The theory that the apostle Paul was a false prophet and not a true  follower of Christ is usually put forth by those of the Hebrew  roots movement persuasion, among others. They believe Christians should  submit to the Old Testament Law, but Paul clearly disagrees with them,  proclaiming that Christians are no longer under the Mosaic Law (Romans 10:4; Galatians  3:23-25; Ephesians  2:15), but the Law of Christ (Galatians  6:2), which is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all  your soul and with all your mind…and to love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew  22:37-39). Rather than submitting to God’s Word, the Hebrew roots movement  simply dismisses Paul altogether and claims that Paul was a false apostle and  that his writings should not be in the Bible.

But Paul’s apostolic  authority has been well documented in Scripture, beginning with his dramatic Damascus Road experience which changed him from a  Christ-hating persecutor of Christians to the foremost spokesman for the faith.  His astonishing change of heart is one of the clearest indications of his  anointing by the Lord Jesus Himself.

Tom Tarrants, once labeled “the  most dangerous man in Mississippi,” was one of the top men on the FBI’s most  wanted list. Tarrants was a member of the Ku Klux Klan and despised  African-Americans and Jews, a people he fully believed were God’s enemies and  involved in a communist plot against America. Tarrants was responsible for  bombing some 30 synagogues, churches and homes. He was so dangerous that the FBI  director, J. Edgar Hoover, sent a special team of FBI agents that were used to  infiltrate the Russian KGB down into the American South to locate and apprehend  Tarrants. They were successful and took Tarrants into custody after a violent  shootout. Tarrants received a 30-year sentence in the Mississippi State  Penitentiary.

While in prison, Tarrants one day asked for a Bible and  began reading it. He got as far as Matthew 16 and was confronted with Jesus’  words: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits  his soul?” He couldn’t escape the impact of Christ’s statement and got down on  his knees in his cell and asked God to deliver him from his sinful life.

Word of Tarrant’s conversion soon began to spread throughout the prison  and ultimately made it all the way back to Hoover, who strongly doubted the  story. How could such a true change in such a hardened, evil person be  validated?

About 2,000 years ago, another man had nearly the identical  problem. When the apostle Paul first came to Jerusalem after his conversion to  Christianity, he tried to associate with the disciples, but they were all afraid  of him and didn’t believe he was a true convert (Acts 9:26)  because of his past persecution of Christians. Today, some people feel the same  way about Paul. Occasionally, a charge is made that Paul was a Pharisee who  tried to corrupt the teachings of Christ and that his writings should have no  place in the Bible. This accusation can be put to rest by examining his  conversion experience and his adherence to Christ and His  teachings.

Paul’s Persecution of Christianity
Paul  first appears in Scripture as a witness to the martyrdom of Stephen: “When they  had driven him [Stephen] out of the city, they began stoning him; and the  witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul” (Acts 7:58). “Saul was in  hearty agreement with putting him to death” (Acts 8:1). The  words “hearty agreement” indicate active approval, not just passive consent. Why  would Paul agree with the murder of Stephen?

Paul the Pharisee would  have immediately recognized the statement Stephen made right before his death:  “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right  hand of God” (Acts 7:56).  Stephen’s words repeat the claim Christ made at His trial before the high priest  (Mark 14:62). Just as Jesus’  claim resulted in Him being accused of blasphemy, so also these words would  bring a murderous response from Saul the Pharisee toward Stephen.

In  addition, the term “Son of Man” is filled with significance. It is the last time  the term is used in the New Testament and it is the only time in the Gospels and  Acts when it is not spoken by Jesus. It shows that Jesus is the Messiah, and it  speaks of Christ’s position in the end times as the coming King. It also  combines two great Messianic passages: Daniel  7:13-14 and Psalm 110:1Daniel  7:13-14 emphasizes the universal aspect of Jesus’ rule; that He is not  simply a Jewish ruler, but also the Savior of the world. Psalm 110:1 presents the Messiah as being at God’s right  hand. Besides stressing power and position, it also shows acceptance.

All these things would have infuriated Saul the Pharisee, who at the time did  not possess the true knowledge of Christ. But it would not be long before Saul  the Pharisee would become Paul the evangelist for Christ.

The  Conversion of Paul
In the three versions of Paul’s conversion (Acts 9:1-9, 22:6-11, 26:9-20), there are  repeated elements which appear to be central to his mission and commissioning.  First, it marked his conversion to Christianity; second, it constituted his call  to be a prophet; and third, it served as his commission to be an apostle. These  three points may be broken down into the following, more intimate  considerations: (1) Paul was specifically chosen, set aside, and prepared by the  Lord for the work that he would do; (2) Paul was sent as a witness to not just  the Jews, but the Gentiles as well; (3) Paul’s evangelistic mission would  encounter rejection and require suffering; (4) Paul would bring light to people  who were born into and currently lived in darkness; (5) Paul would preach  repentance was required prior to a person’s acceptance into the Christian faith;  (6) Paul’s witness would be grounded in space-time history and be based on his  Damascus Road experience—what he had personally seen and heard in a real  location that would be known to all who lived in Damascus.

