Tag Archives: apostle Paul

Did Paul Think Jesus Is God?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

There are many indications in Paul’s writings compiled in the New Testament that Paul thought Jesus was God. Perhaps one of the most famous texts would be Philippians 2:6-11. Referring to Jesus, Paul writes:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Paul Owen, in the New Mormon Challenge, provides a very helpful commentary on these passages below.

Perhaps the most striking example of [Paul indicating Jesus’ divinity] comes from Philippians 2:6-11, which is widely acknowledged as a Pauline citation of an early Christian hymn. This passage contains some striking statements regarding the divine status of Jesus: he possessed God’s nature (2:6a), and he was equal with God (2:6b) prior to his incarnation (2:7-8). The divine one who became enfleshed was subsequently exalted by God to the highest possible heavenly status (2:9a). God made the name of Jesus equivalent to the divine name YHWH (2:9b).

What is perhaps most striking, however, is what is found in 2:10-11: “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

This is an astonishing adaptation of one of the clearest monotheistic texts in all the Old Testament—Isaiah 45:22-24: “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. They will say of me, ‘In the LORD alone are righteousness and strength.’ All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame.”

In an astonishing exegetical move, Isaiah 45:22-24 has been read to refer to the eschatological vindication of Jesus Christ, when God the Father compels all creation to acknowledge the lordship of the Son. Whereas Isaiah depicted every knee as bowing to Yahweh and every tongue confessing him as LORD, Paul understands this prophecy in terms of the confession and acknowledgment of Jesus’ universal lordship.

Every earthly and heavenly power will one day acknowledge that Jesus has been exalted to the highest place—which can only mean God’s own heavenly throne—and that the divine name YHWH and Jesus’ name are to be revered as one and the same (Phil 2:9). As Richard Bauckham writes: “The Philippians passage is therefore no unconsidered echo of an Old Testament text, but a claim that it is in the exaltation of Jesus, his identification as YHWH in YHWH’s universal sovereignty, that the unique deity of the God of Israel comes to be acknowledged as such by all creation.

What we have in Phil 2:6-11 is an early Christian hymn that was being repeated within a short time after Jesus’s death and that was clearly equating Jesus with the God of the Old Testament. Did Paul and the early church think Jesus was God? It seems so.

Why Did Paul Tell Women to Cover Their Heads?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

In 1 Cor 11:5-6, the apostle Paul tells the Corinthians that a woman should cover her head when praying or prophesying at church assemblies. Some churches today still adhere to this command, but should they? What was the context of Paul’s statement?

Authors E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien provide a possible answer to this question in their book Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible.  They write:

Paul tells women in Corinth that they must have their head covered when they worship (1 Cor 11:5-6). It is not immediately clear to us what the problem is, so we may assume something went without being said, which is a good instinct.

So perhaps we assume that a woman’s hair was somehow sexually alluring to ancient people and that therefore a Christian woman needed to cover hers. We may then reason that since hair today is not a sexual turn-on, it is okay for a Christian woman to wear her hair down.

We are correct that something went without being said, but we are wrong about what that was.

If Paul was not talking about sexual modesty, what was he talking about?

Paul is indeed talking about modesty. In our culture, if male ministers are talking about what a Christian woman should be wearing, we are almost always discussing sexual modesty or the lack thereof, so we typically assume that’s what Paul is doing here. We feel affirmed when Paul mentions that it is disgraceful if a woman doesn’t cover her head (1 Cor 11:6).

Likely, however, Paul was admonishing the hostess of a house church to wear her marriage veil (“cover her head”) because “church” was a public event and because respectable Roman women covered their heads in public. These Corinthian women were treating church like their private dinner parties. These dinners (convivia, or “wine parties”) were known for other immoral activities including dinner “escorts” (1 Cor 6), idol meat (1 Cor 8–10), adultery (1 Cor 10) and drunkenness (1 Cor 11).

