I support the notion that at times the Bible contradicts itself. The Old Testament teachings on their own are mostly in unison with each other. The books of the other apostles like Matthew, Mark, Luke and John focus on the teachings of Jesus Christ and are generally in agreement with each other and those of the Lord our God. Variances emerge here and there between the teachings of God the Father, the Son, and some of those of Paul, especially in relation to the law.
sundayword BY PROSPER TINGINI
Jesus Christ taught in support of the law. He spoke in Matthew 5:17: “Think not that I have come to destroy the law, or the prophets. I have not come to destroy, but to fulfil them.” He even preached to the Pharisees: “It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one dot of the law to be void.” (Luke 16:17) Christ’s teachings were in tandem with those of the God the Father. Isaiah 42:21 says: “The Lord is well pleased for his righteousness’s sake, he will magnify the law.” Jesus indeed magnified the law. What is termed “the new law” in Matthew 5:21-48 is just the same old law expanded by Christ to give it a broader meaning. He did not dump his Father’s law, never.
A deeper scrutiny of the gospels of Apostle Paul will reflect some contrast with regard to the law. A narration of chronological events will highlight inconsistencies within his acts and teachings. In Acts 13:39 when Paul was invited to preach in the synagogue in Antioch, he in part speaks, “By him (Jesus) everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the Law of Moses,” This was the beginning of the inclination of what sounds to be his teachings against the law.
While the council of the apostles had approved that Christianity be spread to non-Jewish people, the Gentiles, one question had arisen among them. “Is it necessary to circumcise the Gentiles and to charge them to keep the law of Moses” (Acts 15:5). A judgement was arrived at based on Apostle James’ advice. It reads, “Therefore, my judgement is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the pollutions of idols and from unchastity and from what is strangled and from blood”. (Acts 15:19-21). What this decision of the Christian church leaders of that time meant was that Christians who were not of Jewish origin should not be burdened by all the requirements of the law, but still had to be taught about some particular elements of the law.
Thereafter, Paul wanted a disciple named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, and of a Greek father, to accompany him to spread the gospel. He took him and circumcised him because of the Jews that were in those places, for they knew his father was not a Jew (Acts 16:1-4). Paul wanted to be seen to be observing the law. In essence, this would signify his contrasting behaviour with regards to the law.
Paul was even summoned before the council of the Christian apostolic elders in Jerusalem and questioned about some of his teachings which seemed to go against the law. Acts 21:20-21 reads: And they said to Paul, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed; they are all zealous for the law, and they have been told about you, that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs. What then is to be done?” This question was directed at Paul by the elders to explain his anti-law teachings. The Christian elders proceed to advise Paul to correct his teachings by doing actions that would be seen to be in observance of the law (Acts 21:23-26).
The other apostles did not know that Paul’s assignment from Christ was to preach to the Gentiles. He had a propensity to talk in favour of the law whenever he found himself in conflict with Jewish authority, but did not stand steadfast with it on his teachings to the Gentiles. The people of Jerusalem also rose against Paul so much that they caused great commotion inside the city. They conspired to kill him but he was saved by the intervention of soldiers and centurions who asked him what he had done wrong (Acts 21:22-36). In his defence he said, “I am a Jew, born at Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in his city at the feet of Gama’liel, educated to the strict manner of the law of our Father, being zealous for God as you all are this day”. It would seem Paul always quickly moved to the side of the law whenever his teachings against the law seemed to stir trouble for him.
Another time, Paul was brought before the high priest Anani’as for questioning. Anani’as then brought Paul before the governor of that time, Felix. Asked to speak in his defence, part of his reply reads, “I admit to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect (Christianity), I worship the God of our Fathers, believing everything laid down by the law or written in the prophets” (Acts 23:14).
Again when Paul was summoned for questioning before King Agrippa, he spoke in his own defence, “The Jews have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest law of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee” (Acts 26:5).
I know a lot of Christian followers would want to crucify me for seeming to want to discredit Paul. However, in my defence, I would want to bring forward Paul himself to act as my defence counsel, to explain his actions. In 1 Corinthians 9:19-21, Paul defence, “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win more followers. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law — though not being myself under the law — that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law — not being without law toward God but under the law of Christ — that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings”. In Acts 9:15 Christ defined Paul’s mission, “He is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles”. In his own words, he acted like one of those not under the law.
In II Timothy 3:16-17, Paul wrote to Timothy, his missionary apprentice, “All scripture is inspired by God and is also profitable for teaching, for reproach, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work”. We all stand to be corrected at every level of our faith, as at times we all err.
Simon Peter, the first head of the Christian church, also wrote about the teachings of Paul: “There are some things in Paul’s letters hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures. You, therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, beware lest you be carried away with the error of lawless men and lose your own stability” (II Peter 3:15-18). Amen.
Prosper Tingini is the president of the Children of God Missionary Assembly. Registration in progress for those who wish to undertake Bible Studies or train as Ministers of Religion. Contact 0771 260 195 or email: [email protected]