1 Cor. 11:5,13
1 Cor. 15:31
One frequently repeated attack made on the Bible is that the Gospel currently accepted by Christians is due to Paul and not to Jesus. The underlying implication is that the whole of the teaching of the New Testament is due to Paul and that this is at variance with the original Gospel proclaimed by Jesus. This is the teaching of Baur and the T'bingen school of Biblical critics which reached its peak in the 1840s. The evidence for the theory was thought to be too scanty, even among critical scholars, and has generally been abandoned in academic circles.
- Did Paul Change the Gospel?
However, it has refused to die and is occasionally brought up as an attack on the New Testament. One of the more recent proponents of this theory is the Jewish apologist Hyam Maccoby who argues that Paul was a failed Pharisee who attacked Pharisaism while Jesus was a Pharisee. Another is Professor Eisenmann in California who argues that the Dead Sea Scrolls are not the writings of Essenes but of Judaic Christians; the scrolls are supposed to have been written in code which identifies Jesus as the teacher of righteousness and Paul as the wicked priest.
A large number of Moslems have heard of a theory similar to one or other of these and are likely to come up with an attack on the New Testament based on them. The main thrust of this attack is that the original Gospel, which was given by Jesus, was changed by Paul. The real, original, Gospel is said to exist therefore in only occasional fragments while the vast majority of the material in the New Testament was produced by the Pauline School and is hence inauthentic. Moslems use many variants of this attack on the scriptures, but all of them follow these steps:
Various passages are cited to support these propositions, although it is unlikely that the average Moslem will be able to produce more than a few of them. The following sections cover these passages in the discussion of each individual proposition.
- The original message of Jesus was highly Judaistic and involved legal maxims. This original message was taught by Judaisers in the early ecclesias, not by Paul.
- The Judaisers were supported by the real Apostles.
- Paul changed the Gospel to make it universal, adopting bits of Greek and Roman philosophy in the process.
- In this he was opposed by the other Apostles who represented the Judaisers.
- The Original Message of Jesus
- The Moslem argument based on the T'bingen school is that the Gospels do not contain the original teaching of Jesus, which were far more Judaistic than the message recorded in the current Gospels. Moslems claim that they know what the original Gospel was because the Qur'an is a witness to it. In particular they also claim that Jesus was a prophet to the Jews only. Moslems cite Matt. 5:17 and Matt. 15:2 as evidence for this.
- The argument depends critically on whether the Moslems know the original Gospel of Jesus or not. When investigating the relative merits of the Qur'an and the Bible one cannot start with the assumption that where the Qur'an and the Bible are different it is the Qur'an that is correct; this would be a circular argument. Instead, it is necessary to find evidence to support either book as more likely correct.
- Evidence that supports the assertion that the Gospels are an accurate representation of the teaching of Jesus includes the following:
- Early date - The Apostles who heard Jesus speak were alive and available when the Gospels were written and able to correct them if they were wrong.
- Undesigned coincidences - This shows that the Gospel writers remembered their material very accurately even in detail.
- Archaeology and the existence of linguistic fossils in the text. This last point is especially important in the context of an investigation into whether the words of the Gospels are an accurate account of the teaching of Jesus. The Gospels were written in Greek for the use of a mainly Greek speaking church. However, many the sayings of Jesus in those Gospels show signs of having been originally composed in Aramaic (although some were almost certainly composed in Greek). For example, there are plays on words. The Aramaic word for a camel is camla and the Aramaic for a gnat is gamla. Thus there is a pun in the saying: "Ye blind guides, who strain out a gnat, and swallow a camel." (Matt. 23:24). Other passages in the Gospels, when translated back into Aramaic have a metrical form which does not appear in Greek. Thus the sayings of Jesus in the Gospels have a very individual style in a language not spoken by the church. This indicates that they are the sayings of one person who pre-dates the church, Jesus himself.
- In Matt. 5:17 Jesus states, "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil." Moslems assert that this is a claim that Jesus is only interested in the legal teaching of the Law, and not in giving a radical new Gospel. This is a rather strained interpretation of the text. Jesus fulfilled the Law, which meant that it no longer had the purpose for which it had originally been appointed and a new dispensation could replace it. The point that Jesus is making is that this does not destroy the law; the law is full of pointers to Christ and these are now plain. Thus the law is left completed as a monument to the grace of God.
