Was Paul Always Right?

As of the time of this writing I have been born again for over forty-six years, and have attended both Protestant and Roman Catholic churches, Evangelical as well as Charismatic/Pentecostal churches, and have read and watched a vast variety of online Christian resources.  Based on my personal experience it appears to me that the apostle Paul's writings are read, preached and studied much more than the Gospel accounts.

Paul  seems to be perceived as the primary  example of what a follower/disciple of Jesus should be, especially when one takes into account his statements in 1Cor 11:1  Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.  and Php 3:17  Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an example.

But what about 1Ti_1:15  This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.

These verses have caused me to consider and compare the words of our Lord Jesus and the writings of Paul.  I do this in light of the seemingly endless divisions between followers of Jesus, and the fact that it was neither the Protestant church I attended as a youth or the Roman Catholic  I joined at age nineteen which supplied the message to me that I needed to be born again, but it was a handful of Christian college students who led me into my born-again life in Jesus.

My FIRST inquiry into whether Paul was always right concerns Paul's giving his testimony of conversion to Jesus to the Jews in Jerusalem, which is recorded in the Book of Acts of the Apostles, chapter 22.  I am using the timeline of Paul's life and ministry provided by the BlueLetterBible.ORg

Paul begins his testimony by reciting the events of his conversion on the road to Damascus which is recorded in Acts, chapter 9.

He eventually returns to Jerusalem, apparently for the first time after his conversion, which is recorded in  Acts, chapter 9:26-29 and Galatians 1:17.  At that time The Lord appeared to Paul at night, and told Paul to get out of Jerusalem because "they would not receive his testimony".  Paul, being a young Christian, argued with Jesus, but of course Jesus had the last word:  "Depart: for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles."

So, Paul departed, ministered to both Jews and Gentiles outside of Israel, goes back to Jerusalem with Barnabas in Acts 15, returns to the gentiles, returns to Jerusalem in Acts 18, and finally returns to Jerusalem in Acts 21.

Paul wrote that he returned to Jerusalem because of 'a revelation' (Galatians 2:2), the leaders of the church in Jerusalem were agitated because they knew that Paul being in Jerusalem would stir up the Jews.  So the church leaders and Paul devise a plan whereby Paul would go to the temple in Jerusalem with four men who 'had a vow', he would join them in observing the Jewish rituals, and the Jews would see that Paul 'walked orderly and kept The Law'.

So Paul does as the church leaders suggest, but the Jews see him in the temple, are outraged, and force him out of the temple.  The 'chief captain of the band' [apparently the captain of the Roman guards in Jerusalem] intervenes and allows Paul to address the crowd of irate Jews.  He gives his testimony of conversion to Jesus on the road to Damascus, and his instructions from Jesus to go to the Gentiles.

The result is that the riot becomes a super riot.  Were the expectations of the church leaders and Paul realized?  Were their expectations provided by the Holy Spirit, or by them leaning on their own understanding?  What was the 'revelation' which prompted Paul to go to Jerusalem?

SPECULATION ALERT!  The following is what came to my mind when I was reading these passages and praying for understanding.  There is a passage in 1 Kings 13 which tells about a young prophet which is sent with a message to deliver to King Jeroboam.  Jeroboam was not pleased by the message and tried to arrest the young prophet, but Jeroboam's hand 'dried up'.  The young prophet then tells that his instructions are to deliver the message and then leave.  The young prophet did so, but an old prophet intercepted the young prophet and gave his different instructions 'from an angel'.  The young prophet followed the changed instructions, and was eaten by a lion!  I wonder if that was the king of 'revelation' that Paul received which caused him to disregard the Lord's appearance to Paul in Jerusalem, telling Paul that the Jews would not receive Paul's testimony.  END OF SPECULATION.

One thing is clear.  Neither Paul's expectations nor the church leaders' expectations panned out.

My SECOND thought about Paul's imperfection centers on his statement in Rom 6:6  Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.
Rom 6:7  For he that is dead is freed from sin.
Rom 6:8  Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him:
Rom 6:9  Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him.
Rom 6:10  For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God.
Rom 6:11  Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

I recently had a conversation with a man who should be a seasoned believer in Jesus, but whom I and two other brothers in Christ find to be irritating and full of bitterness at his pastor-father's dead religion.  We have all engaged in weekly fellowship for over two years, so we are pretty well acquainted with each other.  The man made the statement today that he is crucified with Christ, but then he always wonders how to deal with his carnality of thought and action.  We have repeatedly suggested that the Lord's statement  Luk_9:23  And He said to them all, If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. [Personal pronoun capitals supplied by me].  We have also suggested that Paul wrote 1Cor 15:31  I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily, which seems to be in line with the Lord's statement in Luke 9:23.

So I see a contradiction between Paul's writings in Romans 6 and 1Corinthians 15 which has led our fellowship companion to disregard the Lord's statement in Luke 9.  When in doubt I chose to follow Jesus rather than anyone else.

My THIRD topic of consideration has to do with Paul's statement found in 1Co 11:1  Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ. This statement is probably the cause of more people following Paul and disregarding Jesus than any other statement I am aware of.  The statement itself clearly calls the reader to first determine whether Paul was following Christ, and then how to follow Paul.  It all depends on one's own understanding of Jesus and Paul, and on how to actually do what one believes is the right thing to do.  This conflicts with Proverbs 3:5, which I consider to be one of the foundation stones of the Kingdom of God:  Pro 3:5  Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.

Actually, this error of leaning on one's own understanding may have been what caused Paul to go to Jerusalem and give his testimony in spite of the fact that Jesus had personally appeared to him at night and commanded him to leave Jerusalem because the Jews would not receive his testimony of Him.  It is better to following the direct commands of Jesus than to follow anyone else regardless how 'holy' they may appear.  Mature believers in Jesus are those who are led by the Holy Spirit - which implies that they are not leaning on their own understanding.  Rom_8:14  For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.


I offer these thoughts in the hope that believers in Jesus will begin to follow the words of Jesus more than any contradictory messages, even if penned by the apostle Paul.

Finally, as a brand-new Christian forty-six years ago I used to walk the same path home from the university library where I studied to our home, and interesting thoughts would come to my mind during those walks.  One of those interesting thoughts was this:  "No one is always right except Me, and no one is always wrong, including Caiaphas."  I understood that to be an instruction from God, especially after I looked up who Caiaphas was, and found him to be the evil Jewish high priest at the time of the crucifixion of Jesus, and yet Caiaphas had a valid prophesy recorded in  John 11:50.  Accordingly, even the apostle Paul would be one of those people who is 'not always right', but the leading of the Holy Spirit is always right.

And those who deny themselves daily and take up their crosses to accompany Jesus are best able to hear the leading of the Holy Spirit.