A Liar for God?
"For though I be free from all men,
yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain
the more. And unto the Jews I became a Jew,
that I might gain the Jews ... To them that are without
became outside the law ... that I might gain them outside
the law ... To the weak I became as weak, that I might gain
the weak. I am made all things to all men,
that I might by all means save some."
St Paul, 1 Corinthians 9.19,22.
to the story in Acts, following St Paul's successful
mission to Cyprus and Lycaonia, the apostle made two extensive
evangelising tours across the Greek world. The conventional dating
for the journeys is sometime during the 50s or 60s of the first
century, with each tour lasting two or three years. Acts records
the apostle's presence at major cities like Athens, Thessalonika
and Ephesus and also at minor towns like Derbe and Mitylene unmentioned
by Paul himself. Paul's own epistles actually confirm very little
of the grand tour. Curiously, Acts makes absolutely
no reference to
the seminal letters which, apparently, were one consequence of
Paul's magnificent missionary effort as he struggled to encourage
and discipline the fledgling churches. Paul's adventures
are chock-full of miracle, magic and myth – but are they
"Let us go again and visit
our brethren in every city where we have preached the word
of the Lord, and see how they do."
– Acts 15.36.
After a blazing row with Barnabas ("contention
so sharp"), the intrepid apostle Paul set out with
new man Silas on his supposed second missionary
tour. Silas was the "chief
man" and "prophet"
selected by the elect of Jerusalem to reassure Gentiles that
circumcision was unnecessary (Acts 15.22,32). Apparently,
like Paul, he also was a Roman citizen (Acts 15.37)
– a highly improbable status, given the privileged
nature of Roman citizenship at such an early date. Paul in
his own writings makes no mention of
a Silas but a Silvanus does show up as co-author of
1 and 2 Thessalonians and this may refer to the same character.
Even then, Paul confirms nothing of "Silas" as a co-missionary.
assumes the dynamic duo took an overland route, through Tarsus
and the Cilician Gates, to reach the first mentioned stopover,
Derbe, then on to Lystra where Timothy joined
the party (sans foreskin).
Passing uneventfully "throughout" Phrygia and Galatia,
spirit divinities "forbade" any foray either south
into Asia Minor or north into Bithynia (Acts 16.6,7), so instead
the happy band entered the province of Mysia on the Bosphorus
and the major city of Troas. Oddly, Paul had
no interest in evangelising in this major city. He preferred
to respond to his "vision
in the night" and chance his luck in Philippi, a city one
tenth the size which did not even have a synagogue, normally
his first port of call.
Supposedly, Paul first
encountered Luke at Troas – a desperate way of explaining
the curious "we" passages
in Acts 16.10 to 16.16. But if Luke really was
part of a "we" why
does he not identify himself? Why is he such a passive and invisible "evangelist"?
And why does he drop out of the party at Philippi, so soon after
joining? From chapter 17 the writer
reverts to "they" rather
than "we" for all of Paul's adventures in Thessalonica,
Athens and Corinth.
Even more bizarre is that "us" reappears at Acts
20.5, on the return leg of Paul's purported third
missionary journey, when a whole gaggle of the
brethren rendezvous at Troas. Did Luke really pass at least four
Philippi, communing with Jesus and letting Paul do all the hard
work elsewhere: the "year and six months" Paul worked in Corinth
(18.11); the "two years" and a "season" that
Paul tarried at Ephesus (19.10,22) and the "three months" the
apostle spent in Greece (20.3)? And yet Luke is able to record
all the colourful events of Paul's alleged mission?
The whole scenario is quite unconvincing, particularly
as Paul himself does not confirm Luke's arrival, presence or departure
in any significant way. It is quite damning of Luke's authorship
of the yarn in Acts that Paul mentions "the
three times – and
then only in passing.
Whose journey was this?
St Paul's Greek island cruise – his
supposed "Second Missionary Journey" (Acts l5.36-18.22),
is variously dated between 49 and 52 AD. A
third journey is reported, which follows the same route but
for calling at Ephesus on the way out rather than on the way
back (Acts 18.23-21.16).
