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(5) The Paul Paradox

Επειρασας τοθς λεγοντας αποστολους και ουκ εισιν και ευρες ψεθδεις.

Rev/Ap 2:2


Those who study the New Testament may well note that popular ‘red-letter’ editions of the text, with Christ's words thus highlighted, contain virtually no such rubrics thruout the Epistles of Paul. With the sole exception of the eucharistic formula at I-Cor 11:24-25, he does not quote any sayings of the historical Yeshua/Jesus, either as found in the written Gospels or from a contemporaneous oral tradition.¹ Indeed furthermore, he never even once alludes to the panorama of the Savior's life story from the Nativity up to the Passion, as well as his elaborate teaching, which fill the pages of the first four books of the New Testament. This is, on the face of it, a most puzzling omission.1

Beyond this remarkable lack of historical concern, however, there is an even more enigmatic aspect of Paul's record in the New Testament. For an objective, philosophical reading of the documents would seem to reveal a number of logical contradictions, both within his biography and also between his theology and that of the Evangelists. It must be emphasized that these anomalies are conceptual rather than empirical in nature. For although they of course occur in interwoven historical, theological and normative contexts within the NT, they nevertheless present themselves as a priori problems of analytical consistency between various texts—regardless of the truth or falsity of any factual claims being made or presumed by those texts. Furthermore, these discrepancies must be similarly distinguished from logically posterior issues concerning the ancient composition, editing, redactions or dating of the New Testament writings, all of which are factual/historical topics.

In sum, and stated more formally: the Pauline antinomies are logical contradictions and therefore cannot in principle be resolved by means of either historical investigation or textual criticism, both of which are empirical methodologies.

Neither is this the place to provide a retrospective survey of the many past commentaries on these complex questions. I shall only append a series of quotations from a large number of eminent figures who are in general agreement that Paul's doctrines appear to be seriously at odds with the Gospel message. These excerpts suffice to show that what might be called ‘the Paul paradox’ has been recognized by a remarkably wide spectrum of prominent individuals across the centuries.


Here then is the matrix of antinomies, along with a brief statement of the apparent logical contradiction in each case. The original Greek should always be checked, at least via Adolph Knoch's superlative interlinear (Biblio.18), as translations since antiquity have often—intentionally—blurred these very discrepancies. It should be borne in mind, however, that such contrasts are oftentimes analog rather than binary in nature; as is so common in real life, instead of either/or, it may be a case of more or lessas for instance in #17, where one might donate to the poor anywhere from nothing, up to everything (cf. Lk 19:8-9, but also Ac 5:1-11!). Others of the following dichotomies, on the other hand, are irreducibly binary in form.

01. Ac 9:7 (cp. Dt 4:12)Ac 22:9
In the propositional calculus of modern logic, ‘
p & not-qis the truth-functional negation of ‘q & not-p. Thus ‘they heard the voice but did not see anyone’ directly contradicts ‘they saw the light but did not hear the voice’. Yet that famous event on the Damascus road was the sole original justification for Paul's supposed commission in independence of Peter/Kefa and the other Apostles. (In this instance, it is especially important to consult the Greek text: Ac 9Ac 22; translated correctly in E. Pagels, 1975/79, in the Appendix.)

02. Ac 9:26-29Gal 1:17-2:1
Did Paul then travel immediately—or seventeen years later!—from Damascus to Jerusalem in order to meet the entire Apostolic circle?

03. Mt 1:16/22:41-45, Lk 3:23Rom 1:3
Paul asserts that Christ is descended from David, which the Gospels explicitly deny.

04. Mt 23:21, Lk 2:49/19:45-46Ac 17:24
The Gospels endorse the OT designation of the Temple in Jerusalem as the very House of the L
ORD. Paul nevertheless proclaims to the Athenians that God inhabits no sanctuary made by human hands.

05. Ac 1:15I-Cor 15:5-6
How can Christ have appeared to the Twelve, and then to over 500 Brothers at once, at a time (prior to the Ascension) when there were only eleven Apostles (Iscariot being gone and Matthias not yet chosen) and the entire Discipleship numbered only 120?

