- Ignoring Paul in The Pauline Paradox
- The Many Fallacies of The Pauline Paradox
- How The Pauline Paradox Mishandles the Bible
- Has 119 Ministries Read Galatians?
People love to throw around charges of fallacious reasoning. Few actually know their own fallacies.
Reading The Pauline Paradox book by 119 ministries was a great opportunity to catalog some clear examples.
What is a Logical Fallacy?
For those not trained in philosophy and logic, this can be a nebulous concept. It isn’t just that someone is wrong. Logical fallacies happen when people employ tactics in presenting arguments that are intended to make an argument more convincing, but which actually render the argument invalid or ineffective in some way. A valid argument is one in which the conclusion necessarily follows from the premises. If the conclusion cannot be false, while all the premises are true, the argument is valid. Some fallacies involve technically valid arguments, but have other problems.
Fallacies come into play in a couple of ways in the examples we’re going to look at here. Either they come from a premise that does not combine with the other premises to make the conclusion necessary, or they affect the nature of the conclusion, such that the argument could be understood in a way that makes it valid, but then the conclusion isn’t really what the author was going for.
We are going to review eight distinct logical fallacies from the book, including:
- Argument from silence
- Appeal to authority
- Red herring
- Loaded question
- False dichotomy
- Begging the question
- Straw man
To be clear, the book commits logical fallacies far more often than eight times. These are just eight distinct types of fallacy that the unnamed author engages in to try to make his case. So let’s jump in. I hope this article serves as a lesson in these fallacies so that you can better understand and avoid them yourself.
Argument from Silence
Let’s start with one of the most difficult fallacies to understand. The argument from silence is present when someone argues that, because a statement is not affirmed, it is therefore denied. The absence of a statement is taken as evidence for its negation. This is a fallacy about rightly interpreting language. It would look something like:
“The king’s speech did not mention or condemn the practice of witchcraft, so he must be sympathetic to it.”
One can see, rather easily, why this is a fallacy. Silence doesn’t establish anything by itself.
Now, the reason why this fallacy can be difficult to understand is that circumstances surrounding the silence in question can actually reduce the fallaciousness of this fallacy quite a lot. Suppose, for example, that we had more context for the statement above. Suppose the king himself was accused by credible witnesses of engaging in witchcraft. Suppose the speech was presented beforehand as an answer to his accusers. By not mentioning the thing he is accused of, in the very speech in which he is supposed to be vindicating himself, he is casting grave doubt on his innocence.
There are many arguments presented, not as logical proofs, but as inductive reasoning, that the absence of some statement or other is quite unexpected, like our king’s failure to condemn witchcraft. As such, it is not enough to say that an argument takes the mere form of an argument from silence. The silence must not be too telling. In the example above, if there was no expectation that the king must condemn witchcraft in the speech, we cannot conclude his disposition to it just from the lack of mention.
So, with these nuances in mind, let’s look at the passage in which I find an argument from silence.
Speaking of context, the Sabbath is not mentioned anywhere throughout the entire book of Romans.119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (p. 71). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition.
This statement appears in the author’s arguments concerning Romans 14, where Paul talks about not judging others based on what days they regard as more important than others. His argument about the passage is that Paul is not talking about the Sabbath. One point I would make here is that the proximity of other arguments toward the same conclusion does not remove this fallacy. What renders it not so fallacious is when the silence is highly unexpected.
But this passage doesn’t purport to be about the Sabbath in particular, but about disagreements among believers concerning food and days. Some have religious concerns about food and days, called “weak” by Paul. While others do not have these concerns. Paul makes clear that the ones without the concerns are correct, but they should not shove that in the face of the weaker brothers who are concerned about eating and certain days.
When we read the passage, it may be that one particular day, the Sabbath, isn’t mentioned by name, but that doesn’t prove that Paul isn’t including it in this larger discussion. Romans speaks at length about the Law and grace and how this impacts the life of believers, and here, he takes up issues surrounding food and calendar. It seems clear that Paul is speaking more broadly than just the Sabbath, so it isn’t unusual at all that he doesn’t mention it by name. To conclude he must be talking about something else because of this lack of mention is the fallacy of the argument from silence.
