"Christians get sidetracked. They begin with Paul, not Jesus." (Bercot, Common Sense, 1992)


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What Did Jesus Say? (2012) - 7 topics 

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Early Church Views on Paul

1. Ebionites -- The First Christians

The earliest Christians were commonly called Ebionites, meaning "the Poor." 

In G. Uhlhorn, "Ebionites," A Religious Encyclopaedia or Dictionary of Biblical, Historical, Doctrinal, and Practical Theology (3rd ed.) (edited by Philip Schaff) Vol. II at pages 684–685 [see PDF at this link], we read:

Ebionites. This designation was at first like 'Nazarenes,' a common name for all Christians, as Epiphanius (d. 403) testifies (Adv. Har. xxix.1) It is derived from the Hebrew Ebion, "poor," and was not given, as Origen supposes, for their low view of Christ. Id. at 684.

Over one hundred years later, in about 180 AD, Irenaeus -- a Bishop from Gaul (now known as France) -- clearly describes those who persisted in the designation as Ebionites rejected Paul and followed the Law, relying upon Matthew's Gospel. In Against the Heresies, 1.26 Irenaeus says:

"Those who are called Ebionites agree that the world was made by God; but their opinions with respect to the Lord are similar to those of Cerinthus and Carpocrates. They use the Gospel according to Matthew only, and repudiate the Apostle Paul, maintaining that he was an apostate from the law. As to the prophetical writings, they endeavor to expound them in a somewhat singular manner: they practice circumcision, persevere in the observance of those customs which are enjoined by the law, and are so Judaic in their style of life, that they even adore Jerusalem as if it were the house of God." (Against Heresies 1.26.)

This is comparable to Eusebius who in 325 AD wrote in Ecclesiastical History 3.27:

"These men, moreover, thought that it was necessary to reject all the epistles of the apostle [Paul], whom they called an apostate from the law; and they used only the so-called Gospel according to the Hebrews and made small account of the rest."

Eusebius thus acknowledges the Ebionites used more than just Matthew's Gospel, yet similarly to Irenaeus, Eusebius said they emphasized Matthew's Gospel.

Thus, Professor James Dunn notes the original Jewish core of the church regarded Paul as an apostate: “The most direct heirs of the Jewish-Christian group­ings within earliest Christianity [i.e., the early Jerusalem church] regarded Paul as the great apostate, an arch enemy,” citing Epistula Petri 2.3; Clem. Hom. 17:18-19. (James D. G. Dunn, The Cambridge Companion to St. Paul (Cambridge University Press, 2003) at 2.)

This is comparable to Luke's account that in Acts 9:26 that the disciples at Jerusalem, which included the apostles, rejected that Paul was a true disciple of Jesus:

26 And Saul, having come to Jerusalem, did try to join himself to the disciples, and they were all afraid of him, not believing that he is a disciple,... (YLT).

2. Surprisingly Negative on Close Exam: Luke in Acts Circa 80 A.D.

Most Christians have been trained to assume Luke is only praising Paul in Acts. However, there is so much damaging information about Paul in Acts when read carefully, many scholars (e.g., John Knox) now see an anti-Paul agenda to Luke's work. Knox believes that Luke intended Acts to bring Paul down a notch to undermine Marcion's Paul-only movement of 144 A.D. See John Knox, Marcion and the New Testament: An Essay in the Early History of the Canon (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1942) at 114-39. On Marcionism, see our webpage summarizing it.

However, I prefer to think of it as objectivity. Clearly Luke gave much evidence in Paul's favor as well as much harmful information on Paul's legitimacy.

A. Luke Negative On Paul's Apostleship Coming From Jesus Christ

For example, while Paul claimed Jesus appointed himself (Paul) an apostle of Jesus Christ, in none of the three vision accounts - evidently which Luke heard from Paul and recorded in Acts 9, 22 and 26 -- does Luke identify Jesus making Paul His apostle. The Jesus of Damascus per Ananias appoints Paul solely as a "witness" -- a martus in Greek. The Jesus of Damascus never says that Paul will be His apostle.

Also in Acts 1, Luke says Judas's replacement (chosen by the Holy Spirit) as an apostle is Matthias, not Paul.

As a result, scholars note that in "Acts...Paul is denied the title of Apostle." (Martin Hengel, Anna M. Schwemer, Paul between Damascus and Antioch: the unknown years (Westminster John Knox Press, 1997) at 321 n. 3.) For more on this, see our article "Was Paul A True Apostle of Jesus Christ?"

B. Luke Exposes Paul's Disobedience to Holy Spirit Which Led To Temple's Desecration

Furthermore, we discuss elsewhere that Luke records in Acts 21:28-2924:6, 13, 18; and 25:7-8 that the post-conversion Paul defied the message of the Holy Spirit through Agabus & other believers not to go to Jerusalem (Acts 21:4). As a result, on that trip Paul's Gentile companion, Trophimus, ends up defiling the Temple. Trophimus became an uncircumcised Gentile in the Holy Place. Luke records, although few seek to emphasize this fact, that Trophimus, an Ephesian passed the middle wall that kept uncircumcised Gentiles out of a specific area of the Temple. Trophimus, an Ephesian, obviously trusted Paul who wrote to the Ephesians that Christ tore down that same barrier at the Temple and now uncircumcised Gentiles were implicitly free to enter. See Eph. 2:14-15. See our in depth discussion about Trophimus' actions at this link.

Jesus, to the contrary, taught in 33 A.D. that Ezekiel's warning that an uncircumcised Gentile in the Temple was an "abomination" (Ez. 44:9) was still a valid principle because Jesus said Daniel's prophecy of an abomination standing in the Temple was still in the future tense. (Matt. 24:15-16.)

This means Luke exposes to us that Paul was responsible in a spiritual sense for an abomination of the Temple of God in 58 A.D. Paul told Ephesians like Trophimus that the middle barrier no longer applied (i.e., the rule that no uncircumcised Gentile could pass that barrier) after Christ's resurrection. But Jesus warned the abomination of desolation -- an uncircumcised Gentile standing in the Holy Place as Daniel identified it -- was coming. This means had Paul truly known of Jesus's message, and was obedient to the Holy Spirit, Paul never would have uttered the words we read in Eph. 2:14-15 or gone to the Temple at Jerusalem when God told Paul through the prophet Agabus and other believers by the Holy Spirit not to do so. (Acts 21:4.) Paul disobeyed God, as Luke reveals, and the result of Paul's disobedience is that his travelling companion -- Trophimus -- defiled God's Temple.

