By James Bishop| Paul penned 13, maybe 14, of the books in the New Testament, and most of the doctrine we have comes from his letters to the early churches. It is sometimes passed around that Paul actually invented Christianity along with all of its doctrine, and that a conspiracy has taken place to cover up the fact that Paul created the entire Christian movement out of thin air.
But did he really invent Christianity as we know it? Did he hijack Jesus’ teachings? Here are five main reasons why we can be absolutely certain that Christianity is NOT a fabrication or creation of Paul.
1. Paul was late on the scene
The first obvious point is that Paul only converted to Christianity (around the early to mid-30’s AD) after Jesus’ death. He also came to know Jesus’ brother James & his most intimate disciple Peter (Galatians 1) & he would also have learned much from their experiences with the risen Jesus.
The book of Acts also records the movements of the very early church mere months to years after Jesus’ resurrection with early sermons by Peter and co. on Jesus’ deity & teachings (Acts 2:14-40, 3:12-18, 5:42). This all predates Paul’s conversion.
Even further, it was around this time that Paul, prior to his conversion, consented to the stoning of Stephen of the early church (Acts 7:54-60). In other words, Jesus’ teachings, as described in our gospels, existed prior to Paul’s conversion – so he couldn’t have invented Christianity. As scholar David Wenham, an expert on Pauline theology, comments:
“Paul saw himself as a ‘slave’ of Jesus Christ, and the idea of Paul founding Christianity makes no sense at all: it was a vibrant growing movement before he ever joined it; indeed that is why he tried to eliminate the movement.”
2. Paul knew about Jesus’ teachings before his conversion
Paul already knew about Jesus’ teachings so it couldn’t be the case that he invented Christianity. Paul would have picked up quite a bit of knowledge about Jesus & his teachings when he was still the arch-enemy of the Christians prior to his conversion.
After all, the message of a risen Messiah proclaimed by these very early Christians would have been extremely blasphemous to Paul’s ears, especially since Paul, a devout Pharisee, believed that being crucified was a curse (Gal 3:13) & Jesus happened to be crucified.
So, Paul must have known what this early movement was proclaiming for him to want to eradicate it.
3. Paul received his teachings from others
“For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” – Galatians 1:11-12 (ESV)
Since Christianity was already in existence before Paul’s conversion, his supernatural encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus had convinced him of its truth AFTER he had already come into contact with the REAL author of Christian doctrine.
In other words, he submitted to Jesus himself and wouldn’t have wanted to intentionally invent doctrine or teachings from nothing when he had a direct revelation of Jesus.
Paul is also very clear in his use of the words “received” and “passed on” for the handing down of teachings as indicated in the early creed that he picked up (1 Cor. 15:3-8). In other words, he received already existing Christian teachings from others & did not invent them.
4. Paul uses Jesus’ teachings after his conversion
Again, Paul could note have invented Christianity if he used teachings that already existed, such as the teachings of Jesus. It is true that Paul seldom quotes Jesus directly & this is because he was writing epistles to early churches that had already been taught & knew much about Jesus.
All the epistles assumed that these early churches knew about Jesus, but he does remind them again at times when a situation demanded it. For instance, when the Corinthians are in trouble over the Lord’s Supper, he reminds them of what they had been taught, similarly with their issues over resurrection (see 1 Cor 11 & 15).
Paul also talks about Jesus’ teaching on divorce, on the mission of the apostles, on the second coming, etc. In fact, Paul alludes to 27 facts on Jesus’ life, proving that he did not invent this by was simply going along with the Gospel material that was already circulating and known at that time.
5. Paul died for believing he saw Jesus
It seems highly unlikely that Paul would invent his doctrine out of thin air and then later be executed for standing by this doctrine. Not only did he died for this doctrine, he died for his profession that he had seen the risen Jesus. Paul claimed to be an apostle and would not keep silent about what he believed Jesus had revealed to him, and was later put to death for this reason.
Clement (AD 95) mentions Paul’s martyrdom in 1 Clement Chapter 5:
“Owing to envy, Paul also obtained the reward of patient endurance, after being seven times thrown into captivity, compelled to flee, and stoned. After preaching both in the east and west, he gained the illustrious reputation due to his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world, and come to the extreme limit of the west, and suffered martyrdom under the prefects.”
“For what remains, we have the concurrent testimony of ecclesiastical antiquity, that he was beheaded at Rome, about the same time that St. Peter was crucified there.” (1)
No-one need deny that Paul had an enormous impact in the development of early Christianity. He played a significant role in translating the gospel message of Jesus & explaining it to his audience. However, this does not mean that he invented Christianity & the above reasons show why.
For these reasons, and more, it is not the case that Paul invented Christianity.
Smith, W. 2004. Smith’s Bible Dictionary: More than 6,000 Detailed Definitions, Articles, and Illustrations