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Did Paul Lie?

Paul appears to be one of Christianity's most important founders. It is canon that he was an apostle, and although the gospels and Acts are placed first, the letters of Paul account for almost 30% of the New Testament. The book of Hebrews only made it into the bible because at the time people thought it was written by Paul. By any account, Paul is one of the Christian's most outspoken and unimpeachable founding fathers.

But the problem is, Paul lied. No no, don't think I am attacking Paul. I am not. Paul himself says he lied. In fact he brags about it, as he says that by lying he was able to spread the Gospel quicker. Read it for yourself:

But if through my falsehood God’s truthfulness abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner?Romans 3:7

To counter this, many Christians will point out that the context of Romans 3:1-8 seems to cast this as a sort of sin that everyone is guilty of, and Paul is not actually saying he lied, only that he has sinned in general just like everyone else. There are two small problems with this claim. One, Paul specifically says he lied, not that he sinned in general. Secondly, he attempts to justify his practice by saying that despite everyone being under sin, all who are righteous will be justified by Christ. “26 it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.” In short, Paul's argument is that it was God's will that the world was shut up in sin, so that he could show his glory by bringing righteousness in Christ. Therefore by the same token, it is okay that Paul lied in order to spread the Gospel.

The remainder of Romans 3 is to explain that he is not trying to brag by admitting his lie, as it would have been God's will.

This is all well and good but in isolation it is meaningless; Christians will just fall back onto their earlier rebuttal. To really understand the issue one must examine the other places Paul discusses his lying-for-Christ methodology.

Let it be assumed that I did not burden you. Nevertheless (you say) since I was crafty, I took you in by deceit.2nd Corinthians 12:16

Here, Paul admits, with the same sort of thought and explanation, what he said in Romans 3. The context of “But be it so,” is that Paul is saying (or admitting the accusation that, depending on your translation) that despite his success at spreading the gospel, he employed deceit in convincing people to follow Christ. The KJV uses “guile” instead of deceit. Guile is defined as duplicity; artful deception. Well, what is this artful deception that Paul admits? Earlier in Corinthians, Paul writes the following;

19 For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them.
20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law.
21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law.
22 To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.
23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.1st Corinthians 9:19-23

Here we arrive at the central issue with Paul. Paul says “To the Jews, I became as a Jew”. He says “To the gentiles I became a Gentile”. And so forth. The issue here is that when he speaks to Jews, or when he speaks to people who are expecting him (requiring him over trust issues) to understand a Jewish perspective, he will claim to be Jewish. When dealing with Gentiles, he will do the same for them. And so on and so forth. So what's the problem with this? It's all for the glory of Christ, yes or no? Well, it raises one or two interesting questions. First, when Paul tells us he was a student of Gamaliel and a “Pharisee of Pharisees”, was he telling us the truth, or was he pretending to be a Jew? The issue is raised because this claim appears in one of Paul's own letters, where he attempts to explain things to Jewish people. It also affects how we understand his method of prooftexting, which we will discuss later.

Finally, since Paul never met Jesus and only saw him in a personal vision (there were no witnesses), and he claims to be an apostle in letters to other apostles who doubt his apostleship, it seems at first glance that he may have lied when he claimed to have been an apostle or to have met Jesus in a vision. In fact, quite clearly despite his vision he was not an apostle in the sense of the word meaning one of the apostles who traveled with Jesus and learned directly from him. Paul had a vision, an epiphany, but despite this it cannot compare with spending more than a year in Jesus' personal presence and learning from him. In any case, the major issue with Paul has been opened, and as such we must check his statements for truth. The issue is this.

Paul Impeaches Himself

In Romans 7 (NRSV) Paul seems to slip up. In Romans 7 Paul is talking to his 'brethren', other Jews, likely intended to be 'fellow Pharisees'. We also know that Paul claims to be a Pharisee by birth – indeed, a Pharisee of Pharisees. Yet in Romans 7:7-11 Paul clearly states that early in his life he was not aware of the Jewish law and did not live according to the Jewish law – in short, that he was not a pharisee by birth and that if he was in fact Jewish he would have had to convert to Judaism. This is a problem because it casts doubt on the credibility of Paul in the New Testament.


If, in his zeal for Christ, Paul lied to the point where he lied about his credibility, then it may very well be that his message is still true – but we are going to want to at least make sure there are no direct contradictions or mistakes in his ministry.

In any case, we are told both by God in Deuteronomy and Zecharia, and also by Paul himself in his letters, to test the prophets, to examine all prophecies, to speak in truth, and to examine all things for the truth. Let us once and for all do this for Paul. If he is of God, there will be no lie in him; please see God Tells the Truth for more on that concept.

With this forward in mind, please continue on to the main article, The Problem with Paul.

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did_paul_lie.txt · Last modified: 2018/02/13 18:56 by serena