How The Pauline Paradox Mishandles the Bible

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series Answering The Pauline Paradox

In The Pauline Paradox book, the nameless author from 119 Ministries has a tall order. He has to reinterpret Paul to stop his epistles from contradicting Torah Observance theology.

In order to do that, he has to make Paul mean things Paul didn’t say. And this article is going to explore five different ways the book attempts and fails to reinterpret Paul. The actual times he fails is, of course, much greater, but we will be looking at five different types of misinterpretation. These types are:

  1. Adding words and concepts to the text to alter meaning
  2. Misusing the Torah
  3. Chopping up the context
  4. Cherry-picking Greek definitions instead of letting Paul inform meaning
  5. Contradicting interpretations

In his epistle, James writes that not all should aspire to be teachers.

Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well.

James 3:1-2

James says that teachers will incur a stricter judgment, and so not many should try it. His reason why not many should do it is because we all stumble in many ways, especially in what we say. What he says here and as he continues to talk about the tongue shows that this is perhaps the easiest area of all to fall short and sin. So not many should attempt to handle the Word of God. If not done with great care, it is far too easy to fail.

We all make mistakes. What we’re going to discuss aren’t just mistakes. They show a commitment to a certain theology that is so strong, it overrides the Scriptures that are being addressed. When there is a difficulty between 119 Ministries’ theology and the text of Scripture, it is the text of Scripture that must be made to fall in line. In every example we will look at here, that will be seen.

And I am not unaware that James’ words are for me, too. So I would ask anyone reading this to dig into the texts discussed and see if I am mishandling them. I know that I, too, have theological positions. If I encounter a text that seems to go against them, I am not at liberty to do whatever it takes to bring that text into line. I have changed my beliefs many times in my life because I found my belief was contradicted by the Scriptures. I hope, if you hold the same beliefs as 119 Ministries, that you would be willing to change your beliefs, and not try to change what the Scripture means, as the unnamed author does.

Let’s get started.

Adding Words and Concepts to the Text to Alter its Meaning

This is probably the most frequent way that the author avoids the meaning found in the text. This comes in two types: adding just a word or two to a phrase, or importing an entire concept or controversy into the passage to change what it’s about. Let’s look at the way he frequently adds words to change the meaning. This happens most often related to the idea of circumcision.

First, it’s important to understand what the debate was actually about. The debate concerned two different models of salvation: a false “works-based” model, which demanded circumcision as a prerequisite, versus the apostolic model, which is by faith in the Messiah. We see the works-based model expressed in the first verse: “But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved’” (Acts 15:1).

This is the issue that prompted the Jerusalem Council. A group of men from Judea had been teaching that Gentile believers could not receive salvation without first undergoing physical circumcision. They believed that Gentile believers must essentially “become Jewish” via ritual conversion (which involved circumcision) before being considered saved. Additionally, some Pharisees, while they recognized that God revealed himself to the Gentiles, still insisted that the Gentiles must get circumcised and keep the law of Moses before being fully accepted into the believing community (Acts 15:5). The apostles argued against placing such a yoke upon the Gentile believers (Acts 15:10).

119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (pp. 18-19). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition. (emphases mine)

The Jews during that time, like others today, may have perceived Paul’s earlier statements about focusing on circumcision of the heart first to mean that circumcision of the flesh has no value.

119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (p. 52). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition. (emphasis mine)

Like the situation in Acts 15, some were teaching the Gentiles at the Church in Galatia that they needed to formally convert to their sect of Judaism, get circumcised, and take on the entire Torah of Moses before being considered part of God’s covenant people.

119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (p. 78). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition. (emphasis on “before” in original)

As you can see, multiple times, the author presents this concept of getting circumcised “before” or “as a prerequisite for” salvation. He will never produce one text that says that a person should be circumcised of heart “first” before the flesh. This line of reasoning is the stock argument made by Torah observance teachers when it comes to circumcision in the New Testament. It contains a corollary idea that, after being saved, a person who is not circumcised is still required to become circumcised in obedience to the Torah, but it is somehow up to them to do so at a later time, when they understand more.

The problem, of course, is that this concept is not to be found anywhere in the text. Not one text condemning the circumcision party, who were pushing for Gentile believers to get circumcised, says one word about circumcision being “a prerequisite” or coming “before” salvation in their theology. Never, in all of the New Testament, is circumcision commanded of anyone, despite this being a controversy that required a council to deal with. Rather, those who are requiring circumcision are condemned for requiring circumcision, period. Notice the first citation above, where the circumcision party are saying you have to be circumcised to be saved. That teaching is condemned. But nowhere is this prerequisite language used. Rather, every text that could say something about requiring circumcision in the New Testament simply doesn’t. It is the central cause of the controversy in Acts 15, and it is not included at all in the letter to the Gentile believers, which says it will place “no greater burden” besides the four instructions it contains (Acts 15:23-29).

