"Paul is the apostle of the heretics." Tertullian, Adversus Marcion 3:5 (207 A.D.)


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What Did Jesus Say? (2012) - 7 topics 

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Chapter Twenty-Six: Part 8

The Struggle For Mastery Over Doctrine: Jesus Or Paul?

Here is a key juncture for a Christian to make a decision. Who will you trust? Jesus or Paul?

On one side, you have Jesus saying ‘justification’ comes by repenting from sin in the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee. (See page 27 et seq.) Jesus in Luke 18:14 uses the same Greek work for “justified” that Paul uses in Romans 4:5: dikaio. (See Interlinear Scripture Analyzer, free for download off the Internet.)

However, on the other side, you have Paul saying in Romans 4:5 — and most of modern evangelical Christianity insists it is true — that one is justified in an ungodly state without repentance from sin by mere belief alone.

Who is right? Jesus or Paul?

The Case For Paul’s View of Justification

Well, Paul’s proof from Genesis 15:6 cited in Romans 4:3 turned out to be based on a mistranslation! Protestant scholars of pre-eminent status concur with Jewish commentators that the original Hebrew of Genesis 15:6 has Abraham as the one doing the reckoning, not God. The only exception to this is if we are compelled to let Paul serve as authority to rewrite Scripture. Yet, God prohibits anyone from having such authority. (Deut. 4:2; 13:1-5.)

The Case For Jesus’ View Of Justification

What is the case for Jesus’ words about justification by repentance-from-sin being more important than Paul’s views? That should be easy. Unfortunately, this is where so many are tripped up. They do not follow Christ as pre-eminent over Paul. So let’s go through this analysis carefully.

We know Jesus is above all. Even the greatest prophet (John the Baptist) compared himself to Jesus and realized his own words were nothing but as a mere man “speaking from the earth” in comparison to the words from Jesus. Prophet John explained why: the words from Jesus — the One who came “from above” — is “above all.” (John 3:31.)

In other words, Jesus’ words are superior to every other prophet from God! God thereby tests our allegiance.

Can We Reconcile This By Treating Paul As A More Valid ‘Dispensation’?

If you think instead that Paul has any equal or greater stature than your Lord, you have inverted things. You are using the “disciple to criticize the Master,” as Kierkegaard pointed out in 1855. This involves a fundamental error of how to regard Jesus in relation to anyone else.

It is clearly error to treat Paul’s words equally as important or more important than Jesus’ words. Jesus told you not to do this even as to a true apostle. (John 13:16, “the apostolos is not more important than the one who sent him.”)

To those who balk, and still insist they must force an agreement between Jesus and Paul, I reply: you absolutely have no Biblical basis for doing so. For Jesus never called Paul an apostle. It is a pure myth that Jesus ever did so! Tertullian pointed this out in 207 A.D.

Tertullian On The Lack Of Corroboration To Paul’s Claim Of Apostleship

Tertullian was confronting heretics (Marcion) who were citing Paul to prove salvation by mere belief without obedience. (See page 578 et seq.) Tertullian said it was trou-bling that such reliance was being put upon one (Paul) of whom there is not the slightest proof in the four Gospels or Acts that Jesus ever called him (Paul) an apostle. Yes, Jesus called Paul a witness (martus in Greek). But Jesus never once called Paul an apostle (apostolos in Greek).63 Thus, there is no basis to give Paul whatever authority is assumed to be enjoyed by the twelve apostles. Here is Tertullian in book five, chapter one, of Against Marcion (207 A.D.) rebuffing this zeal for Paul’s words ahead of Christ’s words:

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:....64

Luke Too Denies Paul The Very Office Paul Claimed

Luke likewise in Acts made it evident there were only twelve apostles for all time, and this excluded Paul. Never does Paul claim in Acts to be an apostle of Jesus. Never do the apostles in Acts describe Paul as an apostle. Nor does Jesus in the three vision accounts in Acts chapters 9, 22 and 26 ever call Paul an apostle. Jesus says Paul will be a martus — a witness, not an apostolos — which means messenger.

The self-serving flaw in Paul’s claim to being an apostle has been recognized by reputable Pauline scholars. For example, John Crossan and Jonathan Reed, in their latest work of 2004 explain:

[I]n all his letters, Paul sees himself as an apostle sent from God through Christ. The very vocation for which Paul lives is denied him by Luke. He is, to be sure, an important mission-ary....But he is not an apostle equal to the Twelve.65

Furthermore, Crossan & Reed make the point that Luke’s story of how Matthias replaced Judas excludes the possibility of a thirteenth apostle such as Paul. They write:

Luke insists in Acts 1 that, after Jesus’ resurrection, there were still, always, and only ‘the twelve apostles.’...For Luke, Paul is simply not an apostle.66 Without Matthias’ explicit selection, one might have imagined that Luke’s Paul was at least implicitly Judas’ replacement as the twelfth apostle. With it, Luke implies that Paul was not an apostle and could never be one....[H]e could never be the one thing Paul always insisted that he was, namely, an apostle sent by God through a revelation of the risen Lord. (Id., at 29.)

