Tag Archives: hard to understand

Paul – the misunderstood Apostle

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

  1. 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.
  2. Paul was a Jew (Acts 21:39) and was brought up as a Pharisee (Acts 26:5)
  3. 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)
  4. Paul’s custom was to go to synagogue on the Sabbath. (Acts 13:14,42,44, 17:2, 18:4)
  5. Paul took a Nazarite vow where one shaves his head (Acts 18:18 – Num 6)
  6. There were many “rumors” that he taught against God’s Law (Acts 21:21)
  7. There was no proof that he broke any of God’s Laws (Acts 24:13, 25:7,8)
  8. Paul kept the Law, and walked according to it (Acts 21:24)
  9. Paul purified himself at the Temple in accordance to the Law (Acts 21:26)
  10. Paul said Ananias was a devout man because he kept God’s Law (Acts 22:12)
  11. He worshiped God believing everything written in the Law & Prophets (Acts 24:14)
  12. He said that he does not nullify the law by faith, but that he upholds the law (Rom 3: 31)
  13. He said that the Law is not Sin, but the knowledge of Sin (Rom 7:7)
  14. He said that the law and the Commandments are holy, righteous and good (Rom 7:12,16)
  15. He said that the Law is not what leads us to death (Rom 7:13)
  16. He said that the Law is Spiritual (Rom 7:14)
  17. He said that he delights in God’s law (Rom 7:22)
  18. He said that He serves the Law of God (Rom 7:25)
  19. 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)
  20. 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)
  21. Paul went to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feasts according to the Law (Acts 18:21, 20:16 /Ex 34:22/Lev 23)
  22. 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)
  23. Paul signified that he unwittingly broke a law, quoting the specific Law from the Old Testament (Acts 23:5 / Exo 22:28)
  24. Paul taught the Law of Marriage and Divorce out of the Law (Rom 7:2/1Cor 7:39 – Deut 24)
  25. Paul taught keeping of the Passover (1Cor 5:8)
  26. 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)
  27. Paul quotes Deut 19:15 – a matter is established by 2 or 3 witnesses (2Cor 13:1/1Tim 5:19)
  28. Paul quotes Deut 27:26 – a person breaking God’s Law is cursed (Gal 3:10)
  29. Paul quotes Hab 2:4 – the just shall live by faith (Gal 3:11)
  30. Paul quotes Lev 18:5 – the man who keeps God’s Law, lives because of it (Gal 3:12)
  31. Paul quotes Deut 11:26-28 & 27:15-26 – the curses of the Law (Gal 3:13)
  32. Paul quotes Lev 19:18 – Love thy neighbor as thy self (Gal 5:14)
  33. 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)

Conclusion
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.

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Paul and his use of Greek Philosophy

Out of the 27 books, epistles and letters that make up the New Testament, 13 have been authored by the Apostle Paul (This does not include the book of Hebrews which some believe he wrote). One of the most influential people in the 1st Century Church, a former Pharisee, he took the gospel or Good news of our Messiah to the Greek speaking world of his day. This was no easy task. The peoples of Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Phillipi, Colosse & Thessalonica which he wrote to, were all part of the Greek speaking world educated in Greek literature and philosophy, with their own gods, traditions and opinions.

If you have read Paul’s epistles, inevitably, a thought such as “Why is Paul so hard to understand?” would have crossed your mind at some point. It is true that some of his letters are not that easy to read or understand. And interestingly, this has been the case even in his day, as we see Peter saying “… 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, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction” (2Pet 3:15,16)

Today, I present to you some research into Paul’s words and why we have such a hard time understanding most of it. As you will see listed below, Paul uses the words, ideas and Greek philosophy presented by such philosophers as Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Seneca and many more intellectuals of his day, to help the people who he was talking to, better understand his teachings.

1Cor 15:33
Evil communications corrupt good manners.

Quoted from Thais, a work done by “Menander“, a writer from the 3rd Century BC, who in turn is supposed to have quoted from another Scholar named “Euripides”.

