by Bil Aulenbach

Paul the Apostate

I think apostate is a more appropriate title for Paul than apostle. Paul appointing himself an apostle has always irritated me, as has Paul as a person.

Let me start with some definitions:

  • Apostate: “A person who forsakes his religion, cause, party, etc.” Paul abandoned mainstream Judaism when he proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah.
  • Apostle: This can mean “any of the earlier followers of Jesus who carried the Christian message into the world” or “any of the original 12 disciples called by Jesus to preach the gospel.” I prefer the second definition, which eliminates Paul and the myriad others who claimed the title of apostle to promote their own self-interests.
  • Disciple: “Any follower of Christ.” That fits Paul as well as me. How about you?

Back to Paul the Irritant. Acts 9:1–19 claims that Paul, who was persecuting Followers of the Way, was on his way to Damascus (to do some more persecuting) when he was blinded by a brilliant light and Jesus spoke to him. Acts also tells two variants of this story in 22:1–16 and 26:4–18, but Paul only briefly alludes to it in 1 Corinthians 15:3–8 and Galatians 1:11–16. Interesting! Paul’s conversion took place around 33–36 CE, and Acts was written around the turn of the second century—methinks that conversion tale is fiction.

I believe that deep down, Paul knew he was not a true apostle but, to give himself authority, claimed he and Jesus were buddies. They weren’t. I even suspect that Jesus wouldn’t have liked Paul—he was too much like a Pharisee.

Paul’s personality displayed some characteristics that caused me and several others to label him a braggart, gross exaggerator, and self-promoter.

Remember, Paul never said or heard the word Christian, nor was he one. He was what one might call a progressive Jew, and he developed a Christology in which God planned the murder of his son so we would be saved from our sins. That’s outrageous by today’s standards.

I appreciate that Paul spent his life promoting Jesus, but he wasn’t an apostle and is more of a deterrent than a help to my faith. The foundation stone of Jesus’s message was the parable of the prodigal son, which was all about unconditional love. Paul’s message was about a mean god who had his son killed to save us from our sins. That’s ridiculous. Just watch the six o’clock news—sin still abounds.

This is the twenty-first century. The church is dying. It needs to change drastically and quickly. The church authorities could start by relegating Paul and his letters to the history department. I think demonstrating agape should be the message of today’s church.

What do you think of Paul?


Apostle Saint Paul by El Greco is in the public domain

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