Why does Paul eschew the heavily populated
and flourishing cities along the coasts of Pamphylia and
Lycia for minor inland towns like Antioch in Pisidia and Lystra?
Too much competition on the coast – or is the whole tale
The Implausible Paul
" I AM telling the truth! I am NOT lying!
A teacher of the true faith to the Gentiles!"
More than a hundred cities
populated the Roman world between Syria and Spain, so why did
Paul choose the cities he did? Derbe and Philippi rather than
Side and Pergamum? Lystra and Miletus rather than Sardes and
Smyrna? The drama smacks of the tale of JC himself, for the
most part played out in small towns with little trace and just "set
pieces" performed in major cities.
How likely is it that the "Holy
Spirit" intervened to stop Paul
evangelising in Asia Minor, the "Spirit
of Christ" intervened to stop
him evangelising in Bithynia, and then a "vision
of a man from Macedonian" pleaded with him to
evangelise in Macedonia? (Acts 16.6,9). Were the citizens of
Roman Asia and the Bithynians less deserving than the Greeks – or
is it simply that the story teller needed to get his hero into
the heart of the Greek world?
How likely is
it that the great missionary
traipsed all the way from Galatia to Troas – a
journey of over 400 miles and on foot over difficult terrain
taking perhaps two months, without founding any churches? Wasn't
that what he was supposed to do? And then, when he finally reached
the city of Troas, he promptly left for Macedonia?
According to Acts,
in Macedonia at Philippi Paul upset the
Roman managers of a "damsel" who had the power
of soothsaying. It seems she had accurately identified Paul
and Silas as "showing
the way to salvation" (Acts 16.17). Even so, Paul decided
to expel the girl's guiding spirit (despite identifying
prophecy as a "spirit gift" from God in his own
e.g. 1 Corinthians 12.1,10).
With a ruined
business, the angry purveyors of prophecy
drag Paul and Silas before magistrates for "un-Roman
The duo are flogged and jailed. That same night, an earthquake,
no less, freed them from the stocks and conveniently opened
all the doors of the jail (without bringing
down the roof?).
The jailer promptly became a Christian (conversion
required only a bit of magic in those days.) Perversely,
Paul did not mention that he was a Roman citizen until
the morning. The petulant apostle then refused to leave his
cell until the worried local magistrates asked him nicely.
How likely is it that Paul, a Jewish
tentmaker, happened to find employment in Corinth
with two other Jewish
tentmakers? (Acts 18.2,3). Paul's letters
merely acknowledge Aquila and his wife Priscilla
as "fellow workers in Christ Jesus" (Romans 16.3). Nowhere else
does Paul seem bothered to get a job.
Acts tosses in a reference to Aquila and Priscilla
being among "Jews expelled from Rome" by emperor Claudius – a
"fact" seized upon by apologists as an historical marker. Suetonius
famously confirms the expulsion as a consequence of "disturbances
at the instigation of Chrestus" (a phrase often paraded as one
of the classic "evidences for an historical Jesus"!). But the
Suetonius reference is suspect. Cassius Dio gives a more
"As for the Jews, who
had again increased so greatly that by reason of their multitude it
would have been hard without raising a tumult to bar them
from the city,
he did not drive them out, but ordered them,
while continuing their traditional mode of life, not
to hold meetings."
The Christian fraudsters have almost certainly
concatenated the earlier expulsion of Jews by Tiberius
Antiquities 18.3) with the later restrictions of Claudius.
It is rather interesting that Josephus preserves an edict
of toleration issued by Claudius which redressed the anti-Jewish
antics of his assassinated predecessor, Caius Caligula. The assassin?
Josephus tells us the name in the preceding paragraph: none other
than a man called Aquila!
"But all agree that
Aquila gave him the finishing stroke, which directly killed
him." – Antiquities
survives the beasts at Ephesus?
to Acts, but Paul himself claims to have survived
the beasts in Ephesus – an amazing outcome
for an amateur bestiarii.
