Ignoring Paul in The Pauline Paradox

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Answering The Pauline Paradox

In The Pauline Paradox, 119 ministries’ nameless author wants to convince us that this book in your hands is going to answer the questions and problems that Paul’s epistles raise for Torah Observance theology. The introduction ends with this statement.

This book reevaluates the passages from Paul’s letters that have been traditionally understood to say the Law no longer applies and interprets them in light of Yeshua’s teaching that nothing from the Law will pass away until heaven and earth pass away.

119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (p. 6). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition.

Also as we read through these interpretations, we find the statement a couple of times that the author thinks he has completed this task within the book he’s just finished discussing:

Now that we’ve reviewed all the difficult passages in Galatians, it’s clear to see that Paul was not speaking against obeying the Law of God.

119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (p. 96). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition.

Now that we’ve reviewed all the difficult passages in First and Second Corinthians, it’s clear to see that Paul was not denigrating the Law of God or teaching that it is no longer relevant—quite the contrary!

119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (p. 105). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition.

These sure make it sound like the book addresses all of the difficult passages in Paul for the Torah position. Now, if that was true, you wouldn’t be reading this article. The Pauline Paradox is the most frequent go-to resource for those in the Hebrew Roots and Torah Observance movements for explaining why Paul said what he said, in a way that seeks to defend their own theology. As you will see, it does not succeed.

In this article, we’re going to be going over some of the most obvious examples found in the book of ignoring the text of Paul. This act of willful ignorance doesn’t happen the same way every time, but it happens frequently. Here are some ways the unnamed author does it.

  1. Fleeing from the context
  2. Silence about the difficult bit
  3. No mention of the text at all

In the first type of willful ignorance, the author essentially says, “pay no attention to that really difficult text and look over here at my favorite argument again!” This can take the form of repeatedly bringing up favorite texts, or favorite lines of reasoning. All of this serves to tell us nothing about what Paul supposedly meant in the context of the “difficult” passage we were supposedly looking at.

In the second category, we find the author’s second favorite method of dealing with problem texts. Just pretend the hard part isn’t in there. This is done a couple of ways. He might cite the text, problem language and all, and just ignore the difficult bit in the explanation. Another way this happens is that he just mentions the passage, but proceeds to explain it without quoting it in the book for you to read first. Every time this happens, you can be sure there are really important statements from Paul that are being completely overlooked.

In the third case, you have some passages in Paul that are not even mentioned that do speak of the Law in ways that the Torah observant person might want an explanation for. But in this third tactic, you will not find either the text from Paul or any explanation for it in the pages of The Pauline Paradox.

Fleeing from the Context

Can you imagine reading a commentary on any book in the Bible, and as you worked your way through the biblical text, every time it pushed against the commentator’s theological views, he just said it couldn’t mean anything that challenged him, because of some pet argument from elsewhere in the Bible? And no matter how many times his views get challenged by the passages he is commenting on, he just keeps bringing up that same other argument? You wouldn’t find this commentary to be very useful. You would want to read an actual exegesis of the passages in question, in the context of each other within the book, following whatever structure the book was written in.

And the author seems to know how important this is. He expresses the same desire, as an accusation against his theological opponents.

The second reason Paul can be difficult to understand is that he is often taken out of context. People will cite random verses from Paul’s letters without regard to the context in which those verses were written.

119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (p. 31). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition.

Sadly, ignoring context is one of the 119 ministries author’s favorite methods of handling difficult texts. It isn’t the only way, but it is frequent. We will see many examples in this article of interpretation “without regard to the context in which those verses were written.”

One glaring example of this is found in the structure of the book as a whole. You would think that in a book all about carefully dealing with the difficult passages in Paul, you wouldn’t waste too much time before getting to the texts and dealing with them. But in this book, the first chapter dealing with an actual letter, ostensibly in “context” is the one on Romans, which is the sixth of twelve chapters. This comes 38% of the way through the book. This is not unusual when it comes to Hebrew Roots works on Paul. I’ve seen plenty of them, and they just can’t get into the text without pages and pages, or hours and hours of presented material, as “introduction” to Paul. In fact, if you look at the current versions of the video series this book was taken from, it takes over four hours, about half of the entire series, to get us acquainted with their version of who Paul is before they actually start talking about the passages that made the series necessary.

