A Kairosfocus Briefing Note:




GEM 04:09:17b.1.2



I. Typical Islamist rhetorical tactics

--> A central issue: The Trinity as a coherent, biblical foundation for understanding and addressing the unity and diversity of the cosmos

II. The Key Issue: Was Paul actually a legitimate Disciple and Missionary of Jesus?

--> Table 1: Timeline of Paul's Life and Ministry

III. What was the C1 Church's Authentic, Apostolic Gospel Message?

CONCLUSION: Let John the Baptist warn us!

APPENDIX 1: On Morality vs. Salvation


Links and References | Site Home Page | Islamism | Bible's Authenticity | Discussion Forum

INTRODUCTION: Recently, the Let's Talk radio discussion programme (ZJB, Montserrat) has had a repeat caller from neighbouring Antigua who first asked about where the "vicarious atonement" could be found in the Bible, and then as soon as reference was made to Rom 3:19 - 32, immediately his focus switched to the accusation that the Apostle Paul never knew Jesus and distorted the original teachings of Jesus, creating a contradictory and absurd system of doctrines. He particularly emphasised the claim that the accounts of Paul's conversion in the Acts [9, 22, 26] were so mutually contradictory that they would be "thrown out of court."

Further investigation, and four call-ins in the next week's episode indicated that the caller was very probably an Islamic media advocate, and was perhaps trying to rebut an earlier commentary on the programme [Appendix 1 below] that responded to questions on the eternal state of sincere and moral people of various religious traditions and worldviews. In his arguments, the caller presented his claims in a fashion that seems to have been based on what the CARM site's Islam section summarises as a typical agenda of Islamic arguments against the Christian Faith. So, let us start with a resume and brief assessment of:

I. Typical Islamist Rhetorical Tactics

  1. Attack the validity of the Bible, by asserting it is full of contradictions and/or criticising the lack of original manuscripts, also claiming the Bible is false/corrupted because it contradicts the Quran. Further, there is an insistence that translations are impossible.
  2. [COMMENT: This of course first ignores the unbroken chain of custody of the NT documents that goes back to Clement of Rome (AD 96) and members ansd associates of the Johannine circle of Asian disciples: Ignatius (AD 108), Polycarp (AD 110), and Papias (AD 130), i.e. within living memory of the Apostles, and that in communities in which they had worked. Also, there is a very large number of quite early copies and citations covering the whole NT, from the period AD 100 - 400, which allows textual critics to have great confidence in the faithfulness of the consensus text to the originals. (By contrast, when Caliph Uthman "standardised" the Quran, he destroyed all other copies than the one used by Muhammad's widow, Hafsah; which was the basis for the "standard" version. Then, at her death, her copy was also destroyed. But sufficient records have survived to show that there were many quite significant variations, especially relative to the version of one of the two the leading oral reciters, Ibn Mas'ud -- who had faultlessly recited seventy Surahs from memory before Muhammad, earning his commendation. Uthman's violent treatment of this patently sincere man speaks volumes.)

    Further, the Dead Sea scroll discoveries have also shown that the OT scriptures have been transmitted with an astonishing fidelity, even when we suddenly jumped over a gap from ~ 900 AD to C2 BC. Similarly, it is well known that though the Tanakh is arranged differently (and probably better!), from the earliest discussion of the Jewish canon, the content is the same as that of the Protestant Old Testament. So, we may confidently conclude: (1) that there is no evidence of malicious distortion of the text of either the OT or the NT; (2) the Apocrypha was never recognised by the Jews as God-inspired scripture, and so Protestants are entirely in order to publish the Bible without such additional, less than inspired, writings between the same covers.

    And, while there are nuances that one has to consult the original to fully understand, the core message of the Bible is abundantly plain in any competent translation -- there is simply no foundation for the notion that biblical texts cannot be successfully and accurately translated. Further to this, in my experience, sound inductive Bible Study is usually capable of capturing most of these subtleties and nuances, through insisting on reckoning with the context (with the aid of appropriate study tools). Indeed, the basic general rule of sound interpretation is that words are inherently ambiguous, so it is context that should be consulted if one wishes to accurately capture meaning!]