The issue was modesty, but not sexual modesty. These women were co-opting an activity about God for personal benefit. They were treating church as a social club.

Thus Paul was interested in a broader kind of modesty than sexual modesty. He didn’t want the Corinthian women treating the worship assembly like their private dinner parties, dinner parties that typically went along with being wealthy. Economic modesty at church gatherings was also an important issue for Paul.

Since covering a woman’s head is no longer a cultural indicator of economic or class status, this command by Paul no longer applies to us (in the 21st century America). However, there are certainly other ways that Christians signal their economic and class status that Paul would equally frown upon today.

Church is not a place to emphasize class and economic status. It’s not a country club. It’s a place to worship God.

Why Is Paul So Important to Historians Studying the Resurrection of Jesus? #5 Post of 2012

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Historical scholar Mike Licona, in his book The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, asks just this question.  His answer is important to understand.

A priority must be assigned to Paul because he is the earliest known author to mention the resurrection of Jesus, and there are numerous extant texts he wrote that give us clues pertaining to the nature of Jesus’ resurrection.  Paul’s letters are the only verifiable reports by a verifiable eyewitness of the risen Jesus himself.  And he personally knew the other disciples, who were also claiming that the risen Jesus had appeared to them in both individual and group settings.

Paul’s conversion is especially interesting because he was an enemy of the church when his experience of the risen Jesus occurred.  Therefore Jesus’ resurrection is reported not only by his friends but also by at least someone who was a vehement foe at the time of the experience.  Paul’s belief that he had witnessed the risen Christ was so strong that he, like the original disciples, was willing to suffer continuously for the sake of the gospel, even to the point of martyrdom.

Let’s recap what Licona is saying.  Paul is important because:

  1. He is the earliest known author to mention the resurrection of Jesus.
  2. There are numerous extant texts he wrote that give us clues pertaining to the nature of Jesus’ resurrection.
  3. Paul’s letters are the only verifiable reports by a verifiable eyewitness of the risen Jesus himself.
  4. He personally knew the other disciples, who were also claiming that the risen Jesus had appeared to them in both individual and group settings.
  5. He was an enemy of the church when his experience of the risen Jesus occurred.
  6. He was willing to suffer and be martyred because his belief in the risen Jesus was so strong.

In future posts, we will look at a couple of skeptical arguments as to why we should discount Paul’s writings as evidence of the resurrection.  Licona presents these arguments and then responds to them, so stay tuned.

Why Do Two Skeptics Discount Paul’s Testimony about the Resurrection of Jesus?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Historical scholar Mike Licona, in his book The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, argues that the apostle Paul’s writings are critical to historical research on Jesus’ resurrection.  But some skeptics disagree.  Licona explains:

Given the historical nuggets provided by Paul that can assist historians in their investigation of the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus, it is not surprising to find a few who have attempted to downplay its value.  Roy Hoover writes, “No New Testament text claims that the risen Jesus appeared to anyone who had not been a follower of Jesus or who did not become a believer.”

This is quite a move, simply writing off those who became believers after they were convinced that they had seen the risen Jesus.  Hoover fails to address the question of what may have led them to this belief against their previous wishes to reject who they believed was a false messiah.  So how does Hoover account for Paul’s experience?  He writes, “The risen Jesus was seen by one Pharisee who was a zealous enemy of the early church—Paul, from Tarsus; but so far as we know, Paul never met the Jesus of history and cannot, therefore, be counted among his enemies.”  

Licona wonders how this criterion of needing to meet someone to be counted among that person’s enemies makes any sense.

If we followed Hoover’s logic, no one fighting against the Nazis in World War II or imprisoned in one of the Nazi death camps could consider Hitler his enemy unless he had personally met him!

Licona also cites atheist philosopher Michael Martin, who offers a similar argument.  Here is Martin himself: 

Why should the fact that Paul persecuted Christians and was subsequently converted to Christianity by his religious experience be given special existential significance?  Whatever his past record at the time of his report he was a zealous, religious believer and not a religious skeptic.

