Was the Apostle Paul a False Teacher? Yes, based upon what most traditional churches are saying about Paul, that he teaches that we should not obey the Old Testament Laws. This, by the Bible’s own definition of a false prophet or teacher (Deuteronomy 13), would make Paul one.
Years ago, in reading supposed contradictory statements between Paul and the Torah (1st 5 books of the Bible), I decided to do a complete study of all of Paul’s letters. Because Moses is God’s Chief Prophet, the Books of Moses would always trump Paul’s teachings – but that would mean Paul was teaching false doctrine. Was I totally misunderstanding Paul? Indeed I was!
Paul Jailed in Jerusalem
This website highlights many words from Paul in the Bible that clearly contradict mainstream teachings attributed to Paul. Here are one set of examples that took place with Paul’s trip to Jerusalem.
The Apostle Paul was once arrested for the crime of speaking against the law (Torah). Acts 21:27-28
In Acts 24:14, Paul defends himself against the false charges by saying:
“But this I confess unto you, … so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law (Torah) and in the prophets.”
Listen to the Witness of all the Apostles
When the Jerusalem Council heard Paul’s report of his work they all glorified God and said:
“… how many thousands … have believed. They are all zealous for the law …”
— Acts 21:19-20
James, half-brother of Jesus (Y’shua) and head of the Jerusalem Church, speaking to Paul said:
“… you yourself also walk orderly, keeping the Law.”
— Acts 21:24 NASB
Peter Cautions about Twisting Paul’s Letters
Peter calls Paul “our beloved brother” in 2 Peter 3:15. In 2 Peter 3:15-17, Peter, commenting on Paul’s Letters, writes: “There are some things in them that are hard to understand” and cautions about those who are “ignorant and unstable twist” Paul’s letters “to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.” and “knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability.”
Peter is warning us about the “error of lawless people” who “twist” Paul’s teachings. He is referring to those who do not have the Torah and the Old Testament as the foundation to their faith, those who don’t obey the Torah, those who continue to live their lives in sin.
Keys to Understand Paul
I can get just as frustrated as many do with trying to read and understand the teachings of Paul, BUT I have to keep reminding myself of the following 3 points, 3 keys to truly understanding Paul:
1) Torah, Moses, and God is Greater than Paul
The Unity of the Scripture demands that just as God is one and not divided, neither is his Word, so you will not find any contradictions in any truly inspired teachings. I remind myself that Paul could never have contradicted the Old Testament, especially saying that we should not obey it, otherwise he would be have been a false teacher.
If anyone thinks that Paul is saying that we should not obey the Old Testament law, then you have to weigh Paul’s teachings against the witness of Moses and God himself. So who do you think has a greater witness? I would have to side with God and Moses. Your conclusion should be that either you are misinterpreting what Paul is actually saying, or that Paul is a false teacher, or that you are not really understanding what Paul said – that you just don’t get it. If you say that you “follow Paul” then Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:3-4 “are you not carnal?” And in Romans 8:4-8: if you are still carnal and “walking in the flesh” you are at war with God. OR WORSE, if you say you believe Paul over God, are you not calling God a liar?
2) Paul’s Writings Are Often Complex
Put simply: Paul’s writings can get very, very complex. Being that Paul was a Pharisee (Philippians 3:5; Acts 23:6) and was highly educated in both Jewish and Greek circles, then you might start to understand why. So if you hope to understand Paul’s writings just as easily as other books of the Bible then you will most likely be disappointed. Peter talks about Paul’s hard teachings in 2 Peter 3:15-17 listed previously: Peter Cautions about Paul’s Letters.
3) We are Reading Someone Else’s Letters
Paul’s writings in the New Testament are not formally written teachings or books, but in fact are letters he wrote to churches and people he knew. There is an entire existing relationship behind these letters that often we know little or nothing about. They share common experiences, common understandings, and facts about each other that they don’t need to repeat or mention in their letters. So, for us as outside readers, centuries later, this leaves us at a great disadvantage because no matter how hard we try, we end up missing a big chunk of the actual conversation.