  3. Attempt to set Paul against Jesus, by claiming he never met Jesus and was therefore not a legitimate disciple or apostle of Christ.
  4. [Paul met the risen, glorified Jesus directly on the Road to Damascus, as Ac 9, 22, 26 summarise, and as Luke's reliable account implies, he had earlier known the gospel teachings through arguments with Stephen, which he had been unable to overthrow and so he resorted to violence and a kangaroo court -- for, his guarding of the clothes of the stoners is indicative of his having been a key player in the prosecution. Cf. Ac 6:8 - 18 & 22:17 - 21, noting especially the subtle reference to Cilicians being in the Synagogue of the Freedmen: for, he was from Tarsus, the capital of Cilicia [Ac 22:3 etc.]. Then, in the three years in Arabia, he was tutored by the Risen Christ [Gal 1:12, 16 - 18] and he later consulted with the Jerusalem leadership [vv. 18 - 24], who agreed that his teachings were in order, cf. below and Ac 15:1 - 28. In short, Paul had revelatory visions of Christ, similar to Moses, as he notes in passing in 2 Cor 12:1 - 10. How, then, can Muslim advocates on the one hand accept that Moses and Jesus had revelations from God, also insisting that Mohammed had similar visions of the Angel Gabriel but now wish to deny that Paul could have had visionary encounters with the risen Christ, which were confirmed as true as to substance revealed by the council of the Apostles who had walked with Jesus in his days on Earth? [NB the warning in 2 Cor 11:1 - 15, esp. v. 14: "Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light" so we are warned in Gal 1:8 against trusting angels with so-called "gospels" that contradict the authentic, resurrection-anchored message of Jesus: 1 Cor 15:1 - 11. Observe too, the remarks in Ac 15:1- 35 (esp. vv 12 - 13, 22 - 26) and 1 Peter 2:3 - 12, with 2 Peter 1:12 - 3:18, esp. 3:15 - 18 to see the early church's sharply contrasting attitude to false teaching/leaders and to the teachings and work of the Apostle Paul.] And today, too, there are a great many testimonies of Muslims who meet Jesus in a revelatory dream or vision, and are led to the New Testament and the church, coming to faith in Christ as a result.]

  5. Asserting and then knocking over strawman-like misrepresentations and distortions of key Christian doctrines and their biblical and logical basis (such as the Trinity (cf. also here), or the Sonship and Deity of Christ, or, in the case in view: the blood atonement).
  6. [NB: This exploits the ignorance of many, including many Christians, regarding the basic elements and rationale for key Christian teachings, a clear violation of 1 Peter 3:15 that has cost many dearly indeed. Cf. discussion here. A sobering warning about the limitations of the human mind and its tendency to reject God's truth because of erroneous religious/theological preconceptions and/or philosophical assumptions [cf. also here here and here] is in 1 Cor 1:18 - 2:16. Paul's rebuttal is direct: God's demonstrative proof of the authenticity of Christ is in his resurrection from the dead, attested to by over 500 eyewitnesses: Ac 17:16 - 34, cf. Rom 1:1 - 4 and 10:8 - 13, with 1 Cor 15:1 - 11. It is before Christ that we shall all stand at the Judgement!]

  7. Distorting or misrepresenting key biblical texts, often by taking them out of context or insisting on using definitions of key terms that are inappropriate to the context. [Cf sound approaches to Bible study, here.]

  8. Failing to understand that the Protestant Reformation corrected many false or unwarranted traditions that had crept into the church over the centuries, through going back to the Biblical roots of the Faith.

