An increasing number of church leaders and seminary professors are attempting to instill within the minds of those who sit under their ministries that much of what is written in the Bible is either outright myth or simply erroneous. Such an attitude has always been a characteristic of liberal theology. Yet another philosophy that is becoming increasingly popular and having an influence on many is the idea that certain New Testament writers, especially the apostle Paul, penned Scripture that reflected their own personal prejudices rather than what was given to them by the Holy Spirit of God. Sometimes true believers attempt to give a Biblical answer to an issue facing the church today only to hear a supposedly more "learned" Bible authority respond, "Don't you know that position was a product of the understanding and culture of people who lived nearly 2,000 years ago? That statement does not apply today."
Therefore, the question arises, "Were the apostle Paul's epistles in the New Testament prejudiced or inspired?" Sadly, more and more churches today are choosing to believe that Paul's writings reflected misguided prejudice rather than supernatural, verbal inspiration. In fact, the Jesus Seminar, a radically liberal group of scholars who believe Jesus did not say most of the words ascribed to Him in the New Testament, is now planning to study the life and writings of Paul to determine if he actually wrote the epistles attributed to him. Why is this effort to rationalize and trivialize the writings of Paul so important to liberal theologians? Because Paul's writings directly address two hotly debated issues today-a woman's role in ministry and homosexuality.
An informative and significant article concerning the life and writings of the apostle Paul appeared in the April 5, 1999, issue of the U.S. News & World Report. It was titled, "Reassessing an Apostle: The quest for the historical St. Paul yields some surprising new theories." Jeffery L. Sheler compiled the informative documentation and noted some current theories surrounding Paul and his writings. According to U.S. News & World Report, four current theories are as follows:
1. As a Christian missionary and theologian,
Paul knew little and cared less about the life an d teachings
of Jesus of Nazareth. More important in Paul's mind was the death
and Resurrection of the exalted Christ who appeared to him in
a mystical vision.
2. Paul did not intend his sometimes stern judgments on doctrinal matters and on issues of gender and sexuality to become church dogma applied, as it has been, for nearly 2000 years.
3. Although an apostle to the gentiles, Paul remained thoroughly Jewish in his outlook and saw the Christian movement as a means of expanding and reforming traditional Judaism. He had no thought of starting a new religion.
4. For all of his energy and influence, Paul wrote only a fraction of the New Testament letters that tradition ascribes to him, and even some of those were subsequently altered by others to reflect later developments in church theology.
These theories are being embraced by pastors and professors who attempt to interpret Scripture only within a twentieth century, politically correct framework. Two ministers mentioned in the U. S. News & World Report article, Larry Bethune and Nancy Hastings Sehested, believe Paul's writings are a product of his own prejudice or the cultural prejudice prevalent during the first century.
Bethune, pastor of University Baptist Church in Austin, Texas, says passages such as Romans 1:27 refer, according to Paul, only to homosexual rape, prostitution and pederasty. But what does the Bible say in Its proper context? When the surrounding declarations of God are considered, it is obvious that Paul is referring to the desire of both parties involved to pursue this form immoral conduct. It is not implied that anyone is being forced or being taken advantage of-the Word of God is speaking against the willingness of both individuals to participate in homosexual behavior. Notice Romans 1:24, 26, 27 "Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonor their bodies between themselves ... God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature. And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet." It is interesting to note that, according to U. S. News & World Report, Bethune's church "has several openly gay deacons."
Sehested, a Southern Baptist, said, "I've been beat up by St. Paul for the past 20 years." She went on to say that she was thrown out of her local Southern Baptist association for the transgression of serving as a pastor, and she sees much of the conservatives' anti-feminist stance as an outgrowth of Paul's writings. But what does the Bible say? In Paul's epistles, the Almighty and Sovereign God sets forth His order for the church (1 Tim. 2:12-14,)-and certainly He has every right to do so. The prohibition of women pastors/teachers is not a reflection of inferiority, but rather a memorial or a reminder of the Fall in the Garden of Eden-a reminder that sin has entered the world and that all (men included!) are but sinners saved by grace and now comprise His church.
The U. S. News & World Report article went on to say that liberal pastors and theologians "regard other verses favored by fundamentalists not as divinely inspired text but as the words of an apostle not quite in lock-step with his master." But once again, what does the Bible say? Was Paul speaking from his own prejudice and flawed cultural perspective, or from the direct inspiration of the Spirit of God? The Bible says all Scripture is God's Word and is profitable for establishing God's purposes (2 Tim. 3: l(6-17). Notice several important points:
1. The church received the epistles of
Paul as God 's Word, not the apostle's own words of prejudice
(1 Thess. 2:13)
2. Paul was primarily used by God to "set in order," to establish, what the church was to believe and how it was to conduct itself in every generation and culture (Phil. 4:9; 1 Cor. 14:37-38)
3. The apostle Peter spoke directly to the question as to whether or not Paul's epistles were the words of God. A special warning is directed to those who would try to subvert the authority of Paul's writing of Holy Scripture (2 Pet. 3:1-2, 15-16).
What is written in God's Word is God's
Word! Any who would dare belittle or question the clear teaching
of the Bible by claiming the human writer was speaking his own
mind rather than what the Holy Spirit had inspired is in danger
of God's judgment. The authority of all of God's Word is final,
and those who choose to reject any of It, do so to "their
Return to the Protestant Apologetics and Theology page