Was Paul a faithful follower of Jesus, or the inventor of a new religion? This may seem like a provocative question as it’s taken for granted that following one automatically means you are following the other. As we are going to analyse, this couldn’t be further from the truth as they both taught very different things on critical aspects of theology.
The divergent beliefs of Paul and Jesus become apparent when one compares their attitudes toward the Law of Moses. At the time of Jesus, total obedience to the Law of Moses was God’s covenant with the children of Israel. Jesus obeyed the Law and taught others to do the same throughout his ministry:
Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. [Matthew 5:19-20]
We can see that Jesus links righteousness and success in the hereafter with total obedience to the Law. When we turn to Paul’s own writings, a troubling picture emerges. Paul preached a radically different message to that of Jesus. Paul promoted a message of righteousness apart from the Law:
Know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law because by the works of the law no one will be justified. [Galatians 2:16]
Paul even went so far as to say some very negative things about the Law. Here he calls it a curse:
For as many as are of the works of the law are under a curse. For it is written, “Cursed is everyone who doesn’t continue in all things that are written in the book of the law, to do them.
Such negativity is at odds with what Jesus taught about how obedience to the Law makes one great in the kingdom of heaven, as well as what the Old Testament teaches about obedience to the Law bringing God’s blessing and prosperity. Christianity teaches that Paul was the culmination of God’s plan of salvation for mankind. However, such a belief is at odds with what Jesus taught in the New Testament. We find that Jesus spoke of one who God would send after him:
But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” [John 14:26]
Christians may be tempted to associate the mention of the Holy Spirit in relation to Paul. However, Jesus says that this Holy Spirit would “remind you of everything I have said” This rules Paul out as he did the exact opposite by going against the teachings of Jesus with regards to the Mosaic Law.
Muslims understand the Holy Spirit to be a reference to the angel Gabriel. The angel Gabriel is described in the Qur’an as the Spirit who brought the revelation of the Qur’an from God down to Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him: “The Holy Spirit has brought it [the Qur’an] down from your Lord in truth to make firm those who believe and as guidance and good tidings to the Muslims.” [16:102] This prophecy by Jesus perfectly describes the revelation of the Qur’an, as the Qur’an restores the original message of Jesus, literally reminding mankind of his true teachings.
The Qur’an sheds more light on the prophecy of Jesus:
Those who follow the Messenger, the unlettered prophet, whom they find written in what they have of the Torah and the Gospel… [7:157]
We can see that the Qur’an makes the astonishing claim that Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him, himself is mentioned in the Scriptures of the Jews and Christians. When we examine the Old Testament we find that there are indeed numerous prophecies that foretell the coming of an Arabian Prophet. The Old Testament Book of Isaiah, in particular, provides a very detailed prophecy which foretells the coming of a special Servant of God, an Arabian Prophet who can be none other than Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him.
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