Did Paul Have An Enormous Self-Image?
Paul said many things that are so far from humble that one must truly wonder. It appears Paul had an enormous ego. This is important in many ways, but in particular to determine whether Habakkuk 2:2-6 is a prophecy about Paul, as we contend elsewhere. For Habakkuk prophesies of an end-times figure, a man of pride, who like SHL (the spelling of Paul's name Saul) gathers all nations / Gentiles to himself in competition with the true God's plans for His people.
Colossians: Paul Makes Up In His Suffering What Lacked In Christ's Suffering
Let's begin by looking at Colossians 1:24 NIV which has Paul affirm Jesus' affliction for the church is lacking but Paul makes up for such lack by his own affliction for the church. Here are a couple of pertinent versions:
24 Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. (NIV)
Now I’m happy to be suffering for you. I’m completing what is missing from Christ’s sufferings with my body. I’m doing this for the sake of his body, which is the church. (Col 1:24, CEB)
As Robert Roberg says in Did Paul Preach Another Gospel? (2009) at 58:
Paul apparently felt Yahshua had failed in some respect and God chose Paul to finish the work of salvation.
Paul defenders admit the issue. David May in Colossians (2000) at 71 asks: "Does it suggest that Jesus' sufferings were insufficient to bring salvation and that Paul is in the process of making up for [this deficiency]?"
While Paul-defenders engage in blanket denials that this was Paul's meaning, e.g., "in this verse, Paul is not saying that Christ's death was insufficient" (NKJV Study Bible (2008) at 1887), they do not give articulate reasons to think Paul is saying anything else. They typically explain that Paul does not mean Christ's sufferings were "insufficient" to save us, but instead only that Christians must "encounter trials and difficulties in promoting the kingdom." (New Englander (1844) Vol. 2 at 581.)
However, none of that explanation wrestles in what sense was Paul "completing" the sufferings of Christ which were otherwise "lacking" or "missing" something. Thus, a plain reading of Col 1:24 presents an obvious spiritually prideful statement from Paul that he was making up in his own sufferings what supposedly was not complete in what Christ did for us. This will not be the last prideful statement we find from Paul.
Paul's Spirit Could Be Present With Believers Elsewhere Just Like Christ's Spirit Could Be
Paul also viewed that his spirit was wherever believers gathered, much like Jesus said where two or more are gathered together, He is with us. While in Jesus' case, as the Shekinah dwelled in Jesus, this was justified. In Paul's case, not so much. Paul claimed his presence in spirit authorized their gathering to hand one over to Satan to destroy the flesh:
3 For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this. 4 So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5 hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh,[a][b] so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord. (1 Cor. 5:3-5 NIV.)
Paul Asks Us To Stand Firm In His Teaching, Not Christ's
Paul likewise does not tell his followers to listen to the words of Jesus, but instead to stand fast in what Paul taught in his epistles or in person. Those epistles contain no quotes of Jesus but the liturgy and one problematic refusal by Paul's Jesus to release Paul from demonic torment in 2 Corinthians 12:7. Paul here tells us to feed only on a 99.999% Christless Paul:
15 So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings[a] we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. (2 Tim. 2:15 NIV.)
Paul Says Not To Fellowship With Those Who Do Not Follow Paul's Teaching
In a similar vein, Paul made his teaching the criteria whether one would associate with another one who was a Christian rather than what Christ taught (which is never quoted in Paul's letters except twice as mentioned above):
6 In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching[a] you received from us. (2 Thess 3:6 NIV.)
Paul Elevated His Own Gospel "About" Jesus, and To Follow Paul (Not Jesus Per Se)
Paul made it very clear that "my gospel...about Jesus Christ" -- Paul's Gospel rather than the "Christ's gospel" -- is the one that saves and which God endorses:
25 Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, (1 Cor. 16:25 NIV.)
Rather than tell people to follow Jesus, as Jesus taught (Matt 4:19 "follow me"), Paul said:
16I call upon you, therefore, become ye followers of me; (1 Cor. 4:16 YLT.)
Paul Claimed He Was Set Apart At Birth to Reveal Jesus In Paul
Paul viewed that he was set apart at birth to reveal Jesus "in me" -- as if Jesus fully dwelled in Paul, like the Father dwelled in Jesus:
15 But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. 17 I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus. (Gal. 1:15-17 NIV.)
Paul Says Jesus Dwells in Paul
Paul said likewise Jesus dwelled in himself:
20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. (Gal. 2:20 NIV)
Paul Says Jesus' Crucifixion Crucified World to Paul, and Paul to World
Paul also taught the world was crucified unto Paul, and Paul was crucified unto the world:
14 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which[a] the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Gal. 6:14 NIV.)