There is another argument that I and others have put forth that I think is an example of something that looks like the argument from silence, but isn’t, due to what we would expect. It has been observed that in the entire New Testament, while we find re-affirmations of the other nine of the Ten Commandments, the Sabbath command lacks any such re-affirmation. And this isn’t because it isn’t ever mentioned. In the Gospels, one could argue no other command is discussed more, since Jesus is so often accused of breaking the Sabbath. Yet not once, in the Gospels or elsewhere, is there a statement that one ought to rest on the seventh day, or any equivalent statement. Now, this observation is not presented as proof of anything by itself, but it is an absence that is glaring.
But not using a particular word, when the concept is still clearly present, does not rescue the 119 author from the implications of Romans 14 on days like the Sabbath day.
Appeal to Authority
Appeal to authority is another tricky fallacy to rightly identify. In its simplest form, an appeal to authority is when the opinion of some “important” person is presented as if this should settle a matter. It is fallacious for the simple reason that no person’s opinion establishes the conclusion of an argument. “Important person said X. Therefore, X” is invalid.
This becomes especially important when talking about the Bible, because there are experts, scholars, and commentators, who do contribute to helping us better understand and interpret it. So mere appeal to a quote from a scholar isn’t always fallacious. My personal opinion on scholars is that they provide a lot of valuable information, especially when they are able to collate ancient sources and point out things that can be found there. Where they are least valuable is in their conclusions. The fact is, for almost any controversial issue in the Bible, one can find scholars to agree with whatever point of view one wants.
So the fallacy mostly comes into play when someone cites an authority, even a knowledgeable one, as though that person’s opinion establishes the point. And that is, indeed, what we find in the book.
Some scholars, however, have suggested a more positive function of the law being expressed in this verse. Here is how New Testament scholar, James Dunn, understands this verse:
Now In the case of 3.19a the issue centres on the meaning of χάριν [charin]. Here we need to recall that the word is the accusative form of χάρις [charis], ‘grace, favour’, and that its usual meaning as attested elsewhere in usage of the time is ‘for the sake of, on behalf of, on account of.’119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (p. 87). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition. (emphasis mine)
According to Dunn, “because of transgressions” is better understood as “for the sake of transgressions.” In other words, the law is given to reveal the “means of dealing with transgressions.” Tim Hegg echoes this same thought:
The Greek particle χάριν (charin) indicates “the goal” to which something points or proceeds. The Torah was given with the goal of revealing God’s method of dealing with transgressions.
How does the law show the way God would deal with transgressions? As we read earlier from James Dunn, the sacrificial system outlined in the law is likely what Paul is hinting at. The sacrificial system reveals God’s method of dealing with transgressions. This part of the law taught that sin is dealt with through repentance and atoning sacrifices.119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (pp. 87-88). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition. (emphasis mine)
So, “why then the law?” It was given to reveal God’s means of dealing with transgressions, until the offspring—Messiah—who would come.119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (p. 89). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition. (emphasis mine)
If you follow closely through these citations, you see the lack of reasoning. It started with what is “suggested” by scholars, and concludes, without further argument, what Paul meant when he said the Law was given “because of transgressions”. The important person is simply quoted, then treated as if what is said must be true. This is when you have a clear appeal to authority fallacy. The author does not tell us why he accepts these scholars’ conclusions as fact. Simply quoting them is supposed to be enough for us.
But of course, if you can quote a scholar in favor of something, another can come along and quote a scholar against that thing. And that is why this is fallacious. Authorities can be used as a resource for learning, but no person’s opinion, no matter how educated, proves the point.
I’m going to let the author of this book give you the definition of this one:
Religious indoctrination existed in the first century, and it still exists today. For instance, you have likely heard these three common, knee-jerk expressions before, and perhaps you’ve even said versions of them yourself:
1. “Those under the Law of Moses were ‘under bondage,’ which ended with Jesus, who has set us free!”
2. “No one could ever do everything the law requires! That’s why we needed Jesus!”
3. “The law was ‘a curse’ that Jesus came to do away with!” Each of these traditional expressions completely exposes our misunderstanding of Paul.
The first statement is derived from a misinterpretation of a verse in Galatians, which we will address in a later chapter. For right now, it’s enough to say that Scripture says keeping God’s Law brings freedom. You can’t be freed from freedom.
