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Did Paul Invent Christianity

Did Paul Invent Christianity?

Every now and then I hear the theory that the Apostle Paul is actually the person who created the idea that Jesus was the Son of God and He was raised from the dead. The claim is, Paul is the creative source behind the existence and substance of the Christian faith. But is that true? What do the primary sources reveal about such a claim?

A Simple Time Line

Anyone who has taken the time to read the New Testament realizes that the gospel is being preached, people are being converted to Christ and the church exists and is spreading from town to town years before Paul becomes a Christian. The book of Acts records the spread of the gospel throughout the Roman Empire and Paul’s conversation does not take place until chapter 9. In other words, Acts chapter two is either 30 or 33 AD and Paul is converted after 36 AD.

A Bare Bones or a Complete Gospel?

I find it significant that long before Paul becomes a Christian that the gospel being preached up to that point is fully formed. In other words, it is not that a raw idea existed and then Paul added all the meat to it. Christianity is fully formed before he embraces it, so he could not have invented it. For example long before Paul is saved here is what was being taught:

  • Joel 2:28-32 looked forward to the coming of the Spirit and when salvation would be offered to all men, not just people of a Jewish heritage: Acts 2:16-21; 2:39 “and all who are afar off”.
  • Jesus had worked miracles: Acts 2:22
  • Jesus’ death was part of God’s predetermined plan: Acts 2:23
  • Jesus was crucified and raised from the dead: Acts 2:24
  • Psalm 16 is a prophecy of Jesus’ resurrection: Acts 2:25-29
  • 2 Samuel 7:12ff: God’s promise to David was fulfilled when Jesus was raised from the dead and seated at God’s right hand: Acts 2:30-31
  • Psalm 110 is being fulfilled in Jesus sitting and ruling at God’s right hand: Acts 2:34
  • The entire story concerning how Jesus was betrayed (Acts 1:18-20) by Judas, then sold out by the crowds when given an opportunity to choose the murderer Barabbas (Acts 3:13-14) is being taught.
  • That the Old Testament clearly taught that the Messiah had to suffer before He reigned: Acts 3:18
  • Jesus is the Lawgiver that Moses predicted (Deuteronomy 18): Acts 3:22-23
  • There are many prophecies in the Old Testament that point to Jesus: Acts 3:24
  • Jesus is the fulfillment of the statement or promise made to Abraham (Genesis 12:3) “and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Acts 3:25).
  • Jesus is the stone which the builders (the Jewish leaders) rejected (Psalm 118:22): Acts 4:11
  • Psalm 2 was fulfilled when the Jewish leaders teamed up with such men as Herod and Pilate and stood against Jesus: (Acts 4:25).
  • It was being clearly taught that Jesus had predicted the destruction of Jerusalem and that the Law of Moses had ended: (Acts 6:15).
  • Then there is an entire narrative of how the nation of Israel has repeatedly rejected those sent to deliver her, i.e., men like Joseph, Moses, all the prophets and then Jesus (Acts 7:51).
  • Jesus is the fulfillment of Isaiah chapter 53 (Acts 8:32-35).

A Bare Bones Church?

Long before Paul becomes a member of the Lord’s church, the church is fully formed and is growing quickly (Acts 2:41; 5:14; 6:1):

  • The emphasis on continuing in the apostles teaching: Acts 2:42
  • Existence of the Lord’s Supper being observed: Acts 2:42
  • Prayer and taking care of the needs of their own members: Acts 2:42,44
  • The Lord added the baptized to the church: Acts 2:47

A Clear Plan of Salvation

Long before Paul becomes a Christian the terms of salvation are clearly outlined:

  • Hearing the Gospel/Faith: Acts 2:37
  • Repentance: Acts 2:38; 3:19
  • Confession: Acts 8:36-37
  • Baptism: Acts 2:38; 8:35-38

So how is it that if Paul is the creative mind behind Christianity that the Christianity that exists prior to his conversion is the same Christianity that exists years after this event?

The Product of His Creative Mind?

As you read the New Testament, particularly what Paul wrote, he does not present himself as either the creative mind behind the gospel or even “the” major player in the early church. When Paul talks about how he “learned the truth” he makes two points. First, no one personally taught him all the truth that makes up the Christian faith (Galatians 1:16). Just as important, the gospel he preached was not the product of his own reasoning. He had not invented it. Carefully observe the terminology he uses:

  • “But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him” (Galatians 1:15-16).
  • “For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:11-12).
  • “That by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief” (Ephesians 3:3).

On this particular point all the evidence points in the direction or on the side of the fact that Jesus actually did appear to Paul on the road to Damascus as is recorded in Acts chapters 9,22 and 26:

  • Paul had been advancing in Judaism, he was doing well, he was on his way to becoming the next great rabbi (Galatians 1:14).
  • He was completely convinced that Christianity was false and that Jesus was not the Son of God (Galatians 1:13; Acts 26:9), to the point that he was willing to use force against it.
  • He loved his Jewish heritage and faith. There is no hint that he was a dissatisfied, disillusioned or spiritually weak Jewish man who was looking for a better alternative (Philippians 3:6-7).

The Major Player in the Early Church?

As you read what was actually recorded in the First Century you find that while Paul was an apostle, he clearly did not view himself as the man in charge.

  • When Paul speaks at the council of Jerusalem, he speaks, but he is not the only speaker (Acts 15), or even the primary speaker.
  • He notes that Peter, James and John were viewed as pillars of the early church (Galatians 2:9).
  • God used Paul to preach the gospel to many non-Jewish people, yet God used Peter to first preach the gospel (Acts 2) and first preach the gospel to Gentiles (Acts 10).
  • In fact, when Paul speaks of himself, he does not view himself as “the originator of the gospel” but as a latecomer to the movement (1 Corinthians 15:8-9), and as the least of the apostles.

The Same Gospel

When Paul finally does encounter people like Peter, years after his conversion, it is clear that they are both preaching the same message (Galatians 2:5-9). So how could Peter have been preaching for years something that did not supposedly exist until years after Paul was converted? In addition, there is no difference between the gospel preached by Peter or the other apostles and Paul. Paul speaks highly of Peter, and Peter views Paul’s writings as the inspired word of God (2 Peter 3:16ff).  

What Makes No Sense… If Paul Invented It

  • That this Pharisee would invent the story that Jesus had commissioned him to preach to what he would have considered at the time to be the world’s “great unwashed” (Acts 22:3; 26:5; 26:16).
  • That he would invent the eldership (the ruling office in each local congregation) and exclude himself from probably ever holding that office. I say this because the qualifications that are given in the letters to Timothy and Titus, written by Paul, required that a man be married and have believing children (1 Timothy 3:1ff) in order to be qualified. Paul did not possess either of those qualifications (1 Corinthians 9:5).
  • That Paul would have invented a faith that brought such suffering upon himself (2 Corinthians 11), without gaining any power, wealth or earthly fame at the time in the process. In fact, he rejected the idea of anyone calling themselves after him (1 Corinthians 1:12-15).

What is Easy

It is easy to come up with a theory like Paul invented Christianity, and there is an element in the world that loves and feeds upon the latest theory (Acts 17:21). But instead of just spreading a theory without any proof from the original documents and sources, I wish people would deal with the inspired arguments revealed through Paul in defense of the gospel. Passages such as Romans chapters 1-3 or Galatians chapters 1-3.    

Mark Dunagan | mdunagan@frontier.com
Beaverton Church of Christ | 503-644-9017
www.beavertonchurchofchrist.net