" If after the manner
of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus,
what advantageth it me, if the dead rise
not? let us eat and drink; for to morrow
– I Corinthians
Perhaps the apocryphal Acts
of Paul supply the answer. In
the arena the apostle apparently confronted
a wild lion that he had baptised not
Paul thereupon had a friendly
chat with the talking lion; meanwhile,
the Almighty unleashed a hail-storm onto
the spectators, killing
All good Christian stuff.
How likely is it that Paul "fought
with beasts at Ephesus"? (1 Corinthians 15.32).
Apart from the improbability of his surviving (and with all
his limbs intact!), if Paul really was
a Roman citizen he could not legally have
been condemned to fight wild beasts. After all, we are later
told that Paul used the "I am a Roman" plea
before Festus to get his case transferred to Caesar in Rome
How likely is it that Paul caused a "riot
of Ephesian silversmiths"? (Acts 19.23,41). How likely
that "the whole city was filled with confusion", "rushed
with one accord" into the theatre, chanted
"Great is Diana of the Ephesians" for two hours and then
had no idea why they had assembled? ("the
assembly was confused: and the more part knew not wherefore they
were come together.")
In a familiar pattern, a figure in authority vindicates
Paul as guiltless and dismisses the assembly! Some riot!
How convincing is it that an "insurrection"
of Corinthian Jews brought Paul to trial before Seneca's
brother Gallio? Yet Acts 18.12,17 records such a "trial":
" And when Gallio was the deputy of Achaia,
the Jews made insurrection with one accord against Paul."
Gallio, we are told, dismissed the complaint out
of hand, without Paul saying a word. Yet it seems rather doubtful
that the non-existent case would ever had come
to the attention of such a powerful man, the ruler of the
whole of Greece.
In the first half of the 1st century his brother Seneca
was one of the richest men
in Rome. The official career of Gallio, brother of the grand
master of Stoicism and "prime minister", would have been common
knowledge, even in the 2nd century world of "Luke."
In this Corinthian
episode, the purpose is to demonstrate the idle indifference
of a Stoic imperial agent. Paul is released, the chief rabbi
gets beaten up by Greeks, "And Gallio
cared for none of those things." Too true.
Paul on "Paul's travels"
One journey that Acts fails to mention is the very
one Paul himself records:
"Nor did I go up to Jerusalem
to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into
Arabia and later returned to Damascus. Then after
three years I went up to Jerusalem."
Paul has nothing to add about his
stay in Arabia, nor does he say anything of the great Arab
cities, like Gerasa, Suweida or Canatha. But then in Acts, Arabia
does not get a mention at all.
Did Paul really travel
20.000 kilometres? (Stoughton, p88). For all the plethora of
attributed letters, Paul actually provides precious little information
on "missionary travels" and not one of the epistles
can be accurately dated. Acts mentions some thirty-odd towns
on the Paul itinerary yet the apostle himself fails to mention
over half of them and he rarely confirms his presence anywhere.
The letters (assuming for the moment they are not all fake) could have
been written by a wandering preacher. Equally, they could all
have originated in a single centre, such as Ephesus, and subsequently
have been edited to crudely fit the meanderings set down in Acts.
Did Paul really evangelise
in Galatia (a quite primitive region of central Anatolia populated
by Gauls)? How likely is it that an itinerant Jewish preacher
could have wandered into an unfamiliar town, preached to
an indigenous people who spoke an alien tongue and who were steeped
in the rituals of their own ancient religion, and soon after
depart leaving behind a "church" to which he would
send letters in polished Greek on the finer points of redemption?
"How Paul got his
message across remains a mystery, because there would have
been little or no common ground on which to build. I can
only think that it was the compelling force of his personality
as he spoke with burning fervour about Jesus as the saviour
of the world."
– Murphy O'Connor, Paul, His History, p59.
Perhaps Paul spoke slowly and loudly and
handed out beads and mirrors?
avoid the problem entirely apologists redefine Lycaonia as "south
Galatia", keeping the apostle in "safe" territory.
