What are we to make of Paul? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
If you had thought we were into flights of fancy before with Asher Norman in his book, we have reached new heights with this one. Norman presents some of the worst eisegesis that you will come across. I do realize that there are many Jews who are opposed to Christianity and do want to read anti-missionary material. Please do consider another source. This chapter on Paul will leave a lot of Christian readers stunned at the way Norman twists the New Testament. (Of course, he has nothing but condemnation if he thinks we do that with the old, but it’s okay to do that with the New.)
Let’s start with the idea that Paul believed the ends justifies the means. Norman gives us some Scripture for this. He starts with Romans 3 with verses 5 and 7-8:
5 But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly,what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us? (I am using a human argument.)
7 Someone might argue, “If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?” 8 Why not say—as some slanderously claim that we say—“Let us do evil that good may result”? Their condemnation is just!
Let’s look at the whole passage. We’ll go with verses 1-8:
What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? 2 Much in every way! First of all, the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God.
3 What if some were unfaithful? Will their unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness? 4 Not at all! Let God be true, and every human being a liar.As it is written:
“So that you may be proved right when you speak
and prevail when you judge.”
5 But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly,what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us? (I am using a human argument.) 6 Certainly not! If that were so, how could God judge the world? 7 Someone might argue, “If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?” 8 Why not say—as some slanderously claim that we say—“Let us do evil that good may result”? Their condemnation is just!
Norman has been outright dishonest by removing the sixth verse which shows that Paul disagrees thoroughly. Romans is often seen as a sort of dialogue epistle with Paul interacting with an interlocutor throughout and quoting what he thinks his opponent will say. These are not the views of Paul. It’s rather funny that Norman accuses Christians of doing to the Old Testament the very thing he does to the New Testament.
Next we go to 2 Corinthians 12:16:
Be that as it may, I have not been a burden to you. Yet, crafty fellow that I am, I caught you by trickery!
Again, the whole passage, 11-21:
11 I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the “super-apostles,” even though I am nothing. 12 I persevered in demonstrating among you the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles. 13 How were you inferior to the other churches, except that I was never a burden to you? Forgive me this wrong!
14 Now I am ready to visit you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you, because what I want is not your possessions but you. After all, children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. 15 So I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well. If I love you more, will you love me less? 16 Be that as it may, I have not been a burden to you. Yet, crafty fellow that I am, I caught you by trickery! 17 Did I exploit you through any of the men I sent to you? 18 I urged Titus to go to you and I sent our brother with him. Titus did not exploit you, did he? Did we not walk in the same footsteps by the same Spirit?
19 Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? We have been speaking in the sight of God as those in Christ; and everything we do, dear friends, is for your strengthening.20 For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, slander, gossip,arrogance and disorder. 21 I am afraid that when I come again my God will humble me before you, and I will be grieved over many who have sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual sin and debauchery in which they have indulged.
Norman apparently hasn’t learned about something called “sarcasm.” Does he really think Paul is going to confess to openly tricking the Corinthians in a letter trying to regain favor with them in light of the super-apostles? Not at all. In fact, he’s saying just the opposite. He was good to them always and was never a burden to them. Obviously, he had to be up to something!
Finally, Philippians 1:18:
But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.
Again, starting at verse 15 and going through 18 shows a different picture:
15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.
Paul is acknowledging that some people preach Christ in an attempt to cause trouble for Paul. Paul can’t do anything about this but instead turns it back on them. “What do I care? I’m not doing this for me. I’m doing this for Christ and you all are proclaiming Christ so thank you very much!”
Norman is also convinced Paul lied about being a Pharisee since he worked for the high priest and was never a student of Gamaliel since Paul opposed the Law. (Which he really didn’t, but that thing called the Damascus Road experience did change some views) He also speculates that Paul was a failed convert to Judaism. Will you find any scholarly backing for any of this? Nope. Just Norman’s imagination. In fact, his main source is the Ebionites later on who wrote about Paul wanting to marry the daughter of the high priest. He got turned down and in a rage turned on Judaism.
Evidence for this? None.