The author of this book can’t allow that circumcision is not required, because that contradicts his theological commitments, so at every turn, we see this extra language inserted into the text to make it conform to his beliefs.

But of course, inserting a few words is not all we get. We have tough passages that are made to conform to Torah observance theology by means of imported concepts as well. Perhaps the most hypocritical example of this comes when the author is discussing Romans 14. Consider this passage from the book, presented complete, with nothing removed:

If we could decide for ourselves when the Sabbath should be kept, then that means we could define sin for ourselves. But God is the one who defines right and wrong, not us. Second, it’s already been demonstrated throughout this book that Paul kept and taught the Law of God and was not against it. Third, as we’ve already mentioned, this entire chapter is in the context of disputes over “opinions,” and the Sabbath is not a matter of opinion. Speaking of context, the Sabbath is not mentioned anywhere throughout the entire book of Romans.

So what is the matter of opinion believers in Rome were quarreling about? Paul seems to explain himself in the following verses:

The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. (Romans 14:6-7)

The “day” that Paul is referring to is a matter of eating or abstaining. In other words, the opinions outside of God’s Law addressed in this chapter concern fasting. We know that some Pharisees in the first century traditionally fasted twice a week (Luke 18:12). Apparently, early believers disputed over which days during the week one should fast. We see evidence of similar disputes regarding fasting in other early Christian writings, such as the Didache (Chapter 8). Thus, Paul was not saying that the Sabbath is optional, but that believers shouldn’t quarrel over their opinions regarding traditions outside the Law of God.

119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (pp. 70-71). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition. (emphases mine)

In this passage we have the author claiming the passage cannot be about the Sabbath, partly because the Sabbath isn’t mentioned. But do you know what else isn’t mentioned? Fasting. In fact, much like the Sabbath, fasting is not mentioned throughout all of Romans. But our author is totally fine inserting the concept into the passage to try to get it not to be talking about the only days people would be thinking of, the days in the calendar of the Torah. What is truly amazing is that the above citation is unedited. On the same page that he talks about no “Sabbath”, he’s inserting “fasting”.

And of course, this isn’t the only time this kind of thing happens.

One of the big debates in the first century was whether or not a Gentile had to be circumcised in the flesh to be considered a full member of God’s people. As we’ve already discussed in Chapter 2, the apostles taught that Gentiles do not have to get circumcised as a perquisite to being accepted into the believing community—they are saved by grace through faith (Acts 15:11) and to be received on that basis. Then, they would be instructed in Moses’ teaching every Sabbath in the synagogues (Acts 15:21). As the Gentiles listen to the Torah, and as the teachers instruct them, they will eventually want to get circumcised in obedience to the Law of God.

119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (p. 51). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition. (emphasis mine)

As you can see, the author is talking about the prerequisite circumcision myth again, but that’s not the point of this citation. Here, the standard Torah observance addition to Acts 15:21 is employed. Acts 15:21 does not say, “Then, the Gentiles are going to learn the Torah, and subsequently get circumcised.” Acts 15:21 actually says:

19 Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, 20 but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. 21 For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”

Acts 15:19-21

Providing a little context, James says that the council should “not trouble” the Gentile believers. The context of the passage only provides two things that were proposed for the Gentiles to be required to do: circumcision (15:1), and keeping the Law of Moses (15:5). James rejects these, saying they are to not trouble the Gentiles. Instead, he offers in verse 20 a proposal for what they should do, and why. The reason these four instructions are chosen is given in verse 21, indicated by “for” at the beginning of the verse. Verse 21 says that Moses has been preached “from ancient generations” and is currently read in the synagogues every Sabbath. Nowhere does it say the Gentiles will be going to the synagogues to learn the Law. Nowhere does it speak of any future learning for the Gentiles.

The emphasis when it mentions the reading of Moses is on the past and present, not the future. The situation of the past and present is what motivates the four instructions. There is good reason, from this and other texts in the New Testament (Acts 16:3, 1 Cor. 9:20), to say that these instructions are designed to be followed, not as the first things of Torah, but rather as guidelines of behavior to prevent hostility between Jews and Gentiles.

The story told by Nameless is simply absent from this or any text of Scripture. It has to be added, though, for his theology to survive the implications of the text, and so the story is always told, whenever Acts 15 is discussed by Torah observance folks.