Luke in fairness to Paul points out that Paul denied he escorted Trophimus into the sacred area, but that was little consolation to soften the bigger fact which Luke exposes -- Paul defied God's own instructions to Paul not to go to Jerusalem (Acts 21:4) on a trip that ended up in Paul's traveling companion defiling the Temple.

Hence, Luke was giving us a fair portrait of Paul -- giving the good along with the very bad.

3. Early Church Leaders Who Do Not Even Know of Paul's Works

"Justin [103-165 A.D.] took no notice of Paul...." (Encyclopedia Biblica.) In Justin "Paul...is never quoted directly." (John Romanides, "Justin Martyr and the 4th Gospel," Greek Orthodox Theological Review (1958) Vol. IV  at 115 et seq.)  

In "Canon," Encyclopedia Brittanica (1903) Vol. 5 at page 8, it relates as to Justin Martyr:

"Paul's epistles are never mentioned, although he doubtless knew of them. Having little sympathy with Paulinism he attached his belief to the primitive apostles....[T]he epistle to the Hebrews and Acts he treated in the same way as the Pauline writings."

Incidentally, the Encyclopedia Brittanica points out that as to the other items of canon, it is pretty clear he relied on the Matthew Gospel version in Hebrew that Jerome said was translated into Greek. Only the Greek version was canonized, not the original Hebrew version. The Encyclopedia relates:

"It is pretty certain that he relied upon an extra-canonical gospel, perhaps the so-called Gospel to the Hebrews....The Apocalypse [i.e., John's Revelation], 1 Peter and 1 John he esteemed highly...."


Cosgrove similarly states:

"Isidor Frank in his Der Sinn Kanonbildung (1971) argues that the 'Memoirs of the Apostles' are regarded by Justin and his community as 'auf einer Stufe' with the Old Testament. According to Frank, Justin definitely includes the three synoptic gospels within his designation of Memoirs but not John or Paul....Justin represents a reversal of the trend in the second century church of regarding apostolic writings [i.e., letters] as canon." (Charles H. Cosgrove, "Justin Martyr and the Emerging Christian Canon," Vigiliae Christianae 36 (1982) 209-232 Brill Leiden, excerpted at this Jstor link.)

When Justin speaks of the apostles operating post-resurrection, Justin is clear God sent "twelve," not "thirteen" which means he implicitly ignores Paul. (Justin, First Apology XLIX at 47.)

Proof this may be deliberate is that Justin later in the same First Apology denies Christians believe in "predestination," and "fatal destiny," (LIV) because the "prophetic Spirit instructed us in the doctrine of free-will by Moses, who introduces God speaking to man: 'Behold good and evil is before you; choose the good.'" (First Apology LVI, quoting Deut. 30:15,19. See Link at page 51.)

And quite importantly, based upon Justin's many books, one may wonder if Paul's epistles were truly circulating among leaders of the church, as Justin clearly was. For Edwin Johnson in 1887 noted:

"His [Justin Martyr, St. c. 100 - c. 165 C.E.] silence about Paul, when he had every reason to cite him in his anti-Judaistic reasonings, is a silence that speaks--a void that no iteration of unattested statements, no nebulous declamation, can ever fill." (Edwin Johnson [1842-1901] Antiqua Mater: A Study of Christian Origins (London: Trubner & Co., Ludgate Hill, 1887) at 35.)

Papias (a disciple of Apostle John) from 130 A.D. too never once quotes Paul. See JWO: 326.

Ironically most of all, the one person who should know of Paul's letters, but appears to know nothing of them is Luke himself. 

The fact Luke's Acts and Gospel show virtually no knowledge of Paul's epistles, and says nothing in either to help their acceptance was first exposed by theologian F.C. Bauer. Recently, Hengel and Schwemer, Paul: Between Antioch and Damascussupra, at 322 says "since F.C. Bauer and his pupils, there has been no evidence that knowledge of Paul's letters by Luke can be demonstrated." Further, no use was made by them by anyone else until after 100 AD, beginning with Clement. Hengel and Schwemer add: "When Luke was writing, Paul's letters may have been in the archives of one community or another. The use of them begins only with I Clement or shortly after 100 CE....They will have been collected and edited around this time" while Luke wrote "twenty years earlier." Id.

For example, Luke never conveys any of Paul's doctrines against the Law, of salvation by faith alone, eternal security, etc. Luke knows only a Paul who obeys the Law when requested by James in Acts 21, of one who affirms he believes in "all points according to the Law" in testimony before Felix at Acts 24:14, and in testimony in Acts 26:20 the Paul known to Luke says his gospel is one of "works worthy of repentance," etc. For a full discussion, see our article Luke's Gospel is a Non-Pauline Gospel.

3B. Apocalypse of Peter - ca 100 AD

This was listed as canonical in the very first list of works in canon ... the Muratorian fragment from the early 200s. Wikipedia records: "The Muratorian fragment states: 'the Apocalypses also of John and Peter only do we receive, which some among us would not have read in church.'" ("Apocalypse of Peter," Wikipedia.) 

It has a reference that clearly is aimed at Paul, as it repeats the common criticisms about Paul. See "Apocalypse of Peter," Wikipedia. The Apocalypse quotes Jesus saying:

"And they will cleave to the name of a dead man, thinking that they will become pure. But they will become greatly defiled and they will fall into a name of error, and into the hand of an evil, cunning man and a manifold dogma, and they will be ruled without law."

Then consider it is actually possible it was truly canon and removed, for the early canon history would support this. Besides being in the Muratorian canon from the 2d century, Wikipedia records:

Clement of Alexandria appears to have considered the Apocalypse of Peter to be holy scripture. EusebiusHistoria Ecclesiae (VI.14.1), describes a lost work of Clement's, the Hypotyposes (Outlines), that gave "abridged accounts of all the canonical Scriptures, not even omitting those that are disputed, I mean the book of Jude and the other general epistles. Also the Epistle of Barnabas and that called the Revelation of Peter."[10] So the work must have existed in the first half of the 2nd century, which is also the commonly accepted date of the canonic Second Epistle of Peter.[11] Although the numerous references to it attest to its being once in wide circulation, the Apocalypse of Peter was ultimately not accepted into the Christian canon.

