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by Sherry Shriner

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Paul, a Coward?!


Introduction

When I begin to suggest that Paul lost his courage and became a coward, the question immediately arises...  "How can you call Paul a coward when he suffered so much persecution and ended up dying a martyr's death?" The answer to this question will be dealt with shortly. But first, something needs to be said about the practice of scrutinizing another persons character.

One of the most common ways of dealing with an opponent in modern times is to opt for the character assassination tactic. Most of us who have an opinion that has its enemies have been victim of this kind of treatment. Yeshua certainly experienced it at the hands of the influential religious leaders of his day. It is the practice of  focusing on destroying the source of the offending  doctrine... the person, rather than deal with the issues involved. It is true that all issues involved in the debate including character issues need to be and should be considered. Character is important. A persons character tells much about their reliability and it is a significant part of the equation when one is searching for the truth of a matter. But it is the ignoring of the issues at stake first,  and then opting for attacking a persons character with lies and distortions that is in itself a cowardly thing. It assumes that the person who is viewed as wrong must also have serious character flaws. This practice is terribly unjust. It is working the equation backwards.

When it comes to Paul, I have dealt with the substantive issues of doctrine first and shown where his error has been. In the previous chapter I showed how Paul lied to the Galatians and King Agrippa. The fact that he lied and that it is recorded in the Bible, was born out for the purpose of calling into question the idea that Paul's words are the infallible Word of God. The fact that Paul outright lied to the Galatians and King Agrippa is a blemish on his character record by itself.  Now we will see that in spite of the fact that Paul appeared to start out quite courageous, suffering significant persecution at the beginning of his missionary work, near the end, when it finally came to hard choices, Paul went back on his confession of courage and took the cowardly way out. As you will see, it is the kind of thing that no one would ever expect from Yeshua or any true man of God. 

It is one thing (or shall we say it takes a certain level of courage)  to be involved in risky endeavors that might lead to serious persecution. In these situations there is little to no control of the outcome once trouble begins.  It is quite another thing how a person responds when the ultimate choice of life or death is presented to them. 

Setting the stage

Near the end of Paul's missionary journeys, the Messianic believers of the time were in much disarray as to what should be done about Paul. The Gentiles more generally, with some exceptions, embraced him and his doctrine. On the other hand the Messianic Jews, with fewer exceptions, had a very difficult time with him. This is born out in the book of Acts when Paul made his last and final trip back to Jerusalem.

On the following day Paul went in with us to James and all the elders were present. When he had greeted them he told in detail those things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. And when they heard it they glorified the Lord. And they said to him, "You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law; 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. What then? The assembly must certainly meet, for they will hear that you have come. Therefore do what we tell you: We have four men who have taken a vow. Take them and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads, and that all may know that those things of which they were informed concerning you are nothing, but that you yourself also walk orderly and keep the law. But concerning the Gentiles who believe, we have written and decided that they should observe no such thing, except that they should keep themselves from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality."  Then Paul took the men, and the next day, having been purified with them, entered the temple to announce the expiration of the days of purification, at which time an offering should be made for each one of them. And when the seven days were almost ended, the Jews from Asia, seeing him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him, crying out, "Men of Israel, help! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against the people, the law, and this place..."    Acts 21:17-28a  NKJV

I have already dealt with the issue of the Jerusalem council's edict concerning the four dietary and sexual purity laws that were to be observed by the Gentile believers...the ones that Paul lied about to the Galatians. But it is apparent that Paul didn't stop with telling just the Gentiles to forsake Moses. Here he is being accused of telling the Jews the same thing and James' response is that this can't possibly be, and had better not be true!  When we consider some of the things Paul said, It is very believable that he in fact was teaching this to the Jews.

"For as  many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek,..."  Gal. 3:27,28a  NKJV

"Indeed, I Paul say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law, you have fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love."    Gal. 5:2-6  NKJV

"For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God."  Gal. 6:15,16  NKJV

Paul has clearly stated in no uncertain terms that in his eyes there is no difference between Jew and Gentile. In fact, he thinks that the only Israel that God recognizes anymore is a spiritual Israel made up of both Jew and Gentile who reject the Law and live by faith. This is the foundation stone of what is termed 'replacement theology' where the church has supposedly replaced the nation of Israel. This belief is responsible for all of Christian anti-Semitism that has been perpetrated against Jewish people throughout history, and in my opinion it stinks to the highest heaven.  And if this were not enough, Paul has the gall to do a complete flip flop of the Jewish picture of the unclean Gentiles and refer to his own people as dogs and evil workers, and to circumcision as "the mutilation". 

"Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation! For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh..."  Philippians 3:2,3 

Here are a couple more anti-Law quotes from Paul's letters. First to the Corinthians he puts himself above Moses by saying; 

"Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech unlike Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away". 2Corinthians 3:12,13

And to the Ephesians in Asia he said;

"...having abolished in his flesh the enmity, that is , the law of commandments contained in ordinances,..." Ephesians 2:15a

With these kinds of quotes available and going around at the time, is it any wonder that James and the elders said;

"...they (the Messianic Jews) 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."   Acts 21:21 NKJV

Nor is it any wonder the Jews from Asia (Ephesus and Galatia) said;

"Men of Israel help! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against the people, the law, and this place;"  Acts 21:28

Paul's doctrine is obviously the hot topic of the day. The very fact that he was accused of being anti-Torah to this extant in his own day does away with the argument from today's pro-Torah/pro-Paul Messianic Jews, which suggests that Paul's letters have been mistranslated and misunderstood. People everywhere were talking about him even then. The quotes above that we have in writing are enough to indict him today! One can only wonder what he said to the people in person. Paul's contemporaries had him there in the flesh to ask him if he was being misunderstood. Obviously, he wasn't misunderstood. They understood him perfectly well. 

The fact that Paul lost his spine for his doctrine in the face of James' request that he demonstrate his loyalty to Moses by involving himself in a Nazirite purification rite that culminated in animal sacrifices is  in itself evidence of cowardice. But this is not the worst of it. Shortly before this encounter with James in Jerusalem, Paul boasted that he was willing to die for his cause. 

The Boast!

Remember, the hot topic of the day was Paul's downright anti-Semitic/anti-Torah doctrine.  On his way to Jerusalem he was stopped by several people who told him not to go to Jerusalem. One of these was a man named Agabus. 

When he (Agabus) had come to us, he took Paul's belt, bound his own hands and feet, and said, "Thus says the Holy Spirit, 'So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.'" Acts 21:11 NKJV

First, let's address the idea that Agabus was a true prophet. The test of a prophet is really very simple. If what he says comes to pass, then he is for real. If not, then he has spoken from his own heart and he is a false prophet. The account of what actually happened to Paul was quite the opposite of what Agabus had prophesied. Agabus said that the Jews would bind him and give him to the Gentiles. But Acts goes on to record that the Jews were trying to kill Paul themselves and the Roman centurion had to rescue him. From that point on, the Jews were continually trying to have Paul delivered by the Gentiles into their hands! Read Acts 21:30-ch.23:22  Agabus' prophecy sounds more like what happened to Yeshua. He was bound by the Jews and delivered to the Gentiles. I believe Agabus was in agreement with Paul and his doctrine, and was speaking from his own heart. Many there are today and in times past who desire the image of a prophet. They will tend to make prognostications that are relatively safe bets. In Paul's time, considering the massive amount of scuttlebutt going around concerning him and the anger of the Jews in Jerusalem, it was a very safe bet that Paul was going to run into trouble in Jerusalem.  Agabus simply capitalized on the obvious and since he thought that Paul was the best thing to come along since Yeshua, he apparently figured he was in for a parallel fate. But he missed it. 

Paul's response to Agabus when he gave the supposed prophecy is of primary interest here.  

And when we heard these things, both we and those from that place pleaded with him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, "What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus."  Acts 21:12,13  NKJV 

Well this sounds noble and brave if not outright boastful, but watch what transpires. We have looked at Paul's arrest and how the Gentiles had to save him from the hands of the Jews. Acts 21:30-ch 23:22  After this he was sent to Felix to be protected from the Jews. Ch. 23:23-ch. 24:27  There he stays for some time while Felix procrastinates dealing with the issue. Then Festus comes along and is compelled to do something about Paul and asks Paul a question.