Misusing the Torah

Several times, the concept of “misusing the Torah” is inserted into text of Paul to explain what he has to say about it, but I already had other examples of insertion of ideas in the previous section, so I thought I would point out that the 119 Ministries author is actually the one guilty of misusing the Torah.

I find this common, among Torah observant folks, to actually be quite ignorant of the nature of what is in the Torah, applying it in ways that would be utterly alien to Moses or anyone in Jesus’ day. The author frequently employs the argument that when Paul uses the phrase “under the law”, he really means “under the penalty or curse of the law”. Yet another insertion of ideas not in the text, I know, but some of these insertions do fit into other categories as well.

The way this insertion often happens in the book is when the author begins waxing theological and starts going on about how he believes faith, and the law, and the penalty of disobedience, and the work of Christ all go together. This happens a few times at various levels of detail throughout the book. One of these times, however, the author gets specific, talking about eternal condemnation, and Deuteronomy, and Jesus, and, well, let’s read what he says. The following two quotations are taken close together, talking about the same concepts.

To properly understand what Paul is saying in this passage, we need to go back to the beginning of the Bible to see what God says his Law is intended to do. One of the purposes of God’s Law is outlined in Deuteronomy:

See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today, and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way that I am commanding you today, to go after other gods that you have not known. (Deuteronomy 11:26-28, emphasis added)

Here we see that God’s Law both blesses and curses. This is where the concept of the “curse of the law” originates. Paul was not inventing something new, nor was he calling the Law of God a curse. After all, the Bible says we are blessed when we follow God’s Law—that’s the opposite of a curse! The Law curses us only when we break it. God’s Law is not the curse; the curse is the result of our transgression of God’s Law.

This is the point that Paul keeps emphasizing throughout his letters—we have all transgressed God’s Law and have therefore been placed under a curse. So what is the solution to the curse? Christ became “a curse for us” so that we could be redeemed.

119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (pp. 84-85). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition.

So we’ve learned that God’s Law does three things: blesses us when we obey it, curses us when we disobey it, and defines sin. Once we see we have sinned according to the Law, and that we are under a curse, we realize our need for a Savior to remove the curse from us. Our faith in Messiah removes the curse. Once the curse is taken away, where does that leave us concerning the Law of God? Well, the Law of God still defines sin and still blesses us for obedience and curses us for disobedience. The only difference is that the curses for our disobedience do not eternally condemn us since we are in the Messiah (Romans 8:1). But the negative consequences of sin still affect us in our daily lives, which is why we ought to walk in obedience for God’s glory and our good.

119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (p. 85). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition.

What you see here is the author appealing to a passage mentioning a curse for disobedience in Deuteronomy, and then talking about how Jesus removes the curse of the Law. But do you see in the second citation how it is only eternal condemnation that Jesus frees us from? Temporal curses, which he calls “negative consequences of sin” still affect us. Our author is explicit that Jesus freed us from “the curse of the Law”. He is also explicit that this means he won’t “eternally condemn” us, but, as he says: “The Law of God still defines sin and still blesses us for obedience and curses us for disobedience”. The “only difference” as he says, has to do with eternal condemnation.

Now, maybe all of this sounds just fine. Seems right. Well, the first to speak always sounds right (Prov. 18:17). The fact is, this is all a fiction. The curse of the Law found in Deuteronomy, where our author draws his case from, does not include eternal condemnation. Deuteronomy 28:15-68 presents the curses of the law, following right after the blessings. That is too long a passage to quote in full here, but I recommend you read it. It lists, among other things, the curses for disobedience of the Torah as: plague, famine, slavery, defeat in war, and worse things. But none of those things is eternal condemnation. Every single curse is temporal. Every single curse is related to prosperity or disaster in this world. In this life. And many could very justifiably be interpreted as national in emphasis. The nation would experience the curses if the nation as a whole did not obey the commandments.

In fact, nowhere in the Torah do we find a statement that the Law of Moses is presented as the standard by which we stand or fall before God eternally. Of course, this is not to say that God’s Law more generally understood doesn’t function that way. It certainly does, but what was given to Moses at Sinai and what was re-expressed in the wilderness in Deuteronomy do not contain this language.

The problem for 119 Ministries is that they say Jesus’ redemption means that we’re no longer under “the curse of the Law”, but are still under its “blessings and curses”. But the Law given to Moses doesn’t contain the eternal condemnation they’re talking about. The only curses found are the blessings and curses, which are the thing our author says are still at play. If he had just thought through what the Torah actually says, he wouldn’t have said what he does here. He even cites Deuteronomy, but of course, not a text that talks about eternal condemnation, because there isn’t one. It is true that the curses and penalties in the Law of Moses symbolize the ultimate condemnation of sinners before a just God, but that’s just the problem for our author. The Law is actually the shadow, pointing to the real thing. That does not fit with what he is arguing.