It’s one thing to talk about the background of a book or apostle before jumping into the text. When it takes up a third to half of the total presentation, it starts to look like an attempt to insert things that are actually “out of context” into the context of the actual passages. In fact, it still takes several pages into the Romans passage before the author even starts talking about the text of Romans. Before he does, he has to bring up his favorite pet argument from earlier in this book that’s supposedly about Paul: Jesus’ words a the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5.

As we’ve demonstrated in previous chapters, Yeshua practiced and taught the Law of God—that is, the Torah. He said his followers would also practice and teach the Law of God (Matthew 5:19).

119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (p. 48). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition.

This is very important for the author to bring up before getting into Romans, because we have to remember that he’s already proven beyond any possible doubt his whole theological system of Torah observance. We need to remember Torah observance theology is true as we read Paul, because that way, Paul can’t mean something that contradicts this author’s theological position.

Later, talking about Romans 14, where Paul talks about those weak in faith esteeming one day above another, the author has this to say.

Let’s begin with the second matter that’s addressed in this chapter, starting in verse 5: “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” (Romans 14:5). Is Paul teaching here that the Sabbath is merely a matter of what we decide in our minds as opposed to what God Himself has established in his Law? Or is it possible that Paul is discussing something else entirely? As we’ll see shortly, according to the context, it seems clear that this passage is referring to traditional days of fasting. In either case, this verse couldn’t be referring to the Sabbath because of some obvious problems. First, God’s Law defines sin (Romans 7:7; 1 John 3:4). 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.

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

What is the primary reason Chapter 14 could not apply to the Sabbath? Well, it’s the author’s belief that the Law defines sin and the Sabbath is in that Law. What’s missing here? Any discussion of the passage itself, in context. Where does the context rule out application to the Sabbath? It doesn’t. The author thinks his own beliefs about the Law, from his interpretations of other texts, is enough to rule that out.

The author feels justified in this because of the third of the book before this chapter where he first caricatured, and then contradicted, traditional Christian views on the Law. There was no serious attempt to deal with any arguments against his position on the Law, presented by able scholars or theologians familiar with it. He has asserted his favorite arguments for his view earlier, in other chapters, and so feels he can now use that to overrule the context of the biblical passage itself.

My main point here is that there is no attempt to really understand what Paul means in Romans 14. Rather, we see in the citation above stock arguments for Torah Observance placed over the text. This passage is “explained” by inserting the idea that the dispute in view is which day fasting should happen. Of course, fasting is not mentioned in the passage. And there is a major point of hypocrisy right at this point in the book.  It is on this page that can see the author make a rule, and then break it on the same page.

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.

119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (p. 71). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition.

This citation is the very next bit right after the previous citation. No breaks. The author says it’s not about the Sabbath, arguing here that this is because the Sabbath “is not mentioned anywhere in the entire book of Romans”. You see, 119 ministries cares about context.

But do you see what happens right after that statement? He goes on to cite a section of the text, and then assert that it is about which day people should fast. Saying “apparently” there was a dispute about this. Do you want to know another word that is not found in the entire book of Romans? Fasting. That’s right. Right after ruling out the Sabbath, thinking he’s really zinged his opponents on “context” by pointing out the word isn’t in the book, he turns right around and immediately inserts a supposed dispute about which day to fast right into the text, when that concept is not found anywhere in the book either.

The next example is still in this section about Romans 14:

Contrary to God, Yeshua, and even Paul himself, verse 14 is often used as a license to teach that all animals are now clean and suitable for food. However, if we examine the context, we discover that this is not what Paul is talking about at all.

119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (p. 72). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition.

