Paul Had Remarkable Insights but He was not Inerrant rb

This is a presentation of one of my better earlier posts for new readers who did not see it when it was originally posted. It is completely rewritten and updated.

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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

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9 Responses to Paul Had Remarkable Insights but He was not Inerrant rb

  1. Very nicely said. It is great to hear some intelligent conversation in the midst of all the political spew going in right now. I agree that Paul is both human (and thus prone to misinterpretation and mistakes) AND worth reading and an important contributor to the Bible. Which passages one accepts as Paul’s great writing or rejects as His mistakes should be based on both logic and study; thank you for being a person who thinks and writes from both of these.

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  2. hoju1959 says:

    Here’s what I think happened. Something may indeed have happened on the Damascus Road to Paul. However, I don’t think it’s what is described in Acts. God doesn’t do stuff like that. He doesn’t speak from the clouds and then blind a guy to make a point. What I think is more likely is that Paul’s revelation, if he had one, was gradual and ephemeral. At a certain point, the revelation was firmly gelled enough in place that Paul holed up, perhaps for three years as he says, and fashioned what he calls “my gospel,” to distinguish it from the pro-Torah gospel preached by the apostles back in the Mother Church in Jerusalem.

    He had a hunch. No one—none of the apostles, for certain—had been able to build a convincing case for why Jesus died, why his mission seemed to have failed. I think Paul painstakingly went over the Hebrew scriptures and built his case for a messiah who dies for our sins, surgically pulling out proof texts. The way I see it, Paul tends to play fast and loose with the Hebrew scriptures.

    For example, the part from Isaiah 53 about “he was wounded for our transgressions”—that wasn’t about Jesus. How could it be? Whoever wrote Isaiah didn’t know anything about Jesus. God doesn’t circumvent people’s free will and get them to write things they don’t know they are actually writing.

    The Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53 is Israel itself. Nobody, I mean nobody, had pointed to that verse as speaking about the Messiah until Paul came along. That’s because no one had thought of a divine messiah who dies for our sins before Paul.

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    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Hoju, you present some really good thoughts here. Some of it is speculation, which is the best we can do with inadequate information; but I very much agree with certain of your points. I think Paul’s thoughts on the significance of Jesus was gradual in its development. I also agree that Paul’s use of OT passages such as the suffering servant were appropriations to Jesus–not fulfillment of prophecy; this was not an unusual use of the OT by either Jews or Christians.

      I think you are on target that Jesus’ earlier disciples did not have an adequate answer to why Jesus died–except that his death was necessary for his resurrection. Paul, perhaps more than any other NT writer, pulled from the OT and from contemporary life for metaphors to explain the significance of Jesus and his work. I think many of his insights were brilliant–but they were not authoritative or inerrant. They were just Paul’s ideas, with some being more useful than others.

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  3. Alan C says:

    I think it’s interesting how many Christians look at the “Romans Road” of Bible verses as THE Gospel. Not only is it cherry-picking from Paul, that string of verses ignores anything Jesus said or did (other than die for our sins). I do believe Paul’s writings are in the NT for very good reasons, but we do need to take into account the message proclaimed by Jesus and maybe give that primacy over Paul’s (or John’s or my) interpretation. It also seems to me that, if we only had the four gospels to go on, our understanding of “the Gospel” might be more works-oriented. Which is maybe why Paul’s letters are there.

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    • hoju1959 says:

      Alan, isn’t it strange that we don’t have any writings from the 12 apostles — only from Paul, this guy who had never net Jesus. Why did Jesus spends three years with those 12 guys if he wasn’t going to have them spread his message? Why did Paul suddenly jump on to stage? I don’t think salvation by faith through grace ever occurred to Jesus — or to the 12 apostles. I think Jesus was all about Torah observance, not grace. In fact, he made the Torah go deeper. Even looking at a woman lustfully was considered adultery

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      • Alan C says:

        Interesting point. Paul’s thoughts on works vs. grace certainly draw on his own experience of God’s grace (whether you take the whole Damascus Road experience literally or not).

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    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Alan, I agree with you that the ‘Roman Road’ is contrived; it DOES seem to be its own little gospel. I used it a lot as a teenager when witnessing (which I did a lot), but I stopped that many years ago. I agree that it is simplistic and cherry-picking; it only works within the misguided presupposition of inerrancy.

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      • Alan C says:

        I wonder how much the habit of cherry-picking verses due to the tradition of printing the text as if each verse is its own inerrant paragraph. I think it’s a visual cue that invites taking verses out of context.

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        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Alan, I think you are right. I have thought that for a long time. Consider even John 3:16; it is usually quoted as ‘For God so loved the world’ instead of ‘God so loved the world’. The ‘For’ is extraneous to the purposes of the thought (connecting it to the previous verse), yet it is quoted as part of the self-contained verse.

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