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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Accusations Against Jesus Answered

Don Stewart :: Did Paul Change the Teachings of Jesus and Invent Christianity?

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Did Paul Change the Teachings of Jesus and Invent Christianity?

The Life and Ministry of Jesus Christ – Question 15

One of the favorite arguments of critics has been to claim that Saul of Tarsus, who became the Apostle Paul, and not Jesus, was actually the founder of Christianity. Paul, it is alleged, changed the teachings of Jesus and became the inventor of Christianity as we now know it. This belief has been held by many throughout the history of the church.

The Case for Paul Being the Inventor of Christianity

There are two basic arguments that Christianity, in its present form, can be attributed to Paul and not to Jesus. They can be simply stated are as follows.

1. Paul Said He Never Met Jesus

There is no indication that Paul ever met Jesus during His earthly ministry. If the two never met, then how could Paul have accurately taught what Jesus taught? It is contended that he could not. Therefore, the teachings of Jesus were revised by Paul.

2. Paul’s Teaching Did Not Reflect Jesus’ Teachings

The proof that Paul contradicted what Jesus taught can be found in a comparison between his writings and the four gospels. Indeed, it is contended that Paul’s teachings were not the same as Jesus’. If one compares what the two of them taught, it is argued that there is no way to reconcile the differences. Each of them taught a different Christianity. The Christianity we have today is that of Paul, not of Jesus of Nazareth.

These are the usual starting points for unbelievers who attempt to attribute historic Christianity to Paul rather than Jesus. They further support their contention by bringing up numerous examples between what Jesus said and what Paul wrote in an attempt to show how they cannot be reconciled.

Response to the Idea That Paul Invented Christianity

While it is popular in some circles to attribute Christianity to Paul rather than to Jesus, there are a number of reasons as to why the idea that Paul invented Christianity should be rejected. Four simple points need to be made.

1. Jesus Chose Paul

From the three separate accounts of Paul’s conversion as recorded in the Book of Acts, we find that Jesus Himself chose Saul of Tarsus to be His special messenger. For example, we read the following in Acts 9:

Saul kept threatening to murder the Lord’s disciples. He went to the chief priest and asked him to write letters of authorization to the synagogue leaders in the city of Damascus. Saul wanted to arrest any man or woman who followed the way of Christ and imprison them in Jerusalem. As Saul was coming near the city of Damascus, a light from heaven suddenly flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” Saul asked, “Who are you, sir?” The person replied, “I’m Jesus, the one you’re persecuting. Get up! Go into the city, and you’ll be told what you should do.” Meanwhile, the men traveling with him were speechless. They heard the voice but didn’t see anyone. Saul was helped up from the ground. When he opened his eyes, he was blind. So his companions led him into Damascus. For three days he couldn’t see and didn’t eat or drink. (Acts 9:1-9 God’s Word)

From this account we find that it was Jesus Christ who miraculously chose Saul. Saul did not choose Jesus! This is the testimony of Scripture.

2. Jesus Taught Paul

Not only did Jesus specially choose Paul to be His messenger to the world, the message of Paul was personally taught by Jesus.

Paul wrote to the churches of Galatia the following explanation about the origin of his teachings:

I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the Good News I have spread is not a human message. I didn’t receive it from any person. I wasn’t taught it, but Jesus Christ revealed it to me. You heard about the way I once lived when I followed the Jewish religion. You heard how I violently persecuted God’s church and tried to destroy it. You also heard how I was far ahead of other Jews in my age group in following the Jewish religion. I had become that fanatical for the traditions of my ancestors. But God, who appointed me before I was born and who called me by his kindness, was pleased to show me his Son. He did this so that I would tell people who are not Jewish that his Son is the Good News. When this happened, I didn’t talk it over with any other person. I didn’t even go to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was. Instead, I went to Arabia and then came back to Damascus. (Galatians 1:11-17 God’s Word)

According to Paul, it was Jesus Himself who taught him. Therefore, Paul did not ever claim to have invented his teachings about Jesus but rather he claimed to have received them directly from the risen Christ Himself.

3. Peter Confirmed Paul’s Authority

There is something else which is crucial to this question. We also have the testimony of one Simon Peter, one of Jesus’ Twelve Apostles, as to the authority of Paul. In his second letter to the believers Peter wrote the following:

Also, regard the patience of our Lord as an opportunity for salvation, just as our dear brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you. He speaks about these things in all his letters, in which there are some matters that are hard to understand. The untaught and unstable twist them to their own destruction, as they also do with the rest of the Scriptures. (2 Peter 3:15-16 HCSB)

Peter testified to the authority of Paul. In fact, in this letter Peter puts Paul’s writings on the same level as Holy Scripture. In other words, Peter accepted Paul’s God-given authority. This is another indication that Paul was given unique authority by the Lord Jesus Himself.

4. The Book of Acts Records That Paul Is Accepted by the Believers

The acceptance of Paul as one of the leaders in the church is fully documented in the Acts of the Apostles. Not only do we have Paul’s conversion given to us on three separate occasions, we find that the believers embraced Paul as one of their own. In fact, we find the following letter written by the apostles and the elders to the believers:

“The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions, it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 15:23-26 ESV)

The description of Paul shows his acceptance by the leadership of the early church. Note that he is said to have “risked his life” for the sake of the gospel.

Indeed, the entire second half of the Book of Acts records how Paul brought the gospel of Jesus Christ to Rome. His divine authority was accepted by the church.

Therefore, the idea that Paul preached and taught a different Christianity than Jesus is without any foundation whatsoever.

Summary – Question 15
Did Paul Change the Teachings of Jesus and Invent Christianity?

It is claimed by some people that Paul, not Jesus, is the one who should be credited as the founder of Christianity. Allegedly it was his teachings that have become standard Christian doctrine. Usually there are two main reasons why this is so.

First, it has been argued that since Paul never met Jesus during His ministry he could not accurately reflect His teachings. How could he correctly proclaim Jesus’ message if the two never met?

Furthermore, there are teachings of Paul that are allegedly contradictory to what Jesus taught. Some go as far as to say that there is no possible way to reconcile them. Therefore, Paul’s Christianity is not the same as Jesus’.

There are a number of responses that can be made to such claims.

First, the Bible says that Jesus specifically chose Paul to be His unique messenger. This is recorded in the Book of Acts which was written not by Paul, but by Luke. In other words, it was not merely Paul’s claim that He was a chosen minister of the Lord.

Also Paul emphasized that his gospel was not of human origin but taught to him by Jesus. Therefore, he claimed not to originate anything.

His claimed is backed up by Simon Peter. Indeed, Peter wrote that Paul’s writings were authoritative Scripture. Thus, we have the leader of Jesus’ Twelve Disciples confirming Paul’s position within the church.

Finally, the Book of Acts, which chronicles the birth and rise of the early church, devotes its last half to the ministry of Paul. It includes a number of passages where Paul’s authority as an apostle is accepted by all. If Paul was preaching a different Jesus, then he would have never been recognized as a leader in the church.

Therefore, the idea that Paul invented the beliefs of Christianity has no basis whatsoever. Indeed, Paul was a faithful minister of the gospel of Christ.

Was Christianity Similar to the Different Mystery Religions in the Roman Empire? ← Prior Section
What Are We to Make of the Idea That Jesus Was an Alien from Another Planet? Next Section →
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