Paul Had Remarkable Insights but He was not Inerrant

Paul looms large in the New Testament, in church history, and in theology. To many, he is the authoritative source of their detailed theologies–a reservoir of revelation from God.

I agree that Paul made invaluable contributions to the spread of Jesus’ message and to our understanding of that message; but Paul is neither inerrant nor authoritative. He was a brilliant man with wonderful insights into Jesus and his work; he was creative and inspiring; but he was not inerrant.

Paul is unmatched in working through the meaning of Jesus and applying Jesus’ message to early believer communities in a practical way. But he is not inerrant; in some cases I believe Paul is even mistaken.

Paul writes a letter

Paul writes a letter

Paul as Thinker, Leader, and Author

Paul was first of all a preacher of the good news, but he didn’t simply quote the sayings of Jesus. Instead he tried to explain the good news–especially as it affected the gentiles. For example he used various metaphors to illustrate our relationship to the kingdom of God; he spoke of being grafted into a tree and of being part of a building. He called believers the body of Christ but also the bride of Christ.

Paul used these metaphors simply to help explain how we are the kingdom of God on earth, but some believers latch on to these various metaphors to create detailed doctrinal views that Paul did not intend. And they then consider Paul as the authoritative, inerrant source for their doctrinal views. This is a misguided approach to Paul

Paul wrote letters to the churches he had established. He was a figure of respect to these groups and often responded to questions and to local issues–often giving advice and even direct orders on how local issues should be handled. Unfortunately, some believers today take his advice and instructions in these cases as God’s universal law when they are only opinions relating to local situations of that time.

Many of Paul’s answers and opinions might be appropriate within the culture in which he lived but not to other cultures; they are not God’s universal law.

Paul is Susceptible to Mistakes as We All Are

In some cases, though, it seems that Paul is simply mistaken. One case has to do with the story of Adam and Eve in the garden. Now Paul might have used the garden story in Romans 15 as a literary reference to illustrate his thoughts, but it seems that Paul assumes the story to be historical and understands it as a description of the fall of mankind and the source of original sin.

This is one reason creationists are so adamantly against evolution. If Adam is not historical then there is no basis for original sin. I think Paul was just mistaken.

Another of Paul’s comments is used today as an essential point in discussions about homosexuality. In Romans 1 Paul writes that:

God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

The implication is that God views homosexuality in this very negative way. This is the primary supporting biblical passage against homosexuality, and insistence on this view is often passionate. Now it is likely that this is not Paul’s own opinion at all but a description of a common Jewish opinion against gentiles. But if this is Paul’s own opinion, then I think Paul is mistaken.

This does not diminish my respect for Paul and his positive contributions. He has added much to our understanding of Jesus’ work, but I am not bound to follow him in his erroneous opinions. I am sorry Paul wrote them, but I do not expect Paul to be perfect. Perhaps if Paul were alive today he would have different opinions.

The question arises, ‘If Paul is mistaken in some of his statements perhaps Jesus’ followers who compiled the Gospels are also mistaken.’ I am sure that in places they are inaccurate in some details and sequences, but the main thrust of their story of Jesus is so compelling that I do not believe they are mistaken in that. The Jesus I meet in their stories is the foundation of my life and of my evaluation of the rest of the Bible.

What do you think of Paul’s writings? Let me know in the comment section below.

Articles in this series: Teaching Mandatory Tithing is Wrong
The Bible Does not Teach Mandatory Tithing for Believers: Answering False Proof-texts
5 Reasons Why the Harmful Doctrine of Mandatory Tithing is Wrong
Stewardship is not Just Giving to the Church – Stewardship is Giving Wisely

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This entry was posted in authority, creationism, gays, inerrancy, original sin, Paul and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to Paul Had Remarkable Insights but He was not Inerrant

  1. It’s strange how inerrantists gloss over the verses where Paul clearly states that he is merely expressing his own opinion.

    OK, I have a list of very mechanical true-false type questions for you. I’m sure only a former fundamentalist would think like this, but I’m interested in your theology:
    So, briefly (or in depth, if you like!)
    Virgin birth?
    Physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus?
    God: personal and knowable, mysterious (perhaps mystical is a better word?) divine, just a useful metaphor, or other?
    Jesus’ miracles – did they happen as reported?
    Do you expect an afterlife?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tim Chastain says:

      Hi Jonny, you ask some great questions! I will answer them in a different order than asked, because they build on each other a bit.

