This website is dedicated to giving answers

to questions about the Messiah

 

Should we wait for Him to come?

Has He come?

Will He come again?

Home.
Video.
Listen.
Read.
Comment.
Books.
Links.
Contact.

A Response To Asher Norman’s Book: ‘26 Reasons Why Jews Don’t Believe In Jesus’

—--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

Reason 16:  Paul was the source of Christian opposition to Jewish Law.

 

Did Paul invent Christianity?

 

Contents:

 

This chapter of Asher Norman’s book claims that ‘Christianity is the religion of Paul, not Jesus.’  He says that Paul arrived on the scene around 50 CE and then invented a new religion which deviated from the original teaching of Jesus.

 

We would strongly dispute the accuracy of this claim. Evidence from historical events placed alongside Paul’s letters and the book of Acts shows that this date for Paul’s conversion is way out and can only be arrived at by rewriting the text. The most probable date of Paul’s conversion is around 34 -36 CE.   Reasons for this date relate to references given in the New Testament to historical events.  In 2 Corinthians 11.32-33 Paul says that Aretas was the governor of Damascus at the time when he made his escape from that city following his conversion.  On the basis of historical evidence found in Josephus (Antiquities 18.5.3) and a coin found in Damascus bearing Aretas’ inscription, we can conclude that Aretas’ administration in Damascus was from around 37 – 40 CE.  

 

In Acts 18.12 we have a reference to Gallio who was proconsul in Achaea during Paul’s time in Corinth.  We know that Gallio was proconsul there for a short time, from about July 1, 51 CE to July 1, 52 CE.  Paul says he spent 18 months in Corinth after travelling through Asia (modern Turkey) and crossing into Greece.  Prior to this he had been in Jerusalem for the congress with James and Peter described in Acts 15.  On this basis this would have taken place probably early in 49 CE.  By the time of this event (which is one year before Asher Norman says Paul was converted) Paul was well into his ministry.  

 

According to Acts 24-25 Paul was taken before the Roman governors, Felix and Festus.  We know from Josephus that Festus succeeded Felix in 59 and died in 62.  According to Acts 27 Festus granted Paul’s request to be tried in Rome. After surviving a storm at sea on the way, Paul arrived in Rome and stayed there for two years (Acts 28.30).  This would take us up to around 62.  Acts ends quite abruptly without mentioning the fact that Paul was executed in Rome probably around 65.   This gives us reason to suppose that Acts was written around 62-64 CE.  For more on this see the article ‘When were the Gospels written?’

 

Is Christianity the religion of Paul?

 

Asher Norman claims ‘Christianity is the religion of Paul, not Jesus.’  If this is the case we have to rewrite the New Testament.  We have to believe that the sequence of events was this:

 

  1. Paul founded Christianity.
  2. He persecuted the faith he founded.
  3. He was then converted to the faith he founded and previously persecuted.
  4. He then propagated the same faith.

 

Obviously there are certain logical problems with this scenario.  The New Testament gives this sequence of events:  

 

  1. The Gospel was preached by the Apostles beginning on the day of Pentecost, fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 2) and three thousand people responded on the first day.  (Acts 2:41).
  2. Shortly thereafter, the number had grown to five thousand men alone (Acts 4:4). Subsequently “believers were increasingly added to the Lord” (5:14), because the apostles had filled Jerusalem with their teaching (5:28). Every day this message was being proclaimed (5:42), and the church experienced phenomenal growth on a daily basis (6:7).
  3. At this time Saul of Tarsus (later designated as Paul) was still a zealous persecutor of the church. He was a participant in the death of Stephen, the first martyr for the Messiah (8:1).
  4. By this time the faith had spread considerably. The gospel had gone throughout Judea and Samaria (8:1). As a result of the conversion of the Ethiopian, the message took root in Africa (8:26ff).

 

The next time we encounter Saul in Acts 9, he was making preparation to leave for Damascus (in Syria) in order to extradite followers of Jesus from there, which means that the faith had expanded beyond the northern borders of Israel (9:2-19). The apostle later said that he had persecuted the faith unto foreign cities (Acts 26:11), which is another commentary on how extensively it had flourished.

 

There were major centres of the faith in Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria and Rome.   Paul did not found any of these churches.  In his epistle to the Romans he acknowledges that at the time of writing it he had not been to Rome.  There were growing churches in North Africa, Ethiopia and Syria, places which Paul never visited according to Acts or his own epistles.

 

What did Paul know about Jesus?

 

Asher Norman implies that Paul knew nothing about the real earthly Jesus and received all his information from his communications with a ‘heavenly Jesus.’  Paul may not have known Jesus in the flesh but that would certainly not prevent him from knowing about him.  The accusation that Paul invented a different Jesus from the real one and is himself the true founder of Christianity is in no way supported by the New Testament.  Paul may not have written in detail about the life of Jesus in his epistles, but neither did Peter, James or John in theirs.  He was writing letters to Christians whom he assumed to be familiar with the Gospel story.

 

All that Paul does write about Jesus is in harmony with the Gospels.  He writes that He was divinely pre-existent and yet also a real human being descended from Abraham and David; that He lived under Jewish law, was betrayed after eating the Passover with His disciples which He re-interpreted as the memorial of His death.  Paul’s statement on the meaning of the ‘Lord’s supper’ in 1 Corinthians 11.23-32 is in complete harmony with Jesus’ own words on the ‘new covenant’ in the Gospels.  Paul knew that Jesus endured the Roman penalty of crucifixion, was buried and rose again from the dead (1 Corinthians 15).   He was familiar with Jesus’ teaching on the Second Coming, repeating Jesus’ own statement that His second coming would be like ‘a thief in the night’ (i.e. at an unannounced date).  Matthew 24.43, 1 Thessalonians 5.2.  He was in agreement with Jesus on ethical issues such as divorce and on ministry issues, such as apostleship.  He knew the disciples and was familiar with details of their lives, including the fact that Peter was married (1 Corinthians 9.5, Mark 1.30).  Peter also bears witness to Paul in his epistle referring to ‘our beloved brother Paul’ and calling his epistles ‘scriptures’ (2 Peter 3.15-16).  