The second statement is a red herring—that is, a figurative expression referring to a logical fallacy in which a clue or piece of information is misleading or distracting from the actual topic at hand. Nobody believes that keeping God’s Law replaces what Yeshua did on the cross. That would be absurd.119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (pp. 34-35). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition.
A red herring is an irrelevant statement, designed to distract from the importance of the actual issue or argument under discussion.
A red herring fallacy often occurs when one is losing an argument. As such, it is far more common to find it in the back-and-forth of some debate or other, and not in a book like this, where every word that goes on the page is under the control of the author.
However, quite ironically, this very accusation by our unnamed author against his unnamed opponent is, itself, a red herring, meant to distract from the truthfulness of the statement it concerns. The second numbered statement that is presented as a “knee-jerk expression”, presumably to be rejected, but the book never addresses this expression. At no point do we see any answer to this statement, which this author presents to us as if we should reject it.
Considered one way, if the main issue is whether we are supposed to be living according to the Law of Moses, then the statement about not being able to do it perfectly would be a red herring. The traditional Christian view of obedience acknowledges this fact about its own view. We can’t do it perfectly, whether we’re talking Torah observance or not. So the statement doesn’t serve by itself to refute Torah observance. As such, the author isn’t wrong that it’s a red herring in that regard.
What he isn’t saying is what he actually thinks of the statement. At no point in the book does he offer a refutation of the statement or acknowledgment of its truth. That’s another thing about red herrings. They are usually true statements everyone agrees on. That’s what makes them effective distractions.
The problem is, I know from watching videos by 119 ministries that they do not like to affirm this statement that we can’t do everything the Law requires. They try to argue otherwise when talking about Romans 10 in other contexts: What is the Gospel? Understanding All of the Gospel: Part 2 – 119 Ministries
The fact that they call this statement a “knee-jerk” expression, clearly denigrating it, and call it a red herring, but don’t ever actually try to refute it in the book, is where this accusation becomes a red herring itself. If we are not astute, we would just see the red herring accusation and move on, while the clear truthfulness of the statement being attacked is completely ignored. But the distraction didn’t work. We saw it.
The fallacy of the loaded question occurs when someone asks a question that there is no good answer to, because the question assumes some additional statement to be the case in the asking, which is meant to somehow support the answer the questioner is looking for. The standard example in the philosophical literature would be:
“Mr. Smith, have you stopped beating your wife?”
This is likely to be asked in a context where the beating is not established, but there is no answer to the question that doesn’t affirm the beatings.
Now, this fallacy has cropped up in various places, so it isn’t without similar examples out there, and others have noted this kind of bad reasoning before with the simple statement that should not be controversial:
Questions aren’t arguments.
Just because you can pose a question doesn’t mean you’ve made an argument. But sometimes, it seems our author is unaware of this.
Despite this, many present day Christians say that we do not have to keep the Law anymore—that the Law is part of the Old Testament and no longer relevant—or worse, a form of legalistic bondage that the Messiah freed us from. But how can something that the Bible calls “freedom” (Psalm 119:44-45) be something that the Messiah must free us from later? Did Yeshua free us from freedom?119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (p. 8). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition.
Are you feeling the tension between the traditional interpretation of Paul and what he actually lived and taught? There’s more: Paul says that he serves the Law of God (Romans 7:25). Why serve a Law that is supposedly ended or made void?119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (p. 31). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition.
There is a simple reason we should never treat a question as if it’s an argument. Questions have answers. Arguments must be accepted or rejected. It is assumptive on the part of the author to ask “Did Yeshua free us from freedom?” He has cited one text, without interpretation or context, as if this answers the entire counter-argument, then asked this assumptive question.
He asks about Paul why he would serve a Law that “is supposedly ended or made void”. The question is loaded because there is no answer to it that does no concede the author’s argument. Yet he has not established his conclusion.
This is not to say that questions have no place in debate or argument. It is to point out that you actually have to make your case, against the opposing view, which is harder than just asking loaded questions.
Moving into the second half of the list, we’re starting to get into some more serious fallacies. The ones we’ve seen have certainly made for invalid arguments. Now we’re going to talk about some that really show the fallacious reasoning at the heart of the book’s main points. Up to this point, the fallacies didn’t touch the heart of the dispute. Now they will. And it’s going to be worse and worse.