      1. ‘Do you consider that Jesus was God incarnate, or that he became God in a more Gnostic sense? Or something else?’ The answer is ‘something else’. I understood the trinity more clearly when I was a ministerial student than I do now. This does not mean that I have regressed but that I have come to see the concept of the trinity as confusing, mistaken, and unnecessary. I believe Jesus is not God, but he is unique. I think he is likely pre-existent.

      2. ‘Virgin birth?’ Since Jesus is unique, it is possible that there was a virgin birth, but the birth stories seem to be added onto the main narratives of Matthew and Luke. Matthew also distorts the Old Testament passage he uses as support. I do not defend a virgin birth and I do not think it is of any value.

      3. ‘Jesus’ miracles – did they happen as reported?’ I believe a critical analysis indicates that there were remarkable events in the life of Jesus that were understood to be miracles, but I do not believe they involved suspension of the laws of physics. Were we to go back in time, we ourselves could produce ‘miracles’ due to our advanced knowledge. If Jesus had outside knowledge, he could have done the same.

      4. ‘God: personal and knowable, mysterious (perhaps mystical is a better word?) divine, just a useful metaphor, or other?’ I believe that Jesus spoke of the Father. The limited information he provided about the Father was very positive, but it had little detail about who or what the Father is. I think Old Testament descriptions of god are of little value, as they are essentially pictures of what the writers thought of god at the time. And they do not conform to Jesus’ statements about the Father. Therefore, I cannot theorize on what the Father is like beyond the information Jesus gives us.

      5. ‘Physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus?” Yes! Absolutely!

      6. ‘Do you expect an afterlife?’ I believe that in overcoming death Jesus demonstrates that we too will have an afterlife. However, those (few if any) who reject the offer of eternal life will likely cease to exist without it.

      7. ‘How do you interpret Jesus’ promise that he would return soon?’ I think Jesus will return in some way, though I do not speculate on how this will happen. I am not aware that he said he would return soon, though some of his followers expected it. If you refer to Jesus’ statement that those things would happen while some there were still living, I believe he was speaking of the destruction of Jerusalem.

      Thanks for the questions, Jonny. I really enjoyed the exchange. Do you have further comments or questions?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Very interesting. The only thing I would really struggle with is the idea that Jesus was pre-existent (and that we might have everlasting life), because I can’t reconcile what medicine tells me about the human body with my interpretation of what it would mean to have a soul. We know from medicine that changes in the brain result in changes in personality. This makes me think that who I am – my sense of self; what I used to call a soul – is in my brain. And since my brain stops when I die, I expect that I will stop when I die. I wouldn’t be dogmatic about it, but I can’t see how I could have a spirit or soul. So I’d struggle with the idea of either an afterlife or the idea of a preexistent being.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Tim Chastain says:

          I agree with you on one impotant point–I do not believe we have something like a spirit or a soul. I don’t believe the Bible even teaches that–it is a Platonic concept.

          I think that when we die we are dead until the resurrection. What is resurrected is some sort of body and not a spirit or soul–and certainly not a reconstitution of the elements of our old body. It is not our old brain either, so there must be some other aspect of our identity that is restorable. I cannot speculate on what it is. And of course I could be mistaken about the entire matter, but I am not convinced that medicine has plumbed the depths on this.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Charlotte Robertson says:

            I love this discussion. However, what did mean when he said: Father into your hands I commit my spirit? I know it is a Jewish prayer, but He must have been certain of having a spirit.

            Liked by 1 person

          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            Charlotte, I do not claim to have a definitive answer to your question, but my guess is that Jesus meant that he was about to die and therefore his breathing would cease (he would expire). Do you have any thoughts?

            Like

          • Charlotte Robertson says:

            Thank you, that is a new way of looking at it for me.

            Liked by 1 person

      • David says:

        If Jesus is not God, then how do we relate to him? All the church worship songs declare him as God. Do we stop worshiping him? How have you changed your church practices and christian living in light of this?

        Like

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Hi David,

          In re-reading my comment, I see that I was unclear. What I mean is that Jesus is not the Father who is referred to as God in the Old Testament. In a later post, I elaborated on the relationship between Jesus and the Father:

          https://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/2013/08/15/jesus-speaks-of-his-relationship-with-the-father/

          One of the earliest developments among Jesus’ followers after the resurrection was the feeling that Jesus was worthy of worship. I believe they were correct; Jesus is worthy of worship. It is also appropriate to say that Jesus is God, but I think this confuses many people concerning the relationship between Jesus and God who is the Father.

