Apostle Paul – a deceitful missionary?

Paul, 1410s (Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow)
Paul, 1410s (Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I happened upon a particular article in regards to the Apostle Paul and what he shared with the Christian believers in Corinth. The article claims that the Apostle Paul utilized deception as part of his “evangelistic means” in order to gain followers to Christ and Christianity. The evidence, according to this article, is found in 1 Corinthians 9: 19-23. While I am not exactly sure of the particular version the author utilized, I will post the New American Standard Bible version here for the readers:

19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; 21 to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. 23 I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.

In proposing the assumption, the writer states:

Paul admits during his ministry, preaching his Paulinism (Christianity of today), he falsely acted in order to draw people to his faith. In the following passage he openly confesses that he used deception for conversion

Upon quoting the passage of scripture, the writer then reiterates his assumption:

Paul is confessing in the above passage that, he acted as a Jew in order to convert them to his faith. He even acted as a pagan so that he can lure them to his religion. The above verse shows that Paul would go in great lengths to spread his religion by deception.

He then states that there are experts substantiating the argument he has made. The problem is, this is a classic example of a straw man argument set up against what Paul related to the Christians in Corinth, and to Christians in general as a presumptive interpretation that it is Christians who utilize deception in missionary efforts to convert and not those who follow Islam.

First, a straw man argument is a logical fallacy one commits when a person simply ignores a person’s actual position and substitutes a distorted, exaggerated or misrepresented version of that position. In this case, the writer ignores Paul’s actual position and authority and then substitutes their own distorted, exaggerated or misrepresentation of what Paul said to the Corinth Christians.

Second, the writer does not rely on historical relevance regarding the Apostle Paul. This historical relevance is pertinent in order to understand and properly interpret 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. Denying historical context removes proper interpretative techniques and introduces one’s own biased and prejudicial suppositions.

Third, the writer of the article provides only three references to “experts” that substantiates his claim (straw man argument) without investigating further whether or not these experts themselves properly interpreted the passage correctly.

Therefore, the article itself is flawed based on the straw man argument fallacy. Now let us go into and refute the assertion made against Paul and answer the question as to whether or not the Apostle Paul used deception as part of his missionary efforts. Furthermore, see if Paul was actually confessing to the Corinthian Christians as to his utilization of deception to bring people to Christ and to the new religion of the first century.

The Three Experts

The author provides quotes from three sources: Loyal D. Rue – a Professor of Religion and Philosophy, Richard Raiswell – author, and James Prince, another author. All three seem to substantiate the assumptive conclusion that Paul did in fact utilize deception in his cause to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Professor Rue quoted with:

“In the Christian tradition there is very early precedent for the use of deceptive means for evangelistic purposes. St. Paul himself makes a remarkable admission of his chameleon-like behaviour in the winning converts. Like the consummate used-car salesman, Paul pretends to share the concerns of his immediate audience in order to manipulate them into submitting to his Gospel”

Raiswell is quoted with saying:

“In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul describes how he deliberately masqueraded in false colours in order to advance the cause of the faith … If the apostle can become all things to all men, then it would see that Scripture implicitly endorses deception when practiced in pursuit of a just cause”

And Mr. Prince is quoted with the following:

“Paul’s testimony proves his own hypocrisy here in 1 Corinthians, 9, 19-22…….…….. Again here I would trade the word save for trap in Paul’s case. Then Paul pretended to be the saviour after all this. I also believe that a person who is weak needs someone strong for support either physically or spiritually. Let me tell you too that neither Jesus nor his disciples became homosexuals to save homosexuals and neither prostitutes to save prostitutes. They didn’t become all to save everybody. This is totally abomination and hypocrisy. Paul, from his own writing, his own admission said that he was all to trap people. What wouldn’t the devil do to deceive? Jesus warned us though. See Matthew 24:4. “Jesus answered: Watch out that no one deceives you.”

This latter one is quite interesting (and the reader will see why shortly) because of the mention that Christ and the Disciples did not “become” like those they associated with.

