all the pieces around it, giving us a complete picture. We have all been taught by someone or the other, where these pieces of the puzzle fit. Personally, for a long time, I did not question the placement. I knew some of the pieces and their placements did not make sense. But I thought, others knew best. I thought who am I to question the placement which has been this way for centuries, approved and taught by great men and women of God. But sometimes, you come across verses that go against YOUR beliefs and doctrines. Now, some people, like me, had the ability to just read over these lines and not even notice them. I was like Paul (but not even 1% as knowledgeable as he was), on my way to Damascus, with my understanding and belief of the Word. All of us need Yeshua(real name of Jesus) to open our eyes. All of us need the guidance of God’s Spirit. No one person, including me, has the whole puzzle figured out. All of us are learning. If you have and open mind to look at the puzzle again, let’s proceed.
As we read above, Peter clearly states that the Beloved Brother Paul writes to the assemblies according to the wisdom given to him. Some of the things that he writes are hard to understand. And that people who do not understand these things, pervert these teachings to their own destruction. This is a clear warning given to the assembly about Paul’s writings. But today, Paul’s writings are key to some of the doctrines in Christianity. Whether it fits or not with other verses in the Scriptures, is overlooked.
Using his words, I myself used to think that we are free from God’s Law/Commandments. I used to think that we should act according to his word, as he was the apostle to the Gentiles. An audit changed my understanding and my life. At the end of the day, we are called to be disciple of Yeshua(Jesus’ true Hebrew name). Not of Paul or anyone else for that matter. Even Paul said that he follows Yeshua (1Cor 11:1). And Paul admonished people who called themselves followers of anyone else other than Yeshua (1Cor 1:11-13).
So let us look at a few instances which sheds light onto Paul the Apostle, his beliefs and his teachings
- Contrary to common belief, his Hebrew name which was Saul, was not changed to Paul. He was also called Paul(Act 13:9). This name would have been easier to use in the Greek speaking world of his day, as Paul (Paulus) was of Latin origin.
- Paul was a Jew (Acts 21:39) and was brought up as a Pharisee (Acts 26:5)
- Paul’s message did not contradict the Old Testament, as the Bereans examined the Scriptures and checked whether it was true. (Acts 17:11)(The Scripture that is spoken here was the Old Testament, as there was no New Testament or Gospels at that time, which were written later and compiled to what we have now, only around 400AD)
- Paul’s custom was to go to synagogue on the Sabbath. (Acts 13:14,42,44, 17:2, 18:4)
- Paul took a Nazarite vow where one shaves his head (Acts 18:18 – Num 6)
- There were many “rumors” that he taught against God’s Law (Acts 21:21)
- There was no proof that he broke any of God’s Laws (Acts 24:13, 25:7,8)
- Paul kept the Law, and walked according to it (Acts 21:24)
- Paul purified himself at the Temple in accordance to the Law (Acts 21:26)
- Paul said Ananias was a devout man because he kept God’s Law (Acts 22:12)
- He worshiped God believing everything written in the Law & Prophets (Acts 24:14)
- He said that he does not nullify the law by faith, but that he upholds the law (Rom 3: 31)
- He said that the Law is not Sin, but the knowledge of Sin (Rom 7:7)
- He said that the law and the Commandments are holy, righteous and good (Rom 7:12,16)
- He said that the Law is not what leads us to death (Rom 7:13)
- He said that the Law is Spiritual (Rom 7:14)
- He said that he delights in God’s law (Rom 7:22)
- He said that He serves the Law of God (Rom 7:25)
- He said that the Law is good, and that one must use it properly. (1Tim 1:8) (Please read this article to understand more on what Paul meant, as Pharisees were using God’s Law inappropriately, while the “Circumcision party” used it to earn salvation)
- Paul said that all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (He did not say some of it is done away, but that all of it is God-breathed)
- Paul went to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feasts according to the Law (Acts 18:21, 20:16 /Ex 34:22/Lev 23)
- Paul used the Law to defend himself. How can he defend himself with something, if he was preaching that it was abolished (Acts 23:3)
- Paul signified that he unwittingly broke a law, quoting the specific Law from the Old Testament (Acts 23:5 / Exo 22:28)
- Paul taught the Law of Marriage and Divorce out of the Law (Rom 7:2/1Cor 7:39 – Deut 24)
- Paul taught keeping of the Passover (1Cor 5:8)
- Paul used the Law regarding muzzling an Ox (Deut 25:4) to teach how people who work for the growth of the Kingdom, should be taken care by it, just like an ox (1Cor 9:9-12/1Tim 5:18)
- Paul quotes Deut 19:15 – a matter is established by 2 or 3 witnesses (2Cor 13:1/1Tim 5:19)
- Paul quotes Deut 27:26 – a person breaking God’s Law is cursed (Gal 3:10)
- Paul quotes Hab 2:4 – the just shall live by faith (Gal 3:11)
- Paul quotes Lev 18:5 – the man who keeps God’s Law, lives because of it (Gal 3:12)
- Paul quotes Deut 11:26-28 & 27:15-26 – the curses of the Law (Gal 3:13)
- Paul quotes Lev 19:18 – Love thy neighbor as thy self (Gal 5:14)
- Paul quotes Deut 5:16 – Honor thy father and mother (Eph 6:2)
Looking at all of these verses, still some would say, that he kept the Law because he was a Jew. And that we don’t need to, as the Law was given to the Jews. First of all, the Law was not given to the Jews (Please read Defining “Jews” and “Gentiles), but to the whole of Israel. Secondly, as Paul said, there is no more Jew & Gentile(Gal 3:28). And as Yeshua said, there is only one flock(John 10:16). Furthermore God’s Law was for the Native born as well as the stranger (Exo 12:49, Lev 24:22, Num 15:15,16). And by his own words, we are now grafted into Israel (Rom 11:16-26) becoming partakers (Eph 2:12).