Paul Bears Jesus' Crucifixion Wounds In Paul's Flesh
Paul explains he means he has crucifixion wounds in his flesh, apparently meaning his sufferings are equivalent to the sacrificial work of Christ on the cross:
17 From now on, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. (Gal. 6:17 NIV.)
This may explain Col 1:24 where Paul says Jesus' work was not complete until Paul completed it in his own flesh. See above. It also adds clarity to what Paul means by saying "I am crucified with Christ...for Christ lives in me." Gal. 2:20 NIV.
Paul Says He Is Not Below the 'Super-Apostles'
Also, Paul put down the apostles of Jesus, and placed himself above them, and proclaimed he strove to win favor by doing miracles but was disappointed that they did not commend him:
11 I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the “super-apostles,”[a] even though I am nothing. 12 I persevered in demonstrating among you the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles. (2 Cor. 12:11-12 NIV.)
Paul Blatantly Gives Litanies of Boasts
Paul gives a litany of boasts in 2 Corinthians 11:21-29 NIV, apparently sore about not being commended by the so-called 'super-apostles':
21 To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that!
Whatever anyone else dares to boast about—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast about. 22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. 23 Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?
Paul said it best what this reflects -- he talks "as a fool" and he is "out of my mind to talk like this."
Paul was unrestrained equally another time, with similar boasting, even insisting God's grace was "with me" in his much harder labors than others:
9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. (1 Cor. 15:9-10 NIV.)
If God was truly with Paul, we wonder if Paul would have suffered from such lack of humility, right?
Yet, it never stops with the Corinthians. Paul also wrote them:
18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. (1 Cor. 14:18 NIV.)
Paul also haughtily mocked men who quite harmlessly sought to be circumcised, and to teach others to do likewise to please God. Even if unnecessary if applied to themselves (which is unclear in context), did they deserve the following slam from Paul?
12 I wish that the people who are upsetting you would go all the way; let them go on and castrate themselves! (Gal. 5:12 Good News Bible. ISV God's Word)
This verse is typically mollified so that you would barely know it says "castrate themselves" in most editions. The NIV, NASB come close, saying "emasculate" themselves. The New Living is "mutilate themselves." But the ASV is they should "go beyond circumcision." A nice euphemism.
Paul Aggrandizes Himself By Saying He is The 'Light to Gentiles' as Prophesied by Isaiah
In Isaiah 49:6, the prophet is clearly only talking about Jesus. Yet, Paul claims he personally fulfilled the prophecy of one who would be a "light to the Gentiles." In Acts 13:47, we read Paul and Barnabas together say:
47 For thus the Lord has commanded us [in Isa 49:6]: ‘I have placed you fora light to the Gentiles, that you may be a light for salvation as far as the last place of the earth.” (Disciples Literal NT.)
But who is this about in Isaiah 49:6? Jesus or Paul & Barnabas?
Indeed, he says, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob,
and to restore the preserved of Israel?
I will also give you as a light to the nations,
that you may be my salvation to the end of the earth.” (WEB)
This prophecy is thus speaking about "my servant," and "you may be my salvation" as God "gives you as a light to the nations." This is clearly only about Jesus. Hence, this Acts 13:47 passage is ascribing to Paul a very high position -- a virtual Messiah, and not merely a supporter of Jesus.
Paul's self-aggrandizement is indirectly acknowledged in the evangalical modern classic by Bryan E. Beyer entitled Encountering The Book of Isaiah: A Historical and Theological Survey (Baker Academic, 2007) at page 195.
During the Apostle Paul's first missionary journey, he and Barnabas testified of Jesus to their audience at Antioch of Psidia. (Acts 13:14-50.) They cited themselves as the fulfillment of Isaiah 49:6; God had commissioned them as the light to the Gentiles (Acts 13:47.)
Thus both Paul and Barnabas depicted themselves as fulfilling a prophecy that directly dealt exclusively with the Messiah -- Jesus. This is nothing but arrogance.
Beyer tries to put a good spin on it, that these two simply were proving the prophecy applied to a "faithful remnant." But it applies to Jesus, not a "faithful remnant." This was thus read by Paul and Barnabas in a very self-aggrandizing way to make themselves very self-important.
It appears quite clear that Paul had an extremely elevated opinion of himself. In other words, Paul was clearly a proud man. This fits in well with our view that the prophecy of Habakkuk 2:2-5 is about Paul -- a prophecy of an end-times figure who is a "proud man" who gathers as SHL (Paul's name) all "nations" (Gentiles) to himself whose "faith" the "just shall live by" but who is working at cross-purposes with God. See our article "Is Habakkuk 2:2-5 A Prophecy About Paul?"
S. asked me to investigate Col. 1:24 on 4/8/2012 as follows:
I have not seen on your site the subject of Colossians 1:24 addressed. I find this to be a sticking point that Paul's admirers cannot answer. In that verse Paul says that Yahushua's sufferings were "lacking" and that his own sufferings make up for it. When confronted with this verse, most will say that we all suffer as "christians," but they can not give an answer when bluntly asked, "were Yahushua's sufferings lacking?" They can not answer because they know that they were not.
