April 24, 2016
Problems with Paul
I read your response to the person who responded to Jesus and disliked Paul. I too find myself in this position and was surprised that you found it difficult to figure out why somebody would object to Paul who is drawn to Christ. Jesus is filled with incredible love power mercy and grace and humility. Paul is full of well, Paul. He says he doesn't boast then boasts. I can't imagine Jesus approved of his rules for helping widows (or that any actual widow would make the cut and receive help.) Despite all of the efforts made to defend him he is obviously no fan of women and he worries far too much what other people think. So much so that he is willing to act like a phony to convert them. And whenever you go to church and meet a modern day Pharisees if you ask them a couple questions they always turn out to be really Paul focused. In fact the lack of Christ-like love in the American church and the eagerness to point out other people's sins seems to come from this guy because it's definitely not coming from Christ. I would love for you to finish answering your question and address the issues that most people have with Paul that it seems like you must be aware of. Thanks!
Now hang on, Amanda! In my QoW #231 I freely admitted that Paul could be overbearing at times and gave a couple examples. But I also defended his genius and amazing courage, which ought to be an inspiration to all of us. Of course, Paul was no Jesus of Nazareth, but then who is? God’s Son outshines everyone.
You don’t like Paul’s boasting. But, Amanda, Paul was driven to defend his credentials by the threat of itinerant pseudo-apostles touting their eloquence and worldly wisdom and threatening to destroy the church in Corinth. In displaying his credentials as an apostle, Paul says repeatedly, “I am speaking as a fool!” (II Corinthians 11.21; cf. 11.1, 16-17; 12.11). Even then, he ends up boasting, not of his accomplishments, but of his weaknesses, including the physical disability he bore, an inspiration to anyone who bears such weakness (11.30-12.10). It’s not that he worries about what others think, but that these false apostles were destroying the church in Corinth, which was already riven with divisions as a result.
You don’t like the rules for the care of widows in the early churches mentioned in I Timothy 5.3-16. Get real, Amanda! Given the limited resources these little communities had, there had to be qualifications for the aid of widows. So Paul limits aid to widows who have no family left to take care of them, which is perfectly sensible. Moreover, widows wanting financial support from the community shouldn’t be just hangers-on, but godly women who have been established in the community: “Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband; and she must be well attested for her good deeds, as one who has brought up children, shown hospitality, washed the feet of the saints, relieved the afflicted, and devoted herself to doing good in every way” (vv. 9-10). Why wouldn’t Jesus have approved of these rules?
Paul will not allow younger widows to be supported by the church but encourages them to re-marry. While Paul admittedly comes down very hard on these younger widows, it seems that he had personal knowledge of abuses that were already going on (v. 15). He was aware of the local situation, in a way that we are not, in which younger widows were sucking away funds that could have supported older women. So let’s cut him a little slack.
You complain that Paul was willing to act like a phony to convert people. Amanda, I don’t think you understand either Paul’s evangelistic burden or his strategy. He describes his approach in these words:
For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews; to those under the law I became as one under the law—though not being myself under the law—that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law—not being without law toward God but under the law of Christ—that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some (I Corinthians 9.19-22).
He’s not a phony. He’s adapting his approach so as not to create unnecessary obstacles for his hearers. He’s like Hudson Taylor adopting Chinese dress and hair-style to win the Chinese people. Paul, as a follower of Jesus, was free of the Jewish law, though living a moral lifestyle; but when in the company of Jews he observed the requirements of the law so as not to offend. That’s sensitivity, not phoniness.
The negative emotional tone of the final sentences of your question suggest that there’s a lot more going on beneath the surface, Amanda, than at first appears. Your complaints about “modern day Pharisees,” “the lack of Christ-like love in the American church,” and “the eagerness to point out other people's sins” suggest to me that your problem isn’t really with the apostle Paul at all. You’ve had some negative emotional experiences in the church which you haven’t told us about, and you’re blaming the apostle Paul for it.
Paul himself was a man of incredible conviction and courage who should inspire all of us. On a recent trip to Singapore and Hong Kong, I was at one point of feeling very tired and exhausted. It occurred to me that when Paul went on his speaking engagements, he had to worry, not about a comfortable hotel room, but about the possibility of violence once he began to speak. He didn’t know when he traveled to a city whether he was going to be beat up, jailed, or maybe even killed. You and I, Amanda, can’t even imagine what that is like. Before we criticize too quickly, let’s try to gain some appreciation of the stature of the man we’re criticizing.