Titus 1:12
The Cretians are always liars, evil beasts, slow bellies.

In writing to Titus Paul quotes a description of the Cretans taken from “Epimenides“. Paul calls Epimenides “one of themselves, a prophet of their own”.

Acts 17:24-29
In Acts 17:18 Paul is encountered by Epicureans and Stoics. Paul’s first sentence struck directly at the “Epicurean” theory (the origin of the world by mere coincidence and of atoms) and arrayed himself with the “Stoics” in their doctrine of the (Divine Wisdom and Providence creating and ruling all things). His speech is made up of words quoted from a Roman Stoic Philosopher called Lucius Annaeus Seneca as mentioned below.

Acts 17:24
Paul went on to say, “God dwelleth not in temples made with hands.”
Seneca, the most prominent contemporary representative of Stoicism, had put their doctrine into these words, “The whole world is the temple of the immortal gods,” and “Temples are not to be built to God of stones piled on high. He must be consecrated in the heart of every man.”

Acts 17:25
Paul said, “Neither is God served by men’s hands, as though he needed anything, seeing he himself giveth to all life, and breath, and all things.”
Seneca put the same truth in this form: “God wants not ministers. How so? He himself ministereth to the human race.”

Acts 17:26-28a
Paul said, “God made of one every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth.
Seneca agrees, “We are members of a vast body. Nature made us kin, when she produced us from the same things and to the same ends.”

Paul said, “God is not far from each one of us; for in him we live, and move, and have our being.
Seneca wrote, “God is at hand everywhere and to all men.”  and again, “God is near thee ; he is with thee ; he is within.”

Acts 17:28b
Paul says, For we are also his offspring.
In Paul’s speech at Athens, he quotes from “certain of your own poets”. The poet he is talking about is Aratus, and this is a line found in the Phaenomena of Aratus

Acts 17:29
Then Paul proceeded, “Being then the offspring of God, we ought not to think the godhead is like unto gold or silver or stone, graven by art or device of men.
Seneca parallels the thought again: “Thou shalt not form him of silver and gold: a true likeness of God cannot be molded of this material.

Gal 5:23b
Paul says, Against such there is no law.
Roman 2:14b
Paul says, Are a law unto themselves.
Paul’s words are eerily familiar to Aristotle‘s saying of men eminent for wisdom and virtue, “Against such there is no law, for they themselves are a law,”

1Cor 9:24a
Paul says, “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize?
Plato says, “But such as are true racers, arriving at the end, both receive the prizes and are crowned”

Rom 7:22,23
Paul says, “But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.”
Plato says,”There is a victory and defeat – the first and best of victories, the lowest and worst of defeats – which each man gains or sustains at the hands not of another, but of himself; this shows that there is a war against ourselves – going on in every individual of us.”

Phillip 3:19
Paul says, “Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things“.
Plato gives a vivid description of those gluttonous and intemperate souls whose belly was their God, in Plato’s work called “the Republic”.

Rom 8:5
Paul says, “For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh;
Gal 6:8
Paul says, “For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption
Plato speaks of “to be carnally-minded was death” in Phaedo

2 Cor 4:4
Paul says, “In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not
Plato speaks of “the God of this world blindeth the eyes of his votaries” in Theaetetus
In the book Paul and His Epistles – D.A. Hayes writes “Plato would have pictured for him the truth that the God of this world blindeth the eyes of his votaries, and Paul never could have forgotten the picture when he had once read it.” – Theaet., 176; Rep., 7, 514
(Please note that the above point has been corrected as rightly pointed out by dear brother, Dan Angelov – my sincere apologies for misquoting it before) I wish to thank Angelov for re-checking the post and communicating this correction.

Php 1:21
Paul says, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
Plato says, “Now if death is like this, I say that to die is gain.”

2Tim 4:6
Paul says, “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand
To be with Christ, which is far better.
Plato says, “The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our ways, I to die and you to live. which is better God only knows.