 

Both Jesus and Paul lay great emphasis on personal integrity and speaking the truth.  In Ephesians Paul writes,  ‘We should no longer be children tossed to and from and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness by which they lie in wait to deceive, but speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into him who is the head – Christ’ (Ephesians 4.14-15).  

 

However according to Asher Norman, Paul himself was practicing trickery and deception, by inventing a false story and knowingly deceiving others with it.  Paul’s own testimony is that his reward for spreading his message was not to be showered with honour and money, but beatings, perils, weariness, hunger and toil (2 Corinthians 11.23-33).  Is it really likely that he would go through all this for a story, which he knew, was not true?  He faced his coming execution with the confidence that ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Finally there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord the righteous judge will give to me on that day and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing’  (2 Timothy 4.7-8).  Could he have done this if he knew that his life had been wasted spreading a lie?

 

Paul a liar?

 

Asher Norman describes Paul as ‘a deeply troubled, wildly volatile personality’ who was ‘often accused of being a liar’ and believed that the ends justified the means.  He says that ‘Paul strongly opposed the law’ and infers that he lied about being Jewish.  He says ‘Paul clearly revealed in his own Epistles that he was often accused of being a liar.’ He says this ‘demonstrates that Paul’s credibility was a major issue.’  

 

It is clear from his writings that Paul had enemies who tried to distort his message or blacken his character.  The same is true of the Christian faith today. Untrue statements attacking the Christian faith can be found today in books, TV programmes and on the Internet.  It should not surprise us that those bringing these accusations will accuse followers of Jesus of being deceivers.  Paul faced such accusations and refuted them.  

 

Some of the verses Asher Norman uses to imply that Paul was a liar are extraordinary and I imagine that he relies on the fact that most of his readers will not bother to look them up, as an unbiased reading would come to a completely different conclusion.  Examples of verses he gives are 2 Corinthians 7.14:  ‘But as we spoke all things to you in truth, so our boasting to Titus was found true’ and Titus 1.2:  ‘In hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began.’

 

A number of his quotes are taken from 2 Corinthians.  In this letter we find that Paul did have an issue with those he described as ‘false apostles’ who were opposing him and misleading the Corinthians in his absence.  He defends his ministry and his credentials as an apostle (this words means ‘one sent’) of Jesus Christ, in the face of those who opposed him.  This is what he writes at the end of this letter: ‘Now I pray to God that you do no evil, not that we should appear to be approved, but that you do what is honourable, though we may seem disqualified.’  2 Corinthians 12.7.  This is one of the verses Asher Norman quotes to show that Paul had a reputation of being a liar, but it really shows that he was concerned for the truth and that the Corinthians should do what was right in the sight of God.  He was more concerned about this than defending his own reputation.  

 

Paul a Jew?

 

Asher Norman then goes on to say that Paul lied about being Jewish and a student of Gamaliel and a Pharisee.  He says Paul was a ‘failed convert to Judaism’.  He says that ‘Paul used the word ‘we’ when referring to Gentiles.’  His quote for this is Galatians 3.14 where we read: ‘That the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of God by faith.’  This is actually quite ludicrous.  Paul has already said in Galatians 1.14 ‘I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.’  Clearly by referring to ‘my nation’ and ‘my fathers’ he means the Jewish people and is identifying as a Jew.   Would he then say a few verses later that he was a Gentile?  In Galatians 3.14 he is saying that ‘we’ (Jews and Gentiles) receive the Holy Spirit by faith.

 

Asher Norman then uses the Ebionites to find evidence for Paul being a Gentile.  He says they were ‘an early Christian group comprised of descendants of the original disciples.’  He refers to a work called ‘The Ascension of James and Panarion 30.16, 6-9’ by Epiphanius, a third century writer from the third century.  He says, ‘They wrote that Paul was a Gentile who became a Jewish proselyte, was circumcised as a convert and studied Judaism.  They said that Paul arrived in Jerusalem from Tarsus as an adult hoping to marry the High Priest’s daughter.  When she rejected him Paul became enraged and wrote against circumcision, the kosher laws, the Sabbath and finally opposed the efficacy of all the laws of the Torah.

 

However Asher Norman does not tell his readers where this tradition comes from and wrongly says the source of opposition to the Ebionites came from the Catholic Church.  They were not ‘descendants of the original disciples.’ They were a heretical group who were latecomers to the scene, arising in the mid-to-late second century.  Irenaeus was the first to mention them by name as a group in 190 AD in ‘Against Heresies 1.26.1-22’.   They appear to hold similar beliefs to Gnostic groups, believing that the Christ spirit descended on Jesus at his baptism and departed from him at his suffering.  They rejected all of the New Testament, except the Gospel of Matthew.  They repudiated Paul.   They had a fascination with the city of Jerusalem, even though they had never lived there.  

 

Hippolytus in his ‘Refutation of All Heresies 7.22’ written in 230 AD gives further links to the Gnostics:  ‘And the Ebionites allege that they themselves also, when in like manner they fulfil the law are able to become Christs; for they assert that our Lord Himself was a man in a like sense with the rest of the human family.’   This idea of Christ / Messiah (i.e. disciples of the group becoming ‘Christs’ themselves) is a distinctly non-Jewish one as well as being anti-Christian.  This adds to the conclusion that they were not spiritual descendants of the Jerusalem church, but were a mishmash of Gnosticism and pseudo Judaism.  