Our author again talks about “context”, but it is he who is inserting his own understanding of other passages from outside the context into this passage to make it say what he wants. He does point out that Romans 14 is about not disputing over “opinions”, which he then uses to prove it can’t be about things like the Sabbath, since that’s in the Law and not a matter of opinion. But of course, that reasoning is circular. The very dispute is whether certain commands are still binding in the same way. No one disputes the presence of these commandments in the Torah. If the Christian view that they are not binding is true, then it has become a matter of opinion whether we observe a day or not.

To round out this type of ignoring the text, I’m going to cite perhaps the biggest example. When attempting to deal with Ephesians 2:14, which speaks of Jesus “abolishing” the Law, at least in some sense, our author presents not one, but several arguments that have nothing to do with the text at hand, but are just restating his favorite arguments for his theology and placing them over the biblical text:

For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace. (Ephesians 2:14-15, emphasis added)

Some argue that Paul is saying that God’s Law was a dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles. That is, since some of the commandments contained in God’s Law set believers apart from the world, Yeshua abolished them so that Jews and Gentiles can be united. But does that interpretation make any sense? Three points demonstrate that it doesn’t.

First, aren’t Christians—both Jews and Gentiles—supposed to be set apart (holy) and different from the world? Doesn’t Peter instruct believers to “be holy in all your conduct,” appealing to the Torah as the basis for this command (1 Peter 1:15-16)? Doesn’t Paul say that God “chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless” in Ephesians 1:4? God’s Law is the standard for these calls to holiness throughout the New Testament. This isn’t a division between Jewish and Gentile believers; it’s division between believers and the world. Nevertheless, God’s standard of holiness cannot be abolished if believers are to be holy.

Second, if Ephesians 2:14-15 is saying that Yeshua abolished God’s Law, then it contradicts Yeshua’s own words: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). So, if we accept the traditional interpretation, then we have Paul directly contradicting Yeshua. Everything we have covered in this book shows that Paul agreed with the Messiah’s teachings, so any interpretation that causes Paul to contradict Yeshua is unacceptable.

Third, God’s Law contains nothing that creates a dividing wall between Jewish and Gentile believers. The promise of Abraham always contained the inclusion of Gentiles (Genesis 12:3). Israel’s obedience to God’s Laws was to show the Gentiles how good and wise the commandments are (Deuteronomy 4:6-8). Throughout all the Torah, the strangers who choose to follow the God of Israel are specifically called to obey the same commandments given to native Israelites (Exodus 12:19; 20:10; Leviticus 16:29; Numbers 9:14; 15:15; Deuteronomy 16:11, 14). With the same law for all, there can be no cause for division between the Jewish and Gentile believers.

With that in mind, what was abolished in Ephesians 2:14-15 cannot be referring to God’s Law.

119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (pp. 107-109). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition.

Take note of that last statement. With these arguments in mind, what is abolished “cannot” be referring to God’s law. Our author has completely ruled out that this verse could challenge his view of the Law, without having made a single point about the text itself.

This list is pretty convenient. If we knew we could just list out these reasons, why even write a book on Paul’s difficult statements? Whatever they mean, they couldn’t possibly mean anything contradictory to the nameless author’s arguments, right?

I’m reminded of what Nameless taught us back at the start:

The second reason Paul can be difficult to understand is that he is often taken out of context. People will cite random verses from Paul’s letters without regard to the context in which those verses were written.

119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (p. 31). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition.

Remember that? We were going to get Paul’s verses in context. Is that what you see happening? I see a citation, three arguments against what they think their opponents think about the law, that have nothing to do with the citation, all followed by a declaration that the text “cannot” mean anything like what Christians have commonly said it means. This is the very definition of “out of context”. If the author could make a clear, coherent argument from the text itself, he wouldn’t need to do this.

It is a desperate move. And as you can see, the book is littered with examples like this. But this is not the only way that 119 Ministries ignores the text it’s supposed to be talking about.

Silence About the Difficult Bit

In this section, we’re going to look at some times the book chooses not to even go to the effort of making out-of-context appeals. Instead, he just kinda skips over the hard part in the text. Despite what he would have you believe about having “reviewed all the difficult passages”, the author often chooses instead to ignore those passages, or at least the hard things in them. Let’s look at a few examples.