We move on to Paul’s Damascus Road experience and here, we are not shocked that Norman thinks that he’s surprised us all by saying there are three different accounts of what happened. Yes. Sometimes the story has some differences in it based on who is telling it and who the audience is. One fact to be sure of is Luke is no fool as he writes this. He knows what has happened. It’s quite likely he’s going for some variety. Of course, there are any number of commentaries Norman could have checked and any number of explanations for this, but no. Norman only saves that research for the Old Testament.
If this wasn’t enough, Norman thinks he’s caught Luke plagiarizing. Why? Because the experience account contains the saying “kick against the goads.” Why that also shows up in The Bacchae of Euripides! Luke is a plagiarizer!
Or maybe Luke is quoting a common idiom which was referring to resisting the will of the deity. Suppose I’m a pastor of a church about to send missionaries to an unreached part of the world. I could get in a pulpit and say “For Jesus, we are about to boldly go where no man has gone before!” No one would accuse me of plagiarizing Star Trek. They would understand the theme that I am pointing to.
Norman goes on to say that Paul was lying about being with Gamaliel because, hey, look at how Paul describes himself in Titus 3:3.
At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.
First off, since Paul has several Gentiles with him in the writing of the letter, this isn’t a shock. He doesn’t say “I.” He says “We.” Second, Paul is speaking more about spiritual understanding. Christ did indeed add something to Paul.
If you think this is something unbelievable, it gets worse. This next one is so bad that I nearly threw the book up in exasperation when I read it. Let’s give the text first. It’s Galatians 2:19-20:
19 “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Followed by 6:17:
17 From now on, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.
Norman’s conclusion? Paul sees himself as the alter ego of Jesus.
No. I’m not making that up. Really. I’m not. He really says this.
What Norman misses is that Paul lived in a world where individualism was not the way. Paul would identify himself with his group. In this case, Paul chose to identify with Christ. Paul had his identity wrapped up in Christ and was to live imitating Him. His life was to be for Christ and when he got persecuted, He was just following in the footsteps of Jesus. Despite this, Norman thinks this is better seen as Paul showing mental instability. The instability here is Norman with scholarship about the Greco-Roman world.
Norman then goes on to make the case that Paul didn’t get the Gospel from the apostles. This is hardly a shock to anyone who has read Galatians. Of course, he leaves out that the apostles added nothing to him when he presented himself to them.
Norman goes on to argue that Jesus’s disciples didn’t accept Paul. He goes to Acts 9:26 for this:
26 When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple.
A brief thinking on this will show the problem. Disciples means anyone who followed Jesus in this context. It does not mean one of the twelve. To show this, let’s plug in the definition for the twelve here.
“When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the twelve, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was one of the twelve.”
“Hey Peter. Can you remind us again? We’ve been together for at least four years here. Was this guy always one of us? I don’t remember.”
Also, let’s not be surprised that the followers of Jesus were surprised that Paul said he was a follower of Jesus. This would be like a Christian church in the Middle East being suspicious of that known ISIS member wanting to join the church saying he’s become a Christian. It’s not a shock that Norman leaves out that Barnabas changed their minds. We know Norman’s game now. Evidence that doesn’t suit his case is thrown out and treated as non-existent.
Norman also says that the apostles had to have appointment letters from James to show they are an apostle. His source for this is a rejected Gospel called the PseduoClementine Recognitions. Norman doesn’t point out that this isn’t a Gospel, that it was written by those the church held were heretics at the time, and that it dates to the fourth century. After all, fourth century documents are far better at judging first century events.
Norman then goes on to quote 2 Corinthians 3:
Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? 2 You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone.
If you’re going with Norman, you won’t find this verse. He lists it as verse 6. (Honestly, I wonder if Norman has ever read the New Testament or just read about it.) What he doesn’t realize is that letters of recommendation were all about status in those days with a higher honor person giving a recommend for a lower honor one. It’s not about a secret club the apostles had. He gives other verses as well, but none of them show what he wants them to show.
Norman also says Paul did miracles, but since he taught a different God, then this means he was a false apostle. Norman has not shown that this is a diffferent God. Throughout, we’ve shown his understanding of the Trinity is dreadfully lacking.