But Festus, wanting to do the Jews a favor, answered Paul and said, "Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and there be judged before me concerning these things?" Then Paul said, "I stand at CAESAR'S judgment seat, where I ought to be judged. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you very well know. For if I am an offender, or have committed anything worthy of death, I do not object to dying; but if there is nothing in these things of which these men accuse me, no one can deliver me to them. I appeal to Caesar." Then Festus, when he had conferred with the council, answered, "You have appealed to Caesar? To Caesar you shall go!"  Acts 25:9-12  NKJV 

Caesar!!!  Of all the people to seek justice from Paul opts for appealing to the likes of Nero!! Nero! You know..., that blood thirsty tyrant who murdered untold numbers of innocent people including his own mother!!  And Paul says that this is where he "ought to be judged"! This is the height of hypocrisy for Paul in light of the fact that he had previously instructed the Corinthians not to seek justice from the unrighteous. Read all of Corinthians 6:1-11. Here are the highlights.

Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints?... If then you have judgments concerning things pertaining to this life, do you appoint those who are least esteemed by the church to judge?... Now therefore, it is an utter failure for you that you go to law against one another, Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be defrauded? 

He couldn't even practice what he preached. And what ever happened to, "I am willing to die in Jerusalem for Christ"? That was a statement of willingness to be a martyr and "accept wrong". Paul tried to explain to Festus that he didn't deserve to die. Question: What martyr ever thought he deserved to die? Can you imagine Yeshua saying to Pilate: "I don't deserve to die. I appeal to Caesar for justice."? Of course not! And what is almost as absurd is that Paul said he was willing to go to his death if he deserved it! Question: How many individuals who know they deserve death are perfectly willing to go quietly to their execution? This whole picture that Paul paints is upside-down! True martyrs, like Yeshua, go quietly. The guilty go screaming all the way!  This was the grandest act of cowardice Paul could have made, especially in light of the fact that he had  bragged earlier that he was willing to die as a martyr. He didn't go through with it because the bottom line for Paul was the preservation of self and the image he had gained among many Gentiles. As has been shown in previous chapters, Paul was very full of himself. No one who is full of themselves is truly willing to die as a martyr. They might very well brag that they are, to uplift their image as seen by men, but when it comes down to hard choices they will always play the coward. 

Paul knew what to expect in Jerusalem. He knew that the Jews probably had copies of his letters and were preparing to cross examine him about the things he had written. They might very well have had it in mind to bring up the quotes mentioned above from Galatians and Philippians.  And besides all this we have to ask: Where in the world was James? Why didn't he come to Paul's defense seeing he had "myriads" of observant Messianic Jews following his leadership? If it was all just a simple misunderstanding why didn't James straighten things out? Remember, it was James who put Paul up to going to the temple to prove himself in the first place! James had been made aware of Paul's writings and knew he couldn't defend him. Paul, on the other hand, didn't stand a chance in Jerusalem and he knew it. He knew Nero didn't care one bit about Jewish law. He might well have had it in mind to bring to Nero's attention other things he had written... like:

"Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves." Romans 13:1-2

This no doubt would have been music to Nero's ears.

Festus' decree

There have been times when God has grabbed the voice of a King, Prophet, Priest, or even donkey, to seize the moment and make a statement. I believe that Festus' words were one such time. We should be hearing the voice of God in the words; "You have appealed to Caesar? To Caesar you shall go!" In other words, God was telling Paul that he would see just how much justice, let alone mercy, he would find at Nero's seat.  

Later in the book of Acts, just before a shipwreck, Paul has a dream. An angel speaks to him and tells him among other things that; "you must be brought before Caesar".  Acts 27:23,24   I don't doubt that Paul had been given a vision. In his arrogance, Paul naturally put a positive spin on the prophecy. Yet I can't help hearing echoes of Festus' words in them. God had spoken through Festus the words; "You have appealed to Caesar? To Caesar you shall go!". It was therefore necessary for Paul to survive the shipwreck to fulfill them and stand before Caesar. We now know how much justice Paul found at Nero's seat. None. Paul was neither successful in converting Nero, if he was even given a chance to speak at all, nor did he find the justice he sought. What other purpose could there have been to make it a "must" to be "brought before Caesar"? 

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