This means that in the next copy of the canon -- the Sinaiticus from about 340 AD -- we do not see Apocalypse of Peter included. But remember, no canon-conference was held until the 1540s at the Council of Trent -- and only by the Roman Catholic Church -- to decide what books are included in canon. So it begins as a complete mystery why a work that was part of Christian canon for over 200 years such as the Apocalypse of Peter is dropped from at least 340 AD forward. Yet, we do know that when Constantine in the first half of the 300s wanted the Christian Sabbath moved to Sun-Day because Constantine's god was Sol Invictus -- the Unconquered Sun (link), Paul's anti-sabbath passages made Paul a figure now politically important to protect in the Empire. The article Constantine's Damage to Christianity explains this transformation of why Paul received a revival in the 300s at this link.

4. Early Church View of the Law

Ignatius around 150 AD said the only person whom Christians listened to was "Jesus Christ." He wrote: "all live according to the truth, and that no sect has any dwelling-place among you. Nor, indeed, do you hearken to any one rather than to Jesus Christ speaking in truth" (Epistle to the Ephesians 6).  (See "Apostasy," Wikipedia.)

Naturally, the early church endorsed following the Law and Prophets, because Jesus taught this in Matthew 5:17-19 and many other places. For more details, see this link.

The predominant position in the early church was to regard anyone who denied the Law's continued application was a heretic. This means that anyone familiar with Paul knew these statements placed Paul outside mainstream Christianity. One scholar, Oskar Skarsaune, in “Heresy and the Pastoral Epistles,” Themelios 20.1 (October 1994): 9-14 at 10 notes that

a passage in the Syrian Didascalia Apostolorum [from the 200s], defining heresy [states]:

"[The heretics] all had one law, that they

* should not employ the Torah and the Prophets,

* and that they should blaspheme God Almighty,

* and should not believe in the resurrection." (Citing 5 Didasc. 23 (VI:10), quoted according to R. Hugh Connolly, Didascalia Apostolorum (Oxford, 1929 (=1969)) at 202.)

While at first one might suppose only the first prong of what was heresy in the early church applied to Paul, that is not necessarily true.

First, let us look at the last -- "not believe in the resurrection." Paul was interpreted by the Gnostics in the 200s as teaching we were already raised in Christ by baptism, but that "flesh shall not inherit the kingdom of God" (Paul writing the Corinthians in 1 Cor. 15:50 -- implying there was no physical resurrection.) This is where Paul ends up contradicting himself because he also teaches a bodily resurrection. See our "Contradictions with Jesus" at end where we discuss Paul's self-contradictions.

Hence, the Didascalia was identifying as heresy what many thought Paul taught (justified by Paul's own words). Of course, the rebuttal was to find words in Paul which talk of us 'meeting' Jesus in the clouds at His next coming. It does not take away from the fact Didascalia said it is heresy to say (as Paul was construed to say), that there is no resurrection of the flesh to inherit the kingdom.

Finally, on the last prong of the three heresies identified by the Didaschalia, Paul did blaspheme God - numerous times in his epistles. For example, Paul said "God shall send them strong delusion...," speaking of God's intention to keep the lost lost, in 2 Thess. 2:10-13 KJV-21st. Paul blasphemes God again when Paul said "God does not live in Temples made with human hands" when the true God truly did so. (Acts 17:24). See our article "Paul and Blasphemy." In the latter blasphemy, Paul meant to tell the Athenians that only their gods were false by this principle. However, Paul's words extended further, and implied Yahweh whom Jesus said lived in the Temple at Jerusalem was also a false god too by the same principle that Paul gave the pagans. If God does not live in Temples made of human hands, as Paul declared, then Yahweh was just as much a false god as any of the other gods Paul was condemning. This would hence be blasphemy.

Hence, each of the 3 prongs of what identified a heretic in the 200s, recorded in the Didascalia, applied to Paul or how Paul was or could be construed. This was the period the church was fighting the Marcionites - Paul-only Christians. (See our article, "The Marcionites.") Thus, it is not that surprising to see orthodoxy spelled out in the Didaschalia in a way to undercut Marcionite arguments based upon Paul's words. This therefore shows in the 200s how little regard the church had for Paul and Paul's doctrine within the MAINSTREAM Church.

5. Ignatius, 58-90/117 AD

A subtle criticism of Paul's grace teaching appears in Ignatius.

Now note well those who hold heretical teachings about the grace of Jesus Christ which came to us. Note how contrary they are to the mind of God. They have no concern for love, none for the widow, none for the orphan, none for the oppressed, none for the prisoner or the one released, none for the hungry or thirsty. They abstain from communion and prayer. (Ignatius, Letter to the Smyrneans 6:2, quoted by Darrell L. Bock, The Missing Gospels (Nelson: Nashville Tennessee, 2006) at 192.)

6. Tertullian, 207 A.D. - A Highly Critical Analysis

In 207 A.D., Tertullian in Against Marcion -- quoted at length in Jesus' Words Only at 395 (see this link to read it in full) -- made the following sobering points about Paul:

  • Jesus never made Paul an apostle from the records that we can read.
  • Paul's claim to apostleship solely relies upon Paul's veracity.
  • If Paul were a true apostle, he is still an inferior apostle because Paul in Acts 15 submitted his doctrine to the twelve.
  • If Paul later varied from the twelve, we must regard the twelve as more authoritative than Paul because Paul came later.
  • Paul's claim of being selected as an apostle later by Jesus seems implausible. That story asks us to believe Jesus had not planned things adequately with the twelve.
  • Lastly, Tertullian said Jesus warned us of false prophets who would come doing miracles in His name and signs and wonders, and Paul perfectly matches that prophesied type of prophet.