Paul – His Origin 

Let us now take a look at the origin of the Apostle Paul. We know from Acts that the Apostle Paul actually is the former Saul of Tarsus ( Acts 21:39 Acts 21:40 ). Saul attended the stoning of Stephen  (Acts 7:58-60 ).  Saul also learned from Gamaliel and aligned to the Pharisee tradition ( Acts 22:1-3 ). Paul even recounts his previous life prior to his conversion:

12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. 13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst. (1 Timothy 1:12-15).

Along with Paul’s statement to his disciple Timothy, he writes in another epistle his origin:

Circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews as to the law a Pharisee, as to zeal a persecutor of the church, as to righteousness under the law blameless.” (Phil. 3:5-6)

To the Christians in Galatia, Paul establishes his origin as being of the Pharisee’s:

“For you have heard of my former life in Judaism how I persecuted the Church of God violently and tried to destroy it; and I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.” (Gal. 1:15-16)

These passage of scriptures confirm that Paul was not merely pretending to be a Jew in order to convert Jews, he actually knew the Jewish customs, laws, rituals, and rites. Unlike the author of the article presumes and attempts to substantiates with minimal support. In fact, in the April, 2011 edition of the Theological Review, Johnny Awwad quotes Philippians and Galatians in relation to his assessment of Paul’s origin’s:

… prior to his conversion, Paul was not an ordinary Jew. He was a fanatic Pharisaic Jew in his zeal for the Torah and the traditions of the fathers. As to righteousness (right standing before God) under the law, he depicts himself as blameless (Awwad, J. (2011). From Saul to Paul: The Conversion of Paul the Apostle. Theological Review32(1), 1-14.)

Adaptation of an ethnocentric viewpoint to preach the gospel

The purpose of establishing Paul’s identity and social context is very important to know who the writer is. Since the assertion is made that Paul used deception to secure converts, the burden of proof rests upon the individual providing such an assertion. Unfortunately, the writer failed to provide substantial proof that Paul confessed to have utilized deception. On the contrary, Paul the Apostle confessed to having a predominate poly-ethnic perception:

Modern ethnographers of polyethnic societies have begun to dismantle the presupposition that ethnic groups are mutually exclusive categories of identity. The traditional view, which dominated anthropological literature of the mid-twentieth century, holds that: “…ethnic boundaries are fairly rigidly structured in the sense that membership is usually unambiguous, an ‘all or nothing’ matter.” In recent decades, anthropologists have observed behavior to the contrary: people in polyethnic contexts unproblematically maintained several different ethnic identities at once (Johnson Hodge, C. (2005). Apostle to the Gentiles: Constructions of Paul’s Identity. Biblical Interpretation13(3), 270-288. doi:10.1163/1568515054388146)

In essence, what Paul is relating to the Corinthian Christians is his confession of assimilating himself into the differing cultural identities. Paul held to a more ethnocentric perception in order to relate to his specific audiences when preaching the Gospel. In fact, this is explained quite well when one consults Albert Barnes New Testament Commentary:

Verse 19. For though I be free. I am a freeman. I am under obligation to none. I am not bound to give them my labours, and at the same time to toil for my own support. I have claims like others, and could urge them; and no man could demand that I should give myself to a life of servitude, and comply with their prejudices and wishes, as if I were a slave, in order to their conversion. Compare 1 Co 9:1. See Barnes “1 Co 6:12“.

From all menek pantwn. This may either refer to all persons or to all things. The word men is not in the original. The connexion, however, seems to fix the signification to persons. “I am a freeman. And although I have conducted [myself] like a slave, yet it has been done voluntarily.”

I have made myself servant unto all. Greek, “I have enslaved myself (emauton edoulwsa) unto all.” That is,

(1.) I labour for them, or in their service, and to promote their welfare.

(2.) I do it, as the slave does, without reward or hire. I am not paid for it, but submit to the toil, and do it without receiving pay.