 

The Jewish group whose testimony for or against Paul would be significant were the Nazarenes.  They were first century Jewish believers who almost certainly were connected to the Jerusalem church as presented in the New Testament. They were in all major points believers in Jesus as recorded in the New Testament.  Ray Pritz (‘Nazarene Jewish Christianity’) says, ‘The history of the Nazarenes must be clearly distinguished from that of the Ebionites… They were distinct from the Ebionites and prior to them. .. They were to be found in Galilee and probably in Jerusalem until 135 when all Jews were expelled from the city… They accepted the virgin birth and affirmed the deity of Jesus… They did not reject the apostleship of Paul.  They recognised his commission from God to preach to the Gentiles.’

 

Moreover the Nazarenes were themselves the object of rejection by the synagogue in the period after the destruction of the Temple.   Towards the end of the first century Rabbi Gamaliel and his associates introduced a change in the twelfth benediction of the ‘Shemonesh Esreh’ (The 18 Benedictions of the Daily Prayer).  This is in effect a curse on Jewish believers in Jesus and resulted in the break between the synagogue and the remnant of the Jerusalem church:  ‘And for the apostates let there be no hope; and may the insolent kingdom be quickly uprooted in our days.  And may the Nazarenes and heretics (minim) perish quickly;  and may they be erased from the Book of Life;  and may they not be inscribed with the righteous.’  

 

Paul said of himself that he was born a Jew and also that he lived as a Jew. Philippians 3.5:  ‘Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews, concerning the law a Pharisee.’ His practice in his journeys around Asia Minor was to go first to the synagogue, where he was recognised by other Jews as a Jew.  See Acts 13.14.

 

In Acts 22.3 he addresses a hostile crowd in the temple in Jerusalem ‘in the Hebrew language’ and says ‘I am a Jew born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our father’s law and was zealous towards God as you all are today.’ Even under house arrest in Rome at the end of Acts, he calls together ‘the leaders of the Jews’ and says to them ‘I have done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers.’  Acts 28.17.   In Romans he wrote, ‘I could wish myself accursed from Messiah for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites … I also am an Israelite of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin … Concerning the Gospel they are enemies, but concerning the election they (i.e. the Jewish people) are beloved for the sake of the fathers.  For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.’  (Romans 9.3-4, 11.1, 11.28-29).

 

Even though he faced opposition there is no record anywhere that anyone questioned his Jewish credentials.  If he had not been a Pharisee and taught by Gamaliel it is certain that some of those hearing him in Jerusalem would have exposed him and he would then have been disqualified as a credible witness of Jesus the Messiah.   

 

In fact there are a number of Jewish scholars who are not believers in Jesus who acknowledge the Jewishness of Paul’ writing.  Joseph Klausner, who taught at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, wrote of Paul:  ‘It would be difficult to find more typically Talmudic expositions of Scripture than those in the Epistles of Paul.’  (‘From Jesus to Paul’ page 453).  Rabbi Dr Burton Visotzky, Appleman Chair of Midrash and Interreligious studies, Jewish Theological Seminary, New York wrote this in his endorsement of professor Brad Young’s ‘Paul the Jewish Theologian’:  ‘The Pharisee Saul of Tarsus is arguably one of the most influential religious figures in the history of Western culture.’ Rabbi Jacob Emden (1679-1776), a champion of Orthodox Judaism said that ‘Paul was a scholar, an attendant of Rabban Gamailiel the Elder, will versed in the laws of the Torah.’  

 

Paul and the Law.

 

Asher Norman’s main argument with Paul is that he ‘opposed God’s laws.’  He bases this on the following verses:

 

‘Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law … Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.’  Galatians 3.13, 24-25.

 

‘For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.’  Romans 10.4.

 

‘In that He says, “A new covenant, ” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.’  Hebrews 8.13.

 

Also cited are the following passages:  Galatians 2.21, 5.2-6, Romans 7.10, 2 Corinthians 3.6, Colossians 2.16.

 

Asher then says that Paul lied about his opposition to God’s laws:

 

‘But this I confess to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect, so I worship the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets.’ Acts 24.14

 

‘Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I offended in anything at all.’  Acts 25.8.

 

Asher Norman comments on this:  ‘These statements offer graphic evidence of why Paul’s credibility was correctly under attack by his Jewish audiences and why he was often accused of being a liar.  Paul opposed God’s laws, especially the kosher laws and the laws of circumcision and then lied about his opposition when confronted.  Paul lied because he believed that the ends justify the means.’

 

Asher Norman fails to give the background and the context to these statements.  The messianic movement started amongst Jews who believed Jesus to be the Messiah who had died as a sacrifice for the sins of the world and risen from the dead.  It then spread to non-Jews who came to believe this also.  The first recorded examples of this were Cornelius and his household (Acts 10) when Peter went to them to explain the Gospel.  This created a controversy with ‘those of the circumcision’ (Acts 11.2) who rebuked Peter for going into the house of ‘uncircumcised men’ and eating with them. Peter then recounted how the Holy Spirit had fallen on the Gentiles ‘as upon us at the beginning’ (Acts 11.15).  He said this was evidence that God had given the same gift to the Gentiles as to the Jewish believers in Jesus on the day of Pentecost and concludes ‘Who was I that I should withstand God?’  On hearing this those who had questioned Peter’s action in going to the Gentiles ‘glorified God, saying, ‘Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.’  Acts 11.18.  

 

This incident shows us a number of things:

 

  1. In the beginning the ‘Jesus movement’ was confined to Jews and included observant Jews (‘those of the circumcision’).
  2. It was a surprise to these Jews when Gentiles also believed in Jesus.
  3. Having overcome their initial suspicion of this move, they then ‘glorified God’ about the conversion of the Gentiles.

 

After this we find that Paul and Barnabas set out from Antioch which had become a centre of Messianic faith.  They went to Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) where they preached to both Jews and Gentiles.  Large numbers of both believed (Acts 14.1).  At the same time there was violent opposition from both Jews and Gentiles who rejected this message (Acts 14.5).  On their return they gathered the church in Antioch together and reported ‘all that God had done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.’  Acts 14.27.