06. Mt 10:2+40/16:15-19Gal 2:6+11-13
The explicit designation of Simon Peter as the foremost Apostle, with all the delegated authority of the Lord himself, logically precludes any other Disciple or Apostle opposing him ‘to his face’ and (worse yet) calling him a hypocrite.
Had Paul indeed nothing to learn from the original Apostles?

07. Mt 28:16-20, Ac 1:8/10:1-11:18/15:7-8+13-18Gal 2:6-9
The Gospel doctrine is clearly that, after the resurrection, the remaining eleven Apostles were sent forth to proclaim the good news to the whole world. Paul nevertheless claims to be
the one and only Apostle to the gentiles (‘the’ Apostle as he is often called), while Peter and the others according to this view were to be restricted to evangelizing among the Jews!

08. Mt 5:48, Lk 1:6, Jn 1:14/6:53-56Rom 8:8
The incarnation of the Logos, and also the injunction to be perfect, entail that those who are in the flesh can indeed please God.

09. Lk 24:36-43, Jn 11:43-44/20:27, Ac 1:9-11, Ph 25!I-Cor 15:50
The evangelists proclaim an incarnate resurrection and parousia (second coming), whereas Paul on the contrary takes an anti-corporeal, frankly gnostic position.

10. Lk 4:5-8, Jn 18:36/19:18, Ac 4:26 (Ps 2:2)Rom 13:1-5
The celestial kingdom is described in the Gospels as of another order from the entire realm of the nations, which are ruled by Satan and whereby Christ was crucified. On the other hand, the secular authorities with all their weaponry (including
Mk 15:16-20?) are stated by Paul to be God's own armed forces for punishing sinners!

11. Mt 22:21Ac 25:11
Christ cedes taxes to Caesar, Paul cedes his personal security to him (Nero, no less!).

12. Dt 23:15-16, Mt 23:10-12, Jn 8:31-36Col 4:1, I-Tim 6:1-2, Philem 10-19
The re-conceptualization in the Gospels promises to emancipate the believers from oppressive relationships, while Paul literally endorses slavery
within the Discipleship.

13. Mt 12:46-50/23:8-9, Lk 14:25-26, Jn 1:12-13/3:1-8/11:52Col 3:18-21, I-Tim 5:8
Christ teaches that family ties are to be
renounced in favor of—that is, replaced by—the Father/Motherhood of God together with the Brother and Sisterhood of the incarnate Sons and Daughters, whereas Paul adamantly defends the traditional family structure.

14. Mt 19:10-12, Lk 14:20-26/18:28-30/20:34-36, Ph 64!I-Cor 7:2-16+9:5?, Eph 5:22-24, I-Tim 3:1-4:3
The Gospels stipulate that those worthy of salvation must transcend matrimony (note that
Lk 18:28-30 occurs after Lk 4:38-39); let us not forget that, according to Gen 3:16, monandry (having only one husband) was Eve's punishment for disobedience! Thus, if a married couple entered the Discipleship—for example, if the wife of Simon Peter (Mk 1:30) also joined the community—they would thereafter be considered Brother and Sister rather than man and wife. Paul notwithstanding permits a continuation of marriage among the Disciples.

15. Gen 25:1-6, Jud 19:1, II-Sam 3:7/15:16, I-Chr 2:46, Th 61b!, Ph 36/59I-Cor 7:9/9:5!?2
The Old Testament permits ‘concubine’ (mistress, girl-friend) relationships outside of marriage, the sons of which do not inherit—a vital institution that Christ did not abolish. Paul, however, states that the only two alternatives are ‘to marry or to burn’.

16. Num 6:5, Lev 19:27, Jud 13:5, I-Sam 1:11, Mt 2:23, Tr 21I-Cor 11:14
The Hebrew tradition was that long hair on male or female is a sign of holiness and special devotion to God. Indeed the word at
Mt 2:23 is ΝΑΖΩΡΑΙΟΣ (the LXX or Septuagint term for Nazirite), not ΝΑΖΑΡΗΝΟΣ (i.e. someone from Nazareth). Were not Samson, the Prophet Samuel, John the Baptist and Christ himself thus consecrated from birth?