(3.) Like the slave who wishes to gratify his master, or who is compelled from the necessity of the case, I comply with the prejudices, habits, customs, and opinions of others as far as I can with a good conscience. The slave is subject to the master’s will. That will must be obeyed. The whims, prejudices, caprices of the master must be submitted to, even if they are merecaprice, and wholly unreasonable. So Paul says that he had voluntarily put himself into this condition, a condition making it necessary for him to suit himself to the opinions, prejudices, caprices, and feelings of all men, so far as he could do it with a good conscience, in order that he might save them. We are not to understand here that Paul embraced any opinions which were false in order to do this, or that he submitted to anything which is morally wrong. But he complied with their customs, and habits, and feelings, as far as it could lawfully be done. He did not needlessly offend them, or run counter to their prejudices.

That I might gain the more. That I might gain more to Christ; that I might be the means of saving more souls. What a noble instance of self-denial and true greatness is here! How worthy of religion! How elevated the conduct! How magnanimous, and how benevolent! No man would do this who had not a greatness of intellect that would rise above narrow prejudices; and who had not a nobleness of heart that would seek at personal sacrifice the happiness of all men. It is said that not a few early Christians, in illustration of this principle of conduct, actually sold themselves into slavery in order that they might have access to and benefit slaves—an act to which nothing would prompt a man but the religion of the cross. Comp. See Barnes “Ro 1:14“.

Barnes commentary continues with verse 20 and provides assurance to how Paul accomplished his missionary efforts from a more ethnocentric viewpoint:

Verse 20. And unto the Jews. In this verse, and the two following, Paul states more at length the conduct which he had exhibited, and to which he refers in 1 Co 9:19. He had shown this conduct to all classes of men. He had preached much to his own countrymen, and had evinced these principles there.

I became as a Jew. I complied with their rites, customs, prejudices, as far as I could with a good conscience. I did not needlessly offend them. I did not attack and oppose their views, when there was no danger that my conduct should be mistaken. For a full illustration of Paul’s conduct in this respect, and the principles which influenced him, See Barnes “Ac 16:3“; See Barnes “Ac 18:18“; See Barnes “Ac 21:21“; also Ac 21:22-27See Barnes “Ac 23:1“; also Ac 23:5-6.

To those that are under the law. This I understand as another form of saying that he conformed to the rites, customs, and even prejudices of the Jews. The phrase, “under the law,” means undoubtedly the law of Moses; and probably he here refers particularly to those Jews who lived in the land of Judea, as being more immediately andentirely under the law of Moses, than those who lived among the Gentiles.

As under the law. That is, I conformed to their rites and customs as far as I could do it. I did not violate them unnecessarily. I did not disregard them for the purpose of offending them; nor refuse to observe them when it could be done with a good conscience. There can be no doubt that Paul, when he was in Judea, submitted himself to the laws, and lived in conformity with them.

That I might gain. That I might obtain their confidence and affection. That I might not outrage their feelings, excite their prejudices, and provoke them to anger; and that I might thus have access to their minds, and be the means of converting them to the Christian faith.

What we discover is not that Paul used deception. He became like those whom he associated with in order to relate to them from their own viewpoints and understanding. Not to deceive, to understand and help them understand within their own perceptions. In essence, the Apostle Paul became like most men because he allowed himself to identify with them based on his good conscience and what is reasonable to preach the Gospel. There is no deception here.

Summary

The writer of 1 Corinthians 9: Apostle Paul’s Missionary Deception (Taqiyya)! presents a flawed and weak straw man argument against the notion that Paul used deception as a means to gain converts. As briefly explored here, the notion is false. False, because established truth had been negated and therefore necessary to iterate exactly what 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 actually says. Paul referenced, not his confession of using deception, but how he engaged and ministered to people from a more ethnocentric viewpoint. He understood the Law and the Jewish customs – because he was a Jew. He also learned those particular customs that were of other ethnic backgrounds where he is able to better relate to those other people of their specific cultural identity. This is a far cry from being deceitful. The only deception here is the author’s false position and false attribution.

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