  9. Accusing Christians of being "illogical" and insisting in the teeth of evidence to the contrary, that it is instead Islamic fact claims and arguments that are correct.
  10. [This especially relates to the concept of the Trinity. (Also cf. here, and here.) E.g. Islamic debaters typically fail to see that there is nothing logically contradictory in the Godhead being a complex unity: one Being manifested in three persons who share a common Divine Nature; for, the unity and the diversity in this statement refer to quite distinct things. Of course, too, save for the 1,400-year old uncorrected Islamic misunderstanding on this point, it hardly bears noting that Mary is not viewed as a person of the Godhead: no creed of the church has ever advocated such a claim, nor is she properly an object of worship; for in Lk 1:47, she explicitly "rejoices in God [her] Saviour." Similarly, Christians believe that Jesus claimed to be monogenes: the unique, ETERNAL -- not at all a biological -- Son of God, and that he demonstrated the truth of this claim by rising from the dead. [Jn 3:1 - 21, 5:16 - 47, Rom 1:1 - 4, Heb.1:1 - 2:18, 1 Jn 5:1 - 21.]

    Further, in the great confession of Judaism, the shema: shema yisrael, Adonai [i.e. standing for YHWH = The LORD] elohenu, Adonai echad, Deut. 6:4, the word for "one," ECHAD, is that for complex (rather than simple) unity; also, ELOHIM, the common OT Hebrew word for "God," is a plural even though its reference to YHWH is plainly singular. Indeed, in Zech 12:1 - 10, we read the LORD speaking of a day in which the Jewish people, needing deliverance, "will look on me, the one they have pierced . . ." [Cf. Isa.52:13 - 53:12.] So we can see evident foreshadowings of the NT perspective in the OT.

    But, is not "1 + 1 + 1 = 1" mathematical nonsense? To that, we must reply: "1 + 1 + 1" of what, and "1" of what else? For, we can only add "guavas" and "guavas" to give: guavas; so if three guavas are put in a bag, that does not contradict the fact that we now have just one bag of fruit: literally, three in one. In short, it is a gross logical error to try to think that the plurality and diverse properties of components contradicts the unity of a whole, which may well also be qualitatively different from its components. As St. Patrick long ago pointed out to the pagan Irish, when they asked him about the Trinity, even the shamrock/clover leaf is both one and three! (That, according to the story, is how the three-lobed green shamrock leaf became the symbol of Christian Ireland!)

    Indeed, this is mysterious, even paradoxical; but it is not at all unfamiliar. For, we are in fact now discussing one of the key subtleties of the ever so important and pervasive systems concept: wholes comprising interacting parts often have so-called emergent properties that are distinct from the particular properties of the diverse parts. So, we conclude with amazement, that "the whole is greater than the sum of the parts" and have developed [w]holistic theories of complexity to help us think about such entities.

    For instance, that most common chemical compound, dihydrogen monoxide, has a common chemical nature (H-O-H) while being manifest as (1) ice, (2) water and (3) steam; especially at its triple point, where the three states are simultaneously manifest in stable equilibrium. E.g. 2: Organisations and societies, too, have a coherence and identity that emerges from, but is distinct from the characteristics of the component people, policies, customs, history, technical devices etc. that come together to make a socio-cultural, temporal and technical whole. E.g. 3: The properties of a computer are different from those of its component electronic, mechanical and software parts. Similarly, (4) we humans are also a complex unity: body, soul and spirit. Even (5) the space-time continuum in which we live integrates several spatial and temporal dimensions into a unified whole -- up to eleven if string theory is right!

    That is, since "in [God] we live and move and have our being" [Ac 17:28] it should be no surprise that the complex unity of creation and objects in creation reflects God's own triune nature. Thus, we see that, far from being illogical, Christian, creation-based, redemptive Trinitarian Monotheism emerges as arguably the best available answer to the greatest of all philosophical problems: how can the many diverse and puzzling aspects of the world -- especially, the problem of the simultaneous existence of both good and evil -- be brought together in a coherent whole: cosmos, rather than chaos?

