Paul’s FALSE Accusers
by Christine Egbert
When quoting any one of the thousands of verses in the Bible that extol Torah, there are some who will counter with one of the twenty or so passages Paul wrote, which they take out of context, hoping to negate what the volume of Scripture teaches about the Torah. I can only imagine what Paul might say after the resurrection to those who use his words against Torah. Unknowingly, they present Paul as a heretic by claiming he taught against keeping Torah.
But accusations against Paul are not new. As Peter warned in his second epistle (2 Peter 3:15-17) the untaught and unstable have twisted Paul’s words from the beginning. The only difference between then and now is that in the First Century, those twisting Paul’s words hated him; today they love him. They quote Paul more than any other apostle, even more than Jesus (Yeshua), the WORD of GOD Himself.
Sadly, much of their affection for Paul is based on the assumption that Paul taught the Torah is a curse, that it’s bondage. They’ve been taught to view “liberty in Messiah” as freedom from following God’s instructions (His Torah). But Scripture calls obedience to God’s Torah “walking in God’s ways.” Freedom in Messiah is freedom from bondage to sin. 1 John 3:4 explains what sin is. It’s a violation of Torah.
The term “cognitive bias” refers to our tendency to process new information through already established beliefs. When one is taught, over and over, that the Torah is a curse, it primes the reader to reach a false assumption. When they read that Jesus (Yeshua) declared, “I did not come to destroy the Law but to fulfill it,” cognitive bias causes them to assume that means it is now done away with.
What Jesus (Yeshua) declared next, in Matthew 5:18-19, doesn’t seem to register: “Truly I say to you, until heaven and the earth pass away, in no way shall one iota or one point pass away from the Law until all comes to pass. Therefore, whoever relaxes one of these commandments, the least, and shall teach men so, he shall be called least in the kingdom of Heaven. But whoever does and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of Heaven.”
How It All Started
In Acts 20:29-30 Paul warned that after his departure, “grievous wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. And out of you yourselves will rise up men speaking perverted things, in order to draw away the disciples after themselves.”
Paul was right. It didn’t take long at all.
As early as the 2nd Century, Justin Martyr, who is called a “Church Father”, abrogated Scripture by writing, “We, too, would observe your circumcision of the flesh, your Sabbath days, and in a word, all your festivals, if we were not aware of the reason why they were imposed upon you, namely, because of your sins and the hardness of heart. The custom of circumcising the flesh, handed down from Abraham, was given to you as a distinguishing mark, to set you off from other nations and from us Christians. The purpose of this was that you and only you might suffer the afflictions that are now justly yours.”
In this article, we will examine what those who hated Paul in the first century accused him of, in hope that the eyes of those who make these very same claims in the 21st century might be opened. Before we begin, I must point out that Paul’s letter to the Galatians, in which he wrote the phrase “curse of the Torah”, a phrase many have misinterpreted to mean the Torah itself is a curse, was written between 40 C.E. and 60 C.E. The Book of Acts was written later, between 70 C.E. and 90 C.E. Thus Paul wrote Galatians a minimum of 10 to a maximum of 50 years BEFORE the writer of Acts recorded that Paul took a Nazirite Vow, along with three other men, in the Temple, a vow that included animal sacrifices. Now let’s begin…
Acts 21:18-26 (from the Tree of Life Bible)
On the next day, Paul went in with us to James. All the elders were present. After greeting them, he reported to them in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his service. And when they heard, they began glorifying God. They said, “You see, brother, how many myriads there are among the Jewish people who have believed—and they are all zealous for the Torah. They have been told about you—that you teach all the Jewish people among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or to walk according to the customs. What’s to be done then? No doubt they will hear that you have come. So do what we tell you. We have four men who have a vow on themselves. Take them, and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. That way, all will realize there is nothing to the things they have been told about you, but that you yourself walk in an orderly manner, keeping the Torah. As for Gentiles who have believed, we have written by letter what we decided—for them to abstain from what is offered to idols, and from blood, and from what is strangled, and from immorality.” (Please note that believing Jews instructed new Gentile believers to do four things that are commanded in Leviticus, in a chapter known to Jews as the heart of the Torah.)
Please note that the FALSE accusation AGAINST Paul was that he taught Jews to forsake Moses, i.e., to forsake Moses’ teaching of the Torah. This is the very same FALSE accusation made against Steven in Acts 6:13-14. “And they stood up false witnesses, who were saying, This man does not cease speaking blasphemous words against this holy place and the Law; for we have heard him saying that this Jesus the Nazarene will destroy this place and will change the customs which Moses delivered over to us.
Four Instructions From the Heart of the Torah
Acts 15:19-21 says, “Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.”
The reference to Moses being read every Sabbath in the Synagogues shows that they knew these believers would attend synagogue every Sabbath (the 7th Day of the week), and over time they’d learn the rest of God’s Torah. It does not mean that Gentiles who put their faith in Israel’s Messiah need not obey the rest of God’s instructions – TORAH means instruction.
“The next day Paul took the men, purifying himself along with them. He went into the Temple, announcing when the days of purification would be completed and the sacrifice would be offered for each one of them. (Please note that Paul’s vow is the Nazirite Vow.)