Licona continues:

For Martin, it seems that in order to be regarded as a credible witness, it is not good enough to be opposed to everything about Christianity, including its followers; one must also be no less than an agnostic.  But as we observed earlier, historians are quite unanimous in their opinion that there is no neutrality when it comes to these matters.  When we speak of bias the knife cuts both ways, and it is quite clear that some religious skeptics reveal their own bias, which is antireligious in nature.

It is amazing to me that Licona even has to make this point.  You can figure out by reading any religious skeptic’s writing, very quickly, that they are burdened with the same kinds of biases that religious proponents are.  None of us can escape our biases completely, but it seems that religious skeptics, like Martin and Hoover, believe that they can.

The reason any person writes about anything is because they have interest in the subject they are writing about.  Nobody writes about subjects they care nothing about, and if they did, we would rightly ignore most of what they write.  Paul deeply cared about what happened to Jesus, and we should, therefore, pay close attention to what he said.  To discount his testimony because he became a believer is the height of hyper-skepticism.

Why Do We Celebrate Easter?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

We celebrate Easter because it commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Christians believe that Jesus was killed by crucifixion on a Friday and then actually came back to life on the following Sunday.

Some may ask, “So what?”  Why is it important that Jesus rose from the dead?

There are many answers to that question, including the fact that Jesus predicted this miracle ahead of time as proof that he is the Son of God.  But today I want to highlight a passage from 1 Cor. 15 where the apostle Paul explains why the resurrection is important to believers in a very practical way.

But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?  If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.  And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.  More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.  And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.  If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men (1 Cor. 15:12-19).

Christ’s resurrection is the central teaching of Christianity.  According to Paul, if he wasn’t resurrected, then Christianity is a complete sham; all who believe in Christ for salvation are still in their sins and to be pitied if Christ was not raised.

For those of us who are believers, the resurrection is extremely important.  If Christ was not raised, we have no hope.

But Paul does not leave us hanging.  In verse 20, he makes clear what really occurred: “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20).

Paul concludes his treatment of the resurrection with these words: “Death has been swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:54).

The resurrection of Christ is the ultimate reassurance to all believers that death has finally been defeated.  We will all be resurrected, just as Christ.  Once you understand that Easter is a celebration of the defeat of death, you will finally understand why we celebrate this holy day.

Thanks be to God for a risen Savior!

How Did the Apostles Die?

William Hole's interpretation of the Beloved D...
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Post Author: Bill Pratt

One of the most compelling apologetic arguments for the truth of the resurrection of Jesus is the fact that most of his closest followers were martyred for their beliefs.  Since these followers would have had first-hand knowledge of whether he actually did come back from the dead, their willingness to be persecuted and eventually die for this belief is hard to explain if the resurrection never did occur.

One of the challenges with making this argument is that the quality of the historical evidence for these martyr deaths varies greatly.  C. Michael Patton, of the Parchment and Pen blog, attempted to sort out the historical evidence for the deaths of 12 apostles in this blog post.  In his post, he grades the quality of the historical sources based on his own research.  He assigns a grade of “A” to the deaths with the best historical evidence (highest probability) all the way down to a grade of “D” for deaths where he considers the historical evidence to be weak (lowest probability).