As we move forward to Chapter 5, Paul makes another interesting statement:

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. (Romans 5:12-13)

We all recall the event in Genesis, the sin of Adam. We remember his failure to guard and protect the garden as he was instructed. He allowed sin to enter the world through his and Eve’s act of disobedience. Adam was given Torah (instruction). He was given a Law from God, but he transgressed that Law and, as a result, brought sin into the world. And sin, as we’ve been told in the narrative of the fall, leads to death.

Moving forward into Chapter 6…

119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (pp. 54-55). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition.

What you see here is the full treatment of Romans 5 from The Pauline Paradox. Notice the beginning and end. Now, we did get the citation of two verses, and even that citation has an interesting statement in it. Verse 13 says there was “no law”. This is very interesting, considering that Hebrew Roots teachers, and 119 is among them, often teach that the Law of Moses is more properly understood as a Law that has always been in effect since creation. It is eternal, on their reckoning. But of course, this verse refutes that idea.

To know when there was “no law”, we have to do something 119 Ministries isn’t doing: look at the context.

12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned— 13 for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.

Romans 5:12-14

Amazing what a verse does. Even though there was no law from Adam to Moses, death still reigned, even though the people did not sin like Adam. What does he mean? In context, Paul is talking here about how a person is not counted as transgressing a law when that law does is not present, but the penalty of sin, death, still held people. And the people did not sin like Adam, breaking a commandment they received.

There is no mistaking that Paul is teaching that there was a time of no law before Moses. That is in clear contrast to what Hebrew Roots organizations like 119 ministries believe. In fact, they make reference to it, without much explanation, citing the one verse Hebrew Roots teachers always cite:

Abraham’s faith led to his obedience to God’s laws (Genesis 26:5).

119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (p. 83). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition.

Now, this verse is not explained in detail, but you will notice that “laws” in Genesis 26:5 is plural. This is because it is God’s instructions directly to Abraham that are in view, not “the Law of God”, as 119 would like to believe. But of course, to say it is “The Law”, they have to contend with what Paul says in Romans 5, that there was “no law” at this time.

None of this presents a problem for the Christian who hasn’t accepted the theology of this book. Of course there were plenty of times people sinned, and plenty of times people were given specific commands by God, before Moses. The difference was that the Law, the one given through Moses at Sinai as part of the covenant God made with the nation of Israel, did not yet exist. And that makes Romans 5:13 a problem for our author, but one that is ignored.

But there is more from Romans 5 that is ignored by the author, in his haste to move on to Chapter 6.

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

This seems kind of important. Paul is talking specifically about the Law, and why it came. You would think in a book devoted to what Paul says about the Law, this would be something to talk about. Once again, it is passed over.

And we can make an educated guess as to why. This just doesn’t sound the way a Hebrew Roots person would want to talk about the Law. It specifically says it came in so that the “transgression would increase”. And this sin increasing is what causes grace to abound all the more. But Torah observant people want to think of the Law causing sin to decrease. They would rather talk about how if we all just knew the Law, and tried to follow it harder, there would be less sin. That theology sounds nice to religious people who want to live for God, but it is false. Paul clearly teaches why God gave the Law. And God can certainly have more than one reason for doing so, but one of the reasons cannot be in direct contradiction with another.

Also, this statement is in direct contradiction with what the author has said about the Law “defining” sin. Notice that the Law came, through Moses, so that “the transgression would increase, and where sin increased…” It doesn’t say, “so that sin would begin”, or “so that sin would be defined”. The sin was already there, before the Law, and it increased with the Law. The Law cannot define sin before the Law exists.

So we have another text that should have been addressed, but is completely ignored. Let’s look at another example of this kind of willful ignorance.

Galatians 4:21-31 — Do We Trust God or Man?