 

As the message of the Gospel began to spread to Gentiles the question arose as to whether non-Jews had to be converted also to Judaism became.   On this issue Paul disagreed with those of the ‘circumcision party’ (Jews who believed in Jesus but were strict in their practice of the Torah).  He taught that Gentiles were saved by repentance and faith in Jesus, whereas the ‘circumcision party’ said they needed to be circumcised and accept all the laws of the Torah.  

 

Paul taught that for both Jews and Gentiles salvation was available through repentance and faith in Jesus as the Messiah. He also taught that the law is good, but the fault is with the human side of the covenant.  In other words human beings by nature do not keep God’s law and break it.  Jeremiah 31.31-34 makes a similar point.  In this passage God promises to make a ‘new covenant with the house of Israel’ which will not be ‘according to the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day that I took them … out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke though I was a husband to them.’  When this passage is quoted in Hebrews 8.7-13 as the basis for the new covenant it is prefaced with the words ‘for finding fault with them (i.e. the people’s ability to keep the commandments of God).  

 

As a result salvation is not available through attempting to keep the ‘entire Torah’ because ‘all have sinned and come short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3.23).    To back this statement up Paul has quoted extensively from the Psalms and the Prophets (Romans 3.10-18).   This is the reason why Paul said in Romans 7.10 that ‘the commandment’ brought ‘death.’  It is also the reason why he taught that ‘the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ’ (Galatians 3.24).  By this he meant that the commandments of the law show up human sin in that we all fail to keep them.  This means that we need a redeemer from ‘the curse of the law,’ which comes as a result of human failure to keep God’s law.   

 

When Paul speaks of the ‘curse of the law’ he is not insulting the Torah but agreeing with it.  A number of passages in Deuteronomy speak of the curse coming as a result of disobedience to the commandments of God:  ‘Behold I set before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you today; and the curse if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God.’  Deuteronomy 11.26-28.  See also Deuteronomy 28.13, 45, 29.19-21, 30.1-7.   Daniel in his confession of Israel’s sins in captivity in Babylon relates the disaster which has come upon his people to ‘the curse and the oath written in the Law of Moses.’  Daniel 9.11.

 

Paul taught that Jesus was that redeemer and that He took upon Himself the sin of the world for that purpose. ‘We are ambassadors for Messiah, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Messiah’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin (or ‘to be a sin offering’) for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.’  2 Corinthians 5.20-21.  This is the fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah 53.6: ‘All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.’  As a result of this ‘Messiah became the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.’ (Romans 10.4). The word used for ‘end’ here is ‘telos’ which means the goal of the Law.   In other words the law reveals our sin and need of a Saviour from sin.  Messiah has come as the fulfilment of that need.  

 

As a result of this the ceremonial side of the Torah (i.e. the priesthood, the sacrifices and the tabernacle / Temple) has become ‘obsolete and is ready to vanish away’ (Hebrews 8.13).  Asher Norman includes this in the verses which he says show Paul’s opposition to the Torah.  In the context of Hebrews 8 Paul (or whoever wrote Hebrews) is showing how Messiah has replaced the priesthood, tabernacle and sacrifices of the Torah.  As a result these are now ‘obsolete and ready to vanish away’ because sin is now covered by the sacrifice of the Messiah, not the sacrifices offered in the tabernacle / Temple by the High Priest.

 

In fact the whole sacrificial system and priesthood was about to disappear with the destruction of the Temple, taking place a few years after the writing of Hebrews.  This would make it impossible for the Jewish people to offer the sacrifices, prescribed in the Torah through the Levitical priesthood.  As a result the very people Paul was writing to would be unable to keep ‘the entire Torah’ as Asher Norman says they should.  Jesus prophesied this in Luke 19.41-44 and it is hinted at in the letter to the Hebrews.

 

The destruction of the Temple actually meant that Judaism made a significant change in how to observe the Torah. According to the classic Midrash in Avot D'Rabbi Nathan (4:5):  ‘The Temple is destroyed. We never witnessed its glory. But Rabbi Joshua did. And when he looked at the Temple ruins one day, he burst into tears. "Alas for us! The place which atoned for the sins of all the people Israel lies in ruins!" Then Rabbi Yohannan ben Zakkai spoke to him these words of comfort: "Be not grieved, my son. There is another way of gaining ritual atonement, even though the Temple is destroyed. We must now gain ritual atonement through deeds of loving-kindness."’  

 

So the Torah says that atonement is made through the sacrifices offered on Yom Kippur (Leviticus 16-17), while Paul in the New Covenant says it is made through the sacrifice of Yeshua the Messiah and Rabbi Yohannan ben Zakkai, a key figure in developing post Temple Judaism, says it is ‘through deeds of loving kindness.’  Both Paul and Rabbi ben Zakkai are making a change to the literal practice of atonement as written in Leviticus.  The question is which one actually does provide atonement for sin?  Paul and messianic Jews, who come after him, believe it is through Yeshua the Messiah. Obviously Asher Norman and today’s Orthodox Jews do not believe this, but the important point is that Orthodox Judaism, as practised today, also involves a change in the Torah.  

 

Now concerning the accusation that Paul hated the Torah and opposed it we have to say this.  He certainly said that the outward observations of circumcision (Galatians 5.2-6) and by implication kosher food laws (Colossians 2.16) were not obligatory on Gentiles.  He went even further and said that if Gentiles sought salvation by means of being circumcised and trying to keep the laws of the Torah ‘Messiah will profit you nothing.’  Galatians 5.2.  His reason for this is that salvation is through faith in Jesus as the Messiah.  He also said that this faith has broken down the ‘middle wall of separation’ between Jews and Gentiles (Ephesians 2.14) making peace between the two in the body of Messiah (i.e. the believing church) which he describes a ‘holy temple in the Lord in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.’  Ephesians 2.21-22.

