Paul Misunderstood

Paul Misunderstood
James Scott Trimm

Paul is greatly misunderstood as having taught that the Torah is not for today. I have met a great many who feel uncomfortable with his writings. Some of these have even, like the Ebionites of ancient times, removed Paul’s from their canon (Eusebius; Eccl. Hist. 3:27:4). This belief that Yeshua may not have abolished the Torah, but that Paul did, has been propagated since ancient times. The “Toldot Yeshu” for example, an ancient hostile Rabbinic parody on the Gospels and Acts, accuses Paul of contradicting Yeshua on this very issue (Toldot Yeshu 6:16-41; 7:3-5). At least one modern Dispensationalist, Maurice Johnson, taught that the Messiah did not abolish the Torah, but that Paul did several years after the fact. He writes:

“Apparently God allowed this system of Jewish ordinances to be practiced about thirty years after Christ fulfilled it because in His patience, God only gradually showed the Jews how it was that His program was changing…. Thus it was that after God had slowly led the Christians out of Jewish religion He had Paul finally write these glorious, liberating truths.”
(Saved by “Dry” Baptism! ; a pamphlet by Maurice Johnson; pp. 9-10)

Kefa warns us in the Scriptures that Paul’s writings are difficult to understand. He warns us saying:

“…in which are some things hard to understand, which those who are untaught and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.”
(2 Peter 3:15-16)

Paul knew that his teachings were being twisted, he mentions this in Romans, saying:

“And why not say, “Let us do evil that good may come”? — as we are slanderously reported and as some affirm that we say.”
(Romans 3:8)

Paul elaborates on this slanderous twist of his teachings, saying:

“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not!…”
(Romans 6:1-2)


“What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the Torah but under grace? Certainly not!”
(Romans 6:15)

So then, Paul was misunderstood as teaching that because we are under grace, we need not observe the Torah.

Upon his visit to Jerusalem in Acts 21 Paul was confronted with this slanerous twist of his teachings. He was told:

“You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are who believe, and they are all zealous for the Torah; but they have been informed about you that you teach all the 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 21:20-21)

In order to prove that this was nothing more than slander, Paul takes the nazarite vow and goes to make offerings (sacrifices) at the Temple (Acts 21:22-26 & Num. 6:13-21) demonstrating that he himself kept the Torah (Acts 21:24). Paul did and said many things to prove that he both kept and taught the Torah. He:

  • circumcised Timothy (Acts 16:1-3)
  • took the nazarite vow (Acts 18:18; 21:17-26)
  • taught and observed Passover (Acts 20:6; 1Cor. 5:6-8; 11:17-34)
  • taught and observed Shavuot (Pentecost) (Acts 20:16; 1Cor. 16:8)
  • taught and observed fasting on Yom Kippur (Acts 27:9)
  • and even performed animal sacrifices in the Temple (Acts 21:17-26/Num. 6:13-21; Acts 24:17-18)

Among his more notable statements on the subject are:

  • “Neither against the Jewish Torah, nor against the Temple, nor against Caesar have I offended in anything at all.” (Acts 25:8)
  • “I have done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers.” (Acts 28:17)
  • “…the Torah is holy and the commandment is holy and just and good.” (Romans 7:12)
  • “Do we then nullify the Torah through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we maintain the Torah.” (Romans 3:31).

Was Paul a Hypocrite?

Being confronted with the various acts and statements of Paul which support the Torah, many of the “Torah is not for today” teachers accuse Paul of being hypocritical. Charles Ryrie, for example, footnotes Acts 21:24 in his Ryrie Study Bible calling Paul a “middle of the road Christian” for performing such acts. Another writer, M.A. DeHaan wrote an entire book entitled “Five Blunders of Paul” which characterizes these acts as “blunders.” “These teachers of lawlessness” credit Paul as the champion of their doctrine, and then condemn him for not teaching their doctrine. If Paul was really a hypocrite, could he honestly have condemned hypocrisy so fervently (see Galatians 2:11-15). Consider some of his own words:

“For now do I persuade the sons of men or Eloah? Or do I seek to please the sons of men? For if until now I had pleased the sons of men, I would not have been a servant of the Messiah.”
(Gal. 1:10 HRV)

“And you know, my brothers, that our entrance unto you was not in vain, but first we suffered and were dishonored, as you know, in Philippi, and then with great struggle we spoke to you with the boldness of our Eloah the good news of the Messiah. For our exhortation was not from deception nor from impurity nor with treachery. But as we were approved of Eloah to be entrusted with his Good News, thus we speak, not so as to please the sons of men, but Eloah, who searches our hearts. For we never used flattering speech, as you know, nor a pretext of greediness; Eloah [is] witness.”
(1 Thessalonians 2:1-5 HRV)

If Paul was a hypocrite, he must have been one of the slickest con-men in history!


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