For reference, here are each of the disciples along with their alleged year of martyrdom and the grade Patton assigned to their martyrdom accounts:

The Apostle James: year of death – 44-45 A.D.; grade of A

The Apostle Peter: year of death – 64 A.D.; grade of A

The Apostle Andrew: year of death – 70 A.D.; grade of B

The Apostle Thomas: year of death – 70 A.D.; grade of B

The Apostle Philip: year of death – 54 A.D.; grade of C

The Apostle Matthew: year of death – 60-70 A.D.; grade of B

The Apostle Nathaneal: year of death – 70 A.D.; grade of C

James the Brother of Jesus: year of death – 63 A.D.; grade of B

The Apostle Simon the Zealot: year of death – 74 A.D.; grade of B

The Apostle Judas Thaddeus: year of death – 72 A.D.; grade of C

The Apostle Matthias: year of death – 70 A.D.; grade of D

The Apostle Paul: year of death – 67 A.D.; grade of A

Out of the 12 martyrdom accounts he grades, 3 merited an “A,” 5 merited a “B,” 3 merited a “C,” and 1 merited a “D.”  In my opinion, the three accounts that garnered “A”s are enough evidence to uphold the apologetic argument.  What Patton demonstrates is that there is even more evidence than just these three.

Historical research can be very tricky, and these kinds of analyses are somewhat subjective.  I’m sure skeptics of Christianity might grade harder than Patton did, but I commend him for his attempt.  Please read the rest of his blog post if you want to know more of the details surrounding the deaths.

Did Paul Invent Christianity? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt

We pick up from part 1 of this post to see why Paul could not have invented a version of Christianity foreign to Jesus’ teachings.

McFarland continues making his case:

The point is this:  the key teachings of the Gospel (Jesus is the sinless Son of God; He died for our sins and rose again; we receive Him as Savior through repentance and faith) pre-date Paul.  Paul taught these things, expounded on these things, and was used by God to write much of the New Testament.  But the core of the Gospel was being widely spread even before Paul was a believer.  In the final words of I Corinthians 15:8, Paul seemed to acknowledge that he was late getting to the party!

Look at Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, found in Acts 2:14-40.  Peter presents the core facts of the Gospel, including Jesus’ Deity, death, and resurrection.  Peter preaches the same truths again in Acts 3:12-18.  In Acts 5:29-33, Peter addressed Jewish leaders, and again gives the key facts of the Christian message.  By Acts 5:42, we read, “Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.”

So what can we conclude?  The core teachings of Christianity predated Paul’s conversion and his later writings.  Paul did not invent Christianity.

But there is one more important point to be made.  If Paul’s teachings contradicted those of the other disciples, the disciples that spent 3 years under Jesus’ tutelage, then surely they would have called him out.  In fact, just the opposite occurred.  The apostle Peter, who was one of Jesus’ closest companions and a recognized leader of the early church, had this to say about Paul in 2 Pet. 3:15-16: “Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.”

Take note of the fact that Paul is a “dear brother” and that his words are compared to “other Scriptures.”  Peter is effectively endorsing Paul’s teachings, so the idea that Paul hijacked Christianity from the true followers of Jesus is refuted.  We can be confident that the entire New Testament, including Paul’s writings, were inspired by one and the same God.

Did Paul Invent Christianity? Part 1

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!


Are All Sins Equal? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt

So we’ve seen that the Bible does teach that some sins are more serious than others and that some virtues are greater than others.  There is a moral law hierarchy.  But what does this practically mean?

First, let’s look at debates over public policy.  When determining where to focus your efforts on a particular law, you must consider its seriousness.  A great example is abortion.  Many Christians focus on the abortion issue because it is such a serious moral failure in our country.  Abortion kills over a million lives every year.  Taking innocent human life is pretty high up the moral law measuring stick.

Some people ask why Christians aren’t more outspoken about global warming.  My answer to that question is, “The death of millions of innocent babies today is far more serious a moral issue than the possible rise in temperature of the earth over the next 100 years.”  The consequences of global warming are surely speculative and uncertain, as any future prediction of ultra-complex climate activity must be, whereas we have a definite problem, abortion, staring us in the face today.

We have to make these kinds of decisions all the time.  What are the most serious moral issues of the day for our nation?  If we just say that all moral issues are equal, we are unable to focus our efforts on what matters more.