I heard a sermon today - November 25, 2012 --- where a pastor (whose first name was Steve) explains Col 1:24 as Christ's sufferings were sufficient for our atonement, but they were not complete in the sense of spreading the gospel. So to spread Christ's gospel, this pastor said we each make up for what is lacking in Christ's sufferings when we suffer to spread the gospel. And this underscores the problem of Paul: this pastor teaches us each to view ourselves as making up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the spreading of the gospel. Paul's pride is thereby instilled in us to be as prideful, and if you ask me it is blasphemous to suggest anything at all is lacking in the sufferings of Christ, let alone that any of us can do better and fulfill what Jesus's sufferings did not supposedly accomplish.
Paul's Ego-Centric Writings
Matthew P. offered his study on Paul's self-promoting verses, unlike the generally self-effacing words of Peter, Matthew, John, Luke, and James. As Matthew puts it:
I believe that none of these statements [below] are supported by any other witnesses, and in many cases there are witnesses in Scripture against Paul. Paul writes as if he does not need other witnesses to back him up, and his autobiographical testimony here overrides Jesus and everyone else. And as Evangelicals, we have been trained to unconsciously believe that and to treat every word of Paul, both in his letters and in Acts, in the same way as the words of Jesus.
These are not the commandments of God (or the testimony of Jesus.) But as Evangelicals, we are trained that they are. Neither Jesus nor anyone else in the Bible commands us to be all things to all men, or to imitate Paul or follow Paul's example, etc. (July 17, 2013)
Here is Matthew's collection of verses where Paul is talking about himself, his feelings, experiences, motives -- on and on:
a) I speak the truth in Christ - I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit - I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. [Romans 9]
b) I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry. [Romans 11]
c) I became your father. Therefore I urge you to imitate me. My way of life agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church. [1 Corinthians 4]
d) Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have already passed judgment. [1 Corinthians 5]
e) Everything is permissible for me. [1 Corinthians 6]
f) I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. [1 Corinthians 9]
g) Paul, an apostle - sent not from men or by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father. [Galatians 1]
h) I have been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews. [Galatians 2]
i) I plead with you brothers, become like me, for I became like you. [Galatians 4]
j) Let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. [Galatians 6]
k) I Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles... [Ephesians 3]
l) Join with others in following my example, brothers. [Philippians 3]
m) Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me - put it into practice. [Philippians 4]
n) Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. [Colossians 1]
o) Though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit, and delight to see how orderly you are and how firm your faith in Christ is. [Colossians 2]
p) The appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed - God is our witness. As apostles of Christ, we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. [1 Thessalonians 1]
q) We command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example.
r) I was appointed a herald and an apostle - I am telling the truth, I am not lying - and a teacher of the true faith to the Gentiles. [1 Timothy 2]
s) Through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. [2 Timothy 4]
t) Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ. [Titus 1]
u) Although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I appeal to you on the basis of love. [Philemon]
Arrogant Statements by Paul
A. 1 Cor. 2:14-15.
In 1 Cor. 2:14-15, Paul implies that those who reject what he is saying as foolishness proves they do not have the Spirit of God because if you had the Spirit (as Paul, the speaker implies he has), one would understand it. Thus, rather than prove what he is saying is true or wise or correct, Paul teaches you to reject anyone who disagrees with Paul as lacking God's spirit. Then Paul says the spiritual man cannot be appraised by anyone -- he is legitimately incorrigible. Listen to these impliedly arrogant comments in 1 Cor. 2:14-15 NASB:
14 But [a]a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually [b]appraised. 15 But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one.
A Pauline website -- Let God Be True - unwittingly indicts Paul when its Commentary on Proverbs 22:10 (against scorners) identifies what it means to be an arrogant scorner of the opinions of others. He writes:
Who is a scorner? An arrogant and opinionated person who resents correction, despises authority, and shows contempt for those trying to teach or warn him. A scorner is worse than a fool, since haughty defiance is worse than stubborn ignorance (Pr 26:12)
Is Paul arrogant? Is he opinionated? Does Paul resent correction? Does Paul despise correction? Does Paul show contempt for those who try to teach or warn him? Does Paul despise the authority of the 12 apostles who he snidely refers to as "super-apostles" whom Paul boasts "imparted nothing to me"?
The answer to all these issues is YES. Paul believes anyone who disagrees with him is lacking the Spirit of God. Paul shows contempt for those who say what he teaches is foolishness / wrong as an unspiritual person. Paul offers no opening to discuss his points. He tells those who are listening to him and trusting him to simply not to listen to anyone who disagrees. And the minions trusting Paul trust this arrogant stand to their personal spiritual detriment. For as Let God Be True says to suffer the scorner's guidance makes you "worse than a fool," because you have a "haughty defiance" which is worse than "stubborn ignorance."