A false dichotomy, or false dilemma, occurs when someone presents their position as one of only two options, the other of which is clearly wrong or absurd. This is meant to remove other possibilities from the mind of the person being persuaded, so that they will choose the “right” position.
In fact, there are rarely only two options. But it is far easier to defend one’s own position against only one other than many others, hence this fallacy’s popularity.
In the book, the author engages in this fallacy more than once:
Therefore, only two paths are available. The first path is that you can ignore what you’ve learned about Paul in the Book of Acts. The second path is to move forward and discover the truth, whatever that might be, and reconcile all of these apparent conflicts within the text of the Bible.119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (p. 27). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition.
For instance, many Christians believe Paul taught that God’s Law has changed. However, it is impossible to come to that conclusion if you’ve read what the Old Testament says about the Law: “I will not violate my covenant or alter the word that went forth from my lips” (Psalm 89:34). Surely God himself cannot be wrong, so that means the traditional understanding of Paul must be revisited.119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (p. 29). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition.
Both of these citations concern the same basic subject. It is argued that the only response we can have to the presentation the book makes about Paul and the Torah is to either accept that Paul was Torah observant in just the same way as the author of this book, or else reject the Scriptures. If you think anything has changed regarding the relationship believers in Jesus have to the Torah, you must believe that God has “violated” His covenant.
Of course, it is easy to see through this shallow reasoning. Obviously, people have read the Scriptures and come to different conclusions than our author, and despite this false dilemma, there really are other views besides his that seek to reconcile all that Scripture says about the Law.
This fallacy is pretty bad, and it relates closely to the last one on the list. You won’t want to miss that one.
Begging the Question (Circular Reasoning)
“Begging the question” is perhaps the most wrongly understood fallacy name on this list. The phrase is used often in news, where the phrase “raising the question” ought to be. If something happens and it brings to mind an important question, that is not “begging the question”. That is raising the question.
Another name for this fallacy is circular reasoning, which people understand a little better. Circular reasoning occurs when someone assumes, as a premise, something that his argument is meant to prove as a conclusion. This is rarely so obviously done as to say “Mr. Smith is guilty. Therefore, Mr. Smith is guilty”. But it is logically equivalent to that.
When you are making a case, you have to appeal to supporting facts that lead to a conclusion. If your conclusion is one of your supporting facts, you’ve committed the fallacy of begging the question.
So how does The Pauline Paradox commit this fallacy?
“As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions” (Romans 14:1). Paul begins the chapter by declaring that we are to receive those who are weak in the faith and not dispute over “opinions.” So, the first thing to point out is that the Sabbath and the dietary instructions in God’s Law have always been clear and have never been considered matters of mere opinion. Therefore, the chapter couldn’t be referring to the Sabbath and the dietary instructions.119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (p. 69). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition.
The author appeals to the fact that these commands are not, themselves, opinions. This much is true, but that is not where the disagreement lies. The debate isn’t about whether these things are found in the Law. The debate is about whether anything has changed that changes whether these things are binding now, in the same way that they were for the nation of Israel. If our author is right, then these issues are not “opinions”, as he says. But if our author is wrong, then the belief that dietary laws and the Sabbath should be kept today as they were before is just an opinion, and a wrong one at that.
The question of whether or not observing these things is a matter of opinion is the very heart of the debate, but the author presents it that the mere presence of the word “opinions” shows that the text in question isn’t about the Law, which assumes his own conclusion and inserts it into the text. Notice that he says: “Therefore, the chapter couldn’t be referring to the Sabbath and the dietary instructions.” His “conclusion” was smuggled into the premise that “opinions” couldn’t be talking about anything related to the Law, and, surprise! His conclusion matches up with his conclusion.
As you can see here, this fallacy is a little different from the others in logical form. Where the other fallacies render an argument invalid, circular arguments are always valid. But that is only because they ultimately reduce down to “A. Therefore, A”. That’s a valid logical form. The conclusion certainly can’t be false if the premise is true. But of course, that argument also proves nothing, much like our author’s comments about Romans 14 prove nothing.
Our penultimate fallacy in this article is equivocation. Equivocation is a particularly sneaky fallacy. It presents an argument that looks valid and convincing, but it trades on more than one definition of the same word in order to prove anything useful. When you identify it, you find that you can’t make the argument work anymore.