    The biblical basis for such a "complex unity," trinitarian, monotheistic, redemptive understanding of God:

      • starts with the Creation account, where God says, "Let us make man . . ." [Gen 1:26] and
      • continues through the OT teachings that identify the Spirit of God and THE (not just "an") Angel of Jehovah with the Godhead [e.g. Gen 18];
      • includes the Deut. 6:4 great confession's use of echad as just noted,
      • as well as the vision of the exalted Son of Man of Dan 7:13 - 14 (that is, Jesus' preference for this title has powerful implications, as he stated at his trial before the Sanhedrin: Mt 26:62 - 68, cf. Rom 1:1 - 4, Heb 1:1 - 4 and Ac 17:16 - 31);
      • then the biblical witness goes to the NT, where Jesus is identified with God as Eternal -- not physical! -- Son, the Logos, who is in very nature God but humbled himself as a man and obeyed to the point of death on the cross, being exalted through the resurrection such that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord to the glory of the Father [Phil 2:5 - 11, cf. Is 45:18 - 25!];
      • whilst, Father is emphasised in reference to God, most notably in the Disciples' prayer [often misnamed, the Lord's prayer], Matt. 6:5 - 15,as well as in Jesus' own speech and prayer; and
      • the Spirit is identified as both the Spirit of Christ [Rom 8:9] and of God [Ac 5:1 - 11], allon -- not: heteros -- paracleton: a comforter of the same nature as Jesus. [Jn 14:16]
      • Further to this, in 1 Jn 4:8 we read: "God is love" -- i.e. an inescapably relational, interactive, interpersonal concept lies at the core of the Christian understanding of God.

    Perhaps the most telling single text is the mandate for discipling the nations: new converts are to be baptised in THE NAME -- singular -- of the Father, Son and Spirit -- not Mary. [Mt 28:19 - 20, cf. 1 Cor 12:2 - 6, & 2 Cor 13:14; contrast the Quran's erroneous picture of what Christians believe, e.g. in Q 4:48, 171 & 5:116.] ]

  11. Repeatedly switching topics/lines of attack when errors are challenged, while refusing to acknowledge correction of mistakes or distortions of fact and logic.

Many of these claims and lines of debate surfaced in the radio discussions on Sept. 15 and 22 2004, and so it is profitable to address them. For this, we will focus on the lynchpin issue: the so-called "Paulianity" thesis, for this is the wedge issue used to drive apart the coherence of the NT -- not only by Muslim debaters, but also by some modernists (who originated the argument), joined by neo-pagans/new agers and radical feminists as well. [NB: If you require a more in-depth response, consult Oxford Prof. David Wenham's Paul: Follower of Jesus or Founder of Christianity? (Wm. B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan).] We therefore now turn to:

II. The Key Issue: Was Paul actually a legitimate Disciple and Missionary of Jesus?

The best way to assess this is to examine his early life, persecution, conversion, ministry and interaction with the circle of the Twelve who had accompanied Jesus during his earthly ministry. For this, we will use the primary accounts, from Luke's history of the early church, which has long since been shown by archaeological investigations starting with William Ramsey, to be very accurate, down to incidental details -- and accuracy is a habit, as are carelessness and deceit -- which gives us every reason to be highly confident in the account as an historical source. Further to this, since the account cuts off abruptly in the early 60's AD, with Paul's arrival in Rome as an appellate prisoner, we have good reason to date the account to that same time. [For, the outcome of the appeal would have been so important to the history that the only reasonable explanation for its absence is that it had not happened as yet. This cut-off may also be quite suggestive of the author's fate, given the repeated waves of deadly persecution of Christians from 64/5 AD (when Nero blamed Christians for the fire at Rome and resorted to bloody persecution to distract attention from the popular feeling he had set the fire). Cf. Ch V of Tertullian's Apology.]