 

At the same time we find that the moral teaching Paul gives lines up with the moral teaching of the Torah (as does the teaching of Jesus).  He affirms that we should keep the moral principles of the Torah:  

 

‘Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.  For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.’  Romans 13.8-10.  

 

‘But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust.’  1 Timothy 1.8-11.

 

He also speaks of the advantage the Jewish people have because of the Torah:

 

‘What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision? Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God.’  Romans 3.1-2.  By this he means that there is a high privilege in being a circumcised Jew in that the very words of God, the scriptures, were given to the Jewish people.  But this in itself does not guarantee a right standing with God.  The scriptures themselves testify to this, in the pages of the historical books in which the failure of people to keep God’s commandments is spelled out over and over again.

 

He denies that his message should be taken as a means to sin: ‘What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?’  Romans 6.1-2.  

 

He consistently calls people to an honest and holy life:

 

‘Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.’  Galatians 5.19-24.

 

‘Therefore, putting away lying, “ Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbour,” for we are members of one another.  “Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil. Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labour, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need. Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.’  Ephesians 4.25-32.

 

Despite what Asher Norman says, the book of Acts portrays Paul as a Torah observant Jew.  In Acts 26.4-7 he states ‘My manner of life from my youth, which was spent from the beginning among my own nation at Jerusalem, all the Jews know. They knew me from the first, if they were willing to testify, that according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.’  The implication is that he still lives as a Jew.  In Acts 28.17 he says to the leaders of the Jewish community in Rome: “Men and brethren, though I have done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers.”  

 

The circumcision issue.

 

Asher Norman says Paul opposed God’s laws, in particular circumcision.  To back this up he quotes Galatians 5.2: ‘Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing.’  Some background information is necessary to understand this issue.  

 

As the message of the Gospel began to spread to Gentiles the question of whether non-Jews had to be converted also to Judaism became an issue.  Accepting Jesus as Saviour was one thing, but having the knife applied in circumcision was not exactly an attraction to Gentiles!  Peter was in fact the first one to confront the question of whether it is right to take the message to the Gentiles, when he visited the home of the Roman centurion, Cornelius (Acts 10) in Caesarea. Peter was questioned about this action: ‘And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those of the circumcision contended with him, saying, “You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!”’  Acts 11.2.  ‘Those of the circumcision’ were people who accepted Jesus as the Messiah but maintained strict observance of the Torah.   Peter justified his action by explaining how God confirmed his witness to the Gentiles by sending the gift of the Holy Spirit to them.

 

Following Paul’s conversion he conferred with the Jerusalem church, meeting, Peter and James  (Galatians 1.18-19). Then he went to preach the Gospel in Syria and Cilicia and the report of his ministry went back to Jerusalem where Paul says ‘They praised God because of me.’  Galatians 1.24.  

 

As a result of Paul’s ministry large numbers of Jews and Gentiles came to believe in Jesus as Messiah.  Again the issue of whether Gentiles needed to be circumcised came up. Paul preached in Galatia and founded the church there.  Then he left there and, in his absence, some Jewish believers in Jesus came and told the Galatians that they needed to be circumcised and keep the laws of the Torah.  Paul wrote the letter to the Galatians probably around 48 CE to address this issue.

 

He wrote of his own background in Judaism.  He told how he came to believe in Jesus and was commissioned by the Lord to preach the Gospel among the Gentiles (Galatians 1.13-24).  He conferred with the apostles who confirmed that the ‘Gospel to the circumcision (Jews)’ was given to Peter and the ‘Gospel to the uncircumcision (Gentiles)’ to Paul (2.7-8).  There was no disagreement among them about this: ‘When James, Cephas (Peter), and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.’  Galatians 2.9.  

 

Paul’s argument in Galatians is that salvation and the gift of the Holy Spirit had come to these Gentile believers in Jesus through repentance and faith in Jesus not through ‘the works of the law.’  When he speaks about Messiah having redeemed us from the curse of the law in the verse Asher Norman quotes (Galatians 3.13), he does not mean that the law is cursed, but that it brings a curse to those who do not keep it.  By this he means that sin brings people under the judgment of God.  Paul goes on to say that ‘the Scripture has confined all under sin’ (Galatians 3.22), in other words everybody sins in the light of the commands given in the Torah.  

 

For this reason he regards the law as ‘our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.’  (Galatians 3.24-25).  By this he means that the law reveals our sin and in so doing points us to our need of a Saviour from sin.  This need has been met by Jesus paying the price of our sin.  ‘Messiah has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree” that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.’ Galatians 3.13-14.

 

As far as salvation is concerned he says ‘In Messiah Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.’  Galatians 4.6. Therefore Gentiles are saved by their faith in Jesus and do not need to convert to Judaism or be circumcised. The requirement for entrance into the Christian community was repentance and faith in Jesus as Lord and Messiah alone and baptism in his name.  Gentile converts were not required to become Jews first in order to become followers of Jesus.  

 

In 1 Corinthians 7.19 Paul writes: ‘Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters.’  In saying this he is not saying that circumcision was not something commanded by God for Jewish people or was no longer a commandment for Jews.  What he is saying is that circumcision in itself does not make a man right with God.  The issue is whether you keep God’s commands, as a Jew or a Gentile.  This ties in with the verse in Romans 2.25: For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision.  

 

Paul was not telling Jewish believers in Jesus not to be circumcised. It is interesting that he refused to have Titus circumcised as he was a Gentile (Galatians 2.3), however he did agree to have Timothy circumcised.  Timothy’s mother was Jewish, but his father was Gentile (Acts 16.1-3).   

 

Galatians was probably written around AD 48 and the next significant event to take place in this ongoing question was the council at Jerusalem (Acts 15), probably the following year. This was to give an apostolic ruling on the question of whether Gentile converts to Christianity should be circumcised and made to keep the Torah.  Peter was in agreement with Paul on this matter:

 

‘Peter stood up and said to them, ‘Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe.  And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; and he made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith.  Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?  But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus in the same way as they also were.’  Acts 15.7-11.

