THE MISUNDERSTANDING OF PAUL
BY JAMES SCOTT TRIMM
Lets start by looking at five verses:
Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his
sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
(For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the
law shall be justified.
Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the
faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we
might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the
law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is
written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are
written in the book of the law to do them.
OK so we are justified by works and not by faith only, but by deeds of the
law no flesh shall be justified, but doers of the law are justified, yet a
man is not justified by works of the law however those who are of the
works of the law are under a curse but we are cursed if we don't keep the
law either. Oy vey!
There is no wonder people have a problem understanding Paul.
When this study is complete you will understand that all of the above
statements are true and they do not actually contradict each other.
In this presentation I will show that the NT itself tells us that Paul's
teachings were hard to understand, misunderstood and twisted even in his
own time. We will look at what Paul actually said and seeking to
understand what he really meant. We will look at some commonly
misunderstood passages including Gal. 4:21-5:2 and apply Jewish
Hermeneutics to see what this passage is actually saying (you may be
surprised). In the end we will show that Paul was actually a powerful
Paul is greatly misunderstood as having taught that the Torah is not for
today. I have met a great many who feel uncomfortable with his writings.
Some of these have even, like the Ebionites of ancient times, removed
Paul's from their canon (Eusebius; Eccl. Hist. 3:27:4). This belief that
Yeshua may not have abolished the Torah, but that Paul did, has been
propagated since ancient times. The "Toldot Yeshu" for example, an ancient
hostile Rabbinic parady on the Gospels and Acts, accuses Paul of
contradicting Yeshua on this very issue (Toldot Yeshu 6:16-41; 7:3- 5). At
least one modern Dispensationalist, Maurice Johnson, taught that the
Messiah did not abolish the Torah, but that Paul did several years after
the fact. He writes:
Apparently God allowed this system of Jewish
ordinances to be practiced about thirty years
after Christ fulfilled it because in His patience,
G-d only gradually showed the Jews how it was
that His program was changing.... Thus it was
that after G-d had slowly led the Christians
out of Jewish religion He had Paul finally
write these glorious, liberating truths.
(Saved by "Dry" Baptism!; a pamphlet by
Maurice Johnson; pp. 9-10)
Kefa warns us in the Scriptures that Paul's writings are difficult to
understand. He warns us saying:
...in which are some things hard to understand,
which those who are untaught and unstable
twist to their own destruction,
as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.
Paul knew that his teachings were being twisted, he mentions this in
And why not say, "Let us do evil that good may come"?
-- as we are slanderously reported and as some affirm
that we say." (Rom. 3:8)
Paul elaborates on this slanderous twist of his teachings, saying:
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin
that grace may abound? Certainly not!..."
What then? Shall we sin because we are not
under the Torah but under grace? Certainly not!"
So then, Paul was misunderstood as teaching that because we are under
grace, we need not observe the Torah.
Upon his visit to Jerusalem in Acts 21 Paul was confronted with this
slanderous twist of his teachings. He was told
You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews
there are who believe, and they are all zealous
for the Torah; but they have been informed about
you that you teach all the Jews who are among
the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they
ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk
according to the customs.
In order to prove that this was nothing more than slander, Paul takes the
nazarite vow and goes to make offerings (sacrifices) at the Temple (Acts
21:22-26 & Num. 6:13-21) demonstrating that he himself kept the Torah
(Acts 21:24). Paul did and said many things to prove that he both kept and
taught the Torah. He:
* circumcised Timothy (Acts 16:1-3)
* took the nazarite vow (Acts 18:18; 21:17-26)
* taught and observed the Jewish holy days such as:
* Passover (Acts 20:6; 1Cor. 5:6-8; 11:17-34)
* Shavuot (Pentecost) (Acts 20:16; 1Cor. 16:8)
* fasting on Yom Kippur (Acts 27:9)
* and even performed animal sacrifices
in the Temple (Acts 21:17-26/Num. 6:13-21;
Among his more notable statements on the subject are:
* "Neither against the Jewish Torah,
nor against the Temple, nor against Caesar
have I offended in anything at all." (Acts 25:8)
* "I have done nothing against our people
or the customs of our fathers." (Acts 28:17)
* "...the Torah is holy and the commandment
is holy and just and good." (Rom. 7:12)
* "Do we then nullify the Torah through faith?
May it never be! On the contrary, we maintain
the Torah." (Rom. 3:31).
Was Paul a Hypocrite?
Being confronted with the various acts and statements of Paul which
support the Torah, many of the "Torah is not for today" teachers accuse
Paul of being hypocritical. Charles Ryrie, for example, footnotes Acts
21:24 in his Ryrie Study Bible calling Paul a "middle of the road
Christian" for performing such acts. Another writer, M.A. DeHaan wrote an
entire book entitled "Five Blunders of Paul" which characterizes these
acts as "blunders." "These teachers of lawlessness" credit Paul as the
champion of their doctrine, and then condemn him for not teaching their
doctrine. If Paul was really a hypocrite, could he honestly have condemned
hypocrisy so fervently (see Gal. 2:11-15). Consider some of his own words:
For do I now persuade men, or G-d?
Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men,
I would not be a servant of the Messiah.
For you yourselves know, brothers,
that our coming to you was not in vain.
But even after we had suffered before
and were spitefully treated in Philippi,
as you know, we were bold in our G-d
to speak to you the Good News of G-d in
much conflict. For our exhortation did not
come from deceit or uncleanness,
nor was it in guile. But as we have been
approved by G-d to be entrusted with
the Good News, even so we speak, not
as pleasing men, but G-d who tests our
hearts. For neither at any time did we
use flattering words, as you know, nor a
cloak for covetousness-- G-d is witness.
If Paul was a hypocrite, he must have been one of the slickest con-men in
The problem here is misunderstanding the Semitic text. The Hebrew and
Aramaic word TZADAKA (Just/Righteous) is an ambiguous word with many
meanings. This word can mean "to display righteousness" and it can mean be
a synonym for "salvation."
For example Jn. 7:29:
"the people... and the publicans justified God, being immersed with the
immersion of Yochanan."
Here it is clear that TZADAKA refers to a "display of righteousness" and
NOT salvation, since the people clearly were not bring salvation to Elohim.
Another example of this usage is in Isaiah 32:17 "work of
righteousness"When Paul says Abraham was justified by faith (Rom. 4:1-5;
Gal. 3:6-9) he speaks in the context of "salvation" and refers to Gen.
15:6. This is the same usage as in Psalm 71:15 where TZADAKA is
used in poetic parallelism as a synonym for "Salvation" (YESHUA).
When Ya'akov (James) says that Abraham was justified by works he speaks in
context of a display of righteousness (James 2:18) and refers to an event
in Gen. 22 which took place many years AFTER Abraham had ALREADY been
justified by faith (in Gen. 15:6). In the Hebrew/Aramaic there is
absolutely NO conflict between Paul and Ya'akov here.
"Works of the Torah" and "Under the Torah"
Much of the confusion about Paul's teachings on the Torah involves two
scripture phrases which appear in the New Testament only in Paul's
writings (in Rom. Gal. & 1Cor.). These two phrases are "works of the
Torah" and "under the Torah", each of which appears 10 times in the
The first of these phrases, "works of the Torah", is best understood
through its usage in Gal. 2:16. Here Paul writes:
knowing that a man is not justified by
WORKS OF THE TORAH but by faith in
Yeshua the Messiah, even we have believed
in Messiah Yeshua, that we might be justified
by faith in Messiah and not by the
WORKS OF THE TORAH; for by the WORKS OF
THE TORAH no flesh shall be justified.
Paul uses this phrase to describe a false method of justification
which is diametricly opposed to "faith in the Messiah". To Paul "works of
the Torah" is not an obsolete Old Testament system, but a hearsay that has
never been true.
The term "works of the Torah" has shown up as a technical theological term
used in a document in the Dead Sea Scrolls called MMT which says:
Now we have written to you some of the
WORKS OF THE TORAH, those which we
determined would be beneficial for you...
And it will be reckoned to you as righteousness,
in that you have done what is right and good
before Him... (4QMMT (4Q394-399) Section C lines 26b-31)
The second of these phrases is "under the Torah". This phrase may best be
understood from its usage in Rom. 6:14, "For sin shall not have dominion
over you, for you are not UNDER THE TORAH but under grace." Paul,
therefore, sees "under grace" and "under the Torah" as
diametrically opposed, one cannot be both. The truth is that since we have
always been under grace (see Gen. 6:8; Ex. 33:12, 17; Judges
6:17f; Jer. 31:2) we have never been "under the Torah". This is
because the Torah was created for man, man was not created for the Torah
(see Mk. 2:27). "Under the Torah" then, is not an obsolete Old Testament
system, but a false teaching which was never true.
There can be no doubt that Paul sees "works of the Torah" and "under the
Torah" as categorically bad, yet Paul calls the Torah itself "holy, just and
good" (Rom. 7:12), certainly Paul does not use these phrases to refer to
the Torah itself.
In prompting this study I will begin with Gal. 5:2:
Behold, I Paul say to you, that if you be circumcised,
Christ shall profit you nothing.
Gal. 5:2 KJV
At first glance one might think after reading this verse that this one
verse disproves the entire case made throughout the book you are now
reading. But the key is that we must take the verse in context. One basic
rule of hermeneutics is to ask yourself "who is speaking?" and "who is
being spoken to?" Now we know that Paul is the speaker, but who is the
"you" in Gal. 5:2? Is it the Galatians in general? Is it all mankind? Is
it the modern reader? The answer to all of these questions is "no". If we
look up just a little bit in Paul's letter here we will see that Gal. 5:2
is the summary of an argument that he initiates in Gal. 4:21 and which he
illustrates in Gal. 4:22-31.