Of course, there is also the question of whether the authentic text has been transmitted to us. The answer to that is simple: yes. For, in the very first cluster of subsequent writings by church fathers that has survived: Polycarp, Ignatius and Clement [dating to AD 96 - 110], 25 of the 27 NT works are already being cited as scripture, some 40 years after the date of Luke's work. That is, of course, well within living memory, and at least two of these [Polycarp and Ignatius] were associates of the last surviving Apostle, John at about the time his Gospel was composed. Clement, as a bishop of Rome, was based in the church that, thirty years before the AD 96 date of his epistles to Corinth, had witnessed the final ministry and martyrdom of Paul and Peter.

All three cite the Gospel of Luke, Part 1 of the work, and the first two cite Acts, the sequel. Since then, there has been an unbroken chain of custody, down to the invention of printing. Therefore we can confidently cite the celebrated Ancient Documents Rule as formulated by Simon Greenleaf, father of the modern jurisprudential theory of evidence:

ADR: "Every document, apparently ancient, coming from the proper repository or custody; and bearing on its face no evident marks of forgery, the law presumes to be genuine, and devolves on the opposing party the burden of proving it to be otherwise." [Testimony of the Evangelists, Section 8]

In the case of Acts, this burden has never yet been met, nor is such in prospect.

Instead, skeptical objectors invariably try to duck the force of the logic behind the ADR: it is simple common-sense that once a document is plausibly genuine, it is its detractors who must bear the burden of proof. Rather than meeting this fair challenge, they either simply decide to use a question-begging, selectivley hyper-skeptical criterion of suspicion too often found in Biblical studies (one they would never use in other contexts where they have to make a serious real-world decision: for, such hyper-skepticism would paralyse all decision and action!); or else, they simply assert away the facts, on the grounds that what Luke describes is incredible to them. In either case, that is a massive begging of the question in the teeth of Luke's demonstrated historical accuracy.

I have actually recently seen at least one case on this where such a skeptic then tried to assert that question-begging -- assuming A, as a basis for trying to prove A: symbolically, A => A; A, so A -- should not be viewed as a logical fallacy!

Note how the ADR as applied to the NT subtly avoids this fallacy:

(1) we are treating Lk, Ac, Gal etc as what they manifestly are: well-corroborated historical source documents, which we can trace back in good chain of custody to within living memory of their composition by using ordinary historiographical principles; so

(2) it is reasonable to infer their authenticity as sources on the early history of the church, in the absence of compelling proof otherwise.

(3) That is, we do not foreclose the case, but rather provisionally accept these documents as credible sources as probably valid unless and until compelling evidence is produced to the contrary. (This is how both Law and history proceed with ancient documents and other similar evidence. More generalyy, we are here using the basic principle of abduction in logic, the epistemological foundation of much of science and general learning and critical thought: inference to best explanation in light of available evidence.)

In sum, anti-supernatural bias/assertions, though quite popular today (even in many theological circles), manifestly cannot amount to the required "compelling proof" for overturning the credibility of the NT -- especially if those who wish to dismiss the NT implicitly assume or explicitly state that most difficult of all things to prove: a universal negative; to wit, that there is no God. And, in a context of assessing comparative difficulties with Islamic historical claims, to find the "best explanation," the contrasting case of Uthman and the establishing of an "authorised" uniform text of the Quran is also, sadly, quite illuminating.

So, on balance, after centuries of critical investigation and discussion, we have abundant evidence and good reason to confidently view and use the text of Luke-Acts as a credible historical document. Similarly, Paul's Epistle to the Galatians (which contains an autobiographical summary of several details) and Paul's Epistles to the Corinthians date to the early or mid-50's AD, and are independent, (and as we shall soon see, corroborating) primary sources on Paul's own account of his life.

Table 1 below therefore suffices to show that the assertion that Paulís accounts of his conversion (and Lukeís) are so contradictory that they would be thrown out of court is a gross misunderstanding of the text. For, the pattern revealed below is of complementary, diverse details given on different occasions to different audiences, rather than contradictions. (NB: For a contradiction in the timelines to be established, one would have to demonstrate that no coherent timeline is capable of harmonising the diverse details; cf. discussion at https://www.angelfire.com/pro/kairosfocus/resources/1st_Easter_Timeline.htm to see how hard it is to prove such a universal negative, absent a clear case of asserting A AND NOT-A in the same sense of A.)