Before  Gamaliel’s pupil came to a proper assessment of the ministry entrusted to him by  God and the death of Jesus, a revolution had to take place in his life and  thought. Paul would later say that he was “apprehended” by Jesus (Philippians 3:12) on  the road to Damascus, a term that means to make something one’s own or gain  control of someone through pursuit. In Acts 9, we clearly see miracles on  display in Paul’s conversion, the point of which were to make clear that God is  in control and directing all the events, so that Paul will undertake certain  tasks God has in mind, something the former Saul would never have had any  intention of doing.

Although there are many observations that can be  made about Paul’s Damascus Road conversion, there are two key items of interest.  First is the fact that Paul’s life would become centered on Christ after his  experience. After his encounter with Jesus, Paul’s understanding of the Messiah  had been revolutionized, and it was not long before he is proclaiming, “He  [Jesus] is the Son of God” (Acts 9:20).

Second, we note that in Paul’s conversion there are no positive  antecedents or precursory events that led him from being a zealous opponent to a  fervent proponent of Christ. One minute Paul had been an enemy of Jesus, and the  next he had become a captive to the Christ he had once persecuted. Paul says,  “By the grace of God, I am what I am” (1  Corinthians 15:10), indicating he was transformed by God, became truly  spiritual, and he was one whom Christ possessed and was now a Christ-bearer  himself.

After the Damascus experience, Paul first went to Arabia, but  whether he actually began his missionary work there is unknown. What is more  likely is that he earnestly desired a time of quiet recollection. Then after a  short stay in Jerusalem, he worked as a missionary in Syria and Cilicia (that is  for the most part in Antioch on the Orontes and in his native city of Tarsus)  and after that in company with Barnabas in Cyprus, in Pamphylia, Pisidia, and  Lycaonia.

The Love of Paul
Paul, the former cold  aggressor and legalist, had now become a person who could write of the key  attribute that witnessed above everything else in 1 Corinthians 13 – love for  God and those around him. The one who was supremely educated in knowledge had  come to the point of saying that knowledge devoid of love only makes one  arrogant, but love edifies (1  Corinthians 8:1).

The book of Acts and Paul’s letters testify to a  tenderness that had come over the apostle for both the unbelieving world and  those inside the Church. As to the latter, in his farewell address to the  Ephesian believers in Acts 20, he tells them that “night and day for a period of  three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears” (Acts 20:31). He tells the Galatian believers they are his  “little children” (Galatians  4:19). He reminds the Corinthians that whenever they experience pain, he is  wounded as well (2  Corinthians 11:29). He speaks of believers in Philippi as “having them in  his heart” (Philippians  1:7). He tells the Thessalonian church that he “abounds” in love for them  (1  Thessalonians 3:12) and demonstrated that fact by living among them and  helping build up a Christian community (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1–2). Repeatedly  throughout his writings, Paul reminds his believing readers of his care and love  for them.

Paul’s attitude toward unbelievers is one of caring and deep  concern as well, with perhaps the clearest example of this being his  articulation in the letter to the Romans of the sorrow he felt for his fellow  Israelites who had not come to faith in Christ: “I am telling the truth in  Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that  I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I  myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my  kinsmen according to the flesh” (Romans  9:1-3).

This type of angst exhibited by Paul for unbelievers was  also not restricted to his own nationality, but extended to non-Jews as well. As  just one example, when he entered Athens, the text in Acts 17:16 makes clear that Paul was both repulsed and  “greatly distressed” over the idolatrous situation the city was in. Yet he  deeply cared about God’s rightful place as well as the people who were involved  in false worship, and he immediately went about trying to engage the pagan  unbelievers in discourse about the gospel which had been entrusted to him (Acts 17:17-34). And at the  heart of his message was Jesus.

Paul on Jesus
Some  try to argue that the picture Paul paints of Jesus in his Epistles does not  match the Christ portrayed in the Gospels. Such a position could not be further  from the truth. From Paul’s letters, we learn the following of Jesus:

•  He had Jewish ancestry
• He was of Davidic descent
• He was born of a  virgin
• He lived under the law
• He had brothers
• He had 12  disciples
• He had a brother named James
• He lived in poverty
• He  was humble and meek
• He was abused by the Romans
• He was deity
• He  taught on the subject of marriage
• He said to love one’s neighbor
• He  spoke of His second coming
• He instituted the Lord’s Supper
• He lived a  sinless life
• He died on the cross
• The Jews put Him to death
• He  was buried
• He was resurrected
• He is now seated at right hand of  God

Beyond these facts is Paul’s testimony that he left everything to  follow Christ (the true test of a disciple as outlined by Jesus in Luke 14:26-33). Paul  writes, “But whatever things [his Jewish background and benefits that he had  just listed] were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake  of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the  surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the  loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and  may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law,  but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from  God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection  and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order  that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:7–11).