1Cor 13:12
Paul says, “For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face.”
Plato says, I am very far from admitting that he who contemplates existences through the medium of thought, sees them only “through a glass, darkly,” anymore than he who sees them in their working effects.

1Thess 5:15
Paul says, “See that none render evil for evil unto any man.”
Plato says, Then we ought not to retaliate or render evil for evil to anyone, whatever evil we may have suffered from him.

1Cor 9:16
Paul says, “For necessity is laid upon me ; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!
Plato says, But necessity was laid upon me – the word of God I thought ought to be considered first.

Acts 14:15
Paul and Barnabas say, “We also are men of like passions with you“.
Plato says, I am a man, and, like other men, a creature of flesh and blood, and not of ” wood or stone,” as Homer says.

2Cor 7:2
Paul says, “I speak because I am convinced that I never intentionally wronged anyone“.
Plato says, We have wronged no man ; we have corrupted no man ; we have defrauded no man.

Rom 12:4
Paul says, “For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office“.
Socrates says  “To begin with, our several natures are not all alike but different. One man is naturally fitted for one task, and another for another.”

Eph 1:22,23
Paul says, “And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.
Plato says “First, then, the gods, imitating the spherical shape of the universe, enclosed the two divine courses in a spherical body, that, namely, which we now term the head, being the most divine part of us and the lord of all that is in us; to this the gods, when they put together the body, gave all the other members to be servants.”

1Cor 12:14-17
Paul explains that “a body is not one single organ, but many. … Suppose the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, it does still belong to the body. If the body were all eye, how could it hear? If the body were all ear, how could it smell? But, in fact, God appointed each limb and organ to its own place in the body, as he chose.
Socrates asks Protagoras, “Is virtue a single whole, and are justice and self-control and holiness parts of it? … as the parts of a face are parts-mouth, nose, eyes and ears.” Socrates then probes into the metaphor further by asking Protagoras if they agree that each part serves a different purpose, just as the features of a face do, and the parts make the whole, but each serves a different purpose–“the eye is not like the ear nor has it the same function.”

1Co 12:25
Paul says “That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.”
Socrates says, that the best-governed city is one “whose state is most like that of an individual man. For example, if the finger of one of us is wounded, the entire community of bodily connections stretching to the soul for ‘integration’ with the dominant part is made aware, and all of it feels the pain as a whole”

Paul’s use of Greek Philosophy of his day and age, cannot be overlooked or dismissed. He used the words of intellectuals of his day to his advantage in taking God’s word and the good news to the Greek speaking Gentile world. The evidence provided above cannot be passed off as mere coincidence. He wrote and spoke these words to a particular people who would have understood and would have been very familiar with the metaphors and ideas which he was using. One of the main reasons that we have such a hard time understanding Paul’s words is that we are so much removed from the world Paul was living in, and talking to. The above verses are only a few I could find in my attempt in researching this subject. But I am sure that there are many more instances where Paul would have used Greek Philosophy to his advantage.

This study would be somewhat of a shock to some who depend on Paul’s words alone as the epitome of Scripture. (This is not in anyway, an attempt to demean his writings or his work) Paul was and still is one of the greatest apostles of God. But as Peter said in 2Pet 3:15,16, “there are some things in his letters that are hard to understand”. It is better for us to take this warning seriously, and not fall into the category of “ignorant and unstable people who distort Paul’s teachings to our own destruction”. We must always remember that God’s Word cannot have confusion or disorder. Paul’s words(The actual meaning of his words, and not what we read into it) cannot disagree with any other author in the Bible. His words have to co-exist with all of Scripture in harmony.

I hope this study has helped you to understand Paul, his letters and his ministry a bit better. If you know of any more parallels or ideas that Paul adapted from Greek Philosophy, please note it down as a comment. Thank you & may you be a blessing to others!

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Works Cited
The life and letters of Paul the Apostle – Lyman Abbott
Paul and His Epistles – D.A. Hayes
Paul the Apostle: At the Edge by Faith – Stuart H. Merriam