Identifying this fallacy teaches us something very important. It is important that we are clear on the meanings of our terms. If we don’t define our own terms well, and stick to those definitions, and also seek to understand what our opponents’ mean by their terms, we are just going to talk past each other.
In the book, this fallacy actually appears many, many times, but here’s a perfect example:
He warned against seeking the approval of man, and that the Gospel he preaches is not from man but from God (Galatians 1:10-12). Thus, the “different gospel” being preached to the Galatians by these false teachers was not from God but from men. This is a crucial point! Obviously, the Law of God didn’t come from men; it came from God. And if the false doctrine being pushed on the Galatians was a manmade doctrine, then the false doctrine in Galatians was not the doctrine that believers ought to obey God’s Law!119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (p. 78). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition.
As a side note, do you see all the exclamation points? That’s an emotional appeal, which is another fallacy, but let’s move on to the worse one.
The author here reasons that since the “different gospel” is from men, and the Law is from God, therefore, obeying the Law is from God. The equivocation comes in where the author is trading on two concepts at the same time. He has equated his own belief that the Law applies to us the same as it did to the nation of Israel with the Law itself. It is uncontroversial that the Law came from God. So he uses that definition to get his premise through that the Law itself is not what the false teachers were pushing. Then he shifts the definition to his own theological position, that all the Law of Moses applies today just as it did before Christ, and to all people everywhere, which is the much more controversial view that he is trying to persuade people of. The fallacy lies in the fact that he never argued for this definition.
But when we see the shift, it becomes apparent how wrong this reasoning is. All believers agree God gave the Law of Moses to Moses at Sinai. It does not follow that nothing changed with Christ or that the Law applies to us just as it did before Christ. Rather than making a real argument for his conclusion, he tries to sneak his conclusion into the mere fact that God gave the Law.
And the fact is, that if he is wrong that the Law applies as he thinks it does, then it absolutely is a man-made doctrine to misapply the Law where it doesn’t belong.
That just leaves one fallacy to go over. And it is by far the worst.
You can tell a lot about a person’s integrity by how he handles disagreement. When he encounters an opposing view or argument, and its one worth engaging, how does he treat his opponent? Does he seek to accurately understand his opponent’s view, so as to answer it in a way that addresses his actual opponent? Or, does he present a weak, absurd caricature of his opponent’s view, easily destroying his own made up falsehood?
The straw man fallacy occurs when someone does the latter, presenting their opponent’s view or argument in the weakest possible light, or constructing a “straw man”, a false caricature of his opponent’s view, and then burning the straw man, showing the obvious weakness of the view he made up to be weak in the first place.
There is an opposite corollary method, called steel-manning a position, which is to present the strongest possible form of the opposing view, and argue against that. This happens, typically, when the opponent’s view is not well-known, but is being argued against by someone who does not want to fall into the straw-man fallacy, so a view that is maybe even stronger than the opponent’s actual view is presented.
The best course of action, though, if possible, is to simply represent one’s opponent accurately. If that is possible, you do that, so as not to be guilty of this fallacy.
All fallacious reasoning is wrong, but this one is especially egregious because it often amounts to slander, to a violation of the commandment not to bear false witness. This fallacy is the worst of the lot. It is the one that seeks to make one’s opponent look silly or ignorant or morally compromised. And it’s the one that seeks to make one’s own position look plausible by comparison with the false portrayal of one’s opponent.
Sadly, of all the fallacies discussed, this worst of fallacies is also the most prevalent of fallacies in the book. In a book that is supposed to be taking us to Paul to supposedly learn what he really meant, so much ink is spilled talking about “the traditional Christian” view, and how obviously silly it is.
Here are a few examples:
Therefore, removing iotas and dots from God’s Law before this event would be premature.119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (p. 3). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition.
No Christians believe anything is “removed” from God’s Law. That is not the point of debate, as has been discussed.
But what about Paul? Did he agree with Yeshua on this issue?119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (p. 6). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition.
Falsely insinuates that the author’s opponents think Paul and Jesus disagreed. There are certainly some more extreme forms of dispensationalism that may affirm this, but it is not the norm for Christians at all.
Likewise, every Christian believes that caring for the poor and being honest are true instructions found in the Bible.119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (p. 7). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition.