Will Apostle Paul be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven?
Mat 5:17-19 records Christ’s Words “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven”. According to the prevalent understanding of Paul’s words, he has broken almost all of God’s commandments as well as taught others, that the law is no longer applicable. If so, according to Christ’s own words, Paul would be the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. How can Paul go against God’s words which clearly states, no one can add or abolish any of God’s Commandments (Deut 4:2, 12:32)?
What about the many instances where Paul speaks about the Law in a negative way?
The misunderstandings that exist regarding his teachings, are caused by a few main reasons
1) We have not read/understood God’s Law and the Old Testament
For example, it is taught that when Paul says “curse of the Law”(Gal 3:13), that this means the Law is the curse. While actually the “curse of the Law” means, the curse which comes on whomever who does not obey the Law (Deut 11:26-28/ Deut 27:26/ Gal 3:10). Reading the front of the Bible(Old Testament) first, makes a vast difference when understanding Paul’s teachings, as this is the only Scripture which was available to the 1st Century Church.
2) We do not know the history/context of his epistles
For example, it is taught that when Paul says “Those who are trying to be justified by the law have fallen away from grace” (Gal 5:4), that this means all who obey God’s Law has fallen from Grace. While actually what Paul was teaching against was “justification by the Law”, as no one can gain righteousness by keeping God’s Law – only Christ’s blood can redeem us and justify us. (Gal 2:21). This was the main debate even at the Jerusalem Council – as some said you have to be circumcised to be saved(Acts 15:1), which is a baseless doctrine according to Scripture.
3) We have been handed down inaccurate teachings, doctrines and preconceived ideas
For example, it is taught that when Paul says “Blotting out the Handwriting of ordinances nailing it to the cross”(Col 2:14), that this means the Law is done away at Christ’s death. While actually what Paul teaches is that the ordinances that said, we should undergo the penalty of death for our sins, were nailed to the cross, as He died in our place.
4) We have not understood Biblical Definitions
For example, some of the terms used in the New Testament such as, Church, Israel, Jew, Gentile are not clearly defined Biblically. (please refer links)
5) We have not clearly understood characters/groups portrayed in the Bible
For example, “The Pharisees” are commonly linked as the group who kept the Old Testament, which is clearly not the case. (please refer link)
6) Reading verses out of context
For example, it is taught that when Paul says “you are not under Law, but under Grace” (Rom 6:14), that this means we don’t have to keep God’s Law. While actually throughout the letter to the Romans, Paul teaches that : Law is not Sin, but the knowledge of Sin(Rom 7:7), Law and the Commandments are holy, righteous and good (Rom 7:12,16), Law is not what leads us to death (Rom 7:13), Law is Spiritual (Rom 7:14), that he delights in God’s law (Rom 7:22) and serves the Law of God (Rom 7:25). The problem is that we have forgotten that these are “letters”, written without chapters or verses addressing issues of specific assemblies of people. We cannot, and must not, pick particular verses out of context.
7) Paul’s usage of the term “Law”
In his epistles, Paul talks about several different “Laws”, namely –
1)Law of Faith (Rom 3:27)
2)Law of Sin (Rom 7:23-25)
3)Law of the Spirit of life (Rom 8:2)
4)Law of Sin & Death (Rom 8:2)
5)Law of Righteousness (Rom 9:31)
6)Law of God (Rom 3:31, 7:22-25, 8:7)
7)Law of Christ (Rom 8:2, 1Cor 9:21)
In conclusion, I ask you to test everything in this study against the Word of God. Do not rely, or place your trust solely on a denomination, a church, a doctrine, a teacher, a pastor or anything/anyone of this world. Put your faith in God, and God alone – The Creator, Redeemer and King! Ask Him to show you the whole Truth through His Word, through the help of His Spirit.
And keep in mind Peter’s Warning when reading Paul’s letters. His words are hard to understand. So we must be diligent in dividing his teachings for the truth. Apostle Paul could not, and would not have gone against God’s Word which is the same yesterday, today and forever. Let us put off all the misunderstandings regarding his teachings and get to know the Paul we never knew.