There are a number of reasons to have issues with the Apostle Paul. Even Peter acknowledged that Paul had written things hard to understand (2Peter 3:14-18). But in addition to the fact that, in this text, Peter acknowledged Paul’s God-given wisdom and grouped his letters with “other Scripture,” here are some things I think we need to keep in mind:
Paul needs to be read in the context of his own day. Because he was writing letters to his own culture rather than directly to our own, he said things about i.e. the relationship between slaves and masters, and husbands and wives that probably were easier to understand in his own generation than in our own.
But in his own day, what probably confused and angered his fellow Jewish countrymen were the comments he made about the Law of Moses.
Am thinking that what must have confused Paul’s countrymen was similar to what is bothering the friend I referred to in my last post. Some within the Messianic movement of our day have discovered such rich meaning and wisdom in Torah (the five books of Moses) that they also have real trouble with the fact that Paul makes comments that sound dismissive of Moses.
Such persons are confused by the fact that Paul took a strong position not only against the excesses of Jewish oral tradition but also against anyone who takes pride in token, external compliance with Jewish legal customs (Galatians 2:11-16).
Don’t get me wrong. I’m convinced we can join king David and Messianic brothers and sisters in valuing the wisdom, guidance, and insight of the law that God gave to Israel (i.e. Psalms 19 and 119). But we have even more reason to celebrate with Paul when he boldly declares to his own Jewish culture that, because of the life, death, and resurrection of Messiah, we are not under law but under grace (Romans 6:14-16; Galatians 3:10-14; 5:1-14).
If we keep in mind– as Paul and Messianic believers are so good at reminding us– that all Scripture is full of the wisdom of God (2Tim3:16), then we can understand how it is possible to honor the ideals, and wisdom, and insights of Torah without being obligated to live by the outward forms, ceremonies, and religious systems that the law of Moses requires.
Few Jewish men had more enthusiasm for the law than Paul (Saul) (Philippians 3:1-11). He was so committed to the law that he helped kill countrymen who turned from dependence on Moses to follow Jesus (Acts 9:1-6). Yet after after his encounter with the resurrected Christ, Paul saw his efforts to comply with the law of God to be useless! Why? Because he gradually came to the place where he realized that even in all of his zeal to comply outwardly with the law of Moses, in his heart he was a rebel (Romans 7:7-25).
Outward compliance with Mosaic customs had deceived Paul. He thought he was being faithful. But in his heart he was self-righteous, proud, and even willing to kill those who looked to Jesus for grace, forgiveness, and freedom from the curse of the law.
Paul discovered what the Apostle John later wrote, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).
Paul honored the God-given purpose of the Law. He said that if it weren’t for the law of God (written in both rock, scripture, and our hearts) we wouldn’t see how wrong we are. But he also said that reliance upon the law is like toxic rubbish (Philippians 3:8-9). Trying to comply with the Law for our spiritual well being is worthless because, when it is understood, the law only shows us how far short we all fall from loving God with our whole heart– and our neighbor as ourselves.
That’s why the teachings of Jesus infuriated those who were relying on outward compliance with Jewish law. He exposed their hearts– and ours’ in the process
That’s one reason Paul is rejected today. He doesn’t put followers of Jesus back under the law of Moses and refuses to see token, external compliance with the Law of Moses as a basis for spiritual pride. He doesn’t view the law as a way of life, but uses it the way a doctor uses diagnostic tests– not as a cure, but to show what’s wrong.
According to Paul, the prescription for “heart disease” is not the moral law of God. The solution for “heart disease” is only the undeserved grace, Spirit, and rescue of Christ.