For instance, in Paulís epistles he describes an "immediate" trip to Arabia, followed by a return to Damascus. Ac 9 speaks of initial preaching in the synagogues in that city, then "after many days" he goes to Jerusalem, obviously skipping over a great many details that are unimportant to Luke's account, a noted stylistic feature of that historian's sometimes exasperatingly selective work. (On many points, just a few sentences or even a word or two would have saved us so much ill-founded speculation and argument in later centuries! But, then, the NT was not written to answer our curiosity.)

TABLE 1: Paul's Early Life, Conversion and Service to Christ

AC 7 Ė 9

(Lukeís main account)

AC 22

(Paul before the Temple Crowd)

AC 26

(Paul on trial before Aggrippa)




Paul said: 3 "I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. Under Gamaliel I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you are today.

AC 26:4 "The Jews all know the way I have lived ever since I was a child, from the beginning of my life in my own country, and also in Jerusalem. 5 They have known me for a long time and can testify, if they are willing, that according to the strictest sect of our religion, I lived as a Pharisee. 6 And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our fathers that I am on trial today. 7 This is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night. O king, it is because of this hope that the Jews are accusing me. 8 Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?

GAL 1:11 I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

GAL 1:13 For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.


AC 7:59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." When he had said this, he fell asleep.

AC 8:1 And Saul was there, giving approval to his death.

On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. 2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. 3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.

AC 9:1 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3

4 I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, 5 as also the high priest and all the Council can testify. I even obtained letters from them to their brothers in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished.

AC 26:9 "I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. 11 Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them.

GAL 1:13 For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it.


3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"

AC 9:5 "Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked.

"I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," he replied. 6 "Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do."

AC 9:7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

AC 22:6 "About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. 7 I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, `Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?'

AC 22:8 " `Who are you, Lord?' I asked.

" `I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,' he replied. 9 My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me.

AC 22:10 " `What shall I do, Lord?' I asked.

" `Get up,' the Lord said, `and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.' 11 My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me.

AC 26:12 "On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. 13 About noon, O king, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. 14 We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, `Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.'

AC 26:15 "Then I asked, `Who are you, Lord?' " `I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,' the Lord replied. 16 `Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. 17 I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them 18 to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.'

15 But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus.


AC 9:10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, "Ananias!"

"Yes, Lord," he answered.

AC 9:11 The Lord told him, "Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight."

AC 9:13 "Lord," Ananias answered, "I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name."

AC 9:15 But the Lord said to Ananias, "Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name."

AC 9:17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord--Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here--has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit." 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. 21 All those who heard him were astonished and asked, "Isn't he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn't he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?" 22 Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.

AC 22:12 "A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there. 13 He stood beside me and said, `Brother Saul, receive your sight!' And at that very moment I was able to see him.

AC 22:14 "Then he said: `The God of our fathers has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. 15 You will be his witness to all men of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.'

AC 22:17 "When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell into a trance 18 and saw the Lord speaking. `Quick!' he said to me. `Leave Jerusalem immediately, because they will not accept your testimony about me.'

AC 22:19 " `Lord,' I replied, `these men know that I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you. 20 And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.'

AC 22:21 "Then the Lord said to me, `Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.' "

AC 26:19 "So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. 20 First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds. 21 That is why the Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me. 22 But I have had God's help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen-- 23 that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles."

AC 26:24 At this point Festus interrupted Paul's defense. "You are out of your mind, Paul!" he shouted. "Your great learning is driving you insane."

AC 26:25 "I am not insane, most excellent Festus," Paul replied. "What I am saying is true and reasonable. 26 The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do."

AC 26:28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, "Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?"

AC 26:29 Paul replied, "Short time or long--I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains."

Gal 1:15 But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus.

2CO 11:30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying. 32 In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. 33 But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands.

