Post Author: Bill Pratt
Recently I’ve run across people who believe that the apostle Paul effectively hijacked Jesus’ teachings and invented most of what we today call Christianity. Even though this seems to be a view with few advocates, it is still an important charge that is being made. How do we answer this question?
Southern Evangelical Seminary President Alex McFarland wrote about this very topic in a December 2009 newsletter. I will quote heavily from his article, as he did an excellent job of analyzing this issue. McFarland’s approach is to show that the essential truths of Christianity were established before Paul began to write his epistles. McFarland begins:
Saul of Tarsus–a passionate persecutor of the church–became Paul the believer about AD 35. The book of Acts (written by Luke) records Paul’s salvation experience in chapters 9, 22, and 26. In his own writings, Paul also explains his conversion to faith (I Corinthians 9:1, 15:3-8, and Galatians 1:11-18). From about AD 48 until his death around AD 68, Paul wrote at least 13 of the New Testament’s books.
The fact that Paul had originally opposed and persecuted the church proves that he could not have “invented” Christianity. Paul’s use of the words “received” and “passed on”–rabbinical terms for the handing down of teachings–is significant in I Corinthians 15:3-8. In relating these facts about Jesus’ death and resurrection, Paul is saying that what it presents is existing truth that he himself had received. Scholars recognize that this passage contains an early church creed (or statement of belief) that was recited by believers in the days before the New Testament had been written down. Other Scriptures that preserve the early, verbal Christian creeds include I John 4:2, Philippians 2:6, II Timothy 2:8, and Romans 1:3-4. Another notable passage is I Timothy 3:16. Not only is this a confession of belief, it may have actually been part of a hymn that was sung by early believers.
In part 2 of this post, we will conclude McFarland’s argument and look at some additional evidence that he does not cover. See you next time!