- In Matt. 15:24 the words of Jesus are, "I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." Moslems take these to be a declaration that the teachings of Jesus are not for Gentiles. However, the actual text of the saying falls some what short of this. Jesus tells us that he personally was sent to Jews. However, the words do not forbid the disciples from proclaiming the Gospel to Gentiles. Jesus himself was prepared to go beyond this rule; in v. 28 he actually heals the Gentile woman's daughter. The command of Jesus to the disciples (Matt. 28:19,20; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:47) was to preach the Gospel to all nations. Even so it was not until Acts 10 that the disciples actually took the Gospel to the Gentiles.
- The teaching of Jesus included many points which were contrary to Judaism. He declared the fulfilment of all dietary laws (Mark 7:19), taught that moral corruption defiles man more than failure to observe legal rules (Matt. 15:17; Mark 7:18) and defied the sabbath law (Matt. 12:1-8; 12:10-13; Mark 2:23-28; 3:1-5; Luke 6:1-11; 14:1-6; John 5:9-18; 7:22,23; 9:14-16). It is therefore not correct to suggest that Jesus taught a full observance of the Law of Moses. Jesus' teaching about the law of Moses is consistent with the teaching of the epistles of Paul.
The important point about the Gospels is that they were written by evangelists who wrote from God and are a record of the teaching of Jesus. There is no evidence to suggest that the teaching of Jesus was Judaistic in form, or that it was different from the teaching of the Apostles.
There is very little doubt that within the first century ecclesia there was a Judaising party which attempted to force a legalistic philosophy and doctrine onto Jews and Gentiles alike and require all followers of Christ to keep the law of Moses. These people appear in: Acts 11:2; 15:1; 2 Cor. 11:20-23; Gal. 2:11-13; Phil. 3:2-3; Titus 1:10,14, among other places. However, there is no evidence to connect them with Jesus. On the contrary they seem to be a phenomenon based in the spread of the Gospel to Gentile areas. Not all Jewish Christians opposed Paul: Col. 4:11 names two who worked with him.
Support for Judaisers by the Apostles
One of the assertions of this kind of criticism of the New Testament is that the majority of the Apostles supported the Judaisers. This again is not borne out by a study of the New Testament. The first brush between a Judaist and an Apostle occurs in Acts 11:2. Here the Apostle is Peter rather than Paul and the Judaist is not one of the later Judaisers, being convinced by the arguments of Peter. The only point at which any of the Apostles were in danger of being convinced by the Judaisers is recorded in Galatians 2:11-13,
"But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation."
Here we have an example in which Peter and Barnabas were deceived by brethren who came to Antioch from James. It may have been that these people brought a message purporting to be from James which prohibited Peter from eating with the Gentiles, but it is equally possible that they merely intimidated him. The state of play at the time of the writing of Galatians was that the council of Apostles in Jerusalem had already agreed that Paul was to go to the Gentiles (Gal. 2:9), and they had accepted Titus as a brother without requiring him to be circumcised (Gal. 2:3). Soon after Galatians was written Paul went to Jerusalem to a council of the Apostles where it was decided that only certain minimum requirements would be placed on the Jews of Antioch, Syria and Cilicia (Acts 15:19-29). The requirements for ecclesias in other parts of the world (e.g. Cyprus, Caesarea, Cyrene or Ethiopia) were even less stringent. None of this is indicative of a Judaistic position on the part of the other Apostles.
Did Paul Change the Gospel?
In spite of this evidence, Moslems claim that Paul changed the Gospel to make it different from the Gospel proclaimed by Jesus.
They cite very little evidence in support of this, but do include one verse. In this verse Paul writes: "Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my Gospel." (2 Tim. 2:8). Moslems argue that this verse shows that Paul recognized that the Gospel he wrote was his own Gospel and not the Gospel of the whole ecclesia, of the Apostles or of God. This reasoning is, of course, entirely specious. The fact that Paul calls the Gospel his own Gospel does not preclude it from being anyone else's Gospel. It would certainly be the Gospel of Timothy, Titus, Luke, Epaphras and Epaphrodites, not to mention, Lydia, Priscilla and Aquilla. We each could call our beliefs our own yet we share them in common with a group of people. As this Gospel is not unique to Paul there is no reason to suppose that it was not held by many other people, including the other Apostles and in fact there is considerable evidence to show that this was the case.