GAL 1:18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 I saw none of the other apostles--only James, the Lord's brother. 20 I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie. 21 Later I went to Syria and Cilicia. 22 I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only heard the report: "The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy." 24 And they praised God because of me.

GAL 2:1 Fourteen years later I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. 2 I went in response to a revelation and set before them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. But I did this privately to those who seemed to be leaders, for fear that I was running or had run my race in vain. 3 Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. 4 This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. 5 We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you.

GAL 2:6 As for those who seemed to be important--whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance--those men added nothing to my message. 7 On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews. 8 For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles. 9 James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. [Cf. Ac 15:1 - 28] They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews. 10 All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

Clearly, the above sums up a coherent narative, with each account providing complementary details. The claim "contradictions" simply evaporates in light of a careful inspection of the above direct comparison. Those who therefore wish to insist on accusing the text of such contradictions have plainly failed to do due diligence before levelling such a grave charge. And, given the eternal issues at stake, such carelessness is grossly culpable.

Just one point remains: what was that message which Paul preached, which was recognised by the core of the circle of the twelve and the Jerusalem leadership as a whole as substasntially the same as the message of the Jerusalem church founded by those who had known Jesus in his years of palestinian ministry? This requires that we identify:

III. What was the C1 Church's Authentic, Apostolic Gospel Message?

1 Cor 15 answers this question, in words that summarise the message of the church in the 30's AD -- Paul, here plainly indicates he is handing on an official testimony as he had received it (probably, first heard from Stephen's mouth as Paul and other champions of Judaism debated with him, cf. Ac 6:8 - 10], then again in Damascus, and as confirmed by the Apostles themselves when he went to Jerusalem three years after his conversion):

1CO 15:1 Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 1CO 15:3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance:

(a) that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures [Cf. Isaiah 52:12 - 53:12],

(b) 4 that he was buried,

(c) that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,

(d) 5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.

(e) 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.

7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles,

(g) 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

1CO 15:9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them--yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed. [NB: the list a - g is broken out for emphasis.]

Peter's comments - those of the leading member of the twelve -- are well-aligned with Paul's teaching:

1PE 1:17 Since you call on a Father who judges each man's work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. 18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. [cf Rom 3:19 - 31, Jn 1:29 - 34, Ac 4:9 - 12, Heb 9:1 - 10:18 etc.] 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. 1PE 1:22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. 23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.

And, of course, the Apostle John's summary of Jesus' own teaching on salvation is clear:

'. . . JN 3:13No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven--the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. JN 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God." '

CONCLUSION: Finally, let the Forerunner of the Christ speak. For, John the Baptist sums up the case, with his own final testimony, in sobering words that we ignore at our peril:

JN 3:31 "The one who comes from above [Jesus the Christ] is above all; the one who is from the earth [John the Baptist] belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. 32 He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. 33 The man who has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. 34 For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. 35 The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him."


LT # 14 Current Interest Commentary:

On Morality vs. Salvation

GEM 04:08:29a

Recently, in the Let's Talk session on Godliness, Morality and Law, Bro Ed Gough made a remark that touched a raw nerve: morality will keep you out of jail, but not out of hell. This has prompted several calls, and much discussion, more or less on: How will God judge sincere and moral Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sun-worshippers,-- or even "Christians"-- etc.? [That is: Aren't they " saved"?]

This question is not a simple one, and a full theological and philosophical answer would need a big book. But, since it goes to the heart of why the gospel of Jesus the Christ of God is good news for the whole world, we need to highlight the key issues and summarise what a responsible, biblical, balanced Christian answer looks like.

So, let us now consider:

1. The post-modern context: many people today believe that "the unpardonable sin" is to think or say that sincere people who hold different opinions can be well-intentioned, but sadly wrong. However, just consider the claim: "error exists." If one tries to reject it, s/he would in effect say: it is an error to think that error exists. That is, "error exists" is undeniably true. So, since error exists, truth obviously exists; even though we may be mistaken about it. Let us therefore seek and serve the truth, wherever it leads. (NB: Jesus warns us that "Light has come . . . but men loved darkness . . . because their deeds are evil . . . But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen that what he has done has been done through God." [Jn. 3:19 - 21.])