In order to preserve a tenuous
compatibility with the yarn in Acts, all the letters are necessarily
slotted into a few years at the end of the apostle's purported
life. Thus, the Epistle to the Galatians,
for example, is traditionally ascribed to the year 60 and is
said to have been written from Corinth. Though interesting for
the partisan view it gives of the conflict with rival "Judaizers",
the letter gives few clues to its provenance.
A summarised career
of Paul in verses 1.15-2.14 fits badly with the tale in Acts: "separated
in the womb"; a "three
in Arabia and Damascus; foray into Syria and Cilicia; unknown "by
face" in Judaea; companionship of Titus; conflict with the
Jerusalem apostles. The best one might say is that the references
to "three years" and "fourteen years" probably
puts the composition late in the writer's career.
Similarly, the Epistle
to the Romans, is also traditionally "located" in
Corinth about the year 60, with Paul anticipating his first visit
to Rome. Yet Corinth is nowhere
referred to and the writer's focus is actually Spain,
subsequent to an imminent trip to Jerusalem:
"I have been much hindered from coming
to you. But now having no more place in these parts, and
having a great desire these many years to come unto you;
Whensoever I take my journey into Spain,
I will come to you ... But now I go unto Jerusalem to
minister unto the saints. For it hath pleased them of Macedonia
and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints
which are at Jerusalem ... When therefore I have performed
this, and have sealed to them this fruit, I will come by
you into Spain."
– Romans 15.22,28.
Not only is it curious that the writer says he
has "no more place" (that is, for missionary work) – scarcely
true of pagan Greece – he also refers to having preached
in what is now Croatia, again a region unmentioned in Acts.
"From Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum,
I have fully preached the gospel of Christ." – Romans
Another major letter, the 1st Epistle to the Corinthians purports
to have been written at Ephesus (16.8), with Paul on
this occasion anticipating a visit to Corinth, by a route "passing
through Macedonia". He expresses a wish to over-winter in
Corinth, and then receive help "whithersoever
I go" (16,5,6). The intended route is bizarre,
ignoring the obvious sea crossing from Ephesus to Corinth. Is
this trip part of the third journey of Acts? Paul claims
to have ordered a collection for the saints in Galatia (16.1),
similar to the one he now orders in Corinth, yet he never returns
to Galatia to collect. Perhaps he already has the saints' loot,
but then, is he really planning such a hazardous and convoluted
journey with one collection of money in order to pick up another?
The 2nd Epistle to the Corinthians does
nothing to convince that the sermon within is part of a genuine
letter, written by a wandering evangelist. This time the favoured
location is Philippi. Paul's first letter to the independent-minded
Corinthians evidently has gone down like a lead balloon and the
apostle responds with sarcasm and self-pity. According to Acts
(16.9) it was a "night vision" of a Macedonian which
called Paul from Troas to Philippi, a "spiritual
sits oddly alongside the apostle's more prosaic explanation of
his trip north:
"Now when I went to Troas to preach
the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a
door for me, I still had no peace of mind, because I
did not find my brother Titus there. So
I said good-by to them and went on to Macedonia."
Paul's only other mention of Troas (NOT the
raising to life the dead Eutychus! – Acts 20.10) is
when he asks his sidekick Timothy to bring his notes and a
forgotten cloak! (2 Timothy 4.13). As for Paul's
Christian bridgehead at Philippi the apostle actually confirms rejection not
success in that city. Writing to the Thessalonians he says:
"We had previously suffered
and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but
with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel
in spite of strong opposition."
– 1 Thessalonians
This could be perceived as confirming the "flogging",
the "night in the stocks" and the "miraculous
earthquake" alleged by Acts – in which case we must
believe that Paul not only communed with the divine, but also
was a master of understatement!
A myth so grand
Whilst a missionary journey, in the manner of a wandering
sage or peripatetic philosopher, is intrinsically plausible of
early day Christians, the Pauline journeys, characterized by incongruities,
contradiction, and the absurd, are not. In the concocted fantasy,
whole cities, even provinces, are in turn, enthralled and enraged
by the activity of the pioneers of the one true faith.
