I learned that Jews and Christians corrupted their Scriptures and that Muslims are shocked at how fallible the prophets are according to our teachings. Apparently admitting people are sinful creatures is an insult to God's judgment in choosing people through whom to work. Who knew God could only use the almost-perfect crowd?
One thing I learned was how Muslims disliked the apostle Paul and how he was often blamed for corrupting Jesus' teachings. This was eye-opening to me in the beginning, but as I read more and talked more with Muslims I got a better understanding. Still, I have always enjoyed Paul's writings and wanted to make a short case for why I consider his teachings valid and worth reading. In fact as I was thinking of this question Sunday night before bed and jotting down a few notes, I couldn't help but be more convinced of Paul's message than Muhammad's. So if we are going to throw out someone's teachings as being opposite of Christ's, well, I'll be tossing out the latter.
Unlike Jesus whom I consider the only sinless example, Paul even as a follower of Jesus wasn't perfect. I've never seen anyone make a case for this so please don't misunderstand me and think I believe Paul isn't fallible. Like Abraham, David, John the Baptist and every other human who has ever walked on earth, I believe Paul was a sinner just like you and me. He never claimed to be perfect. In fact Paul knew all too well what a sinful man he was! I think this is why he appreciated God's grace more than most of us who don't think of ourselves as too bad as far as sin goes. None of the people in the Bible are made out to be sinless except Jesus.
We first meet Paul as Saul in the book of Acts. He was a religious Pharisee, a very type-A person - a go getter, a driven man. You can tell this by the fact that he set out to purify the religion. He didn't want any of these Jesus People to succeed in corrupting HIS religion so he even asked permission to venture to Damascus in order to round up these followers of The Way. He was known throughout this region as one zealous for his faith even to the extent of actively pursuing those who dared deviate from the Jewish way. In our terms today, I think we'd rightly consider Paul a religious terrorist. Anyone who persecutes others for the sake of their faith falls into this category and Paul was among them.
Imagine everyone's surprise when they heard of this terrorist Saul's behavior and shock of all shocks, he's now teaching about Jesus - the very one he hated so much that he went after Jesus' followers in order to stop "the Jesus movement"! Now my one Muslim friend told me that this was Paul's secret strategy to destroy Christianity from within. Paul was trying to infiltrate the Jesus movement, teach bad things so that the movement would be destroyed somehow. He was that dedicated to HIS religion that he would stoop to this. Yet when said Muslim friend read the New Testament with me several months later and read Paul's message and the life he lead fully sold out to the cause of Jesus Christ, he was forced to reconsider his stance on this. I don't think any man would undergo being beaten, stoned, thrown out of cities, brought before rulers, thrown into jail, being in shipwreck and so forth just for the sake of destroying the Jesus movement!
So what caused this great change in Saul? How could this man who persecuted followers of Jesus suddenly become so fully sold out to the cause of Christ that he simply wanted to tell everyone? Paul traveled much of the then-known world to share the good news of Jesus. Is this how someone who hates and wants to destroy Jesus acts? Also remember as a strict Jew, the oneness of God was ingrained in Paul as much as it is to any Jew or Muslim today who has a hard time associating Jesus as God. I do not think Paul could simply talk himself into something so far from his upbringing unless he was fully convinced. Indeed Paul says as much in Galatians 1 --
" 11I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. 12I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ."
Acts 9 recounts Paul's conversion. His going to Damascus on a mission to round up the followers of Christ when suddenly Jesus himself appears to question Paul. Visualize this if you want.
1Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples. He went to the high priest 2and 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. 3As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"
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."7The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything
Notice that even those with Paul heard the sound. I've never heard the testimony of those men, however, it's somewhat proof that Paul was hit by something life-changing. For sure his life changed!
Next we see Ananias ... By the way, it was a great joy for me to visit Old Damascus last year and see much about Paul and Ananias in two chapels. (See my post and pictures from Ananias chapel here. And Paul's here.)
10In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, "Ananias!"
"Yes, Lord," he answered.
11The 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. 12In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight."
13"Lord," Ananias answered, "I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. 14And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name."
15But 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. 16I will show him how much he must suffer for my name."
17Then 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." 18Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
So not only did fellow travelers hear something when Paul was confronted by Christ, here the Lord appeared to Ananias with instructions about Paul. So Paul is already more verifiable than Muhammad and his vision since NO ONE that I've heard was there to verify the "Angel Gabriel" giving revelations to Muhammad.
Here is more of the story as told by Luke in the book of Acts.
Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. 21All 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?" 22Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.
23After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him, 24but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. 25But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.26When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. 27But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. 28So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. 29He talked and debated with the Grecian Jews, but they tried to kill him.
In the second book with his name, Peter warns about false prophets yet when he concludes his letter with a mentioning of Paul he doesn't warn that Paul's message is anti-Christ. Instead he writes:
15Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. 16He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.
So Paul's changed life was enough to convince followers of the Way who had previously feared this man. It was enough to convince the disciples of Jesus once they learned that Paul was preaching fearlessly in the name of Jesus. And it was enough to convince the Jews who formerly had Paul on their side! You see Paul went from being persecutor of Christians to being one of those hated by the Jews so that they sought to kill him! I don't think any infiltrator would put up with that!
So we see Paul telling others about Jesus. Though during Jesus' life on earth Paul was NOT one of his disciples and, in fact, considered the Jesus people as heretics, Paul was contemporary with Jesus' close followers. In fact he met with them from time to time. It was known to them, it seems, that Paul was being called to take the message of Jesus to the Gentiles. Remember before Jesus went back to heaven, he instructed his followers to share the good news throughout the world. Paul took this to heart and obeyed Christ! Since I am not a Middle Easterner and my ancestors aren't Middle Eastern unless we go wayyyyyyy back, I, for one, am very very happy God sent people like Paul to share the good news of Christ with people like me!
Paul's writings have offered hope, inspiration, lessons on inner joy, peace with God, being content and I love how he loves Jesus! Paul is the ultimate in dying to self and living for Christ. He didn't get rid of Jesus' teachings, but taught them to the churches he founded. He didn't water down the message, but continued to promote feeding your hungry enemies, giving water to thirsting enemies and overcoming evil with good! None of this reverting back to the old natural self's desire to retaliate and keep the cycle of vengeance going for generation after generation. Paul instructed us that pure hearts and lives are the work of God in us...not something we can do ourselves. This goes back to my dirty mechanic illustration the other day. Paul knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that we need a Savior because we cannot clean ourselves. And salvation was a gift freely given by a God who is merciful, compassionate and the epitome of love.
Will I believe that salvation is something I can earn by being good and believing in Muhammad? Or will I believe salvation is given to me by a merciful, grace-filled loving God who is the ONLY Savior?
I am no savior. God is.
And this is Paul's message to me.