In short, his explanation of Jesus and the Law is exactly backwards. Jesus redeemed us from the one curse not actually found in the Law of Moses, and did not redeem us from any of the curses found there. His explanation actually reveals, unintentionally, that the laws given through Moses do not apply to people outside the Sinai covenant. Jesus did indeed redeem us from the curse of the Law, but not the ones in Deuteronomy. There is a more ancient, more universal Law that the Law of Moses reflects in many ways. And that Law is the one before which all men are guilty, and Jesus has redeemed us from the curse of that law. Space doesn’t permit further explanation, but we can see how the author is not really making his theological claims based on what the Torah actually says.

Chopping Up the Context

Some texts are meant to be read and understood in smaller sections, like in the Proverbs. Paul’s letters are not this way. Paul has a purpose for writing, and he presents a clear, coherent, and unified message in each epistle.

One way to avoid the clear meaning of Paul’s writing is to only consider it in very small sections, not letting the entire passage self-interpret. 119’s book does this to Paul in many ways, but we will consider probably the most obvious example, when the text under review is Romans 5 and 6. Our author only cites two verses of chapter 5 before moving on to chapter 6.

The treatment there is to skip over much of it, making few comments, but I’ll discuss those briefly so you can get an idea. First, he uses verse 1 to reassert his position that sin is defined by the Law, despite the fact that he ignored what chapter 5 says about there being no law until Moses (p. 55).

In the next paragraph, he simply asserts, without argument, that “newness of life” mentioned by Paul in Romans 6:4 is walking in “the Law of God” (p. 55). This concludes by saying that Paul’s “entire argument – that we have died to sin – leads up to his conclusion that we are no longer under the Law of Sin and Death” (p. 55). Finally, he mentions that verses 5-11 of Romans 6 are about how we have died to sin and “ought to no longer be interested in sinning but instead in obeying the Law of God (p.55).

Now, you may have noticed that everything I just cited from the book came from the same page. That is correct. The author is incredibly brief here. His purpose is to get to Romans 6:12-14, which contains one of the many “under law” instances, and he wants to deal with that, but doesn’t appear to think the preceding context is really that important, as anything but opportunities to reimagine various phrases as being supportive of his theology. But really, is half of Romans 5 into Romans 6 just talking about how we should keep the Torah in different ways? How about we let the text breathe and go through it ourselves to see what Paul is really saying?

18 So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. 19 For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. 20 The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Romans 5:18-21

We see something here that was mentioned earlier in chapter 5, that condemnation came to all men through “one transgression”, in the same way that “one act of righteousness brought justification of life”. But then there’s the bit that seems relevant to our Torah observant author. Paul mentions the Law here in chapter 5, saying it “came in so that the transgression would increase”. Paul gives us the purpose of the Law. Not that it’s the only purpose, but one reason it came into existence was to increase sin.

This proves a couple of things that are uncomfortable for our author. First, it speaks of the Law in a temporal way, not going back through all of human history, but coming in at the time of Moses. This is another way of saying what Paul said in 5:13, that from Adam to Moses there was “no law”. The second thing this does is to say that sin “increased”. This shows, as Scripture is not shy in saying, that there was sin in the world before the Law of Moses. As such, the Law of Moses cannot, as our author is fond of repeating, “define sin”. Make no mistake, sin is breaking the Law, just not the Law of Moses. At least, that’s not how sin is defined. Sin cannot both exist and be defined by something that does not exist.

But let’s move on into chapter 6 and let the passage continue to speak, with this context in mind.

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.

Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. 11 Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Romans 6:1-11

Now, is this passage saying we should keep the Law in a couple different ways, as the author says? No, that’s not even close to the point. We don’t even have a mention of the Law here. The Law, as the previous verses said, came in that sin might increase, and that so that grace might abound. Here, we have Paul asking the question that naturally arises from that truth. Is sin really a good thing that we should do so that grace increases? Of course it isn’t. We should, as the end of this passage says, consider ourselves dead to sin because of our life to God in Christ. And we should do that because we are united with Christ in His resurrection. It is the fact that Jesus conquered sin in the body (the very thing that was there all that time when there was no law, yet people still died, back in the previous chapter), that gives us the power to live lives where sin and death are no longer our master. This is a truly beautiful passage, and it fits hand-in-glove with what came before, and with what comes after, and presents us with both the means employed by God and a motivation for us to live for Him.