17. Mt 6:24-34/10:8, Mk 10:13-31, Lk 10:38-42/14:28-33, Ac 4:32-36Ac 18:1-3, I-Cor 11:34, II-Thes 3:6-12
Christ decrees a cessation of working for mammon, donating all private possessions to the poor, and following thereafter a lifestyle both communal and itinerant—without anxiety day-to-day like the birds and the flowers, with all shared possessions being distributed equitably among those who have need—thus lifting the curse of toil from mankind (
Gen 3:17-19). Paul's advice, on the contrary, is to ‘eat at home’ and avoid idlers, who must either work or go hungry.

18. Mt 11:25/18:1-5/21:16 (Ps 8:2), Mk 10:15, Th 4I-Cor 13:11
Yeshua teaches that one must become childlike in order to find the Kingdom of Heaven; Paul says the exact opposite.

19. Mk 7:14-23, Lk 7:34Rom 14:21, I-Cor 8:13
Either we ought, or we ought not, to maintain some particular diet for religious reasons. Yet Paul agrees with neither the OT's dietary rules (
kashrut) nor the Savior's remarkable midrash (commentary) thereupon.

20. Mt 12:19 (Isa 42:2), Lk 10:7 Ac 17:16-34/20:20
Paul preaches house-to-house, as well as in the streets and squares—contrary to Christ's paradigm.

21. Mt 6:5-6I-Tim 2:8
Paul demands the very same outspoken prayer which Christ condemns as exhibitionist; the Savior states that one should
only pray in solitude and in secret, never openly.

22. Mt 18:1-4, Mk 9:33-35, Lk 14:7-11II-Cor 11:5-12:13
Paul's recounting of his travels is insubordinately boastful and rivalrous—rather than humble, respectful and obedient—toward those who preceded him in the Discipleship: the
ΠΡΕΣΒΥΤΕΡΟΙ, ‘elders (in the faith)’.

23. Mt 5:43-48/7:1-5/9:10-13/18:21-35, Jn 8:2-11I-Cor 5, Gal 5:12, Tit 3:10-11
The Gospel attitude toward wrongdoers is merciful, yet Paul's is frankly inquisitional. Is ‘turning someone over to Satan for the extermination of the flesh’ intended to mean delivering him to the secular authorities for execution (as in
Jn 19:17-18)? Are we to love our enemies or condemn and castigate them?

24. Mt 23:8-12Ac 20:28, Gal 4:19, Phlp 2:22, I-Tim 1:2/3:1-13
Paul introduces the terms ‘father’ and ‘deacon’ and ‘bishop’ to designate religious leaders—the very sort of title (along with ‘pastor’, ‘minister’, etc.) which Christ had explicitly prohibited. Indeed, the passage in Matthew would seem to preclude
any kind of hierarchy in the Discipleship other than simple seniority (thus ΠΡΕΣΒΥΤΕΡΟΣ in Ac 21:18, Jas 5:14, I-Pet 5:1, II-Jn 1)—by which criterion Paul was obliged to submit to the original Apostles, quite contrary to II-Cor 11:5 + Gal 2:6.

25. Gen 17:10, Lk 2:21Ac 16:3?, Gal 5:2, Phlp 3:2, Tit 1:10-11
Saying that it is necessary ‘to gag (
ΕΠΙΣΤΟΜΙΖΕΙΝ) circumcisionist dogs’ is conceptually inappropriate in an Apostolic context. In any event, even if Christ referred to circumcision custom parabolically—as in Th 53he certainly did not forbid its physical practice.

26. Lk 11:27-28, Jn 4:1-30/11:20-35/20:11-18, Th 21I-Cor 14:34-35, I-Tim 2:11-15
Various women speak up boldly to the Savior. Later, Mariam Magdalene as first witness (!) of the resurrection is sent by Christ to ‘angel’ (
ΑΓΓΕΛΛΩ: p66* )* A B) his rising to the Apostles themselves. This is not a teaching of mere female submissiveness or keeping quiet in the Convocation!