In this passage, Paul makes another analogy that is often misunderstood as his speaking against the Law of God. Many people think that Paul is saying that the Mosaic covenant, which includes God’s Law, has enslaved those who practice it. But believers in Yeshua are sons of the free woman—we are not enslaved to the Law! But that is an overly simplistic interpretation that completely misses Paul’s point. Note in verse 25 that Hagar in this analogy “corresponds to the present Jerusalem.” Paul is not speaking against the Law of God but against the misuse of the Law of God by those in the Jerusalem of Paul’s day who taught that Gentiles needed to ritually convert and circumcise themselves to be initiated into God’s covenant people. Paul’s point is that anyone who tries to gain salvation through their own effort is like Abraham trying to gain God’s promise through his effort with Hagar.

119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (p. 93). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition.

What you see above is a subheading in the chapter on Galatians, followed by the entire treatment of the passage mentioned in the heading. Now, why do you think the author wouldn’t just quote the passage? The answer is simple. The “interpretation”, and I use the term extremely loosely in this case, is almost completely contradicted by the text. It’s as though the author of this careful treatment of Paul, “in context”, has just grabbed some of the terms found in the passage and put them together how he likes them, rather than how Paul actually intended.

Let’s summarize the author’s take on this passage:

  • Christians are wrong to think the Law is slavery, since we are sons of the free woman
  • Rather, “Paul’s point” is that Hagar corresponds to the “present” Jerusalem, which means its all about “misuse of the Law by the leaders in Jerusalem in Paul’s day, who pushed ritual conversion.
  • “Paul’s point” is that trying to gain salvation through effort is like “Abraham trying to gain God’s promise through his effort with Hagar”

Now, let’s see if we can see “Paul’s point” in the passage.

21 Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman. 23 But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise. 24 This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. 25 Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother. 27 For it is written,

“Rejoice, barren woman who does not bear;

Break forth and shout, you who are not in labor;

For more numerous are the children of the desolate

Than of the one who has a husband.”

28 And you brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29 But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also. 30 But what does the Scripture say?

“Cast out the bondwoman and her son,

For the son of the bondwoman shall not be an heir with the son of the free woman.”

31 So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman.

Galatians 4:21-31

What, according to 119 ministries, was Paul’s point?

“Paul’s point is that anyone who tries to gain salvation through their own effort is like Abraham trying to gain God’s promise through his effort with Hagar.”

Do you see Paul making that point here? Do you see Paul speaking of “misuse of the Law” anywhere in this passage? Our nameless author thinks he can dump all of that extra meaning into the phrase “the present Jerusalem”. But not only does Paul not do this, making the author’s interpretation nothing more than his own speculation, but Paul manifestly contradicts this speculation.

Paul sets it up very clearly. The passage is about the two women who were married to Abraham, and how they represent two covenants. And the covenant Hagar represents is not “the present Jerusalem”, but “Mount Sinai”. And Paul repeats this twice. He then says that Mount Sinai, which is a covenant, remember, corresponds with the present Jerusalem. There was no covenant related to the present Jerusalem but the one at Sinai, which Paul said it was, twice.

Torah teachers are very fond of making the point, which this author attempts to make here, that there are miles of difference between the “Law of God”, the “Torah” that God gave to Moses, and the human traditions of the Jews of Jesus’ day, or the Pharisees, or modern Judaism. The two things are routinely contrasted in the strongest of terms. And the nameless apologist writing this book uses this passage to attempt to do it again. But Paul shows the dishonesty in that approach. Paul says that the covenant of Mount Sinai, symbolized by the slave woman, Hagar, corresponds to the present Jerusalem. It isn’t one and the same with the Jews of Paul’s day. He didn’t say it corresponds with itself. Nor is it set in any opposition to the Jews of Paul’s day. In fact, they aren’t mentioned at all. All that is mentioned is the city, which is set in contrast with the heavenly Jerusalem, representing the freedom of those in the covenant made by Christ.

But all of this just proves the author wrong in what he said. What about what the passage says? The fact is that the passage is about two covenants, as Paul makes plain. That, right there, is the Achilles heel of Torah movements. As soon as you start to really understand the nature of the different covenants as they are presented in Scripture, the whole enterprise falls apart. The fact that the Law of Moses is tied to the Sinai covenant, and that Paul clearly and unambiguously says that we who believe in Christ are not a part of that covenant, but rather another covenant characterized by freedom, flies in the face of Torah observance theology at its heart. The author of this book on Paul is simply not prepared to open up a discussion of the different covenants, especially when this is the way they are being discussed. Torah observers do have ways they try to reconcile their theology with the Scriptures on the covenants, but that would be very hard to do here in Galatians, with this most difficult context.

