For many people, the apostle Paul is considered the central figure in what they see as emerging Christianity. Jesus is accepted as existing within the context of the Judaism of his day. But Paul was really the one who "invented Christianity" by "splitting from Judaism" and propounding a message of "freedom from the Law".
Unfortunately, the data that we have in the New Testament does not consistently support such a view. The account of Paul in the book of Acts is recognized as being very pro-Jewish and pro-Torah. Even in Paul's own writings there are many instances that seem positively disposed to the Law, and many others that seem negative. How are we to deal with this evidence?
Many scholars have concluded that Paul was simply not consistent. Either he changed his view over time, or he was simply incoherent. More and more commonly, Acts is dismissed as a biased account by a pro-Jewish source that does not reflect the "real" Paul. These are the lengths to which scholars feel they have to go to maintain the traditional view of Paul as a herald of "freedom from the Law".
But must we take this approach? Is there no way to maintain a high view of scripture and take the whole New Testament seriously and authoritatively? Suppose our highest value is interpreting Paul accurately, rather than maintaining the status quo interpretively. Would that make a difference?
There are two ways of interpreting Paul and maintaining biblical integrity. One is the "head in the sand" approach, to ignore or be unaware of the seeming contradictions. This course is, unfortunately, taken by a huge number of "faithful" believers.
The other alternative is to conclude that Paul, as a logical thinker, had a consistent position on these issues. But since we've read his position as contradictory, we must have misunderstood his view of one side or the other. Then we need to work to start from scratch to determine where and how we have misunderstood, and what Paul really intended to convey. This is the goal of the following pages.
Learning About Paul