The key quote with most of these points is the following passage from Tertullian -- written in 207 A.D. in Against Marcion:

I desire to hear from Marcion the origin of Paul the apostle. I am a sort of new disciple, having had instruction from no other teacher. For the moment my only belief is that nothing ought to be believed without good reason, and that is believed without good reason which is believed without knowledge of its origin: and I must with the best of reasons approach this inquiry with uneasiness when I find one affirmed to be an apostle, of whom in the list of the apostles in the gospel I find no trace. So when I am told that he [i.e., Paul] was subsequently promoted by our Lord, by now at rest in heaven, I find some lack of foresight in the fact that Christ did not know beforehand that he would have need of him, but after setting in order the office of apostleship and sending them out upon their duties, considered it necessary, on an impulse and not by deliberation, to add another, by compulsion so to speak and not by design [i.e., on the Road to Damascus]. So then, shipmaster out of Pontus [i.e., Marcion], supposing you have never accepted into your craft any smuggled or illicit merchandise, have never appropriated or adulterated any cargo, and in the things of God are even more careful and trustworthy, will you please tell us under what bill of lading you accepted Paul as apostle, who had stamped him with that mark of distinction, who commended him to you, and who put him in your charge? Only so may you with confidence disembark him [i.e., Paul]: only so can he avoid being proved to belong to him who has put in evidence all the documents that attest his apostleship. He [i.e., Paul] himself, says Marcion, claims to be an apostle, and that not from men nor through any man, but through Jesus Christ. Clearly any man can make claims for himself: but his claim is confirmed by another person’s attestation. One person writes the document, another signs it, a third attests the signature, and a fourth enters it in the records. No man is for himself both claimant and witness. Besides this, you have found it written that many will come and say, I am Christ. If there is one that makes a false claim to be Christ, much more can there be one who professes that he is an apostle of Christ.... [L]et the apostle, belong to your other god:.... (Tertullian, Against Marcion (Oxford University Press, 1972) at 509, 511, reprinted online at  http://www.tertullian.org/articles/evans_marc/ evans_marc_12book5_eng.htm.)

In fact, Tertullian in Adversus Marcion at 3:5 (Caput V) (others erroneously cite 3:6:4) said Paul is the "apostle of the heretics." In Latin, he called Paul "haereticorum apostolus." One commentator says this meant "the writings of Paul --- the haereticorum apostolos of Tertullian ---  were regarded suspiciously at Rome." (Hans Lietzmann, The Lord's Supper (Brill: 1979) at 282.) Tertullian was categorized as having "a scornful 'haereticorum apostolus' on his lips..." toward Paul (W.C. Van Manen in "Epistle to the Romans" Encyclopedia Brittanica (N.Y.: 1903) Vol. IV at 4127

Tertullian spoke with justification. Among the early gnostic heretics, their writings refer to Paul as "the great (or greatest) apostle" and "Paul who has become like Christ." (A. H. B. Logan, A. J. M. Wedderburn, New Testament and Gnosis (2004) at 13.) Tertullian was correct: Paul was the "apostle of the heretics."

Incidentally, to downplay this "apostle of the heretics" designation, some have suggested Tertullian meant to write "ethnicorum apostolus" meaning "apostle of the gentiles." Editors, however, reject this solution as "unnecessary." See Ante-Nicene Library at 126 fn 5. But I reject it because the context and views of Tertullian prove Tertullian meant precisely what he said. Paul was the "apostle of the heretics."

Also to hide "apostle of the heretics" in the Latin original, the English translations mollify the words. In the Ante-Nicene Fathers by Schaff, it offers an English translation which replaces this clear expression with these words instead: "When the very apostle whom our heretics adopt . . ." (Id., at 324 col. 2.)

Not only is this incorrect, but also it is clear from context what Tertullian is saying. Tertullian in context is saying that sometimes Scripture speaks figuratively and by analogies. First, Tertullian cites some non-Paul passages to prove this. Finally, Tertullian says in effect that even Paul (whom Marcion says is the sole apostle in the NT) spoke often figuratively and in allegories. It is in that context, the key words appear. And the correct translation perfectly fits. So Tertulian says:

"But why enlarge on the subject when the apostle of the heretics [i.e., Paul] ... alleges that the rock which followed (the Israelites) and supplied them with drink was Christ; [and] teaching the Galatians...that the two narratives of the sons of Abraham had an allegorical meaning in their course...." [i.e., Paul in Galatians ch. 4.]  (Schaff, Ante-Nicene, etc. id., at 324 col. 2.)

Why the alterations in the English translation? To obscure from us the truth that Paul was often perceived negatively and inferior to follow.

And this quote's fuller context proves that Tertullian's "scornful" appellation of "apostle of the heretics" is aimed at Paul. For Tertullian is paraphrasing Paul from Galatians, identifying the author of Galatians (i.e., Paul) as the "apostle of the heretics." Of this there is no doubt, as Leitzman, Manen and Schaff in the quotes above agreed. Hengel likewise concurs that it is a "fact that he [i.e., Paul] is called haereticorum apostolus...." in Tertullian's Against Marcion at 3:6:4. (Martin Hengel, Paul: Between Antioch and Damascus: The Unknown Years at 321.) (For more on Tertullian's quote, see my reply to a critic's article "Was Paul The Apostle of the Heretics?")

Now such a scornful appellation for Paul does not mean Tertullian did not often treat Paul kindly when he found many edifying things in Paul's words or life. I also endorse this approach toward Paul as proper and fair. Indeed, Paul's words are often edifying, such as in his speech about love. But in the main, Paul's 'difficult to understand words' (if we are polite like Second Peter) make Paul the "apostle of the heretics," i.e., his words are a support to those who diverge from the true faith which Jesus taught.

7. Elcesaites - Reject Paul

Ferdinand Bauer in Church History of the First Three Centuries (1879) Vol. 2 at 270 states:

Another characteristic trait preserved in Eusebius, E.H. 6:38, where he quotes from a homily of Origen, on Psalm lxxxii, the doctrine of an Elcesaite, that he rejects the apostle Paul.

The Elcesaites began at the time of Trajan at Rome. (Trajan was emperor 98 A.D-117 A.D.).

Their "period of influence extended from about 100 to 400" A.D. ("Eclesaites," Jewish Encyclopedia.)