And look at some of the ways the passage contradicts other things the author wants to say. Paul begins by saying “you who want to be under law, do you not listen to what the law says?” Think carefully about that. Does “under law” mean under the penalty of the law? It cannot. Who “wants” to be under the penalty of the law? Paul is clearly not asking that. Does it mean being under human traditions? It can’t be that either, because Paul asks, do you not listen to what the law says? Paul is clearly showing them their own hypocrisy. They say they want the law, but do not listen to it. It would be complete speculation to try to assert that Paul is talking about two different laws in the two mentions in this verse. Of course, our author is definitely not above such speculation, but that’s all it is, and it turns the passage into nonsense. Paul is clearly and simply saying that the people who want to be under law by being circumcised are not listening to that very law, after which he recounts a portion of the law from Genesis. The only reason to speculate that something else is in view is to rescue one’s theology from the text.

There is no ambiguity in the passage, which is why the author really can’t quote it. Seeing the contradiction so glaringly in print would remove all credibility from the book, even from those who want so badly to believe what it says. If you’re at all confused, just read what he said about the passage and then read the passage again for yourself. Good luck finding what he thinks “Paul’s point” really is in the passage itself.

More examples could be provided, but in the interest of not making this too long, let’s move to the last type of ignoring going on.

No Mention of the Text at All

No one expects a book like this to be a running commentary of all of Paul’s epistles. Everyone expects that it would do what it promised, to handle the difficult parts of Paul when it comes to the Torah observance theology. As we have seen up to this point, there are texts that they do at least acknowledge, but don’t actually deal with. But now, we’re going to talk about some texts they simply do not acknowledge at all.

Since they don’t acknowledge them, this section isn’t going to be able to quote from the book. We are talking about its silence, after all. But to give an idea of what I’m talking about, here are the chapter names that refer to specific epistles or passages as written in the contents:

Romans

Galatians

1 & 2 Corinthians

Ephesians & Colossians

1 Timothy 4:1-5

Now, this is obviously not including all of Paul’s writings, nor does it include Hebrews, though many attribute it to Paul. Again, it is not that our author is obligated to discuss every epistle or every passage, but there are definitely passages relevant to the Law and difficult for Torah observers that have been completely omitted.

Let’s look at some passages from Paul that the book never discusses at all:

By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power.

Ephesians 3:4-7

This passage speaks of a mystery, that God would make Gentiles fellow heirs in the New Covenant. The Torah and Hebrew Roots movements are fond of trying to argue that Jesus and the apostles taught nothing new. They just taught the Torah, we are told. This passage is one among many that simply and completely refutes such an idea. The Old Testament was incomplete until the events of the Gospels and the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. And Paul clearly and unambiguously states here that this mystery is something that “was not made known”. This passage may not be tied directly to whether or not some aspect of the Law is still in place, but it presents a huge difficulty to those who argue for Torah observance in the way many do.

Though this passage is found in Ephesians, an epistle the book does address, it is not included at all in that discussion. In fact, there are only two verses in all of Ephesians that the book talks about.

One other example from Paul should suffice for now.

Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh, although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Philippians 3:2-11

Notice how Paul speaks of the Law. Paul has more right to boast in his keeping of the Law than his opponents. But he speaks of that as “confidence in the flesh”. Paul places things actually found in the Torah, like circumcision, alongside his zeal to persecute the church. He said he was found blameless concerning the Law.

But those things he now considers loss, rubbish. Knowing Christ has made all of his law keeping worthless. He wants no righteousness of his own derived from the Law. That isn’t just saying he doesn’t want to depend on it for salvation. Now, Paul elsewhere speaks of the Law as good. Why this difference? No, he is not mentioning “misuse of the law” or adding traditions of men to the law as the problem. Paul is clearly contrasting the Law with faith and with Christ.