27. Lk 7:36-8:3/10:38-42/23:55-24:11, Jn 12:1-3, Th 61b/114, Ph 59I-Cor 7:1-2, Eph 5:22-24, Tit 2:4-5
The Gospels represent women as an intimate part of Christ's entourage—thus rescinding the punishment of husband-domination in
Gen 3:16. Paul emphatically opposes any liberated role for females.

28. Mt 3:11-17/28:19-20, Ph 73/96/115!Rom 6:3-4, Col 2:12
The Gospels endorse John's Baptism in water as signifying repentance and cleansing vis-à-vis the Torah, and which furthermore is explicitly to be undertaken ‘in the Name’. Paul, however, sees Baptism as a metaphorical or participatory

29. Lk 23:43, Jn 5:24/8:51, Rev/Ap 20:4-6, Th 1/18/19/111, Ph 43I-Thes 4:16-17
Christ teaches that his Disciples will not
experience death, regardless of martyrdom, whereas Paul writes of ‘the dead in Christ’.

30. Gen 4:1-5, Mk 15:10, Ph 134I-Tim 6:10
Paul claims that the love of money is the root of all evil; but in the paradigm cases of Cain killing Abel and the Chief Priests delivering up the Savior,
envy is cited as the underlying ill, while Philip states that ultimately the problem is confused ignorance (as in Lk 23:4, Ac 3:17).

31. Mt 5:17-19/19:16-19, Lk 16:29-31, Ac 21:17-24!, 4QMMT:C.26b-31*Rom 7:6, Gal 3:10/5:18
If the entire Torah—the Decalogue in particular, but also the remaining
mitzvot (moral rules) such as Lev 19:18 et passimis in effect until the sky and earth pass away, then the Mosaic Law is not an obsolete curse from which believers are absolved. This was the very topic at issue when, after Paul had completed his three missionary journeys, ‘all of the Elders’ (!) in Jerusalem required him to take the Nazirite vow—to prove his continuing adherence to the Law of Moses. (*‘The works of the Torah ... will be reckoned to you as righteousness’; from the Dead Sea Scroll, Miqsat Ma‘ase ha-Torah)

32. Mt 7:21/11:2-6!/19:16-19/25:31-46, Jn 13:34!/14:21/15:10, Jas 2:14-26Rom 3:28, 10:9, I-Cor 15:35-44
Christ says that one's calling him ‘Lord’ is not enough, but rather that the Disciple's total obedience is demanded; both the OT and the Gospels require adherence to a plenitude of divine commandments, with resultant fruitful deeds. Indeed, it was precisely by his works—and not merely by his faith—that Christ proved his own authority to John the Baptist! Paul on the other hand states that a simple confession of faith, along with a belief in Christ's (merely spiritual, not corporeal) resurrection, suffices—a thoroughly antinomian doctrine. (This subject must be carefully distinguished from that of
forgiveness—both among humans and between God and humankind—as a pre-eminently innovative tenet in the teaching, first of John the Baptist and subsequently of Christ [Mk 1:4]. For of course absolution logically presupposes a transgression of the rules, not their abrogation; compare e.g. Ezek 18 with Mt 6:14-15.)

33. Gen 49, Mt 19:28, Ac 1:13-26, Rev/Ap 2:2!/21:14, Barnabas 8:3!I-Cor 9:1-2, II-Cor 11:5-13
Finally, we must observe the fact that the permanent tally of the Apostles was established by the Savior at exactly twelve (for obvious reasons of historical symbolism—note the symmetry at
Rev/Ap 21:12-14), and moreover that Paul was never numbered in that circle; not even Barnabas in his Epistle recognizes Paul’s Apostleship!: ‘[The Apostles] to whom he gave the power of the Gospel to preach; and there are twelve as a testimony to the tribes, because there are twelve tribes of Israel’ (8:3).