Paul’s Enemies
Paul’s teachings and proclamation of  Jesus were not popular. If the success of an evangelistic mission were to be  measured by the amount of opposition, his mission would be regarded as a  catastrophic failure. This would be in keeping with Christ’s statement made to  Ananias: “For I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Acts 9:16). The book of Acts  alone chronicles more than 20 different episodes of rejection and opposition to  Paul’s message of salvation. We should also take seriously the litany of  opposition and rejection that Paul lays out in 2  Corinthians 11:23-27. In truth, such hostility and dismissal is to be  expected, given his audience. A crucified deliverer was to the Greeks an absurd  contradiction in terms, just as to Jews a crucified Messiah was a piece of  scandalous blasphemy.

Paul’s enemies comprised a trinity. First, there  were the spiritual enemies indicated in his writings that he was acutely aware  of (e.g. 1  Thessalonians 2:18). Next, there were his already mentioned initial target  audience of both Jews and Gentiles, many of whom would mistreat and dismiss him.  Lastly came the one that, it could be argued, perhaps caused him the most  grief—the early Church itself.

The fact that Paul was seen as strange  and questionable, not merely by fellow Jews but also by a number of fellow  Jewish Christians, was no doubt hurtful to him. It would be one thing for Paul’s  authority and authenticity to be challenged outside the Body of Christ, but  inside was a different foe with which he had to wrestle. First Corinthians  9:1-3 is an example: Paul insists to the Church that he was commissioned by  Christ (others include Romans 1:51  Corinthians 1:1-2; 2  Corinthians 1:1; Galatians  1:1). Some even believe that 2  Corinthians 11:26 suggests that there was a plot to murder Paul; a plot  formed by other Christians.

Such combined opposition—lost humanity,  spiritual adversaries, and distrusting brethren—certainly must have caused the  apostle to despair at times, with evidence in his writings that he carried out  his missionary work with the prospect of martyrdom before his eyes (Philippians 2:17),  which ultimately turned out to be true. Paul was beheaded, tradition asserts,  under the persecution of Nero near the third milestone on the Ostian Way.  Constantine built a small basilica in Paul’s honor by AD 324, which was  discovered in 1835 during excavations preceding the erection of the present  basilica. On one of the floors was found the inscription PAVLO APOSTOLO  MART – “To Paul, apostle and martyr”.

Concluding Thoughts  About Paul
So was Paul for real? The evidence from history and from  his own writings declares that he was. Paul’s 180 degree turnaround from his  Pharisaic life is not disputed by any learned scholar of history, both secular  and Christian. The only question is: what caused his about-face? What would  cause a very learned Jewish Pharisee to suddenly embrace the very movement he  violently opposed and be so committed to it that he would die a martyr’s  death?

The answer is contained within Paul’s writings and the book of  Acts. In Galatians Paul summarizes his story in this way:

“For you have  heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church  of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it; and I was advancing in Judaism  beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely  zealous for my ancestral traditions. 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 among the Gentiles, I did not immediately  consult with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were  apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to  Damascus. Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted  with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days. But I did not see any other of  the apostles except James, the Lord’s brother. (Now in what I am writing to you,  I assure you before God that I am not lying.) Then I went into the regions of  Syria and Cilicia. I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea which  were in Christ; but only, they kept hearing, ‘He who once persecuted us is now  preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy.’ And they were glorifying  God because of me” (Galatians  1:13–24).

Paul’s very life testifies to the truthfulness of what  happened to him. In that respect, he was very much like Tom Tarrants. A  dramatically changed life is hard to argue with. And what finally happened to  Tom Tarrants? J. Edgar Hoover wouldn’t believe that Tarrants had actually become  a Christian so he sent an FBI agent into the prison disguised as an inmate whose  job it was to befriend Tarrants and find out the truth. About a week later, that  FBI agent became a Christian and reported back to Hoover that Tarrants indeed  was no longer the man he used to be.

A number of people petitioned that  Tarrants be released, and eight years into his sentence, Tarrants was paroled  and left prison. He went to seminary, earned a doctorate of ministry degree, and  went on to serve as president of the C. S. Lewis Institute for 12 years.  Currently, he serves as the Institute’s director of ministry.

“You will  know them by their fruits” (Matthew  7:16) and the fruits of the apostle Paul leave no doubt that he was very  real indeed.

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