Gal. 4:21 tells us exactly who the "you" in 5:2 is. He writes:
Tell me, you that desire to be under the law,
do you not hear the law?
Note that "you" is defined in 4:21 as "you that desire to be under the
law" Thus Gal. 5:2 should be understood to mean:
Behold, I Paul say
to you, [that desire to be under the law]
that if you be circumcised,
Christ shall profit you nothing
Remember what we learned the phrase "under the law" does not refer to the
Torah itself but to a false teaching that was never true. So Paul is
telling these people who are ready to apostatize and seek salvation
through the false "under the law" doctrine, that their circumcisions will
profit them nothing. Following the context
then the rest of Gal. 5 is addressed to the "you that desire to be under
the law" of 4:21.
Now let us examine the midrash Paul gives in Gal. 4:22-31. Remember now, we
know from Gal. 4:21 that Paul is going to be illustrating a contrast
between the Torah and the "under the law" teaching. The parable may be
illustrated in a chart as follows:
The Torah ///////////The "Under the Law" teaching
(Gal. 4:21) //////////(Gal. 4:21)
son by freewoman /////son by bondwoman
(Gal. 4:22) //////////(Gal. 4:22)
born by promise//////// born after the flesh
(Gal. 4:23) ///////////(Gal. 4:23)
Jerusalem which is above//// from mount Sinai
which is free, /////////////genders to bondage
the mother of us all. //////[Sarah] Hagar
(Gal. 4:26) ////////////////(Gal. 4:24-25)
"the liberty wherewhith //////"entangled again
Christ hath made us free"//////with the yoke of bondgage"
(Gal. 5:1) ////////////////////(Gal. 5:1)
This fits perfectly with what we have learned previously. The Torah is
freedom. False teachings such as the ANOMOS teaching, the "works of the
law" teaching and the "under the law" teaching bring only bondage.
Meat Offered to Idols
It has been suggested that Paul's statements in 1Cor. 8:1-13; 10:7, 14-28
conflict with the ruling against eating meat offered up to idols (Acts
15:10, 29; 21:25; Rev. 2:14, 20). However there is in reality no conflict.
Let me explain:
Acts chapter 15 does not give an exhaustive enumeration of all of the laws
which apply to gentiles, but rather the "greater burden" or outerlying
limits of the Noachdic or Gentile Law (Acts 15:28). This is based on a
Jewish principle called "KOL V'KHOMER" (light and heavy) which recognizes
that certain commandments are of greater weight than others (see Mt.
23:23; the principle is used in Mt. 12:11-12 & Jn. 7:22-23). There was
never any question as to whether Gentiles could forsake justice,
blaspheme, murder or steal; so there was no need to list these with the
greatest burden of Gentile Law.
The Noachdic Law against idolatry is given very strict borders. Idolatry
is to include eating meat offered to idols.
Now in 1Cor. 8:1-13; 10:7, 14-28 Paul agrees that one may not knowingly
eat meat offered up to idols. The halachic issue Paul questions, is
whether or not one must ask, when purchasing meat, whether or not it has
been offered to idols. Paul argues (based on Ps. 24:1=1Cor. 10:26, 28)
that meat is not actually altered by the idol but that eating such meat
appears to others to endorse the idol to which it was offered. If meat is
advertised as having been offered to idols, then believers may not eat it,
since this would appear to endorse the idol. However, since the idol has
no real power over the meat, believers are not required to ask, since this
would imply that the believer believed that the idol had power over the
meat, thus ascribing power to the idol and endorsing idolatry by
acknowledging the idol's alleged power.
A basis for Paul's argument can be found by comparing Paul's summation of
his argument in 1Cor. 10:28 to the story of the martyr Eleazar in
Eleazer was a prominent Jew under the Helene rule. A day came when all of
the Jews were to show their loyalty by eating meat offered to idols at a
public feast. Eleazar was not willing to do so, but because of his
prominence, the authorities offered to allow him to sneak kosher meat into
the feast and eat it instead, thus only appearing to eat meat offered up
to idols. Eleazer refused, knowing that this would appear to endorse
idolatry, despite the fact that the meat would be kosher. As a result
Eleazar was executed. This story demonstrates that eating meat offered to
idols is wrong, not because of the meat itself, but because of the implied
endorsement of the idolatry. Thus, Paul's interpretation does not conflict
with Acts 15 but actually implies a very strict interpretation, by which
eating kosher meat would also be forbidden, if the meat were falsely
advertised as having been offered to an idol.
For a good deal more on this topic, see my book Understanding Paul at http://www.lulu.com/nazarene