Notice that the disagreement is framed as though Christians must believe that other commandments are not “true instructions found in the Bible”. Again, this is not the point of disagreement. It is slanderous to say that Christians don’t believe the Law is in the Bible or true.
But of course, it is much easier to defeat a position that holds that. That is the nature of the Straw-man fallacy. It would be much more difficult to engage with something like the most common view, that sees the Law as something we still learn from, but that parts of it are part of a covenant we are not under.
Thus, we practice those things because they are true. They are part of the Bible that we claim to believe in. We believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and that it is true, so why would we not do what is true?119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (p. 7). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition.
Christians also believe the whole Bible is the word of God, but that parts of the Bible inform other parts in a way that the author disagrees with. He doesn’t present it that way, though. He would rather falsely claim that Christians just don’t believe it’s true. This is slander.
In fact, our flesh—that is, our carnal nature—is bent toward seeking truth in places other than God’s Word. This nature makes us prone to misplace our faith and inadvertently fall into error. We trust in tradition, historical standards, popular doctrine, etc., even when it may be contrary to the Word of God.119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (pp. 9-10). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition.
This throws a couple other fallacies in the mix. In addition to simply misrepresenting what Christians actually believe, in tradition instead of the Bible, it also engages in another fallacy, ad hominem: attacking the person instead of his argument, and another fallacy, poisoning the well: no one would disagree with me unless he was “carnal”. When you have to personally attack your opponents’ motives, it shows a weakness to your own arguments. It looks like your own foundation is shaky.
The record of Paul’s life in the Book of Acts shows that he could not have been teaching against the Law of God. His own actions and testimony demonstrate the oppsite(sic): he affirmed the Law’s ongoing relevance.119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (p. 26). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition.
The traditional views on Paul and the Law don’t say that Paul taught “against the Law of God”. That is a caricature. Most Christians affirm the Law’s relevance. It is still Scripture. We don’t have to agree with the Hebrew Roots view to believe that. This author isn’t concerned with whether this doesn’t describe most Christians who believe the Bible, though.
Many read Paul through the lens of the mainstream Christian doctrine they grew up with. Thus, based on a few snippets of Paul’s letters, they have come to believe that he taught against the Law of God.119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (p. 27). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition.
Here we see a little equivocation as well. Do “many” have this shallow view of Scripture, or is it just a nondescript bunch of people who don’t think the Bible is true? It is true that many disregard Scripture and just believe what they are taught. This goes for Torah observant people, too. There are people I know personally who grew up in Torah observant households who did not know their Bibles and are still drifting in the wind, doctrinally. Does that mean I should characterize everyone who claims to follow the Torah as unstable? Of course not, and this author would certainly call me on it if I did. He doesn’t seem to have the same standard for himself, though.
And I would also point out that nowhere is the author dealing with those who got their “mainstream Christian doctrine” from the Bible, and can defend that case. Just reading this book, Christians are presented as if none of them ever read a Bible.
To say that grace causes us to be free from obedience to the Law of God wouldn’t make sense.119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (p. 39). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition.
Again, Christians who love the Scriptures do not say this. Defining obedience differently than Torah observance is not equivalent to saying we are “free from obedience”. That is a straw man. Are you starting to see the dishonesty in this kind of reasoning?
Traditionally, Paul’s statement that believers are not “under the law” has been understood to mean that we are free to disregard God’s Law. However, there is a problem with this interpretation—namely, Paul affirms the ongoing authority of the Law throughout Romans. He says we uphold the Law by faith (3:31). The Law is “holy and righteous and good” (7:12), “spiritual” (7:14), and Paul “delights” in it (7:22) and “serves” it (7:25). He says that believers fulfill the Law’s righteous requirements when we walk according to the Spirit (8:4), and that it’s the carnal mind of man, not the spiritual mind, that rebels against the Law (8:7). Therefore, “not under law” simply can’t mean, “freedom to disregard the Law of God.”119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (p. 56). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition.
Interpreting Scripture differently than the Torah observer is not “disregarding” the Law of God. I know of no serious scholar, of even the most ardent dispensational stripe, who really thinks that everything in the Old Testament doesn’t really apply today, who also says we can “disregard” the Law. He may go so far as to say that it is irrelevant to obedience for Christians, which I would disagree with. But he still thinks it’s Scripture. He still thinks we can learn from it about God’s working in the world.