A comparison of the teaching of Jesus in the Gospels with the teaching of Paul in his epistles shows that the epistles contain the same points as the Gospels and that the teaching is completely unchanged. The following table contains a list of teachings from the Gospel and verses from both the Gospels and the epistles which support these teachings.
Note that each point appears in both the Gospels and the Epistles of Paul. The teaching was therefore not devised by Paul.
The choice of teachings for the list is not exhaustive, but includes a selection of teachings that are particularly foreign to Moslem theology. The following is a brief summary of these teachings:
- The Promises to Abraham - In the book of Genesis a number of promises are given to Abraham. These promises are found in Gen. 12:1-3,7; 13:14-17; 15:4-6,13-21; 17:7,8; 22:16-18 and including the promises that Abraham would be the father of many nations, that he would have many descendants, that the land of Israel would be given to Abraham and his descendants, that one of Abraham's descendants would overcome all his enemies and in doing so would bring a blessing on all the nations. This descendent is identified in Gal. 3:16 as Jesus. The promises to Abraham also imply that Abraham would be raised from the dead, and finally that the promises are granted through faith. These promises form the basis of the Gospel proclaimed by Jesus and the Apostles. It is very sad that Moslems, having built a religion on the idea of spiritual descent from Abraham still cannot bring themselves to accept these promises.
The promises to Abraham are mentioned, in passing, in the Gospels. They are discussed in more detail in the epistles. This is the wrong way round for the Moslem case. If Paul were anxious to distance himself from Judaism, then why does he go into such detail about the promises to Abraham? However, the fact that they appear in both the Gospels and the epistles of Paul shows that Paul has not changed this aspect of the Gospel.
- The Priority of Israel - This teaching concerns the relationship between God and the children of Israel, descendants of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob. The important Bible point is that Israel are the natural heirs of the promises to Abraham and the salvation that comes through faith in the Gospel. The teaching is that salvation is of the Jews (John 4:22) and this is continued throughout the epistles of Paul. Again the main development of the idea is in the epistles and this is the wrong way round for the Moslem case; the argument exalts Israel and would therefore be expected to be emphasised by a pro-Jewish faction. Nevertheless the teaching is found in both the Gospels and the Epistles of Paul, and this shows that Paul had not altered this aspect of the Gospel either. See for example Rom. 11:1-2, 11-28, Eph. 2:12.
- Jesus Christ, Son of God - One of the central confessions of a real Christian faith is that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. The teaching is found very clearly in the Gospels and is also mentioned in the epistles of Paul. Again it is the non-pauline Gospels which contain a doctrine that was supposedly introduced by Paul while the epistles of Paul contain it only in passing, enough to show that Paul included it in his personal beliefs but without development to it.
- Jesus Crucified and Raised from the Dead - This also is central to real Christian faith. The testimony of all four Gospels is that Jesus Christ died on the cross and that he was raised again to life. The references which state explicitly that Jesus died are: Matt. 27:50; Mark 15:37,44-45; Luke 23:46; John 19:30,33 and the references that state explicitly that he was raised again are: Matt. 28:5-9; Mark 16:6; Luke 24:5-6; John 21:14. However, the whole of the narratives contributes to the understanding that Jesus was killed by crucifixion and then raised to life by a miracle from God. Paul is equally clear, "For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures." (1 Cor. 15:3-4). Moreover, Paul tells us himself that the teaching of the death and resurrection of Jesus is not one that he devised himself, but one that was taught to him, "For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received." (1 Cor. 15:3). Thus the teaching of Paul and of the other Apostles is the same.
- Jesus a Sacrifice for Sin - This is another basic teaching of real Christianity which is denied by Moslems, and again it is taught in both the Gospels and the epistles. The epistles tend to have longer explanations but many of the classical statements of the principle that Jesus Christ died for our sins appear in the Gospels.
- Salvation by Faith - This is the teaching that it is not possible to obtain salvation by works alone, but by living a life of faith. Moslems believe that salvation is by the whim of God and the general obedience of a human being to the Sharia law. Again, the teaching of salvation by faith is clearly stated in both the Gospels and the epistles.