Jesus Agrees That Twelve Is the Only Number of Apostles

Years after Paul is already dead and after the original eleven apostles already selected Matthias as the twelfth, Jesus reveals to Apostle John in the Book of Revelation that twelve is the number of apostles for all time. This verse in Revelation 21:14 follows the mention of the twelve gates of the New Jerusalem. Each gate has a name of the twelve tribes of Israel on it. Revelation 21:14 then says:

The city was built on twelve foundation stones. On each of the stones was written the name of one of the Lamb’s twelve apostles. (Rev. 21:14 CEV.)

There is a clear correspondence of one apostle for each of the twelve tribes, gates, and foundation stones. The number each time is only twelve. It implies there are not supposed to be more than twelve apostles. You cannot have thirteen or fourteen apostles judging the twelve tribes. Jesus made this clear during His earthly ministry as well. Jesus said the role of the twelve apostles was to “sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Matt. 19:28.)

What Weight Do Paul’s Self-Serving Statements Have?

Thus, the only person to say Paul is an apostle of Jesus Christ in the entire New Testament is Paul himself.67 Yet, we know that Jesus said if He alone bore witness to Himself, then His witness would be untrue. (John 5:31, “If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.”) Jesus was extending the Law’s principle, so that two witnesses were necessary to establish not only a wrong, but also anything as important as God sending someone for a special role.68 In fact, Jesus in Revelation 2:2 clearly agrees a self-serving claim to be His apostle is insufficient proof that you are His apostle.69 Therefore, Paul’s claim to being an apostle suffers from being self-serving. By a Biblical standard from Jesus Himself, Paul’s self-witness “is not true.”

Hence, the notion that Paul is an apostle solely comes from Paul’s own epistles. But Jesus told us no one can be their own self-witness for then their witness is “not true.” (John 5:31, “If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.”)

NT Era Solution To Paul’s Verses On Belief Alone

An early answer within the church to this identical quandary of Paul’s belief alone verses (at least as ‘twisted by some’) was to regard such problem verses in Paul as “difficult to understand.” (Self-contradiction causes uncertainty.)

Hence, the early church taught these belief alone passages were an impermissible basis to stray from what Jesus — our Sole Teacher (Matt. 23:8,10) and Divine Lord — taught us. Second Peter bluntly provides this solution.

Second Peter warned us that Paul says many things that are “difficult to understand” (2 Peter 3:17) and many people twist Paul’s words so that they fall from their “steadfastness in Christ” to their own destruction.70

Second Peter continues and makes clear that it is talking about the doctrines of Paul that are a cheap grace — that lead Christians to think accepting Christ one time allows you to sin later and still go to heaven.71 If you follow the belief alone implication that lets go of obedience for salvation, Second Peter says you stop following Jesus. You lose your “steadfastness” in Christ.

In fact, what is remarkable is how clear this is explained in Second Peter 2:20-21. For it unequivocally says in Greek that it would have been better you never had accepted (epi-ginoska, not merely ginoska) the Lord Jesus Christ than to have accepted (epi-ginoska) Him, and then be overcome again later by sinning.72

Apostle John likewise used epignosei to refer to a saving epi-gnosis as long as it continues. Apostle John said anyone who “epignosei [continuous tense, present participle active] — keeps on accepting — the Son also has the Father.” (1 John 2:23.)

This tells us that Second Peter — which uses the same epignosei — says it would be better to have never had the Son and Father by epignose-ing the Son than to have had them but then be tripped up by a doctrine that licenses sin as salvation-wise safe, and then become lost again.

Unfortunately, rather than heed Second Peter, most evangelicals are subjected to translators who torture Second Peter 2:20-21 so it is neutralized from undermining their ‘free to sin and yet be saved’ doctrine. This teaching is known as Eternal Security which they deduce from Paul’s writings.