Second, what about the Christian life in particular?  In this life, the worse we sin, the more out of touch with God we are.  As my wife likes to say, “God keeps us from sin, and sin keeps us from God.”  If you, as a Christian, are engaging in adultery, then clearly this sin will have greater effect on your walk with God than if you once neglect to call your mother to wish her “Happy Birthday.”

Paul taught that a particular kind of sexual immorality (a man having sexual relations with his father’s wife)  should cause the expulsion of the man committing this sin (1 Cor. 5), but he didn’t write a letter demanding expulsion for someone scrawling graffiti in the streets of Corinth.  Graffiti may be a sin, but it is less serious than sleeping with your father’s wife.  Different sins demand different punishments.

There are also rewards in heaven for the Christian, based on her moral behavior in this life.  In 1 Cor. 3 Paul teaches that the good works we bring to God after we die determine our rewards in heaven.  Some of our works will be so worthless that they will be “burned up.”  Those works of high quality will survive the flames.  The kinds of moral actions we pursue in this life matter for eternity.  The Bible seems to teach that the quality of our good works on earth will determine our ability to enjoy heaven.  Again, our sins and our virtues matter for eternity.

So, how can we summarize?  All sins are equal in that they condemn us before a perfect God.  This is an important point to make when we are evangelizing the lost.  But all sins are not equal when it comes to public legislation, temporal punishment and praise, sanctification (our walk with God where we become more like Christ), and eternal rewards.  When we talk about sin, let’s make sure we consider the situation and apply the correct teaching.

Are All Sins Equal? Part 1

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In a sense, yes, but in another sense, no.  Evangelicals often point out that all sins will send you to hell, that God demands moral perfection, so whether you steal a stick of chewing gum or murder your spouse, both sins will equally damn you.  This is really just a way of explaining that all mankind sins, and thus all mankind is in need of a savior from that sin.  It is, in other words, an evangelistic appeal more than anything else.

But when we talk about sin, we’re not always evangelizing.  Sometimes we’re admonishing Christians who are already saved, and other times we’re debating public morality in the context of legislation.  In these cases, stating that all sins are the same is hardly helpful.

Leaving the issue of evangelization aside, we all intuitively know that some sins are worse than others.  Look at our legal system.  The punishment for stealing a stick of gum is quite different from the punishment for killing your spouse.  There is a wide range of punishments, from a $100 fine to the death penalty, all depending on how serious your crime is.

When we punish our children, the same rule applies.  Little Johnny may be grounded for several weeks if he makes an “F” on his report card, but he may only be sent to his room for an hour for swatting his sister on the back of the head.  Again, Mom and Dad know that all sins are not the same.

But what about the Bible?  Is there support for the view that all sins are not equal in Holy Scripture?  Yes, actually there is.

Let’s look at the words of Jesus.  In Matt. 23:23, Jesus scolds the Pharisees for neglecting “the more important matters of the law.”  If there are more important matters of the law, than there are less important matters of the law, and thus a moral law hierarchy.

In Matt. 5:19 Jesus refers to breaking the  “least of these commandments,” again indicating a hierarchy.

In Matt. 22:34-40, an expert in the law asks Jesus about the greatest commandment.  Jesus’ response isn’t, “Silly man!  All of the laws are equal!”  No, he tells him that the greatest command is to love God and the second greatest command is to love your neighbor.  Clearly the man who loves his neighbor but does not love God is committing the greater sin.  God comes first.

In John 19:11, Jesus tells Pilate that “the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”  If there is a greater sin, then there must be lesser sins.

What about the apostle Paul?  He says in 1 Cor. 13:13 that the greatest virtue is love.  If there is a greatest virtue, then there must be lesser virtues.  Paul also tells Timothy in 1 Tim. 1:15 that Paul is the worst sinner.  But if all sins are equal, then there can be no worst sinner.

In 1 John, the apostle John informs us that there is sin that leads to death, and other sins that do not lead to death.  Clearly some sins are worse than others.

In part 2 of this post, we’ll look at the practical consequences of some moral laws being greater than others.