12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, 13 and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. 14 For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.

Romans 6:12-14

Here, in verse 14, is the author’s key “difficult” text. Before we see what he says about it, let’s consider it in context. Remember that the previous section exhorted us, because Christ has conquered death in His resurrection, to consider ourselves “dead to sin”. Now, we see verse 12 says to not let sin reign in our “mortal body”. The language has not shifted away from the body. We are still talking about life and death and resurrection, and here Paul is exhorting us to not let sin reign. Now, since we are “alive from the dead”, sin will not be master over us, because we are not under law but under grace.

Now, in that context, what does “under law” refer to? Whatever it is, it is not what “under grace” is now. If we lift the verse from its context, it can be argued that it is talking about judgments, but in context, it’s talking about a shift in our bodies from death to life. So, being “under law” is synonymous with what we’ve been reading about regarding being dead in our old self, and being “under grace” is being alive. It seems clear, and we will see it as we move forward in the text, that these phrases are shorthand for what it was like before Christ and what has now happened because of Christ. “Under law” doesn’t mean obligated to keep law or under penalty of the law. That’s nowhere in the context. It is a reference to our state before life in Christ. It was the body of death. “Under grace” isn’t specifically about the unmerited favor of salvation judicially. Grace does mean that, but in this passage, it’s shorthand for being made alive through the resurrection power of Christ.

And why would Paul use the word “law” here? Because, before Christ, the people of God were under the Law of Moses, which caused transgression to “increase”. Before Christ, all there was was the Law. Now, of course, this isn’t to say God didn’t save people the same way, or that salvation wasn’t by grace through faith. It was, and Paul makes that point with reference to Abraham elsewhere. It is to point out that the primary covenant God has with man has changed. It used to be the national covenant He made with Israel, but now it is the New Covenant, in which all the nations are blessed. Paul is pointing out that “under law” there was death from sin, but “under grace” we have Christ’s resurrection life in us so we don’t have to walk in sin. The verse isn’t speaking directly about what commandments we’re supposed to keep, as some Christians say, nor is it speaking of the “penalty” of the law, as our author wants to say. It has implications for commandments, but isn’t specifically about that.

But what does our author say about this text? Does he carefully consider all the context and come to a necessary conclusion?

So, what does this verse mean? Notice that Paul says, “Sin will have no dominion over you.” As we’ve already discussed in Chapter 4, this statement assumes that, at one time in our lives, sin did have dominion over us. That is to say, at one time, we were “under sin” (3:9). Remember, sin, by definition, is breaking God’s Law (7:7). Sin brings about punishment—death. Since we’ve been given grace through Christ, we are no longer under the “law” of sin and death. This is clarified in Paul’s concluding remarks a couple of chapters later:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:1-2, emphasis added)

119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (pp. 56-57). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition.

Notice this line of human reasoning. It is completely divorced from the context. Nothing about what Paul is actually driving at. Rather, the author has a desired answer he is going for, and that’s where he goes. He wants to talk about how “under law” means punishment. But where did the passage even hint at punishment? It never did.

He tries to add some strength to this by jumping three chapters back to grab “under sin”, and two chapters ahead and pulling the phrase “the law of sin and death” from chapter 8, as if this does anything. First of all, where does Paul define “the law of sin and death” as punishment? The author simply assumes it since that “death” word is in there, but Paul certainly doesn’t get that specific. Secondly, how would Paul’s original readers know that they’re supposed to adopt the 119 author’s definitions, then jump into the future to a chapter they haven’t read yet and move it into this chapter in order to make sense of it? The whole thing is completely ad hoc, and just reading the author’s preferred theology into the text where it cannot be found.

Now, the real problem with chopping up the text shows itself rather splendidly in the next few verses.

15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! 16 Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.

Romans 6:15-19

These are the next verses after the not-under-law-but-under-grace bit.

And this is a perfect way of explaining what came before. Being under something is being a slave to it. Being a slave to law is death, but being a slave to grace is life. So Paul says we are slaves to whom we obey, whether sin leading to death, or obedience leading to righteousness. Because we have this new life we should live accordingly, and we are no longer under the covenant of law that led to death, but under the New Covenant of grace that leads to life and righteousness. We are slaves either way, but when we live for God it is by grace and by the life we have in Christ. It is not like the dead way that is characterized as “under law”. There has been a break from one into the other because of the resurrection of Christ.

