By Femi Aribisala
Dogmatic Christian support for Paul is just a lot of hot air. It is sound and fury signifying nothing.
Paul says: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God.” (2 Timothy 3:16). This might well be true, but that does not make all scripture the word of God. If God inspires me to write a letter, it would not make my letter God’s letter. The letter would still be mine.
Paul’s word is the word of Paul. It should not be confused for the word of God. The writer of 2 Peter says Paul wrote: “according to the wisdom given to him.” (2 Peter 3:15). That means Paul’s word is the word of Paul.
Nevertheless, many Christians insist the word of Paul is the word of God. If so, why do Christians routinely disobey Paul? Do they see this as disobeying God?
For example, Paul says: “When God’s people meet in church, the women must not be allowed to speak. They must keep quiet and listen.” (1 Corinthians 14:33-34). I know no church where this injunction is obeyed. I know no Christian woman who complies with it. Some claim it only applies to the unruly women of the Corinthian church, making it time-bound. But if that is so, then it cannot be the word of God.
The word of God is not time-bound. God does not change. (Malachi 3:6). Everything of God is from everlasting to everlasting. (Psalm 90:2). Jesus says: “The heaven and the earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” (Matthew 24:35). Since Paul’s command about women being silent has passed away, that should tell us it cannot be the word of God.
Paul says: “I would like for women to wear modest and sensible clothes. They should not have fancy hairdos, or wear expensive clothes, or put on jewelry made of gold or pearls.” (1 Timothy 2:9). If the word of Paul is the word of God, why do Christian women nevertheless have fancy hairdos, wear expensive clothes and put on gold jewelry; even to church?
Paul says to Christian men: “Those who have wives should be as though they had none.” (1 Corinthians 7:29). If this is the word of God, why do married Christian men disregard this instruction? Why are they not living as though they are unmarried? It must be because they know that God, who created marriage, would not then contradict himself by asking them to live as though they were unmarried.
In short, dogmatic Christian support for Paul is just a lot of hot air. Passionate Christian defenders of Paul feel no need whatsoever to obey him. Moreover, they defend him with ungodliness. They rain abuses and curses on anyone who questions Paul’s word; ignoring James’ counsel that: “the wrath of man does not work out the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20). They ignore God who invites us to use our brains, saying: “Come now, let us reason together.” (Isaiah 1:18).
One of Paul’s most outrageous statements is referred to as “the divine right of kings.” He says to Christians: “Obey the rulers who have authority over you. Only God can give authority to anyone, and he puts these rulers in their places of power. People who oppose the authorities are opposing what God has done, and they will be punished.” (Romans 13:1-2).
How can this be the word of God? It contradicts much of what we know of God from the scriptures. If opposition to any ruling authority is tantamount to opposing God, where then can we situate the liberation theology that is at the heart of God’s redemption of Israel from Egypt? If all authorities are of God, why would God send Moses to Pharaoh saying: “Let my people go?” (Exodus 5:1).
If all ruling authorities must be obeyed, why did God approve and bless the midwives who disobeyed Pharaoh’s injunction to kill male Hebrew children at birth? (Exodus 1:15-20). God does not bless those who disobey him. Nebuchadnezzar required Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to bow down to a golden image and they refused. God did not reprove them. Instead, he saved them from the penalty of Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace.
The same goes for Daniel who wilfully disobeyed the injunction that he should pray to no one but the king for thirty days. God protected Daniel in his disobedience from the penalty of the mouth of lions. When the Sanhedrin ordered the Disciples never to teach again in Jesus’ name, they replied: “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29). They did not submit to the authority of the Sanhedrin. Neither did they regard the will of the Sanhedrin as the will of God.
Earthly kings and rulers cannot be expected to promote the will of God. Jesus says the prince of this world is the devil. (John 14:30). Since this is so, Paul is wrong in insisting governing authorities are established by God. On the contrary, they are established by the devil. When the devil declared to Jesus that he is the one who establishes governing authorities in the world, Jesus did not contradict him.
“Then the devil, taking (Jesus) up on a high mountain, showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to him, “All this authority I will give you, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore, if you will worship before me, all will be yours.” (Luke 4:5-7).
Paul goes on to say: “Rulers are a threat to evil people, not to good people. There is no need to be afraid of the authorities. Just do right, and they will praise you for it. After all, they are God’s servants, and it is their duty to help you.” (Romans 13:3-4).
This is not only false, it is hogwash. Was Adolf Hitler only a terror to evil people? No! He killed millions of innocent Jews. Was Joseph Stalin or Saddam Hussein only a terror to evil people? No! They were terrors to both the good and the evil. These tyrants were only a help to themselves. They did not help the people of God.
Paul says: God’s ministers “don’t bear the sword in vain.” (Romans 13:4). But according to Jesus, God’s ministers don’t bear arms at all. (Matthew 26:52). God’s ministers don’t even fight. (John 18:36). Neither do they kill. It is the devil who steals, kills and destroys. (John 10:10). God’s ministers love even their enemies. (Matthew 5:44-45).
Paul’s reactionary scripture provides the basis for Christian support for tyrants and tyranny, including Christian support of Hitler’s Germany. It also provides Christian support for wars and killings, such as American evangelical support for George Bush’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
It is not improbable that someone other than Paul inserted these verses into Paul’s writing. By the time he goes on to say we should pay our taxes because rulers are “God’s ministers” (Romans 13:6), it becomes apparent that whoever this might be must be in cahoots with the Roman government.
Curiously, when arrested, Paul appealed to Caesar. Though taken to Rome as a prisoner, he ended up in his own Roman rented house: “with all freedom, and without hindrance.” (Acts 28:30-31).