The 119 author isn’t rightly characterizing even the most ardent opponent of the Law’s relevance to the believer today. And there are plenty of Christians who do not think we are obligated to eat kosher who nonetheless believe that the Law is very useful to us today for multiple reasons. If you read this book, you would have no idea such people exist.
There are two issues addressed in this chapter. First, verse 5 is commonly understood to mean that the Sabbath is no longer important to God.119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (p. 69). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition.
“Commonly understood”. I would love to see the multiple citations I’m sure the author could produce to show this “common” belief. In my decades as a believer, I’ve never encountered a single person who says this. There are many beliefs about the Sabbath among Christians. Some say it is still commanded as a day of rest, but changed to Sunday. Others say it is still commanded as a weekly rest, but it’s just one day in seven, not having to be a specific day. Some say that it was a symbol that is fulfilled in Christ, and now we have our true rest in Him every day. There may be those who just don’t really think about it much, but I’ve never met one person who said anything like it’s “no longer important to God”.
But this author thinks this is the “common” understanding. If it is, surely he can produce numerous quotes of commentators and scholars and pastors and seminary professors, who all affirm the Bible is the word of God and yet speak this way about the Sabbath.
As we move on to Chapter 15, we see that Paul again affirms the value of the Scriptures, which included God’s Law.119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (p. 73). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition.
Is this getting tedious for you, too?
What a backhanded slander this statement is. “We” see that Paul affirms the value of the Scriptures, which have the Law in them.
This author thinks he’s making some kind of point. No, we all know the Law is in the Scriptures. Why even say this? Is there some Bible-believing Christian denomination that doesn’t know about the first five books of the Bible?
Of course the author doesn’t think that. He knows perfectly well that Christians believe the Law is in the Bible. He just doesn’t present Christians that way, because then he might have to deal with their more serious arguments against his position, and he isn’t prepared to do that.
Here are some common interpretations of these verses: Paul became as a Jew, which is interpreted to mean “following Torah,” to win Jews, but rightly abandoned Torah when with the Gentiles. The Jews were “under the law” (that is, the Jews believed the Torah to be authoritative), so once again, Paul acted as though he followed Torah when around Jews but did not follow the Torah around Gentiles. Instead of following Torah, Paul follows the “Law of Christ,” which is a new law for Christians. Do you see any issues with these interpretations?119 Ministries. The Pauline Paradox: What Did Paul Teach About the Law of God? (p. 100). 119 Ministries. Kindle Edition.
The prejudicial language is thick. Christians think Paul “abandoned” Torah, and those “under the law” were Jews who “believed the Torah to be authoritative”. Paul “acted as though he followed Torah” around the Jews.
For believing Christians, the Torah is a precious part of Scripture, authoritative as such, but rightly understood as applying to a certain time and place, under a certain covenant and to the people in that covenant. Saying Paul “abandoned” Torah is a caricature of Christian belief, prejudiced against it.
I’m going to stop here, though I haven’t cited every example I could have. Some people ask why I “attack” those who believe in keeping Torah. I don’t. People who want to keep Torah are free to do so. What I do is refute bad arguments for Torah observance theology that seeks to place these requirements on people in a way that Scripture does not. When you are arguing in opposition to the truth, it is inevitable that your reasoning is going to become compromised. And we have seen this in spades here.
When you look at the facts, it is not I who am on the “attack”. I’m not telling the author of this book that he is living a life of sin by not keeping a set of rules I think applies to him. I’m defending the church against an attack by people who would apply the man-made doctrine of Torah observance in Christ to the people of God. As we have seen, they have no problem misrepresenting the Christian position in order to attack it, or to change definitions in the middle of an argument, or arguing from silence, or unwarranted authority, or tossing in red herrings.
It is legitimate to ask why it is ok to argue for the truth using falsehoods and faulty arguments. Can’t the truth stand on its own?
Until they clean up their act and start caring about being truthful, 119 ministries will remain an organization to be wary of.
1 thought on “The Many Fallacies of The Pauline Paradox”
Great article, Andrew. I would add, that a covert “straw man” is present even in their trademark intro as well: “Our ministry believes that the whole Bible is true and directly applicable to our lives today” – as if any serious mainstream Christian doesn’t believe that “the whole Bible is true”.
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