2. The Fact of Diversity: There have always been a great many religious traditions, but these are based on worldviews that are so sharply diverse that they cannot all be correct. For instance, the C1 NT asserts that Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God suffered and died on a cross as Redeemer; the C7 Quran - without historical evidence - (1) baldly asserts that Jesus was not crucified, (2) infers that Christians are idolaters who "promoted" the merely human prophet Jesus and his mother Mary as companion "gods" alongside Allah, and (3) implies that church leaders deliberately corrupted the text and message of the Bible. Zen Buddhism is non-theistic, and aims to give us meditative techniques and disciplines that quieten our inner lives, rather than addressing sin and the consequent conflicts with God and one another as the roots of inner turmoil and outer chaos. Hinduism ranges from polytheistic worship at the folk level to pantheistic, idealistic monism at the philosophical level. Atheists assert that they know enough to know there is no God - even though it is logically impossible for a finite, fallible mind to prove a universal negative claim. All may be wrong, but all cannot be right - the contradictions are far too deep for that.

3. The Myth of the "Moral" Man: Morality deals with the world of creatures who are free to choose and act in light of good and evil, right and wrong. And, conscience within points, like a compass-needle, to our holy, just, loving Creator, who has a public standard of morality for the world: the Man he revealed to all men by raising him from the dead. [Ac 17:16 - 34, cf. Rom 1:16 - 32 & 1 Cor 15:1 - 20.] But, we ALL struggle when it comes to right and wrong - Christian or Atheist, Muslim or Hindu, Buddhist or Jew. So, when we read the Sermon on the Mount [Mt 5 - 7] we find in it not only wonderful inspiration but also, sadly, a stunning indictment of our deceitful, desperately wicked hearts [Jer 17:5 - 18]. In short, there are no truly moral people, just struggling sinners.

4. Light, Darkness and Judgement: In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said: "The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is your darkness." [Matt 6:22 - 23, cf. Eph 4:17 - 19.] In short, we can be deceived: thinking we are "enlightened" but in fact we have only been "en-darkened." Also, even though God will not punish us for mere ignorance, if he judges us by the light we do have [Rom 2:1 - 16], in fact we too often reject what we know is true and right (but difficult) [2:6 - 11]. For, instead, we willfully cling to what is false and wrong, but enticing [3:9 - 23]. Then, we point an accusing finger at others [2:1 - 3]. So, if God were to judge us by the moral standards we set for other people when we quarrel, our self-serving hypocrisy would shame and silence us!

That is why Paul concludes that there are no truly moral people: "Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin . . . . whatever the [written] law [of God] says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God . . . through the law we become conscious of sin." [Rom 3:9, 19 - 20.] Thus, we are all guilty as charged, so our only real hope is to throw ourselves at the feet of our Judge and plead for his forgiveness and mercy.

For, whatever tradition we have: "Christian," "Muslim," "Buddhist," "Hindu," "Atheist" etc., if we try to rely on our "morality," or selfishly reject the truth and the right because we want to cling to darkness, we will simply condemn ourselves. [Jn 3:19 - 21, 1 Jn 1:5 - 10.] So, it is only if we (1) accept whatever degree of true light we have: by nature, reason, tradition, conscience or the Word of God, and then (2) admit our shameful hypocrisy and guilt, (3) crying out for mercy from God; that, (4) we can be saved. Of course, God, our loving Father, delights to give us his mercy!

Finally, we can now also clearly see the saving power and the gracious, loving blessing that are in the gospel: it reveals the True Light of God in His full glory [Heb1:1 - 4],which dispels darkness and deception so that we can accept Jesus, God's Final Revelation. So, those who call on God through Jesus find deliverance from sin through that One Name under heaven that brings salvation to all who call upon it. [Ac 4:9 - 12, cf. Jn 1:1 - 14, 14:6.]