The reason he can speak both ways of the Law is really rather simple. The Law is part of the Sinai covenant, which has been made obsolete because of Christ. It was never able to save, and all it did was reveal death and condemnation for everyone who broke it. It was good and righteous, because it was an expression of God’s righteousness in many ways, but as to the covenant, it could never do what Christ did, and was always intended to reveal what the flesh was capable of, which is to merit condemnation.

None of that, of course, means that there is no standard or that there aren’t, within the Torah commandments, expressions of God’s eternal righteousness and requirements of us that are not dependent on the covenant. But when Paul speaks this way of the Law, he is speaking of it in light of that covenant.

Our nameless author of this book that answers the problem texts in Paul doesn’t crack Philippians at all. Maybe he thinks his other explanations of other texts just automatically work here. Maybe he just doesn’t know there’s a difficult text for him in Philippians. We just don’t know, because the book doesn’t address it.

Conclusion

Some may read this and want to make excuses for 119 Ministries at this point. Not everything would fit in the book. It couldn’t be made to go on forever. To that I will remind you that there is a chapter about whether the “majority is ever wrong”, and another one full of out-of-context definitions of supposed other laws Paul was talking about, that really never comes into play in the book in any meaningful way. The book needn’t even be longer than it is, if it would just take more time dealing with the texts it’s supposedly written to deal with.

Secondly, the book isn’t really that long. It’s only 123 pages, and 10-20 more to handle these texts in more depth wouldn’t have hurt. One problem I noticed in the book was what looked like a lack of fortitude. Things start off fairly strong with Romans regarding dealing with texts. Chapters and passages that don’t really present challenges to his views are summarized for the sake of context, while moving ahead to the tougher passages, which are then cited in full and discussed. But that care and detail did not continue throughout the book. As noted, halfway through Galatians, but long before the tough passages had come to an end, the quotations end, and we just get summaries. It just seems the author ran out of steam while writing, and became more and more brief as he moved forward through the epistles he planned on covering. Regardless of the reason, however, the fact remains that much of Paul is simply ignored.

119 Ministries has produced a book that is supposed to answer the “Pauline Paradox”, which is only really a true difficulty for this author because he has adopted a false view of the Law, so that he now has to contend with the rest of Scripture. Sometimes, the battle is just too much, and so our nameless author calls a tactical retreat. But you can’t run from the words of God. Indeed, it is curious why a ministry that says the “whole Bible is true and applicable to our lives today” is engaged in so much avoidance of the Bible in this book.

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2 thoughts on “Ignoring Paul in The Pauline Paradox”

  1. Though the book was probably a collaborative effort from a number of their people, I recently read a book authored by one of the more prominent 119 folks and the same exact arguments are used in that. My guess is that same person wrote this book. It was a lot of, “this verse can’t mean what it clearly says because it doesn’t jive with my take on this other verse.” You’d think after a few times saying that to yourself you might start to question your interpretation of that other verse, no?

    The biggest red flag for me when it comes to many in the HRM/TO crowd is their reliance on the demonization of mainstream Christianity. They can’t just say, “oh hey, sorry guys, but I think you’ve got this verse interpreted wrongly. Let’s compare notes.” No, they have to first tell you that your entire belief system is corrupt, it always has been corrupt, your pastor is an idiot and does church wrong, and by the way you’re basically being duped into being a pagan sun worshipper.

    “You don’t believe us? This only seems wrong to you because you’ve been so brainwashed! Ignore the mainstream position of the last 2000 years! Your pastor says we’re wrong? He’s corrupt, of course he wouldn’t see the truth!”

    They want you to doubt—no, reject—everything, save what they have to tell you. You have nowhere to turn because EVERYTHING is corrupt and evil and can’t be trusted, except for them! It’s downright abusive and manipulative and it pains me so to see people I hold great respect for fall into the trap.

    1. I’ve not been able to put what you just expressed into words. I’m thankful you did! Every word lines up with my experience…

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