Translation Of Second Peter To Obscure Its Meaning

For Second Peter is translated typically so that it no longer speaks about those who “accepted” Jesus. Second Peter really says those accepting Him are falling from salvation due to demoralizing doctrine. In 2 Peter 2:20-21, it ordinarily is translated so that supposedly people who merely knew about Jesus fell away by being taught there is a “liberty” to sin as a Christian. Yet, if Second Peter had meant that persons who merely knew about Jesus are at issue, the proper word to use would have been ginoska (know). It certainly would not be epi-ginosko. A Greek would understand the verb epi-ginosko due to the prefix epi is intended to intensify the verb to know.73 Hence, it could only mean accept or acknowledge in this context.

The effect of the inconsistency is that the reader is misled. The uninformed Christian is led to think Second Peter is concerned about those who never have accepted/acknowledged Christ but merely know about Him. Yet, Second Peter is truly warning those who have accepted Christ unto a saving relationship with the Father and Son that they do not realize that it would be better never to have accepted Christ than to listen to a ‘twisting of Paul’s words,’ and be seduced thereby to think that sinning is salvation-safe. Second Peter means it is not possible for a Christian to safely accept such a liberty to sin even when Paul appears to say so.

How Could It Be Better Never To Have Accepted Christ?

Then what does Second Peter mean? Obviously, the only way it would be better never to have accepted Christ is that you not only go to hell, but also you receive extra lashes for knowingly flaunting Jesus’ commands based on being led astray by passages in Paul’s writings. Did Jesus ever teach this extra-lashes principle, thus strengthening this reading? Yes, He did!

Jesus taught this in Luke’s Gospel. He spoke about what will happen to disobedient servants of His. Jesus says the ones who actually knew His will but did not do it receive more lashes than the ones who are disobedient but ignorant of His will. Both types of disobedient servants are in hell, but the ones who receive a worse whipping are the ones who knew their Lord’s will and still disobeyed:

And that servant, who knew his lord’s will, and made not ready, nor did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes; (48) but he that knew not, and did things worthy of stripes,74 shall be beaten with few stripes. And to whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required: and to whom they commit much, of him will they ask the more. (Luke 12:47-48.)

What should have been the modern response to Second Peter? It should have put us on alert to any and everything Paul says. There is a fatal and destructive message that can be construed from Paul’s writings, Second Peter says. This message is identified as a message of “liberty.” In context, it is obvious the misleading message is what we call today faith alone doctrine. This alone part of the label signifies that no disobedience can destroy your salvation. Faith alone supposedly does it all for you. Second Peter yet warns a double dose of damnation for those so duped. For you have accepted the Son, but later became seduced by passages in Paul to break “the holy commandments.” (2 Peter 2:21.) Yet, you knew the Lord Jesus’ will was very different. You knew Jesus said ‘repent or perish,’ and ‘heaven maimed or hell whole’ (Mark 9:42-47). Now, for flagrantly disregarding the Lord’s will, you will suffer a double portion in hell. That’s what Second Peter is bluntly saying.

Jerome’s Low View Of Paul’s Writings Akin To Second Peter

Another confirmation that we are reading Second Peter correctly is to examine Jerome’s comments about Paul. 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: 119 quoting Comm. Galatians Bk 11, titl. Bk 1, i.1; and Comm. Ephesians Bk. 11: 3.1.) In other words, unless you read Paul with extreme care, he is unintelligible and appears contradictory of good sense. One can untangle it, Jerome seems to imply. Yet, Jerome also implies it is very difficult treading to do so. Obviously, basing doctrine on Paul was regarded as precarious in the early church.

What Do We Do With Paul’s Cheap Grace Verses?

Then what of the cheap grace verses in Paul such as Romans 4:5? For the one following Christ, this is no problem. For we follow Christ, and always remember His words are above all — as the great prophet John the Baptist said.

Thus, we can take the wise path laid out by Second Peter. It warned us that we can never safely reject Jesus’ doctrine. If we do so, even if it is in reliance on Paul’s “difficult to understand” cheap grace verses, we will fall from our steadfastness in Christ.

Second Peter was telling us that twisting the costly-grace Paul to become the cheap-grace Paul is a waste of a Christian’s time and energy. Study the Master — your one and only Teacher (Matt. 23:10) — just as the Master taught. To spend time trying to make the Master who taught a costly-grace Gospel to match a disciple (Paul) when the disciple cheapens the price of salvation is to invert their relationship. Such an approach makes the disciple the Master, and the Master his inferior, as Kierkegaard warned. God forbid!

Continue to Part 9 -- last section.


62.See “Justification In the Law of Moses” on page 33 and “Justification In The Prophets” on page 34 et seq.

63.This is thoroughly examined in my prior book, Jesus’ Words Only (2007) at 215-220 and 408-421.

64.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.

65.John Crossan & Jonathan Reed, In Search of Paul: How Jesus’ Apostle Opposed Rome’s Empire with God’s Kingdom (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 2004) at 29.