Yet in truth,
the world scarcely noticed the first stirrings of a handful of
Jewish heretics or the speculation of a few pagans infatuated with
Mosaic law and the musings of the Hebrew prophets. The modest efforts,
and limited successes, of early 2nd century Christian sects were
amplified and encouraged by a "foundation myth" of world-shaking
The Christian scribes of
the 2nd century who wrote the New Testament needed to justify their
own claims to eminence by the creation of noble "predecessors" who
had shone like stars in a supposed apostolic golden age and had "passed
divine message. They
confessed not to the fabrication of myth but to the inheritance
of sacred testimony. To be sure, an element of truth – incidental
detail and "famous names", gleaned
from the works of secular authors – is preserved in
the sacred texts, but in
all other respects the sham history overflows with bogus nonsense.
The two prima donnas of the Christian drama,
Peter and Paul, are not merely more than human, they are not
even human: they are phantoms of theological purpose. They
are also rivals. Pious fraud seldom favours a monopoly of invention
and in the 2nd century "golden age" of Roman peace and tolerance,
any number of ambitious priests contended for popular acclaim and
The candidate of the Roman ecclesiasta, St
Peter, was promoted
as the pre-eminent apostle in response to the challenge of the
Asiatic school of soothsayers and their apocryphal traveller
St Paul, who, like Mercury, was a messenger from the gods (and
Paul is so-named in Acts 14.12!). Peter was accorded none
of the trials and tribulations which tested the mettle of Paul
("in stripes above measure, in prisons
more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received
I forty stripes save one", etc., etc. – 2 Corinthians
11) but instead
was especially favoured by the transcendent, beginning with a
divine appointment by JC himself (Matthew 16.18). No
baying Jews after the blood of this guy!
Peter is a simple hero, suited to those enamoured
of the miraculous and impatient of hair-splitting
when Peter, like Paul, was briefly imprisoned, it was an angel
of the Lord who arrived to effect his release – not
a battalion of Roman troops! (Acts 12.7,10). For Peter, none
of the closely argued "rules on food" of Romans 14.
Instead, a great sheet descended
from the sky full of "beasts and creeping things"’ and
God himself boomed out "Rise, Peter;
kill, and eat." (Acts 10.9,16).
Though Paul lays claim to be "apostle of the
contradistinction to Peter, the "apostle to the circumcised",
nonetheless it is Peter who converts the
first Gentiles (Acts 10.48) and it is Peter who performs
apostolic miracle. In Lydda, merely the shadow of the
great man heals a "multitude" (Acts
5.15,16) and by curing a single
sufferer of palsy (Acts 9.33,35) Peter converts the entire
town, as well
as all the residents of the plain of Sharon. What
But "Peter" was no great theologian (any
more than his creators in Rome!) and "Paul" had
written a body of theological doctrines and correctives useful
in the practical struggle of establishing a church universal. And
whereas Peter's "missionary activity" did not venture
further than Joppa and Caesarea, barely 40 miles from Jerusalem,
Paul's journeys went far and wide.
Everywhere, the thirteenth apostle
had met the violent hostility of "the
Jews", and the caprice of the high and mighty, with the unyielding
truth of Christ. No challenge was too great for this guy. In
the furious 2nd century wrangle for "orthodoxy", the
valuable theological legacy of "Paul" was sequestered
for the greater Catholic cause.
Hermann Detering, The Falsified Paul,
Early Christianity in the Twilight (Journal of Higher Criticism, 2003)
A. N. Wilson, Paul, The Mind of the Apostle (Sinclair-Stevenson, 1997)
John Ziesler, Pauline Christianity (Oxford, 1990)
Edward Stourton, In the Footsteps of Saint Paul (Hodder & Stoughton,
J. Murphy-O'Connor, Paul, A Critical Life (Clarendon, 1996)
J. Murphy-O'Connor, Paul, His Story (Oxford, 2005)
Daniel T. Unterbrink, Judas the Galilean (iUniverse, 2004)
Daniel T. Unterbrink, New Testament Lies (iUniverse, 2006)
Jay Raskin, The Evolution of Christs and Christianities (Xlibris, 2006)
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