ADDITIONAL STUDIES ON PAUL: “But Paul said…”
Paul’s Real Doctrine of Salvation
I learned that to REALLY understand Paul’s teachings you HAVE to study all of his letters to better understand Paul’s intentions. Doing so helped me understand how Paul thought and what was his real mission and goals. Back in Paul’s time of the Early Churches, due to the corrupt influence of the Pharisees (as Paul had been one and he should know), many identified the “Salvation of God of Israel” with primarily doing or obeying the law of God, even though “faith” was known to them through the example of Abraham. But we know, that if we disobey one law we violate all and come under condemnation, thus the need for a Savior to take away the penalty for our sin (violation of God’s law).
But still, this was not Paul’s main point. It was that we cannot really please God unless we accept Jesus (Y’shua) as God’s Son. This is why belief in Jesus (Y’shua) is so critical, because Jesus (Y’shua) is actually God (this is what the term Son of God means). You cannot have salvation except by recognizing and accepting all parts of God in the Trinity as fully and equally God. For if you deny one in the Trinity, you are denying all, because all three are the same person. In John 17:3, Jesus (Y’shua), while looking up to the Heavenly Father, said: “And this is eternal life, that they might know[G1097] you the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”
Furthermore, it is only through faith in Jesus (Y’shua) that we receive God’s Holy Spirit and we cannot obey the Law (please God) by continuing to ‘Walk in the Flesh’ but only by ‘Walking in the Spirit.’ This is why Paul states in Romans 3:31: “Do we then make void the law (Torah) through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law (Torah).” And in Romans 7:12: “Wherefore the law (Torah) is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.” SEE ALSO Deuteronomy 27:26 (YLT) in the Torah: “Cursed is he who does not establish the words of this law, to do them …”
In Titus 1:16, Paul states: “They profess that they know[G1097] God; but in works they deny him, being … disobedient, and unto every good work worthless.”
Above we see again the Greek word ‘ginōskō’ (Strong’s Ref. #G1097) meaning to “know” (absolutely), to understand. This same word is also used when describing how a wife or husband intimately knows the other. This showing an intimate knowledge of God.
If Paul had a motto or main theme and perhaps had a banner above his head that was carried by his associates where ever he walked it would say this:
So contrary to existing teachings of the day and so ingrained into Israeli culture around the globe that it was a very hard and common teaching hurdle to overcome for Paul, the Apostles, and the Early Church.
If you study Paul’s letters in depth, you’ll start to understand that Paul’s harsh statements about the law boils down to this: That no one is justified (considered righteous) before God by doing the law, lest any man should boast of his works (Ephesians 2:8-9) and by his own hand (and not God’s) make himself righteous. Justification, being considered righteous before God, is a free gift to those who believe, have faith in and follow his Son Jesus. The only argument Paul makes against the law is that you cannot be saved by doing it. Galatians 5:4: “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law (Torah); you are fallen from grace.”
Paul never suggests that disciples of Jesus (Y’shua) should not obey God’s laws in the Old Testament. That would mean Paul was endorsing sin and evil. In 1 Corinthians 5:7-8, Paul even teaches that we should obey the Passover as commanded in the Law (Torah) in Leviticus Chapter 23. As you read through this website you will find quotes from Paul’s letters that support this argument like:
The Apostle Paul
“But this I confess … I worship the God of my fathers,
believing all things which are
written in the law (Torah) and in the prophets”
“They profess that they know God;
but in works they deny him, being … disobedient
and unto every good work worthless.”
“Do we then make void the law (Torah) through faith?
God forbid: no, we establish the law (Torah).”
“the law (Torah) is holy… and just, and good”
“for we know that the law (Torah) is spiritual”
“…our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” – Titus 2:13-14
Paul Observed the 7th Day Sabbath
Acts 17:1-2: “… they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three Sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures …”
Acts 13:5 (ESV): “When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John to assist them.”
Acts 13:13-14: “Paul and his company … they came to Antioch … went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day …”
Acts 13:42-44: “And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath. Now when the congregation was broken up, many of the Jews and religious proselytes (new converts) followed Paul and Barnabas: who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God. And the next Sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God.”
Acts 14:1 (ESV): “Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed.”
Acts 18:19: “And he came to Ephesus … he himself entered into the synagogue, and reasoned with the Jews.”
Acts 19:8, Paul again was in Ephesus: “And he went into the synagogue, and spoke boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God.”