They must be regarded as Jewish because they expressly insisted on "the rule of the Law," and held that "the faithful must be circumcised and live according to the Law" (Hippolytus, "Hæreses," ix. 14). Special emphasis was laid on the observance of the Sabbath (l.c.ix. 16), and the turning of the face toward Jerusalem during prayer (Epiphanius,l.c.xix. 3). At the same time they asserted that sacrificing had not been enjoined upon the Patriarchs, and condemned it altogether (compare Uhlhorn, "Homilien und Recognitionen," p. 396). ("Eclesaites," Jewish Encyclopedia.)

Samuel Coleridge's Encyclopedia Metropolitania (Fellowes: 1845) at 139 provides this synopsis of this sect which is based upon the characterization of an opponent -- Epiphanius:

The Elcesaite were followers of Elxai, (sometimes Sect arising called Elxxus and sometimes Elcesai,) who lived in the time of Trajan.  [Elxai was] educated in the Jewish faith, acquainted with the Christian Religion, ....

Attached to Jewish notions, the Elcesaitas turned towards Jerusalem in their prayers, kept the Sabbath, practised circumcision, and observed other ceremonies ; but, retaining little, if any, entire part of the Old Testament, they expressed detestation of Sacrifices, which they maintained had never been offered by the ancient Patriarchs. Though they believed in the existence of one unbegotten and Supreme Being, (whom they thought to honour by frequent purifications,) they contended, that external compliance with idolatrous rites was irreprehensible, as long as the inward mind remained uninfluenced. They regarded it, therefore, as the part of an intelligent man, on trying occasions, to renounce his faith in words, provided he preserved it in his heart.

It has been doubted whether the Elcesaitae ought to be reckoned among the Christian or the Pagan Sects; and Epiphanius acknowledges his uncertainty on that point. They spoke, indeed, of Christ as of a great King, representing him as clothed in a human but invisible form, of stupendous dimensions ; but it is not clear whether they applied the title to our Lord or to some expected Messiah. Since, however, as we learn from Origen they retained various passages of the New Testament, (though they rejected the whole of St. Paul's, Epistles,) it must, we think, be concluded, that they had partially admitted the Christian Religion.

The Jewish Encyclopedia depicts their baptism in a way that indirectly snipes at Christian practices as reflecting paganism but in most ways is normative Christian practice:

The Christo-Messianology of the book is very ambiguous. The Messiah is conceived, on the one hand, as an angel of giant dimensions, a concept that recalls Shi'ur ?omahin the Cabala, and Adam in the Haggadah; and, on the other hand, the doctrine of the continuous incarnation of the Messiah from Adam to Jesus (seeAdam ?admon) is taught. [NOTE: The "eternal Son of God" notion of Roman Catholicism later relied upon a similar notion.] A strongly marked naturalistic-pagan element is found in the prescribed ablutions which among the Elcesaites answered to the Christian baptism . Water was held sacred by them—an ancient pagan conception widely spread, especially in Babylonia (Anz, "Ursprung des Gnostizismus," pp. 99et seq.); hence the Elcesaites preached not only forgiveness of all sins with the new baptism , but also enjoined ablutions against madness, consumption, and possession. During baptism they invoked, besides God and His son , the great king , also heaven, earth, water, oil, and salt, representing the five elements, according to the ancient Semitic conception. It may also be gathered from Hippolytus' quotations from the book of the Elcesaites that astrology and magic were prominent in their religion. The doctrine of Elcesai is as follows: "There exist wicked stars of impiety. This declaration is now made by us: O ye pious ones and disciples, beware of the power of the days of the sovereignty of these stars, and engage not in the commencement of any undertaking during the ruling days of these." The Sabbath is important as "one of those days during which prevails the power of these stars." For a similar astrological reason no work must be begun on the third day from the Sabbath—Monday (Hippolytus,l.c.). The asceticism of this sect, which forbade the eating of meat , but maintained the sanctity of marriage , must be noted. ("Eclesaites," Jewish Encyclopedia.)

They were allies of the Essenes and Nazarenes:

According to Epiphanius, Elcesai and his brother Jexai had joined the Ossæans, probably identical with the Essenes, who, as well as the related sect of the Nazarites, recognized Elcesai's authority. They lived in the region beyond the Jordan, offering no sacrifices, and condemning the use of meat. ("Eclesaites," Jewish Encyclopedia.)

Hence, in sum, the Eclesaites:

  • accepted God and His Son Jesus, the great King;
  • God was one, and unbegotten;
  • Jesus had a pre-existence as Messiah, generated since Adam;
  • Baptism was in the name of God and His Son;
  • Jesus as Messiah was clothed in human flesh but also in an invisible form;
  • The Law remained valid
  • Sabbath must still be followed
  • Circumcision of the faithful was still valid.
  • Forbade sacrifice;
  • Forbade eating meat;
  • Marriage was sacred; and
  • Paul's writings were to be rejected.

8. Macarius Magnes ca. 300

Macarius Magnes, Apocriticus, III.30-36 (ca. 300) presents a hypothetical debate between a Paul advocate and a Paul critic. The defenses of Paul are far weaker than the critic's argument, and thus Magnes appears to be overall criticizing Paul. Here is how Magnes writes derisively of Paul's inconsistencies when talking of the Law:

[Paul] says, ‘As many as are under the Law are under a curse’ (Gal 3:10). The man who writes to the Romans, ‘The Law is spiritual’ (7:14), and again, ‘The Law is holy and the commandment holy and just’ (7:12), places under a curse those who obey that which is holy!... In his Epistles … he praises virginity (I-Tim 4:1, I-Cor 7:25), and then turns round and writes, ‘In the latter times some shall depart from the faith,... forbidding to marry’ (I-Tim 4:1-3).... And in the Epistle to the Corinthians he says, ‘But concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord’ (I-Cor 7:25).

9. Methodius Circa 311 A.D.

Methodius, bishop of a see somewhere in Lycia, perhaps at Olympus wrote of Paul: ‘You should not be upset by the sudden shifts in Paul’s arguments, which give the impression that he is confusing the issue or dragging in irrelevant material or merely wool-gathering.... In all his transitions he never introduces anything that would be irrelevant to his teaching; but gathering up all his ideas into a wonderfully harmonious pattern, he makes all bear on the single point which he has in view.’ (Symposium III, 3.) (Quoted in Henry Chadwick, The Enigma of St. Paul. The Ethel M. Wood Lecture delivered before the University of London on 27 February 1968 (London: The Athlone press, 1969) at 5.)