 

James endorsed this (13-21) and a letter was sent from the Jerusalem church to the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia setting out the decision of the Apostles on the matter and affirming the ministry of Barnabas and Paul.  It also refuted the teaching that Gentiles must be circumcised and must keep the law and says that those who teach this have no authority to do so from the Jerusalem church (23-29).

 

Despite the record of some disagreement between Peter and Paul in Galatians 2 about Jewish believers eating with Gentiles, there is no difference in their teaching concerning the basics of the Gospel as recorded in the New Testament. In fact Peter writes of ‘our beloved brother Paul’ who ‘according to the wisdom given to him has written to you, as also in all epistles, speaking in them of these things.’  (2 Peter 3.15-16)

 

Paul in conflict with James and the other disciples?

 

Asher Norman says that Paul was rejected by Jesus’ disciples, something he bases on Acts 9.26:  ‘And when Saul had come to Jerusalem he tired to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him and did not believe that he was a disciple.’   However the very next verse tells how Barnabas persuaded the disciples to accept Paul!  As a result Paul ‘was with them (the disciples) at Jerusalem coming in and going out.  And he spoke boldly in the name of Jesus.’ Acts 9.28.  

 

He also implies that Paul was in conflict with the Jewish believers in Jerusalem and James in particular over the Torah. On this basis he says that Paul deviated from the teaching of Jesus and his disciples.  This is a common accusation, which comes originally from 19th century liberal Protestant theologians like Adolf von Harnack.  It has been developed and widely circulated in the Jewish community by Hyam Maccoby who wrote the book ‘The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity.’   Maccoby argues that Paul was not born Jewish, could not read Hebrew and turned the Jewish Jesus movement into a Gentile religion. Much of Maccoby's material is also derived from the Ebionite tradition. This is a highly suspect source, written centuries after the event and with a stated bias against Paul.

His work is rejected by academic writers, including Jewish commentators.  Asher Norman refers to Hyam Maccoby in his chapter on Paul and has clearly taken much of his hostile material to Paul from his work.

 

Asher Norman claims that Paul ‘preached a different Jesus and a different gospel than the gospel preached by the disciples and apostles who actually knew Jesus.’ (Page 126).  He claims, quite wrongly, that passages in Paul’s letters show this to be the case.  The passages he refers to are 2 Corinthians 11.4, 13, 1 Corinthians 4.15-16 and Galatians 1.6-9.  ‘For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted – you may well put up with it.’  2 Corinthians 11.4.  

 

In none of these passages is Paul referring to differences between himself and the ‘disciples who actually knew Jesus’ but differences with those who were bringing in ‘another gospel’.  By this he meant a distortion of the message of salvation through faith in Jesus as Messiah.  Significantly the epistles of Peter, John and Jude also contain warnings of false teachers coming in with distortions of the Gospel message.

 

This was one of the major problems of the early church, which Paul recognised.  He warned the church in Ephesus: ‘For I know this that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.  Also from among yourselves men will rise up speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after themselves.’  (Acts 20.29-30).  Peter addresses the same problem in 2 Peter 2 and so does John in his letters.  In 2 John 7 we read: ‘For many deceivers have gone into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh.  This is a deceiver and an antichrist.’

 

Asher Norman claims that ‘the disciples and apostles of Jesus were required to carry ‘appointment letters’ from Jesus’ brother James to validate their authority.’ (P 123).  He bases this on an ‘uncannonised Gospel about Peter, called ‘Pseudoclementine Recognitions.’  These writings probably originated in the middle of the second century (i.e. long after the event) and were also from an Ebionite source. They give a view of the person of Jesus, which contains Gnostic influences and conflicts with the Gospels.  For more on this subject go to http://www.compassionatespirit.com/Recognitions/Introductory-Notice.htm

 

Asher Norman uses this highly dubious source to claim that Paul is on the defensive about not having a ‘letter of recommendation.’   He says that this is shown by passages in his letters where he refers to the churches he founded being ‘our letter .. not being written with ink but with the spirit of the living God on the fleshly tablets of the heart.’ (2 Corinthians 3.6)  

 

In fact Paul’s message was endorsed by other apostles of Jesus.  In Galatians Paul speaks of ‘those who were apostles before me’ and tells of his visit to Jerusalem to confer with Peter and James.  He says that his ministry was approved by ‘James, Cephas (Peter) and John’ (Galatians 2.9).  In Acts 15 a letter is written with the approval of James and Peter ‘to the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia’ which commends Paul:  ‘It seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.’  Acts 15.23, 25.  It seems that Asher Norman places more value on the testimony of a virtually unknown Gnostic text than the Book of Acts which says that Paul did have a letter of commendation from the Apostles in Jerusalem.  

 

The next event relevant to this issue is the visit of Paul to Jerusalem in Acts 21, bringing a collection he had made from the churches in Asia.  Asher Norman says that James opposed Paul on this occasion.  Yet the text says, ‘And when we had come to Jerusalem the brethren received us gladly.  On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present.  When he had greeted them, he told in detail the things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.  And when they heard it they glorified the Lord.’  (Acts 21.17-20).  Asher Norman may claim that this is not the true account of what happened, and the opposite took place, but on this basis one could read any ancient text and re-write it to make it fit in with one’s own pre-suppositions.

 

It is true that there follows an accusation made against Paul that he taught ‘Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs’ (Acts 21.21).  Interestingly in the context we are told that there are ‘myriads of Jews who have believed (i.e. believed in Jesus) and they are all zealous for the law.’   To show that Paul had not told Jews to forsake the commands of the Torah, he complied with James’ request that he should be purified along with ‘four men who have taken a vow’ ‘that all may know that those things of which they were informed concerning you are nothing but that you yourself also walk orderly and keep the law.’  (Acts 21.24).  

