Did Paul ever speak and teach on his own?

 Textual evidence for Paul’s non-inspiration

by Ibn Anwar

 Christians would have it that their liege lord Paul of Tarsus was ever inspired and received direct revelation from Jesus Christ himself. This concept stems from the following verses(and many others):

“For I make known to you, brethren, as touching the Gospel which was preached by me, that it is not after man. For neither did I receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but through revelation of Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 1:11-12)

“If any man thinks himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him take knowledge of the things which I write unto you, that they are the commandment of the Lord.”(1 Corinthians 14:37)

And of course, the famous 2 Timothy 3:16:

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.”

In the verses from Galatians and 1 Corinthians we see that Paul claims that he received revelation from Jesus Christ and that whatever he writes(teaches) are the commandment of the Lord. Then, in 2 Timothy 3:16 we read a most infamous verse which claims that “ALL SCRIPTURE is given by inspiration of God…”. In other words, the whole Bible including the teachings and words of Paul of Tarsus are inspired by God according to the said verse. Let us see if this is true. In order to do this we shall take a close look at 2 verses attributed to Paul in his epistles.

Titus 1:12-14

“Even one of their own prophets has said,”Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Therefore, rebuke them sharply so that they will be sound in faith and pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the commands of those who reject the truth.”

The person being quoted by Paul in the above passage is Epimenides according to numerous reputable Christian Bible commentaries.

“III In reference to their people or hearers, who are described from ancient testimony given of them. 1. Here is the witness(v. 12): One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, that is, one of the Cretans, not of the Jews, Epimenides a Greek poet, likely to know and unlikely to slander them.” [1] (emphasis added)

“Even one of their own prophets has said,”Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.”(1:12). The Greek is better rendered,”Even one of them, their own prophet.” Here “prophet” is used in the sense of a religious leader or reformer. The reference is to Epimenides, the fifth-century B.C. poet honored by the people of Crete. The contemptuous evaluation of the Cretans is reflected in pagan writings and even in the Greek language itself, where the word kretizo,”to Crete-ize,” came to mean “to lie” or “to cheat”.” [2] (emphasis added)

“(m) Epimenides, who was considered a prophet amongst them. See Laertius, and Cicero in his first book of divination.” [3] (emphasis added)

A prophet of their own. A Cretan sage, seer and teacher, Epimenides by name, who lived about 500 B.C.
The Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, slow bellies. The hard testimony of his countrymen is quoted from a poem now lost.” [4] (empasis added)

“1:12, Cretans…gluttons: quoted from Epimenides, a Cretan poet of the sixth century B.C.” [5] (emphasis added)

“In 1:12, Paul quotes the Greek poet Epimenides, who wrote “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” [6] (emphasis added)

“He quotes Epimenides, one of their own poetic spokesmen who lived around 600 B.C.” [7] 

“12. One – Epimenides of Phaestus, or Gnossus, in Crete…” [8] 

“12. Invective against opponents supported by a hexameter from the Cretan poet Epimenides (ca. 600 BCE)” [9]

Some of you might ask, “so what exactly is the problem?”. Well, it’s quite simple and straight forward really. The person quoted is Epimenides. He says that,”Cretans are ALWAYS liars”. The Greek word for always here is ἀεὶ(aei) which means “ever and always”(without exception). So, the problem is that this testimony is by Epimenides who is HIMSELF a CRETAN! And Paul affirms the testimony without hesitation as he put it:

This testimony is true. Therefore, rebuke them sharply so that they will be sound in faith…”

If Epimenides is a Cretan and the testimony in question says “Cretans are ALWAYS liars” which Paul affirms then how can the testimony be true in the first place? If Epimenides is a Cretan and they always lie then how is his testimony here true? Do you understand what always means? Any reasonable person will no doubt agree with me that there’s a big logical problem here. Indeed, it is a huge stumbling block.