10. Chrysostum - Says Paul Not Well Known

Chrysostum [ca. 398 AD] "writes in his Preface he wishes he [i.e., Paul] was better known for some are so ignorant of him that they do not know exactly the number of his epistles." (Nathaniel Lardner, Andrew Kippis, The Works of Nathaniel Lardner (1815) Vol. 2 at 605.)

11. Jerome Believed Paul Lied About Peter (Reflected in Augustine's 394 & 397 A.D. Letters)

Augustine of Hippo, Letter 28, to Jerome (394 AD) in response to Jerome apparently saying Paul contradicts and attributes to one of the 12 falsehood or error (i.e., to Peter), then Augustine warns all of the NT collapses:

"I have been reading also some writings ascribed to you, on the Epistles of the Apostle Paul. In reading your exposition of the Epistle to the Galatians,... most disastrous consequences must follow upon our believing that anything false is found in the sacred books: that is to say, that the men by whom the Scripture has been given to us and committed to writing, did put down in these books anything false.... For if you once admit into such a high sanctuary of authority one false statement as made in the way of duty, there will not be left a single sentence of those books which, if appearing to any one difficult in practice or hard to believe, may not by the same fatal rule be explained away, as a statement in which intentionally and under a sense of duty, the author declared what was not true.... If indeed Peter seemed to (Paul) to be doing what was right, and if notwithstanding, he, in order to soothe troublesome opponents, both said and wrote that Peter did what was wrong— if we say thus,... nowhere in the sacred books shall the authority of pure truth stand sure."

|Letter 40, to Jerome (397 AD) - in response to Jerome  saying Paul is directly lying and falsely accusing Peter of error, Augustine says if true, how could anyone know when Paul was telling the truth:

"If it be possible for men to say and believe that, after introducing his narrative with these words, ‘The things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not’, the apostle (Paul) lied when he said of Peter and Barnabas, ‘I saw that they walked not uprightly, according to the truth of the gospel’,... [then] if they did walk uprightly, Paul wrote what was false; and if he wrote what was false here, when did he say what was true?"|

12. Jerome's View That Paul Was A Hypocrite (Letter to Augustine, 404 A.D.)

Jerome, Letter 112, to Augustine (404):

"Porphyry ... accuses Paul of presumption because he dared to reprove Peter and rebuke him to his face, and by reasoning convict him of having done wrong; that is to say, of being in the very fault which he himself, who blamed another for transgressing, had committed.... Oh blessed Apostle Paul— who had rebuked Peter for hypocrisy, because he withdrew himself from the Gentiles through fear of the Jews who came from James—why are you, notwithstanding your own doctrine, compelled to circumcise Timothy (Acts 16:3), the son of a Gentile, nay more, a Gentile himself?"


Incidentally, these words were related to a distinct question of what explained Paul's account in Gal. 2:11-14 that he  dressed down Peter at Antioch. Jerome adopted what Origen had previously endorsed because if all apostles are equally inspired, and assuming Paul is, then such a conflict is impossible without disproving the assumption that all apostles are equally inspired.  So Jerome accepted Origen's solution that joint deception explains how Peter and Paul were actually in 100% agreement. As Trumball explains what Origen taught about Gal. 2:11-14: "Origen specifically claimed that the apostles Peter and Paul agreed together to deceive their hearers at Antioch by simulating a dissension between themselves, when in reality they were agreed." (H.J. Trumball, A Lie Never Justifiable (1856) Trumball's footnote to this was: 

Footnote 3: Gal. 2: 11-14. A concise statement of the influence
of this teaching of Origen on the patristic interpretations of the
passage in Galatians, is given by Lightfoot in his commentary on
Galatians, sixth edition, pp. 128-132.]

Hence, Origen claimed that both apostles lied and deceived others rather than Paul was led by God to embarass and publicly decry Peter as a sinner. Augustine replied to Jerome that this "implied approval of deceit and falsehood," as Trumbull summarizes it. See link. Eventually, Jerome came around to an explanation consistent with Augustine that Peter was not being deceptive. But this left unresolved how Paul, if he were a true apostle, and so was Peter, could find fault and censure another apostle if they were both simultaneously inspired at all times by the Holy Spirit.

A. Jerome's Reply To Augustine Preserved by Abelard: Insists Paul Was Hypocrite In Peter Incident

Peter Abelard, Sic et Non (1120 AD):

"Writing in reply to St. Augustine, after he had been brought to task by Augustine concerning the exposition of a certain spot in Paul's Epistle to the Galatians, Jerome said (Epist.112.4), ‘You ask why I have said in my commentary on Paul's letter to the Galatians that Paul could not have rebuked Peter for what he himself had also done. And you asserted that the reproof of the Apostle was not merely feigned, but true guidance, and that I ought not to teach a falsehood. I respond that ... I followed the commentary of Origen.'"


Both Jerome and Origen acknowledged that Paul lied, but apparently did not regard it as sin, as Augustine intepreted their answer. Later, Jerome acknowledge that if Paul lied, it would be a sin. See H. Clay Trumbull, A Lie Never Justifiable.

B. Aquinas Summarizes The Jerome Criticism of Paul

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I-II, Q.103, Art.4, Reply Obj.2 (1272  AD):

"According to Jerome, Peter [in Gal 2:6-14] withdrew himself from the Gentiles by pretense, in order to avoid giving scandal to the Jews, of whom he was the Apostle; hence he did not sin at all in acting thus. On the other hand, Paul in like manner made a pretense of blaming him, in order to avoid scandalizing the Gentiles, whose Apostle he was. But Augustine disapproves of this solution [offered by Jerome]."

13. Jerome's Low View of Paul in 411 A.D.

Jerome severely criticizes Paul for lack of clarity, and giving feints difficult to understand. Jerome translated the Greek NT in 411 A.D. into the Latin Vulgate. Jerome in his Commentary on Galatians and Ephesians wrote:

"Paul does not know how to develop a hyperbaton [i.e., a change of normal word order for emphasis], nor to conclude a sentence; and having to do with rude people, he has employed the conceptions, which, if, at the outset, he had not taken care to announce as spoken after the manner of men, would have shocked men of good sense." (Gaussen, Theopneusty (1844): 119 quoting Comm. Galatians Bk 11, titl. Bk 1, i.1; and Comm. Ephesians Bk. 11: 3.1; also quoted in Methodist Review at 602.)