Now, before any Torah Observance person attempts to note with glee that “covenant” isn’t mentioned in this passage either, please note that I’m using language that is less ambiguous to speak of what is clearly in the text. The previous chapter talked about how there was “no law” before Moses. This doesn’t mean, of course, that there was no sin or that there were no standards by which people were supposed to live. What didn’t come into being until Moses was what we call the “Law of Moses”, which is inextricably linked to the covenant God made at Sinai. I’m using less ambiguous language to speak about what Paul is speaking about. There was a time when there was “no law”, then there was the time and people who were “under law”, and now there is the time and people “under grace”. These are the phrases in the passage that need explanation. The covenants through Moses and Jesus coincide with these. That is all.

But, does the author see all the wonder and light in Romans 6?

In verses 16-23, Paul concludes Chapter 6 with an analogy to slavery. There are two types of slaves, according to Paul. We either serve God by obeying His Law, which makes us a slave to righteousness, or we serve sin by breaking God’s Law, which makes us a slave to sin. Those are our only two options.

119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (p. 58). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition.

Amazing, how Paul can say one thing and this author can say the exact opposite. Yes, we are called to obedience because of what we have in Christ, but it is something distinct from the law that Paul is talking about in the passage. No attempt is made by the author to really connect what Paul is saying in the context with the phrase “under law”. He thinks he already gave us “the answer” that it’s about the penalty of breaking the Law, and he’s moved on. How these things fit together is unimportant to him.

We will come back to this last bit about being slaves to righteousness or sin again, but for now, let’s show another way the book mishandles the Word of God. And when you see it, you will be dumbfounded at the audacity.

Cherry-picking Greek Definitions Instead of Letting Paul Inform His Meaning

Playing around with the original languages is a favorite way for people to misinterpret the Bible. 119 Ministries is not at all alone in this. Let’s look at several examples.

Romans 10:4 and the “End of the Law for Righteousness”

On page 67, the author begins discussing when Paul says Christ is the “end of the Law”. Of course the stock answer is given that “end” is telos in Greek, and means “goal”. But look carefully at how he says it:

The Greek word for “end” in this verse is telos. This word does not mean cessation but rather “goal” or “purpose,” such as in the phrase, “The ends don’t justify the means.”

119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (p. 67). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition.

Notice his assertion that telos “does not mean cessation”. This is flatly false. Yes, the word speaks of the goal, but it has more than one meaning, and one of those really is “end”.

and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.

Luke 1:33

If the author’s statement were true, this verse should be translated as “His kingdom will have no purpose”. And if I wrote like him, that last sentence would have had an exclamation point.

It’s odd, really, that he makes this mistake. It would be enough to talk about how the word can mean something else and argue in favor of his preferred meaning. But he doesn’t do that. Instead he lies and says that it “does not mean” cessation. Why do this? I can only guess, but it seems as if the author wants to present his case as if it were ironclad, and being dishonest about the meaning of the Greek seems to be ok to achieve that “end”.

Romans 14 and “Unclean”

In his section on Romans 14 (p. 68), we have yet another claim made about the Greek there for “unclean”, koinos. This is said to actually mean “common” and is a different category altogether from “unclean”

But of course, this fails as well due to counterexamples. And really, it fails right here in this passage, because “common” just doesn’t make sense as a translation.

I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is common in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be common, to him it is common.

Romans 14:14 119 version

This is the old fallacy of equivocation, and argument that trades on two definitions of a word. If the Greek just means “common”, it doesn’t really make sense why this is a problem for people to eat “common” food. The controversy of Romans 14 doesn’t get off the ground. But if it means “unclean”, it defeats the author’s theology.

Really, it’s clear when you study the word through the New Testament that it’s just another way of speaking of what is unclean.

Ephesians 2:15 and “Ordinances”

Here’s the text being discussed:

13 But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace,

Ephesians 2:13-15

As you can see, reading this, our Torah observant author cannot let this passage stand, and needs to offer some response. What he does is to latch onto that last word in the phrase about the Law, “ordinances”. Let’s read what he says about this Greek term.

To find the answer, we need to dig deeper into the original language. Scholar Tim Hegg explains:

What is most important for us to recognize is how Paul describes the realm or place in which “the law of commandments” existed. It is “in ordinances.” But what is important to recognize is the Greek word Paul uses here. It is the Greek word dogma, and here, in the plural. What is significant about this word is that it is never used in the Septuagint to describe any of God’s commandments, judgments, statutes, or laws as revealed in the written Torah. Rather, in the Lxx, dogma is always used to describe man-made laws, such as the edicts of a king or court (e.g. Esther 4:8; 9:1; Daniel 6:12) [Emphasis added].