I had an hour long discussion on this with a Christian apologist and the defense which he mustered was quite interesting however false it was. Instead of dealing with the logical problem of the passage he tried to spun an entirely different interpretation of the text. He claimed that Paul was not affirming what the quotation says, but rather the quotation itself i.e. he’s saying that the quotation is authentic(actually said by someone). The problem with this explanation is that it just does not correlate with the text which itself is quite clear:

“Even one of their own prophets has said,”Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Therefore, rebuke them sharply so that they will be sound in faith…”

Paul believes that the testimony which he is reporting is true so he says THEREFORE or as the NASB translates it “FOR THIS REASON” REBUKE THEM SHARPLY. What’s the reason? What’s to rebuke? To rebuke is to scold, to refute, to correct, to reproach etc. Do you rebuke someone on the basis of a quotation which is not true?  No! The reason for the rebuking is because according to Paul the TESTIMONY that says Cretans are always liars is true i.e. what is said by it is true! As Matthew Henry explains:

“2. Here is the matter of his testimony: The Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, slow bellies. Even to a proverb, they were infamous for falsehood and lying. 3. Here is the verification of this by the apostle himself: v. 13. This witness is true.” [10]  (emphasis added)

The following Bible translation is quite helpful:

“It was a Cretan prophet, one of their own countrymen, who said, ‘Cretans were ever liars, vicious brutes, lazy gluttons’ – and how truly he spoke! All the more reason why you should rebuke them sharply…”(Revised Standard Version, Oxford and Cambridge University Press)

Let us consider several  more commentaries that admit to the fact that Paul believes the testimony made by the Cretan Epimenides to be factual.

“…generally considered to be Epimenides, a contemporary of Solon (about 600 B.C.)… The indictment is severe, but this testimony is true.” [11]  (emphasis added)

“13. This witness is true. Paul confirms these as facts and says rebuke them sharply.” [12]  (emphasis added)

the apostle confirms the accuracy of the character sketch.” [13]  (emphasis added)

“13. This witness “This testimony(though coming from a Cretan) is true.”  [14]  (emphasis added)

The logical problem : Epimenides was a Cretan. He claims that CRETANS ARE ALWAYS LIARS. Paul says this testimony from Epimenides the Cretan is true. How can it be true if Cretans ALWAYS lie? If Epimenides who was himself a Cretan was telling the truth with regards to the statement, then how can Paul agree with the statement that Cretans ALWAYS lie? If Epimenides was telling the truth then obvously Cretans do not always lie.

The result: Paul was deluded and uninspired.

References:

[1] Matthew Henry.  Matthew Henry’s New Testament Commentary(1995).  Great Britain: Hadder and Stoughton. p. 387

[2] Richard, Lawrence O. , The Victor Bible Background Commentary New Testament, Victor Books, p. 540

[3] Geneva Study Bible

[4] People’s New Testament

[5] Firstside New American Bible. Wichita, Kansas: Freeside Bible Publishers. p. 1319

[6] NKJV Study Bible. Thomas Nelson 2nd Edition. p. 1932

[7] William MacDonald. Believer’s Bible Commentary. Thomas Nelson Publishers. p. 2138

[8] Jamieson, Fausset & Brown’s Commentary. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House. p. 1386

[9] The New Oxford Annotated Bible(2007). Oxford. p. 363

[10] Matthew Henry. Op. Cit. p.387

[11] The Wesleyan Bible Commentary. Vol. 5, p. 643-644

[12] Liberty Bible Commentary. The Old Time Hour, Lyncburg, Virginia, p. 655

[13] William MacDonald. Op. Cit.

[14] Jamieson, Fausset & Brown’s Commentary. Op. Cit.

 

1 Corinthians 7:25

“Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful.”

The ISV, NASB etc. translates judgment as “opinion”. This is because the Greek word gnome can also be understood as opinion. Whichever it is, I believe the verse speaks for itself. Paul speaks on his own prerogative without divine intervention. Is it possible that he speaks presumptuously here? The typical Christian answer is of course a definite no. However, it does go well with numerous passages that clearly show him as nothing more than a charlatan and a deceiver as we see in the previous articles on Paul. Anyway, it is woth noting that several commentaries agree that Paul received no divine judgment here, but he rather spoke out of his own opinion.

“II. The determination he gives, which, considering the present distress, was that a state of celibacy was preferable: It is good for a man so to be, that is, to be single. I suppose, says the apostle or it is my opinion. It is worded with modesty, but delivered, notwithstanding, with apostolic authority.”[1]

The concession given in the above commentary is that Paul spoke out of modesty, but, with apostolic authority. Is Paul really all that modest? Interestingly, another reputable commentary contradicts Matthew Henry.

He appeals neither to his apostleship nor to his authority in ChristPaul will give his own judgment…”[2]

In short, Paul gave his own opinion and I do not believe he was inspired to say it.

References:

[1] Matthew Henry. Op. Cit. p. 235

[2] Gordon D. Fee. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. p. 328

 

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