In other words, Paul is difficult to understand, as Second Peter says. Paul's writing and grammar is atrocious to decipher. And his arguments use terrible and shocking analysis that requires one to pick apart what he says to prevent him from meaning the opposite of what he is saying. Thus, one may be able to untangle Paul's word meanings, Jerome seems to imply, but it is very rough going. Obviously, basing doctrine on Paul was regarded as precarious in the early church.

14. Abelard, 1142 AD, Say Paul At Odds With What Christ Approved

Peter Abelard, Letters of Direction (before 1142 AD):

"We know of course that when writing to the Thessalonians the Apostle [Paul] sharply rebuked certain idle busybodies by saying that ‘A man who will not work shall not eat.’... But was not Mary sitting idle in order to listen to the words of Christ, while Martha was ... grumbling rather enviously about her sister's repose?"

15. Indirect Proof From Early Orthodox Doctrines

Another way to prove the low opinion of Paul in the early orthodox church is to examine the prevalant doctrines within that early church. We have demonstrated elsewhere that Marcion (ca. 144 A.D.) advanced all of Paul's views -- predestination, eternal security, faith alone, the abrogation of the Law of Moses, and finally that Jesus "appeared to have human flesh" (Phil. 2:7), but did not actually have such flesh, etc. However, Paul's views in the mouth of Marcion were uniformally rejected in the early church. See "Tertullian Criticizes Every Pauline Doctrine of Marcion" at JWO:402 et seq.

Then, without ever naming Paul, all his peculiar doctrines which had no foundation in Christ's teachings were rejecting uniformally in the pre-325 A.D. Church. See "Patristic Era Rejects Paul's Salvation Doctrine," at JWO:406 et seq.; "The Patristic Era Church Also Rejected Paul's Predestination Doctrine," at JWO:412 et seq.; "The Patristic Era Church Also Blasted Paul's Doctrine on Idol Meats," at JWO:415 et seq.

Also, see a webpage here entitled "Early Church View on Law given Moses" which shows the prevalent view in the early church prior to 325 A.D. endorsed the validity of the Law given Moses. This is completely opposite to Paul's view.

On the issue of salvation, scholars concur on the divergence between Paul and the Early Church as reflected in the gospels. For example, Guthrie (1871-1940), a Scottish-born Episcopalian, analyzed each of the gospels separately and found the early church writers emphasized morality as a key to salvation. See Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie, The soteriology of Jesus (Dunlap Printing Co., 1896) at 60. Matthew's and Luke's gospel set forth this same principle -- that repentance, morality, works etc., are criticial to salvation. Id., at 83 (Luke) and 90-92 (Matthew). While John's Gospel emphasized one must believe in Jesus for salvation (id., at 77), it did not say belief was the only requirement.

By contrast, Paul appears to emphasize that if one had faith, it was enough for salvation; and thus good works are merely a "desirable addition" to salvation. Id., at 61. Hence, Paul appears to teach that belief is the ONLY requirement, going far beyond the Gospel of John's stress on the importance of belief.

Thus what Paul taught was far in divergence from what the gospels were understood to teach in the early church.

The only explanation for this ignoring of Paul and rejection of his unique doctrines in the early church is that he had no weight in the early pre-325 A.D. church. Paul would be cited generally for agreeable sentiments, but not on anything that would teach repentance/works were merely a desirable addition to salvation. And the earliest writers -- Justin and Papias -- write as if they never heard of Paul!

16. A Mirror of Negative Comments in Chrysostum, 391 AD

Below are quotes from Chrysostom, an apologist for Paul, who is identifying criticisms that can be leveled at Paul from various statements in his epistles. Then Chrysostom tries to reply. These criticisms must have been circulating in the early church although rarely preserved. Tertullian was the exception because of the obviously greater need to fight Marcionism than be too concerned about his negative comments about Paul in Against Marcion. In the quotes below, Chrysostom offers palliatians to mollify negative opinions about Paul. However, as I will explain, they are typically weak and unconvincing ones. Thus, you must read commentators in the early church who promote Paul as sometimes representing a mirror reflecting back something you cannot see: the writings/views critical of Paul which were not being preserved with rare exception, e.g., Tertullian.

John Chrysostom, Homilies on Galatians (391 AD):

Gal. 2:2 [Critic of Paul paraphrased by Chrysostum] "What is this, Oh Paul! Thou who neither at the beginning nor after three years wouldest confer with the Apostles, do you now confer with them after fourteen years are past, lest you should be running in vain? Better would it have been to have done so at first, than after so many years; and why did you run at all, if not satisfied that thou were not running in vain? Who would be so senseless as to preach for so many years, without being sure that his preaching was true?...1

[My Comment: In context, Chrysostum will then argue that the reason Paul went to the see the apostles was due to revelation, and therefore it would supposedly have been folly for Paul to see the Apostles sooner than revelation directed him. However, such a statement makes no sense. Had Paul stayed away by revelation telling him NOT to go, it would make sense. But Paul says he went to see the apostles by revelation to do something which evidently was so long overdue God had to tell Paul to go! The excuse Chyrsostom makes is thus an obvious white-wash of what Chrysostom intelligently expressed in the quote above from an unnamed critic who saw as a flaw that Paul had not gone to visit the true apostles of Jesus Christ for so long.]

Gal. 2:6 But of those who seemed to be somewhat, whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me, God accepteth no man's person.

[Critic of Paul paraphrased by Chrysostum]: "Here he not only does not defend the Apostles, but even presses hard upon those holy men, for the benefit of the weak. His meaning is this: although they permit circumcision, they shall render an account to God, for God will not accept their persons, because they are great and in station. But he does not speak so plainly, but with caution.2

[My Comment: Chrysostom in reply to the critic says that Paul implies that the true apostles had given up the practice of circumcision. He bases this on the tense of "those who seemed to be somewhat, whatsoever they were." Supposedly the 'were' did not mean the status of apostle at a prior time (which is the obvious meaning) but the practice of circumcision now supposedly being universally abandoned even among the true apostles. In this way, Chrysostum tries to portray the 12 also accepted Paul's practice of giving up circumcision of even Jews. However, in Acts 21 we see James confronting Paul years after the Jerusalem Council, and telling him the prior policy of non-circumcision was only true for Gentiles, not Jews. James then seeks reconfirmation from Paul that it is not his policy to teach abrogation of the Law. Therefore, Chrysostom's excuse using "were" was grammatically and factually baseless.]