Norman also says that Paul taught a different Gospel and a different Jesus. We start with 2 Corinthians 11 and verses 4 and 13.
For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.
For such people are false apostles,deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ.
Of course, all of this depends on these apostles being the same as those of the twelve. This has not been shown. Many people were called apostles who were not of the twelve. Norman gives no evidence that what he asserts is the case.
1 Corinthians 4:15-16:
15 Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. 16 Therefore I urge you to imitate me.
Are you wanting to know how this shows Paul taught a different Gospel?
So am I.
Norman gives no explanation.
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!
As expected, Norman ignores entirely that in this very chapter, Jesus’s own apostles have no problem with the message that Paul is preaching. If anyone wants to check Norman’s claims, just go back and read the verses he gives. It’s easy enough to make any case when you just cherry-pick. I once again shudder to think that this man is a lawyer.
We already looked at Norman’s claim that Paul believed the end justifies the means. There’s one more passage he adds to that. It’s one commonly used and that’s 1 Corinthians 9:19-23:
19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
No doubt, Norman would be outraged at missionaries visiting Japan who take their shoes off in someone’s home even though they never do that at home! How deceptive! How dare you actually live like the people you are trying to reach! This is all Paul is saying. He does say he’s under the law of Christ so he can’t do everything he wants to do, but he does say that if he wants to reach Jews, he abides by the Law. If he’s with Gentiles, he lives more freely.
Many passages Norman quotes also with Paul’s statements about the law also come from Hebrews. While some think Paul was the writer of Hebrews, there’s no hard proof of this. Norman also thinks that Paul was wrong when he said the law can’t make anyone perfect. Apparently, Norman thinks there were sinless people walking around in the past. King Solomon disagreed but hey, Norman knows better.
Norman also says that Paul lied about his opposition to Torah. (His supposed opposition.) For this, he goes to two passages. First, Acts 24:14:
However, I admit that I worship the God of our ancestors as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets,
Norman leaves out the first part of this verse, but what’s the problem? I could say this as a Gentile. I have no problem with it. No Christian should. It doesn’t mean we follow the Law, but we realize the purpose of it and agree with it.
Then Paul made his defense: “I have done nothing wrong against the Jewish law or against the temple or against Caesar.”
Again, the problem? It’s not like Paul brought a pig and sacrificed it in front of the temple. Paul abided by the Law in Jerusalem.
Norman also thinks Acts 21 is a clincher. James, after all, has Paul take a purification vow. This isn’t James giving orders to Paul. It’s James being the middleman. James is in the position of trying to tell Jews they don’t have to be Gentiles to be Christians. Paul is doing the opposite. He’s telling Gentiles they don’t have to be Jews. Now Paul has shown up with a lot of money due to the collection being taken among the churches for Jerusalem and with some Gentiles in tow. Paul is to show his solidarity with his fellow Jews by taking part in this ritual, which he agrees with.
Norman also argues that the Jews thought Paul was a heretic. Again, no major point to make here. Not much of a shock.
Finally, we conclude with the idea that Paul was a Roman agent still in his ministry. Evidence of this? Well in Romans 16, he greets Aristobulus who could have been the grandson of Herod. Naturally, that would mean that he had to walk in lockstep with Herod for Norman. The same with the greeting of Herodian. Paul also greeted all the Christians in the household of Caesar in Philippians. It’s ignored that the city of Philippi was a Roman colony and Christians there could be of the household of Caesar.
Norman also points out that Paul was protected by 470 Roman troops when being transported in Acts. Paul must have been someone important! Norman isn’t aware that the roads back then weren’t known for safety and that with mass riots just having taken place in Jerusalem and forty known men being in a conspiracy to kill Paul with the possibility of even more that is unknown, the Romans didn’t want to take chances.
Paul also taught submission to Roman authority, but this is hardly a shock either. Would Norman have preferred that Paul taught open revolt? What’s so awful about saying to be a good citizen insofar as you can?
Norman’s arguments are woefully lacking and we haven’t even got to the worst in the book. We’ll see more next time when Norman looks at the New Testament itself.