 

The charge that Paul told Jews to forsake the commands of the Torah was a false one.  To show this Paul went to the Temple to explain himself.   We do not have a record of how Paul answered the specific accusation.  He spoke to them in Hebrew and told of his background as a pupil of Gamaliel, ‘taught according to the strictness of our fathers’ law, and was zealous toward God as you all are today.’  Acts 22.3.  His defence of his position was cut short when he said, ‘Then He (Jesus) said to me, ‘Depart, for I will send you far from here to the Gentiles.’”  At this point a riot ensued: ‘And they listened to him until this word, and then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he is not fit to live!” Acts 22.21-22.  He was then examined by the chief priests and the Sanhedrin when he said that he had ‘lived in all good conscience before God until this day.’  (Acts 23.1).  He then spoke of his hope in the ‘resurrection of the dead’ (Acts 23.6).  This caused a dispute between the Pharisees who say there is a resurrection of the dead and the Sadducees who say there is not (23.8).  The Pharisees then said, ‘We find nothing wrong with this man.’ (23.9).  

 

Asher Norman says that this passage in Acts shows that there was a fundamental disagreement between Paul and James. However there is no hint that James sided with Paul’s accusers and opposed Paul’s message, as Asher Norman after the Temple riot.  Acts gives no further mention of James, but Josephus does.   In his history, Antiquities XX 9.1, he describes how Ananus the High Priest ‘assembled a council of judges, and brought before it the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ, whose name was James, together with some others and having accused them as law breakers, he delivered them over to be stoned.’   According to Josephus James was ordered to be executed by the same high priest before whom Paul stood in Acts 23 some two years later on the accusation of being a law breaker. That hardly suggests that James and Paul were in opposing camps.  

 

Paul’s character.

 

According to Asher Norman Paul was a ‘deeply troubled, wildly volatile personality’.   He says he could not have been a disciple of Gamaliel because ‘Gamaliel would only have selected a disciple who exhibited the highest moral character.  Paul’s self description of himself is therefore highly problematic.  Before his ‘epiphany’ experience (i.e. his conversion) Paul described himself as follows: ‘For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another.’  Titus 3.3.  This, according to Asher Norman, would have disqualified him from being a disciple of Gamaliel.  

 

What Paul is describing here is the fallen sinful nature of humanity, not saying that he indulged in all these vices himself.  At the same time he does acknowledge that despite his religious commitment to Judaism, wrong passions still raged in his heart.   Paul taught that through repentance and faith in Jesus as the Saviour we obtain forgiveness from sinful attitudes and behaviour and told us to receive the Holy Spirit who will change our hearts and give us the fruit of the Spirit which is ‘love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.’ (Galatians 5.22-23).  

 

Religious people need this spiritual rebirth too.  Churches, synagogues, mosques and temples have people in them who may be outwardly pious, but who also show ‘malice and envy, hateful and hating one another.’  To imagine that none of the disciples of Gamaliel could display such characteristics is to deny the reality of the human heart.  Paul’s honesty acknowledges that he too was a sinner who need salvation through faith in Jesus the Messiah and is grateful for the new life he has received in Jesus as he goes on to say in the passage in Titus:  ‘But when the kindness and the love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour.’  Titus 3.4-5.

 

Asher Norman questions Paul’s mental stability on the basis of the statement he makes in Galatians 2.19-20, 6.17:  ‘For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God.  I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.  … From now on let no one trouble me for I bear in my body the marks of our Lord Jesus.’   On the basis of this statement he says Paul believed he was ‘the alter ego of Jesus’.   

 

As one who rejects Jesus as Saviour, Asher Norman can not understand the experience of the believer who has found new life in Jesus.  However not only Paul, but also millions of Christians who have accepted Jesus as Saviour can know the reality of new life in the Spirit whereby Jesus lives in us by faith.  Paul understood putting to death the self / sin nature as being crucified with Christ.  This may result in physical persecution at the hands of unbelievers and opponents of the faith as Paul himself experienced and was referring to when he spoke of bearing the ‘marks of our Lord Jesus’. Paul experienced much persecution, which he describes in 2 Corinthians 11.23-27 which resulted in his body being beaten and scarred.  These ‘marks’ he received for his faith in Jesus.   Today many Christians around the world also suffer persecution for their faith, being beaten, imprisoned and put to death.  They also bear the ‘marks’ of the Lord in their bodies.  None of this has anything to do with imagining themselves to be the alter ego of Jesus.  It is the result of having a living faith in ‘the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me’.

 

Paul an agent of Rome?

 

Asher Norman makes accusations that Paul was really an agent of Rome, serving two masters, ‘the Jesus movement and Rome.’  His reasons for making this extraordinary claim are as follows.

 

Referring to Paul’s actions before his conversion in persecuting Christians, Asher Norman says that Paul ‘worked as a policeman for the High Priest who was leader of the rival Sadducee Party’.  The Romans appointed the High Priest so ‘therefore it is very likely that Paul’s actions were intended to protect Roman security interests, which implies that the Christians were anti-Roman zealots.’  It is true that Caiaphas was appointed as High Priest by the Roman governor who preceded Pontius Pilate, Valerius Gratus, but that is about the only thing that is true in this scenario. The idea that the Christians were anti-Roman zealots is another product of Hyam Maccoby’s imagination, not history.  

 

Asher Norman’s view that Paul, as a self confessed Pharisee, could not have acted in collaboration with the Sadducee High Priest, is not born out by the facts.  The Sanhedrin contained Pharisees and Sadducees. Though the Sadducees held the majority of seats in the Sanhedrin, history indicates that much of the time they had to go along with the ideas of the Pharisaic minority, because the Pharisees were popular with the masses.  There is no reason to suppose that it would have been impossible for Saul / Paul as a Pharisee to collaborate with the High Priest as a Sadducee, if they had a common opposition to the followers of Jesus.  Nor is there any reason to believe that Saul / Paul’s actions in opposing the followers of Jesus had to do with him being an ‘agent of Rome.’  Asher Norman then suggests that Paul continued to be ‘an agent of Rome’ following his conversion. This accusation is bizarre in the extreme.  