In the New Testament, the word dogma is used twice to refer to Caesar’s decrees (Luke 2:1, Acts 17:7) and once to refer to the apostolic decree established at the Jerusalem council (Acts 16:4).

119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (p. 109). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition.

Reading this, it looks pretty cut and dry, right? This is a term for man-made laws, not God’s law. Now, the author knows there’s another example he can’t ignore, in Colossians, so he says this:

In Colossians 2:14, which we will cover later, dogmasin (decrees) is used to refer to the punishment of the Law decreed upon sinners. Throughout both the Septuagint and New Testament, the word dogma is used almost every time “to denote man-made decrees.” The only exception is Colossians 2:14, where God decreed the punishment of the Law upon sinners. Dogma is “never used to describe the commandments of God in the Torah.”

119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (pp. 109-110). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition.

What you may not know from these citations is that all five of the occurrences  in the New Testament of dogmasin have been mentioned in this section. The argument being presented is that, except for Colossians 2:14, all of the other ones have to do with man-made laws, not God’s Law. And really, Colossians is only about the punishment due for breaking the Law, not the commandments themselves.

These are truly fine distinctions, but do they hold up?

Before we look at Colossians, I do just want to make a point to say that the reference in Acts 16 is to the instructions given at the Jerusalem Council. I’ll discuss it in more detail in the next section, but I pause to note it here and say that man-made decrees are an odd thing to give to the Gentiles as a starting point to learning the Law.

But let’s look at Colossians 2:14 and see if our author’s contention holds up.

13 When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.

Colossians 2:13-14

The word we are looking at is “decrees”. They are “against us”. There are two ways we could see these decrees. They could be “punishment” as the author says, or simply the guilt itself for the sin, outside of consideration of punishment. So either a decree of “guilty” or a decree of “death penalty”. The certificate of debt is literally “handwritings”. So, which one is it? I would tend toward the guilty verdict being the point, but since it is guilt before God, it is doesn’t really help our author’s case either way. In fact, “punishment” is even more problematic for him, since punishments are literally some of the commandments in the Torah. The death penalty is a commandment, not just a response to commandments.

Whichever meaning one adopts, here’s the big problem for the author. He wants to say that Ephesians 2 is about human decrees, but Colossians 2 is about God’s decree. There is no reason to do this, other than to shore up his own theology and escape what Ephesians says. This is why he prefaces this argument about the Greek with three separate “reasons” for his interpretation of Ephesians 2 that have nothing whatsoever to do with the context, concluding that the Torah must be ruled out, before even discussing the verse.

If he were really concerned with rightly handling the text, he would favor Paul as most likely using the word in the same way both times. He would let Paul interpret Paul with more weight than Luke interpreting Paul. Secondly, he would know that Ephesians and Colossians have many parallels like this one, and it isn’t just that we have the same author, we also have what many scholars call the “twin epistles”, written very much like each other, and so very likely mutually interpretive when dealing with less clear or less common terminology.

None of that matters to our author. He wants it to mean what he wants it to mean, and so that’s what it means.

Self-Contradictory Interpretations

To finish up, let’s take a look at some places where 119 Ministries is offering an explanation of a text that contradicts how it explains things elsewhere. It has been said: inconsistency is the sign of a failed argument.

Does the Law Define Sin, or the New Testament?

One comparison we will look at concerns whether we should be interpreting the New Testament in light of the Old Testament or vice-versa.

So the first reason Paul is so difficult to understand is that many Christians do not realize what the “front of the book” – the Old Testament – says. The only way to understand the “back of the book” – The New Testament – though, is to read it in light of the Old Testament. That would clear up a lot of apparent contradictions.

119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (p. 29). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition.

Now, this is partly true. Certainly, neither Old or New Testament stand alone, and I’m sure our author would agree, but he doesn’t present it that way.

The problem is, he presents us with a “defining” aspect of his argument, and doesn’t follow his own advice.

What does it mean to be under the Law of Sin and Death? According to the Bible, the Law of God defines sin (Romans 7:7; 1 John 3:4).

119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (p. 38). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition.

Wait. What happened to the “front of the book”? Don’t miss this. The author, like many other Torah Observant people, loves to quote 1 John 3:4 as though this “defines” sin. It says “sin is lawlessness”. That might be a definition, but it might also just be a description. But my issue here isn’t whether he’s right about these New Testament interpretations (he isn’t). My point is that he wants us to make sure we always interpret the New Testament in light of the Old Testament. But this key point that he makes over and over, even telling us that it’s one of the main purposes of the Law, cannot be found in the Law. The Law itself does not claim that the Law defines sin. The Christian view of the Law fits perfectly with this, as well as with a right understanding of these New Testament texts. But one wonders what text Moses or Elijah would have appealed to in order to establish that the Law given at Sinai “defines sin”. Our author needs to rely on the “back of the book” to come up with that idea.