Paul of Tarsus is an enigmatic and contradictory figure. Caught in the ethical dilemma of calling all men transgressors by the Torah, only to reject the Torah precisely for thus condemning them (Gal 3:10!), he was unacquainted with Christ's historical teachings and practice; nor was he willing to learn of them from the original Apostles (Gal 2:6). Thus his soteriology focused entirely on the Passion, of which he was aware, interpreting Christ's mission as exclusively an OT Sacrifice. Whereas the innovating Messianic message—Christ's teachings as incarnate in his lifestyle, elaborated thruout the canonical Gospels prior to the Passion narratives—was entirely unknown to Paul. (On the 3-valued logic of Biblical morality, see Perfect in Ph Notes)

This is not to deny that he composed some eloquently poetic passages (such as Col 1:15-20); but these must, in light of the aforelisted doctrinal conflicts, be considered no more than ornamentation in Paul's writings. Those documents, in their entirety, proclaim a discipleship which is fundamentally incompatible with the message of Christ himself as recorded in the historical Gospels.

Remarkably enough, prior to Clement of Alexandria and Irenaeus of Lyon at the close of the second century, there is no single author who quotes from both the Gospels and Paul's Epistles. There was thus an exceedingly long period of open schism between the traditions of the Twelve and of Paul, prior to the earliest attempts at integration.

And yet the wonderful irony, of course, is that the canonical Gospels themselves, of which tradition Paul was so manifestly ignorant, were ultimately only preserved by the Pauline Church—which indeed has also disseminated worldwide the very OT which Paul himself had disparaged. On the other hand, the Petrine/Apostolic Church (which by definition maintained the Gospel side of the foregoing matrix) seems not to have survived the persecutions of the first two centuries.

Paul was personally in charge of the stoning of Stephen (Ac 7:58-8:1), since according to Dt 17:7 the ‘witnesses who laid their cloaks at his feet’—i.e. were under his direct authority—were obliged to cast the first stones. Was he also ‘the captain of the Temple guard’ who arrested Kefa and John in Ac 4:1? Might one even ask as to his involvement the night Christ himself was arrested? (Remember that Lk 22:63-65 takes place at the hands of the Temple guard, not those of the Romans.) Thus perhaps the puzzling II-Cor 5:16, ΕΓΝΩΚΑΜΕΝ ΚΑΡΑ ΣΑΡΚΑ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΝ: ‘We have known Christ according to the flesh.’ This would certainly explain Paul's subsequent obsession with unmerited forgiveness!

In any event, my purpose here has been merely to format a set of scriptural dichotomies which exhibit the underlying logic of the ancient Messianic/Paulianity schism, as essentially a conceptual (and of course pragmatic!) rather than a factual issue. This in turn may hopefully serve to stimulate in the reader a reconsideration of the apostolic status of Saul of Tarsus. For he evidently never joined Christ's Discipleship at all—which would indisputably have meant accepting Peter's spiritual authority—much less became an Apostle.

These basic questions can no longer be papered over, nor can they be settled by institutional fiat. For their illuminating implication is that traditional Christianity—as defined by the classical NT canon including both the Gospels and Marcion's collection of Paul's Epistles—is logically self-contradictory and hence inherently unstable (as the centuries have all too clearly shown). In a more positive light, since the Pauline teaching amounts to an essentially Old Testament lifestyle (patriarchal families, property, priests, sanctuaries, ceremonies, Mosaic righteousness), we might say that Pauline Christianity adopted the Gospel vocabulary parabolically. Thus, to take the prime example, the traditional Christian Mass or Communion has served as a ceremonial symbol for actually living together and therefore always eating together—which was, most evidently, the Eucharist (Η ΑΓΑΠΗ, as it was called) as celebrated in the first-century Apostolic Community. In this manner, Christianity across the centuries has been fundamentally a parable of the original Discipleship (Mt 13:34!).

Appendix: Critiques of Paul, 200 AD ff.

1Although, astonishingly, at Ac 13:24-25 he does quote John the Baptist!; Ac 20:35, on the other hand, is actually a citation from Thucydides, Peloponnesian War, II.97.4; whilst Ac 26:14 is the first half of line 1574 of the Agamemnon of Aeschylus, which then continues: ‘... The blow will hurt thee.’

2NB The Greek text here, often mistranslated, is αδελϕην γυναικα: ‘a Sister as a woman’—not inversely ‘a woman (wife) as a Sister’, which is a very different concept, chronologically reversed. There can be companionship between the Brothers and Sisters in the Discipleship, but not marriage (see #14, Lk 10:1?!, Ph 36/59).