- The Kingdom of God on Earth - The phrases Kingdom of God and Kingdom of heaven appear 101 times in the New Testament. Of these occurrences, eighty six are in the Gospels, eight in the Pauline Epistles and seven in Acts (of which five are associated with the Apostle Paul). Acts summarises the teaching of Paul as, "Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ." (Acts 28:31). There is no doubt that the Kingdom of God was the most important part of the teaching of Jesus and also of the Apostle Paul.
- The Return of Jesus - The return of Jesus is taught by the Bible and also by Moslems, although it is not found explicitly in the Qur'an. There are over 300 verses in the New Testament which refer in some way to this event, spread between the Gospels, Acts and the epistles. There is clearly no difference in teaching between Paul and Jesus on this matter.
- The Resurrection of the Dead - In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, "And this is the Father's will who hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise them up again at the last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one who seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day." (John 6:39-40). This is a declaration that Jesus will raise the dead when he returns at the day of judgement (called the last day here in John). Paul declares exactly the same thing about Jesus: "For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first." (1 Thess. 4:16). Again the teachings of Jesus and Paul are exactly the same.
- Baptism - Jesus baptized people in the river Jordan (John 3:22); his teaching about baptism was that it was an essential, "Jesus answered, 'Verily, verily, I say to thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.'" (John 3:5). Paul also taught Baptism. "Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection." (Rom 6:4-5). Yet again the teaching has not been altered from the Gospels to the epistles. There is clearly no difference in the substance of what Paul taught and what Jesus taught, as recorded by the other Apostles or associates of the other Apostles. A similar analysis of the teachings of Paul against the epistles of Peter or of John will reveal a similar picture, although this will be less precise because the epistles of Peter and John are much shorter than the Gospels.
Did the Other Apostles Oppose Paul?
There is no reason to suppose that the other Apostles opposed Paul for most of his ministry. There are two occasions on which Paul was opposed by other Apostles.
Beyond these disagreements there is no evidence in the New Testament for any breach between Paul and any of the other Apostles. On the contrary, there is considerable evidence to show that the other Apostles were prepared to endorse Paul in strongly worded statements. For example, Peter gives support to the teaching of Paul in his second epistle:
- One of these is recorded in Acts 9:26-30; this was three years after Paul had been converted, on his first visit to Jerusalem after this. The Apostles did not know that Paul had been converted and refused to allow him to join them until Barnabas explained matters to them. This disagreement took less than a fortnight to resolve (Gal. 1:18).
- The other disagreement was with Peter. This took place eleven years later and is recorded in Acts 15. This disagreement occurred when men came from Judea and claimed to be sent from James (at that time the chief Apostle) to teach that the Gentiles should follow the Law of Moses and that Jewish brethren should not eat with them until they did. This disagreement was resolved in the next few months when Paul went up to Jerusalem to a council which decided the real state of affairs. Galatians was written between the beginning of the problem and the council of Jerusalem and reflects the conflict in Gal. 2:11-14.
"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, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction." (2 Pet. 3:15-16)
This passage deals with the problems of people misquoting the letters of Paul in support of their false beliefs. This circumstance would have given Peter every possible incentive to disown Paul and his writings as subversive of the true faith, but in fact he does not do this. Instead he endorses the epistles, citing a teaching from them (v. 15) and describing this as being from the wisdom given to Paul (by God). He then goes even further and describes the epistles of Paul as scriptures (v. 16) and likening them implicitly with the other scriptures, the Old Testament. It would be difficult to find any endorsement of Paul that was more sweeping than this. Finally the passage describes Paul as our beloved brother (v. 15). This is not consistent with the idea that the two were in the course of a bitter dispute over the nature of the Gospel.
Another passage which gives a witness to the support given by the Jerusalem Apostles to Paul is in the epistle to the Galatians.
"And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that Gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain. But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised: And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage: To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the Gospel might continue with you." (Gal. 2:2-5)
This passage recounts the events surrounding Paul's second visit to Jerusalem after his conversion, the so-called famine relief visit. In Jerusalem at the time there were various false brethren who were there to try to enforce the Law of Moses on followers of Jesus. These people demanded that Titus should be circumcised but the Apostles of Jerusalem refused to listen to them, not even for an hour. Note that Paul includes himself with the Jerusalem Apostles by the word "we" in verse 5.
There is no evidence that Paul changed the Gospel. On the contrary, the evidence is that Paul's teaching of is exactly the same as the teaching of the Gospels or, for that matter, the Old Testament.