Slavery or Freedom?

Another favorite argument 119 Ministries likes to make is that the Law is “liberty” and therefore cannot be “bondage”. This is done, every time, by citing the same text.

Many also believe that Paul called the Law of God bondage (Galatians 5:1). But the front of the book says that the Law of God brings liberty (Psalm 119:44-45).

119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (p. 29). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition.

I’d quote it here and explain how it relates the Deuteronomic curses, but I’m addressing inconsistencies. The way the author always makes mere reference to this text, as though that should be enough, and we don’t need to discuss anything further. But of course, that contradicts what the Bible says about slavery in other contexts, that our nameless author has to acknowledge.

In verses 16-23, Paul concludes Chapter 6 with an analogy to slavery. There are two types of slaves, according to Paul. We either serve God by obeying His Law, which makes us a slave to righteousness, or we serve sin by breaking God’s Law, which makes us a slave to sin. Those are our only two options.

119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (p. 58). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition.

No attempt is made here to explain how this goes with the Law bringing “liberty” at the earlier point in the book.

There is a way to reconcile being both a slave and free with regard to God. But the author never handles any argument about the bondage of the Law by carefully dealing with the texts and their meanings. He just cites the context-free Psalm verse and moves on as if he’s really proven something. The problem is, when you do that, you are making an unqualified argument. That means you can’t go qualifying it later, or else the first conclusion is false. It looks big and dramatic to quote a verse at your opponent, but that makes it all the more embarrassing to have to walk it back later, especially when you are simply unaware that you were walking it back at all.

Torah or Human Decrees for Gentiles?

Finally, we have a contradiction regarding the instructions given to the Gentile believers in Acts 15. Early in the book, the author says that the four instructions given to the Gentiles as a result of the Jerusalem Council were “Torah-based”.

Instead, any Gentile who came to know Messiah should be received into the community provided that they follow four Torah-based instructions dealing specifically with pagan temple worship (Acts 15:20).

119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (p. 19). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition.

But, when talking about the “Laws in commandments in ordinances” in Ephesians 2, the author needs that text to be about human decrees, and so says that the “only” time it’s about a command from God is in Colossians.

In the New Testament, the word dogma is used twice to refer to Caesar’s decrees (Luke 2:1, Acts 17:7) and once to refer to the apostolic decree established at the Jerusalem council (Acts 16:4).

119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (p. 109). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition.

In Colossians 2:14, which we will cover later, dogmasin (decrees) is used to refer to the punishment of the Law decreed upon sinners. Throughout both the Septuagint and New Testament, the word dogma is used almost every time “to denote man-made decrees.” The only exception is Colossians 2:14, where God decreed the punishment of the Law upon sinners. Dogma is “never used to describe the commandments of God in the Torah.”

119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (pp. 109-110). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition.

Remember that? So which is it? Were the Jerusalem Council instructions “Torah-based” or “man-made”? One can see why the author would want to say they were “Torah-based” when discussing the Jerusalem council. If they were really man-made, then they couldn’t very well function as the first things of the Law to be added to later, as the Hebrew Roots story goes.

But when dealing with Ephesians 2, the author really wants that to be based on man-made decrees, not God’s commands, so he sees that it is used that way sometimes, and decides he can say the opposite of what he said earlier in the book about the Jerusalem council. It’s been 90 pages. No one will remember.

Or maybe the author himself didn’t remember, but I doubt that. As we have seen, arguments are not presented consistently. Whatever seems to work in the moment is fine. Logical fallacies are fine. Ignoring texts entirely is fine.

Conclusion

All of these forms of mishandling the text come about in service to one goal: make Torah observance theology fit Paul’s letters. As we’ve seen, 119 Ministries can’t make it work in The Pauline Paradox. Unfortunately, the book and videos by this name are a popular source of “answers” to the tough questions about Paul for so many, and the same arguments are employed by many other Torah teachers. Whether 119 learned it from them, or they learned from 119, these are the main defenses you will find. I’ve said many times in many contexts that Torah folks can’t consistently walk through the text and draw out the meaning, and that has certainly proven true with this book about Paul.

Series Navigation<< The Many Fallacies of The Pauline ParadoxHas 119 Ministries Read Galatians? >>

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *