Was Paul an Apostle or a ‘hijacker’? Let’s follow the evidence…

Worship Early ChurchIn order to support their claim that the Qur’an is the inspired word of God, superseding all previous revelations, Muslim apologists sustain an attack upon all competing claims. For the most part their efforts are directed against their chief rival, the Bible. Their accusations fall into two broad categories: first, the text of Scripture has been changed or forged; second, doctrinal mistakes have crept into Christian teaching, such as the belief in the incarnation of Christ, the trinity of the Godhead, and the doctrine of original sin. [1] Combining both accusations and mixing them into an ‘accusational cocktail,’ Muslims, for the most part, accuse Paul of ‘hijacking’ Jesus’ original message by corrupting and changing it, so as to form his own ‘Pauline Christianity’, and thereby usurp Christ’s original message.

I contend that it would have been highly improbable (if not impossible) for Paul to have ‘hijacked’ the Christian faith as taught by Jesus Himself. I will offer two points of evidence in defense of my claim:

1. Historical veracity of Paul’s dramatic conversion as reported in the Acts of the Apostles
2. Paul’s contact, discussions and “comparing notes” with Jesus’ disciples-the original 11 eyewitnesses

1. Paul’s dramatic conversion-There is no other historically based explanation that accounts for Paul’s conversion from a devout Pharisee who was given the mandate to hunt, imprison and kill Christians (or members of The Way, as the first followers of Jesus were called), to that of the leader of Christian missions to the Gentiles. As Paul himself said, “They only were hearing it said, ‘He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.’ And they glorified God because of me.”(Galatians 1:23-24 ESV)

The Acts of the Apostles, authored by Luke, offers the historical account of Paul’s conversion, and his subsequent progress in learning and understanding the message that Jesus taught. (Acts 9) We know Luke as a physician, but he was also an historian of the highest order—and with these two professions, similar to what we have today when we say someone has a “double doctorate or PhD.” we are privileged to partake of his historical expertise, trustworthiness and accuracy in recording the events of Paul’s life. Professor of classics at Auckland University, E.M. Blaiklock, wrote:

“For accuracy of detail, and for evocation of atmosphere, Luke stands, in fact, with Thucydides. The Acts of the Apostles is not shoddy product of pious imagining, but a trustworthy record…it was the spadework of archaeology which first revealed the truth.”

In the mid-1960’s, A.N. Sherwin-White, an expert in Greco-Roman history from Oxford, wrote about Acts:

“The historical framework is exact. In terms of time and place the details are precise and correct…For Acts the confirmation of historicity is overwhelming…Any attempt to reject its basic historicity even in matters of detail must now appear absurd. Roman historians have long taken it for granted.”

Based on his accurate description of towns, cities and islands, as well as correctly naming various official titles, archaeologist and skeptic Sir William Ramsay wrote that,

“Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy…[he] should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.”

We therefore find that Luke is a reliable and trustworthy historical source which establishes his account of Paul’s conversion as historically founded. There is simply no other account of Paul’s conversion which has the explanatory scope, or plausibility, than that of the clear historical account of Paul’s conversion in the Acts of the Apostles.

2. Paul’s contact, discussions and “comparing notes” with Jesus’ disciples-Paul checked and re-checked his doctrine/teaching with that of the original disciples and eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection: In his milestone historiographical work on the resurrection, Dr. Michael Licona notes that A.D. 30 is the standard dating of Jesus’ death among scholars. [2] With that said Paul’s conversion to Christianity is dated 1-2 years after Jesus’ death by scholars. Dr. Craig L. Blomberg puts Paul’s conversion at A.D. 32 – two years after Jesus’ death. [3] One of the leading scholars on the subject is Dr. Gary Habermas and he notes that scholars usually place Paul’s conversion 1-2 years after the cross and goes with A.D. 32. He states:

“… Paul’s conversion is usually placed at one or two years later, so let’s just say two – that’s 32.” [4]

In writing to the church in Galatia, Paul recounts his visit to Jerusalem where he met with Peter and James for two weeks. As one scholar stated, they probably did not spend all of their time talking about the weather. If Paul’s conversion was in 31-2 AD, then this places the first Jerusalem visit at around 34-5 AD, which probably corresponds to the stay in Jerusalem in Acts 9:26–29.

Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!). (Galatians 1:18-20 ESV)

Then in Galatians 2, we have a more detailed account of a second visit that took place 11 years later:

Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery—to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. (Galatians 2:1-10 ESV)

The eminent scholar F.F. Bruce, when speaking of the very early creed of 1 Cor. 15, argues that Paul received this creed from Peter and James in A.D. 35:

“In that list two individuals are mentioned by name as having seen the risen Christ, and two only: ‘he appeared Cephas’ and ‘he appeared to James’ (1 Corinthians 15:5, 7). It is no mere coincidence that there should be the only two apostles whom Paul claims to have seen during his first visit to Jerusalem after his conversion [in Gal 1:19]… It was almost certainly during these fifteen days in Jerusalem that Paul received this outline.”[5]

While some modern critics challenge the authorship of Paul’s pastoral letters, even the most skeptical scholars agree that Paul is the author of the letters written to the Romans, the Corinthians, and the Galatians. These letters are dated between AD 48 and AD 60. The letter to the Romans (typically dated at AD 50) reveals something important. Paul began the letter by proclaiming that Jesus is the resurrected “Son of God.” Throughout the letter, Paul accepted the view of Jesus that the gospel eyewitnesses described in their own accounts. Just seventeen years after the resurrection, Jesus was described as divine. He is God incarnate, just as the gospel eyewitnesses described in their own accounts. In fact, Paul’s outline of Jesus’s life matches that of the Gospels. In 1 Corinthians 15 (written from AD 53 to 57), Paul summarized the gospel message and reinforced the fact that the apostles described the eyewitness accounts to him.[6]

What are you basing your evangelism onAnd last, but not least, we have an endorsement of the purity of Paul’s doctrine by none other than Peter himself:

And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. (2 Peter 3:15-16 ESV)

These two evidences alone, affirm that Paul’s teachings, which are found in his letters/epistles, were founded on 1) his apostleship as one who had witnessed/seen the risen Christ, and 2) his close relationship and communication with the original disciples.

As I mentioned earlier, Paul’s creed in 1 Cor 15. is a very early creed about the death and resurrection of Jesus which was in circulation among the early church community shortly after the resurrection event. This creed was then passed on to Paul as he states-“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance.” (1 Cor. 15:3) While not extensive in scope, Paul’s Letters also include historical aspects of the life of Jesus, such as:

1. Jesus’ Jewish ancestry (Gal 3:16)
2. Jesus’ Davidic descent (Rom 1:3)
3. Jesus being born of a woman (Gal 4:4)
4. Jesus’ life under the Jewish law (Gal 4:4)
5. Jesus’ Brothers (1 Cor 9:5)
6. Jesus’ 12 Disciples (1 Cor 15: 7)
7. One of whom was named James (1 Cor 15: 7)
8. That some had wives (1 Cor 9: 5)
9. Paul knew Peter and James (Gal 1:18-2:16)
10. Jesus’ poverty ( 2 Cor 8:9)
11. Jesus’ humility ( Phil. 1:5-7)
12. Jesus Meekness and Gentleness (2 Cor. 10:1)
13. Abuse by Others (Rom 15:3)
14. Jesus’ teachings on divorce and remarriage (1 Cor. 7:10-11)
15. On paying wages of ministers (1 Cor 9:14)
16. On paying taxes ( Rom 13: 6-7)
17. On the duty to love one’s neighbors (Rom 13: 9)
18. On Jewish ceremonial uncleanliness ( Rom 14: 14)
19. Jesus’ titles to deity ( Rom 1: 3-4; 10:9)
20. On vigilance in view of Jesus’ second coming ( 1 Thess: 4: 15)
21. On the Lord’s Supper ( 1 Cor. 11: 23-25)
22. Jesus’ Sinless Life ( 2 Cor. 5:21)
23. Jesus’ death on a cross ( Rom 4:24; 5:8; Gal. 3:13; 1 Cor 15: 3)
24. Specifically by crucifixion ( Rom 6: 6; Gal 2:20)
25. By Jewish instigation ( 1Thess. 2:14-15)
26. Jesus’ burial (1 Cor. 15: 4)
27. Jesus’ resurrection on the “third day” (1Cor.15:4)
28. Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances to the apostles ( 1 Cor.15:5-8)
29. And to other eyewitnesses (1 Cor 15:6); and
30. Jesus’ position at God’s right hand ( Rom 8:34)

How then does Paul’s trustworthiness, accuracy and continuity of proclaiming Jesus’ teaching/doctrine impact the Muslim claim that Paul was a ‘hijacker’ and not an apostle? As with a number of Islamic traditions, this claim is a later development in response to Muslim scholars investigation/reading of the New Testament, and in particular, Paul’s epistles, which contradicted the Qur’an. (See: Isma-“sinless prophet” tradition-a late Islamic development, here)

In his excellent article, The Historical Case for Paul’s Apostleship-And a Critique of Muslim Arguments, Keith Thompson builds on early Islamic tradition/hadith to prove that the apostleship of Paul was granted by early Islamic commentators, but was later changed by subsequent commentators once they were apprised of Paul’s epistles that were in contradiction to the Qur’an:

Commenting on S. 61:14 the respected Islamic commentator Al-Qurtubi (13th century-from Spain/buried in Egypt) grants the apostleship of Paul:

“It was said that this verse was revealed about the apostles of Jesus, may peace and blessing be upon him. Ibn Ishaq stated that of the apostles and disciples that Jesus sent (to preach) there were Peter and Paul who went to Rome; Andrew and Matthew who went to the land of the cannibals; Thomas who went to Babel in the eastern lands; Philip who went to Africa; John went to Dac-sos(?) which is the tribe to whom the sleepers of the cave belonged; Jacob went to Jerusalem; Bartholomew went to the lands of Arabia, specifically Al-Hijaz; Simon who went to the Barbarians; Judas and Barthas(?) who went to Alexandria and its surrounding regions.”[7]