Numbers 6:13-21 explains the Nazirite Vow. It says, “This is the Torah of the Nazirite when his period of separation is over. He must be brought to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. He is to present his offering to the LORD (Yahweh): a year-old male lamb without flaw as a burnt offering, a year-old female lamb without flaw as a sin offering, a flawless ram as a fellowship offering, along with a basket of unleavened cakes made of fine flour mixed with oil and unleavened wafers spread with oil, along with their grain and drink offerings. (Please note that Paul paid for all four lambs, four rams, and four baskets of unleavened cakes made of fine flour mixed with oil. That costs quite a lot. Paul also participated in the sacrificial offerings that were part of the Nazirite Vow well AFTER the crucifixion and Resurrection of the Messiah, something those who teach Paul did not keep Torah must consider soberly.)
“The priest will offer these before the LORD (Yahweh), and present his sin offering and burnt offering. Then he is to sacrifice the ram as a fellowship offering to the LORD (Yahweh), along with the basket of unleavened cakes. The priest will also present the grain and drink offerings. The Nazirite is then to shave the hair of his dedication at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, and he is to take the hair of his dedication and put it into the fire of the fellowship offering sacrifice. The priest is to take the boiled shoulder of the ram and one unleavened cake and one unleavened wafer from the basket, and he is to place them into the hands of the Nazirite after he has shaved the hair of his dedication. The priest will wave them before the LORD (Yahweh) as a wave offering. They are holy, and belong to the priest along with the breast that was waved and the thigh that was presented. Afterward, the Nazirite may drink wine. This is the Torah regarding the Nazirite who vows his offering to the LORD (Yahweh) with regard to his consecration, besides whatever else he can afford. He must fulfill the vow he has made, in accordance with the Torah of his consecration.”
Ever since the Fourth Century, when Roman Emperor Constantine declared, “Let us then have nothing in common with the detestable Jewish crowd, for we have received from our Savior a different way,” the Roman Catholic Church, and later Protestant denominations, have presented Paul as a Torah breaker, who called the Torah a curse.
But Torah-keeping Paul never taught against keeping Torah. It was never the issue. The issue, against which Paul railed, was a false doctrine (taught by the House of Shammai). It claimed that a Jew would be justified before God if they kept the Torah, apart from faith in Jesus (Yeshua), and that a Gentile had to be circumcised and convert to Judaism in order to be saved.
Paul was taught by Gamaliel, the grandson of Hillel, the Rabban (Master) of the School of Hillel. The School of Hillel opposed the School of Shammai regarding many matters of halakha (traditions regarding the way one should walk out Torah), including views on Gentile salvation. Once this is understood, Paul’s writing becomes clear. He never taught against keeping the Torah. Paul taught against thinking one could be saved by keeping the Torah apart from faith in Jesus (Yeshua). We are saved by grace through faith. We keep the Torah because we are saved. “If you love Me,” Jesus (Yeshua) said, “Keep My Commandments.”
In Romans 7:12 Paul called the Torah holy. He called the commandments righteous and good. In Romans 7:14, Paul declared the Torah was spiritual (not a curse). In Romans 7:22, Paul said that he delighted in the Torah in his inner man. In Romans 8, he informs us that God sent His Son into the world to condemn sin in the flesh, so that through walking in His Holy Spirit, we might fulfill the requirements of the Torah (the holy and spiritual Torah). Paul said the mindset of the flesh is hostile toward God, for our flesh does not, and cannot, submit itself to the Torah of God.
According to Acts 16:3, Paul had Timothy circumcised. He wouldn’t have if he thought it would mean Timothy had fallen from grace, that he would be severed from the Messiah. In Romans 3:30 Paul explains that God will justify circumcision by faith and uncircumcision through faith. Then, in the very next verse, Paul asks if we annul the Torah through faith? Answering his own question, Paul emphatically declares, “Let it not be! We establish the Torah.”
So what were the lies that were (and still are) told about Paul?
Acts 6:13 They set up false witnesses who said, “This man never stops speaking words against this holy place and the Torah.”
Acts 21:27-28 When the seven days were about to be completed, the Jewish leaders from Asia saw Paul in the Temple and began stirring up the whole crowd. They grabbed him, shouting, “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching all men everywhere against our people and the Torah and this place…”
What did Paul reply to these lies? The answer is found in Acts 25:8. Paul said in his defense, “I have committed no offense against the Torah of the Jewish people or against the Temple…”
In closing, let me remind you what Scripture says about “bearing false witness”:
Exodus 20:16 Do not bear false witness against your neighbor.
Exodus 23:1 Do not spread a false report. Do not join hands with the wicked by becoming a malicious witness.
Proverbs 19:5 A false witness will not go unpunished, one who breathes lies will not escape.
Have you been guilty of bearing false witness against Paul? If you have, it is a serious offense. Peter warned us about “being led away by the error of the lawless.” (2 Peter 3:17) But the good news is this: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. But if we say we have not sinned, we make God a liar, and His word is not in us.”