          Like

          • David says:

            Yes, I’m actually more confused now. So, is Jesus God in the trinitarian sense or is he god as in one of the many gods (a god but not co-equal with God) or is he co-equal with God but not in the trinitarian sense Or something else?

            Like

          • David, I think many are confused about God because we use the word ‘God’ in three different ways:

            God=The Father
            God=The Trinity (or Godhead)
            God=the God essence

            I believe Jesus is not = to the Father; he is the son of the Father. Jesus is not = to the Trinity; he is a part of the Trinity. However, Jesus is in some way of the same essence as God the Father.

            Like

          • mark says:

            Tim I believe they were and are mistaken. The very first thing we are told is to worship GOD and Him alone. If we look at the book of the Revelation we see John bowing prostate before an appearance of one like unto the Son of Man…Jesus its presumed. But in that scene HE tells John to see that he did not do that and to rise up… If Revelation is worthy enough to add to canon and the Person John saw was indeed the Resurrected Christ, then should not WE also follow the instructions given to John about whom to worship? If these things be so…then to otherwise is Idolatry.

            It can be a very sticky and confusing situation…and a possible deception.

            Like

          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            Mark, I think I understand what you are saying but there are parts that are unclear to me. Who was mistaken and what were they mistaken about? It seems that you are saying that Jesus should not be worshipped. Do I understand correctly? Also, how do you define worship?

            Like

          • mark says:

            Tim….haa ha ok, your and my differing nuances do tend to conflate and confuse the issues at times…my bad!! ..please give me a small break or so to word my response so it seems to be with understanding and with etiquette … And TIM…please remember I am native American and my response and words may not be what others think or imply to be as such..at times I have seen here at your blog that my response is greatly misrepresented. That I wish was not the case…
            I always try to my utmost to put it in today’s vernacular and to be Christ like without judgement or condemnation in the things I say or the remarks I post…hmmmm doesn’t always come out that way for sure.

            Peace

            Liked by 1 person

          • Chas says:

            To enter late into this conversation, I do not believe that Jesus is God, he was the Son of God and as such should not have been worshiped.

            Liked by 1 person

          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            Mark, I did not know you are Native American–or at least I didn’t remember it. I am sorry for my need for clarification sometimes. I always try not to assume when I am uncertain about what someone means; it keeps me out of trouble. But you are not the only one asked to clarify; people ask me for clarification regularly, or they respond to something I did not intend to communicate.

            Language is not always clear.

            Like

        • Jlwilson says:

          David,
          I don’t believe Jesus is God either. But like Tim said, it’s still appropriate to call Jesus God. I heard it said that Jesus is so much like God, that he is God. I think that’s what the original idea of God became man probably was and this was distorted to be that Jesus was a man that was also God. God to me is a force (there’s probably a better term) and that Jesus was so much intune to that force that he was God. This is just my opinion and I hope I didn’t confuse you.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, I forgot some:
    How do you interpret Jesus’ promise that he would return soon?
    Do you consider that Jesus was God incarnate, or that he became God in a more Gnostic sense? Or something else?

    Like

  3. Pingback: The Nature of the New Testament | Jesus Without Baggage

  4. Abbott says:

    So would you put Paul and his writings on the same level as L Ron Hubbard, or Joseph Smith? In other words, is it just some person writing about what they think of God, rather than anything with any authority? Does that make all forms of Christianity a man made endeavor?

    Like

    • Hello Abbott,

      Thanks for the question! I do not think Paul’s writing are on the same level as Hubbard’s and Smith’s. Both of those author’s wrote what they intended to be understood as the very words of truth of which they were the special messengers. Each founded a new religion based on himself.

      Paul, on the other hand, was an early follower of Jesus, though he may have missed hearing or seeing Jesus personally by a few months or years. He accepted the truth of Jesus and dedicated his life to sharing it among other people.

      Along the way, he deliberated on what it all meant and wrote letters to his followers on many topics. They were letters! They were not doctrinal pronouncements but were more just Paul sharing how he understood things and giving suggestions on resolving local issues in the churches.

      I think Paul was a great thinker and helps us think through what Jesus did and how it affects us. His insights are invaluable! But his letters are the words of Paul; I think he would be shocked to learn that many people think they are the words of God.