Notice that this ancient Muslim tradition has Paul as a true apostle. If Muhammad and the early Muslims taught that it was a priority to view Paul as a false usurper whose teachings were to be avoided then we would not expect to find these ancient Muslim traditions which grant Paul’s reliability. If it were a clear Muslim doctrine in the 7th and 8thcenturies to reject Paul as the corrupter of Christianity then one would not expect to find comments like this from Al-Qurtubi and Ibn Ishaq. In a separate work, The Life of Muhammad, the 8th century Muslims historian Ibn Ishaq reports a tradition informing us about a popular early Muslim view about Paul:

“Those whom Jesus son of Mary sent, both disciples and those who came after them, in the land were: Peter the disciple and Paul with him, (Paul belonged to the followers and was not a disciple) to Rome. Andrew and Matthew to the land of the cannibals; Thomas to the land of Babel, which is in the land of the east; Philip to Carthage which is Africa; John to Ephesus the city of the young men of the cave; James to Jerusalem which is Aelia the city of the sanctuary; Bartholomew to Arabia which is the land of Hijaz; Simon to the land of the Berbers; Judah who was not one of the disciples was put in place of Judas.”[8]

Similarly the 9th century Islamic exegete and historian al-Tabari has this to say of Paul:

“Among the apostles, and the followers who came after them were the Apostle Peter and Paul who was a follower and not an apostle; they went to Rome. Andrew and Matthew were sent to the country whose people are man-eaters, a land of blacks, we think; Thomas was sent to Babylonia in the east, Philip to Qayrawan (and) Carthage, that is, North Africa. John went to Ephesus, the city of the youths of the cave, and James to Jerusalem, that is, Aelia. Bartholomew was sent to Arabia, namely, the Hijaz; Simeon to the land of the Berbers in Africa. Judas was not then an apostle, so his place was taken by Ariobus. He filled in for Judas Iscariot after the latter had perpetrated his deed.”[9]

Although later generations of Muslims are quick to attack the Apostle Paul, the evidence clearly shows that there was an early strand of Islamic tradition reported by some of Islam’s greatest sources granting the reliability of the Apostle Paul.

Al-Tabari also states that Paul was martyred for his faith which further shows his credibility as well as early Islam’s support of Paul and Jesus’ Apostles:

“Abu Ja’far says: They assert that after Tiberius, Palestine and other parts of Syria were ruled by Gaius, son of Tiberius, for four years. He was succeeded by another son, Claudius, for fourteen years, following which Nero ruled for fourteen years. He slew Peter and crucified Paul head down. For four months Botlaius [Vittelius] ruled thereafter.”[10] (PLEASE SEE KEITH THOMPSON’S DOCUMENTARY FILM AT THE CONCLUSION OF THIS POST FOR THE CASE FOR PAUL’S APOSTLESHIP)

What must be stressed about all of this data is that if the orthodox Muslim understanding at the time was an emphatic recognition that Paul was a usurper or corrupter, we simply would not see references like this about Paul being an Apostle or follower of Jesus. These writings demonstrate that the anti-Pauline sentiment we see from Muslims today is not based on any clear teaching of Muhammad or early Islam, it is the product of a process of development in trying to solve the problem as to why Christianity is different than Islam.[11]

Please continue to Part 2 of this series, here

[1] Norman L Geisler & Abdul Saleeb, Answering Islam-The Crescent in Light of the Cross, Baker Books, 2002, pg 213
[2] Michael Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, p. 318 Dr. Mike Licona notes that A.D. 30 is the “more standard dating.”
[3] Craig L. Blomberg, The Case for Christ, Zondervan, 1998, p. 35
[4] Gary. R. Habermas, David J. Baggett, Did the Resurrection Happen?: A Conversation with Gary Habermas and Antony Flew, InterVarsity Press, 2009, p. 35
[5] F.F. Bruce, Paul, Apostle of the Heart Set Free, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2000, pgs. 85-86
[6] J. Warner Wallace, Cold-case Christianity, 2013, pg. 164
[7] Tafsir Al-Qurtubi, 61:14
[8] Ibn Ishaq, The Life of Muhammad, trans. Alfred Guillaume, p. 653
[9] al-Tabari, History, Volume IV, p. 123
[10]al-Tabari, History, Volume IV, p. 126
[11]Keith Thompson, The Historical Case for Paul’s Apostleship And a Critique of Muslim Arguments, here

Can We Trust the Apostle Paul? (Answering Islam Part 19)-David Wood

Is Paul’s Gospel at Odds with Jesus’ Teaching?–Testify

Did Paul Change the Gospel of Jesus?-Dr. Michael Brown

Did Paul Invest Christianity?–Dr. Gary Habermas

Jesus and Paul: Different Gospels?-N.T. Wright

Leave a Reply


captcha *