Gal. 5:11. And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution ?

[Chrysostum's point-of-view:]" "Observe how clearly he exonerates himself from the charge, that in many places he judaized and played the hypocrite in his preaching. He calls them as witnesses; for ye know, he says, that my command to abandon the Law is made the pretext for persecuting me. If I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? for this is the only charge which they of Jewish descent have to bring against me. Had I permitted them to receive the Faith, still retaining the customs of their fathers, neither believers nor unbelievers would have laid snares for me, seeing that none of their own usages were disturbed. What then! did he not preach circumcision ? did he not circumcise Timothy ? Truly he did. How then can he say, "I preach it not?" Here observe his accuracy; he says not, " I do not perform circumcision," but, " I preach it not," that is, I do not bid men so to believe. Do not therefore consider it any confirmation of your doctrine, for though I circumcised I did not preach circumcision."

[My Comment:  Chyrsostom's handling of this shows Paul is a quibbler of words as a means of not blatantly lying, and Chrysostom tries using this to prove Paul is honest. Obviously critics pointed to Paul as a hypocrite in the case of Timothy. Chrysostom's analysis is useful to prove in fact how hypocritical Paul truly was in the sense condemned by our Lord. For Chrysostom admits that Paul chose his words carefully. So Chrysostom says Paul does not preach circumcision even though, as in Timothy's case, he practiced it. Chrystostum conveniently overlooks 5:11 where Paul says the opposite, that he indeed is "still preaching circumcision, so why am I still being persecuted?" Paul engaged in double-speak and self-contradictions to confuse opponents and baffle defenders like Chrysostum on what basis they could defend Paul.

What is hard to fathom is how Chrysostom could conclude his own argument was a valid means to rebut a charge of hypocrisy. It required Chrysostum to simply contradict Paul in 5:11, and say Paul never preached circumcision; he merely practiced it. Such fine-line expressions of Paul prove hypocrisy: the listener had a right to expect that if Paul says he does not preach circumcision (which Paul contradicts in 5:11), then surely he would not teach circumcision needs to be sometimes performed. Such behavior is clearly hypocrisy as Jesus defined it! The outside of the cup is clean, but not the inside. They perform deeds conforming to the Law solely to be seen by MEN. That's Paul to a T! Yet, Chrysostum chose to defend Paul on that basis--on a sophistry distinction. Yet, the truth was that Chrysostum had to ignore / contradict Paul says in 5:11 he still "preaches circumcision."]

Roman Catholicism Switched To Favor Paul

Paul's ascendancy began in the 300s when the Roman Catholic Church had an emperor -- Constantine -- who wanted to abolish Sabbath. He wanted all worship on the Day of the Sun -- the day to worship Sol Invictus, the god of the Sun. From that time forward, canon was re-arranged to make Paul of first rank among the epistles. This reflected itself in manuscripts printed in the late 300s where Paul's position was changed:

The ancient manuscript order of the books of the "New Testament" has first the "Gospels" then "Acts" followed by the Jewish Epistles (Ya,akov (James); 1 & 2 Kefa (Peter); 1, 2 & 3 Yochanan (John) and Y'hudah (Jude)) followed by the Pauline epistles which are followed by Revelation. This order was rearranged by Rome in the Latin Vulgate in which the Pauline epistles were given first place and the Jewish epistles given second place. ("The Hebraic Roots Version of the New Testament.")

The consequence of this shift placed the emphasis on Paul, and off the true aspostles:

The original manuscript order had an important significance. It agreed with the precept that the message was to the Jews first and then to the Goyim (Gentiles). It also agrees with the concept that Ya'akov, Kefa and Yochanan were emissaries that come BEFORE Paul (Gal. 117) and with the concept that Kefa, Ya'akov and Yochanan served as three pillars which lend authority upon which Paul's message was built (Gal. 2:9) and not vice-versa. The reader of the NT was intended to read the "Jewish" epistles FIRST and then to read the Pauline epistles already having understood the Jewish epistles. The NT reader was intended to read Ya'akov's (James') admonition concerning faith and works (Ya'akov 2) as well as Kefa's warnings about Paul being difficult to understand and often twisted (1Kefa 315-16) etc. before ever attempting to understand the writings of Paul. The HRV follows the ancient manuscript order (which agrees also with the order of the ancient Aramaic manuscripts) in placing the "Jewish epistles" immediately after Acts and placing the Pauline Epistles AFTER them. Id.

Thus, by 396 AD, Augustine in his summary entitled "Christian Doctrine" from 396 AD quotes Paul 116 times to 69 times for Jesus. (And Jesus was quoted most often to try to confirm the Trinity doctrine.) Almost all of Christianity now was about Paul's rule that the Law is gone. See Augustine, On Christian Doctrine (N.Y.: Liberal Arts Press, 1955). What a far cry from Justin Martyr from 120 AD who wrote numerous books quoting only Jesus, and nothing from Paul. Not one quote!



The notion that the early church was ecstatic about Paul is a myth.

Email Comment

I enjoyed this page thoroughly. Thank you so much. I would like to suggest the addition of a VERY damning passage: Acts 9:26 in which the disciples (who we know were inspired by the Holy Spirit. Who we KNOW could recognize possessed humans and so know that they FELT the nature of a person's spirit) deny that Paul is one of them. Acts 9:26 reads: "And Saul, having come to Jerusalem, did try to join himself to the disciples, and they were all afraid of him, not believing that he is a disciple...." Thanks again and God Bless. Acts 9:26 would fit under point 1 (Acts Circa A.D. 80) very nicely.
John 20:22 Indicates that the original disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is one though resident in many and so should recognize itself. When Saul came by, post "conversion" (Acts 9:26) it didn't see itself in him at all. (Def 3/16/2013)

One Early Proponent Knew Paul's Letters
In the early church, the only writing that appears to know of Paul's epistles is the bishop Clement of Rome. For our synopsis of this letter's key points, see Clement - Letter to the Corinthians.