 

Paul did use the fact that he was a Roman citizen (by birth) to defend his rights when he was facing imprisonment or beating for his proclamation of the faith (Acts 13.37-39, 22.27-8).  Though Paul was a circumcised Jew, and a Pharisee, he was born in the city of Tarsus (Acts 21.39, 22.3).  Over a hundred years previously, the Roman politician Anthony had conferred Roman citizenship upon all the inhabitants of Tarsus, and this was later attested to by Emperor Caesar Augustus. Roman citizens could not be imprisoned without a trial, nor could they be scourged or crucified.  

 

These are some of the reasons Asher Norman gives for his contention.  In Romans 16 Paul lists a number of people he sends greetings to.  Included are Herodion (11) and ‘those who belong to the household of Aristobulus (10).  He claims Herodion was King Herod Agrippa’s brother and Aristobulus was Herod Agrippa’s son.  On this basis he says ‘These references mean that Paul’s influence with the non-Jewish rulers of Judea and with Rome were extensive and extended all the way to those in the confidence of the Emperor of Rome.’  He goes on to claim that Epaphroditus (mentioned in Philippians 2.25 and 4.18-22) was the Emperor Nero’s personal secretary.

 

Some commentators have suggested that Aristobulus may have been the grandson of Herod the Great (the brother of Herod Agrippa I), although it is difficult to determine if this were really the case. If so, when Paul speaks of the ‘household of Aristobulus’, he was probably referring to slaves in his household who were believers. Herodion may have had some connection with the house of Herod, or may have also been a slave.  The fact that the Herod family was one of the most ungodly families in history does not mean one of them could not repent and believe, although it is by no means certain that this reference means that we are dealing with Herod Agrippa’s brother as Asher Norman claims.  

Interestingly Paul includes another name in this list:  ‘Greet those in the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord.’ (Romans 16.11). Narcissus was most likely a rich and powerful freedman who was closely connected to the Emperor Claudius, serving as his secretary, who is referred to by the Latin poet Juvenal ("Satire," xiv., 330).  He was later put to death shortly after Nero assumed the throne. If Aristobulus was related to the Herods (see v.10), then he would have been a close ally of Claudius. These two possibilities may give us some help in understanding Philippians 4:22 (‘[the saints] that are of Caesar’s household’), because there would have been at least two households within the palace that had believers in them.  

Asher Norman’s claim that Epaphroditus was Nero’s personal secretary is extremely unlikely.  There was a man named Epaphroditus who was described by the Roman historian Tacitus as ‘Nero’s freedman’.  Another man by this name was a patron of the literary arts and a sponsor of the Jewish historian Josephus.  But it is unlikely that either of these people were connected to the man named Epaphroditus who visited Paul while he was imprisoned and writing the epistle to the Philippians.  Epaphroditus was a common name for a slave in Roman times and to make the connection Asher Norman does has no real historical evidence.

Now you could put a sinister interpretation on all this as Asher Norman does and say this means that Paul was an agent of Rome with connections high up in the Roman system.  Alternatively you could put a positive interpretation on it to say that it shows how far the influence of faith in Jesus had penetrated Rome.  

Another reason Asher Norman gives for making Paul into a Roman agent is the fact that he is rescued and protected by 470 Roman troops following the riot in the Temple.  He says this shows that Paul was ‘a very significant benefit to Roman interests.’  However as I have already stated Paul was a Roman citizen and he had appealed for protection on the basis of his Roman citizenship.  There had also been a threat of disorder which the Romans would have been keen to prevent getting out of hand.  

Asher Norman says that the ‘benefit to Rome’ Paul was bringing comes out in Romans 13 where he writes: ‘Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.’  According to this passage Asher Norman says Paul ‘prohibited revolt against Rome. This pronouncement of Paul directly contradicts the Torah.  In the book of Exodus God commanded the Jews to rebel against the ‘governmental authority’ of the Egyptians.  About 200 years before Paul preached his gospel, the Jews had successfully rebelled against the ‘governmental authority’ of the Greeks who had occupied the country prior to the Romans.  The open miracle of the Chanukah lights clearly demonstrated God’ sanction and approval of this Jewish revolt.’  He could have added that the two revolts of the Jewish people against Rome ended in catastrophic defeat and the dispersion of the Jewish people from the land of Israel.

The question of Paul’s teaching in Romans 13 is a big one and beyond the scope of this article.  It has been pointed out that Paul is here writing about the ideal government that makes good laws for the welfare of the people.  Such a government is to protect the righteous and punish the wicked.  Citizens should submit to such government and pay taxes required to it.  On the other hand when the government makes laws which are contrary to God’s laws, then the believer is not subject to such laws and is justified in opposing governments making them.  Examples would be the Roman Emperor proclaiming himself a god and demanding to be worshipped, the Nazi government in its racial laws and persecution of the Jewish people, or Communist governments making anti-Christian laws.  

Conclusion.

The true Messianic faith is based on Jesus, not Paul.  Paul based his teaching on Jesus as Messiah, as he acknowledged when he wrote: ‘For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus the Messiah.’  

1 Corinthians 3.11.  Paul was a Jewish believer in Jesus who loved his own people and wanted them to experience the salvation he had received (see Romans 9-11).   Let us take heed to what Paul wrote and find salvation through the Messiah he believed in:  ‘If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.   For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.”  For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For “whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.”  Romans 10.9-13.

 

At the end of his message in the synagogue in Pisidia in Acts 13.13-41 he said to the Jewish people there, ‘Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.’

 

To Page Top