66.Luke does describe Paul and Barnabas as messengers from the church at Antioch. In Acts 14:4 and 14, the Greek word for messenger is used for them, apostoli. However, as the Christian historian Ben Withering-ton explains: “The use of the term apostoli in [Acts] 14:4 and 14 seems to indicate that Paul and Barnabas are being viewed as agents/apostles of the Antioch church (cf. 2 Cor. 8:23), not apostles with a capital A.” (Witherington, New Testament History (Baker Academic: 2001) at 229.) In fact, the context clearly shows Paul with Barnabas were merely messengers (apostolos) of the church of Antioch.

67.See, e.g.,1 Cor. 1:1; 2 Cor. 1:1; Galatians 1:1; 1 Ti. 1:1. See, viz., “For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” (1 Cor. 15:9, ASV) and “For I reckon that I am not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles.” (2 Cor. 11:5, ASV.)

68.The Law said that no crime or wrong could be established by a single witness. (Deut. 19:15, “any crime or any wrong”). Jesus taught in event of a dispute over a wrong, obtain witnesses so by “the mouth of two witnesses or three every word may be established.” (Mat 18:16.) Why must this principle apply to would-be apostles? Because without two witnesses with competent knowledge, one’s claim is entirely self-serving.

69.Revelation 2:2 specifically says the persons on trial “said” they were apostles and the Ephesians properly found these persons were nevertheless still liars. Thus, Jesus implied such a self-serving statement of being His apostle does not suffice. Jesus says the claimants were appropriately found to be liars. Therefore, Jesus’ own words in Revelation 2:2 agree that self-serving testimony cannot ever be the basis to treat someone as an apostle of Jesus Christ.

70.Second Peter says:

“And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also, according to the wisdom given to him, wrote unto you; (16) as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; wherein are some things hard to be understood, which the ignorant and unstedfast wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. (17) Ye therefore, beloved, knowing these things beforehand, beware lest, being carried away with the error of the wicked, ye fall from your own stedfastness.” (2Pe 3:15-17 ASV.)

71.Second Peter goes on and clearly specifies what is the wrong teaching of those who ‘twist’ Paul. They promise that you have liberty in Christ to sin and remain saved. Second Peter says: “(17) These are springs without water, and mists driven by a storm; for whom the blackness of darkness hath been reserved. (18) For, uttering great swelling words of vanity, they entice in the lusts of the flesh, by lasciviousness, those who are just escaping from them that live in error; (19) promising them liberty, while they themselves are bondservants of corruption; for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he also brought into bondage. (20) For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the epignosei knowledge [acceptance] of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein and overcome, the last state is become worse with them than the first. (21) For it were better for them not to have epiginosko known [accepted] the way of righteousness, than, after knowing [sic: accepting] it, to turn back from the holy commandment delivered unto them. (22) It has happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog turning to his own vomit again, and the sow that had washed to wallowing in the mire.” (2Pe 2:17-22 ASV.) The word epignosei and epignosko used in verses 20 and 21 is often mistranslated as knowledge and know respectively. Yet, not one dictionary definition of epignosei includes knowledge. The Greek prefix epi is meant to convey ‘above the norm, over and above.’ The prefix epi thus intends to intensify ginosko. Thus, Vines says its primary meaning is “to know thoroughly (epi, ‘intensive’ [of] ginosko, ‘to know.’”) Thus, the definition is some meaning beyond mere knowledge. Moreover, to suggest these people “escaped...through [mere] knowledge” of Jesus the evils of the world is silly. These people escaped the miasmata, meaning “defilement, stain of guilt” of the kosmos. These must be Christians. Thus, epignosei obviously is intended to convey that meaning. What epignosei means in the LSJ Middle Lexicon is essentially (1) to look upon, observe; or (2) “recognize, know again, to acknowledge or approve...[iii] to come to a decision, to resolve, decide.” The most obvious English synonym that fits the context is “acceptance” and “accept” in verses 20 and 21. Incidentally, Paul uses epignosei in the same manner in Titus 1:1 about what saves. There the KJV translates it correctly as “acknowledging [i.e., accepting] the truth.” The same is true of 1 John 2:23 which is discussed in the text.

72.See Footnote 71, page 502. 73.See Footnote 71, page 502.

73. [Deleted.]

74.We need to tremble because this teaches ignorance of the Law is no excuse. As Lisco says, “even sins which are committed in ignorance are punishable for ignorance itself is guilt. All the subjects of a kingdom are under an obligation to make themselves acquainted with its laws, and misconduct from neglect is punishable guilt.” Lisco: 254.