      Like

  5. Mark says:

    Hi Tim,
    First of all, I am not a Christian. I don’t belong to any religion. I am a theist. Sent to church and Sunday school as a child. 30years an atheist. Broken marriage, severe depression, agoraphobia. Then I did something stupid, I asked God to help me be happy again.

    It took 4 years for God to prove that it was him answering my prayers and not just my imagination. I kept on praying because I had nowhere else to go. It took another 2 years before he put the bible in my hands. I told a friend about my story when I enquired about his church. He told me the next day that he talked to his pastor about me. When I went to my friend’s church, during the sermon the pastor launched a personal attack telling of all the rules of the new covenant that I had broken. I was so naive that I didn’t know what a covenant was. The pastor had never spoken to me before this. I couldn’t wait to get out of that church.

    After sulking for 3 days I looked at the bible I had bought the week before and thought if there is any truth in this book the answer must be there. I decided to check out what this new covenant thing that I had broken all the rules to was. I looked in the concordance and the first passage was Jeremiah 31:31-34. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It not only told me what God had taught me over the previous 6 years but why and how as well. It was all within a couple of verses.

    Christians tell me that God is not allowed to do this. I found out there is a passage in Ephesians that says you can only be taught about God by one of six (?) Christian groups of teachers. It was one of the rules that the pastor said I had broken. I thank God that God does what he says and not what Christians tell him he has to do.

    When I started reading the bible some things didn’t sit right in my heart. On checking this out I came across constant references to bible inerrancy and truth. This I couldn’t understand. If the bible is inerrant why would I have to be told that it was inerrant? I started to research the claims. The research covered the formation of the cannon, history of the writings and historical Jesus. I couldn’t get over how many writers and lecturers were former fundamentalist who’s belief in God was destroyed when they realised that inerrancy was a fallacy. How many people has this doctrine led away from God?

    I had worked out there was truth in the bible. It was obvious to me that people had written what they truly believed was the truth. I had no doubt that they were inspired to write these accounts and letters. It was also obvious that there were reasons that the writers saw as the need for writing what they wrote. I have seen nothing that says that listening to God suddenly makes these writers infallible and not allowing their own feelings, emotions and beliefs to show in the messages. This showed me that I could trust them using what God has done by putting his laws within me and writing them on my heart to find the truth.

    It has been twelve years since I started praying to God. Though it has not always been easy with the changes that I have had to make, it has been the best 12 years of my life. It was God that took me to the teachings of Jesus. Christians tell me that their Christian scriptures are the new covenant. Though I see the Christian scriptures are a commentary on the new covenant I firmly believe what God told Jeremiah and confirmed through Ezekiel to be the new covenant. This is because God said “This is the covenant I will make…” and I can’t understand why my neighbour or my brother would want to teach me anything different.
    Thank you

    Like

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Mark, you have a wonderful story, although I am sorry that it includes such negative experiences with conservative believers. I believe God does lead us individually, but I also think we can learn from believers who also have knowledge and understanding.

      However, I do not agree with the pastor that learning must come only from a hierarchy of official leaders. I also believe that, whomever we learn from, that we be aware that what we hear from them is a mixture of good insight and mistaken ideas. It is up to us to take from them what seems right instead of making them ‘Authorities’ that have all the right answers.

      Thanks so much from your comment! I hope you continue to share your thoughts here.

      Like

  6. Dr. Filmore Scripts says:

    2 Peter 3:14-16

    14 Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, 15 and regard the patience of our Lord to be salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, 16 as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. 17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard lest, being carried away by the error of unprincipled men, you fall from your own steadfastness, 18 but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. Should we discount the writings of Peter as well since he counted Paul’s writings as “the rest of the Scriptures”?

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  7. Pingback: Paul Had Remarkable Insights but He was not Inerrant rb | Jesus Without Baggage

  8. sheila0405 says:

    I’m looking forward to a new post.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Charlotte Robertson says:

    About the soul: I know it is a Greek concept. But Jesus prayed the Jewish prayer: Father into your hands I commit my spirit. This, I must confess, I pray when in a plane, big-girls-blouse that I am. Tim, I have ‘died’ once. I was in hospital and knew what was happening. All I can say is that as I reminded myself of that I was now going to be with God, in whatever shape of form, a deep deep peace surrounded me. Death certainly is not to be feared.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Charlotte, I don’t claim to know what Jesus meant and I don’t ague with those who think it implies a separate spirit or soul. But if I were to express the sentiment I would be morel likely to say ‘I commit myself into your hands.’ And I agree with you that we need not fear death.

      Like

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