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Is Paul a Liar Or Is He Making Stuff Up?

June 21, 2009


In his letters to the Romans and Galatians Paul suggests that we can choose between following the law or having faith in Christ (and thereby attaining grace). What’s wrong with choosing to follow the law? Well, no one can follow it perfectly. So what? If you don’t follow it perfectly the penalty is death.

It turns out that we can actually fact-check this. Just flip back with me to the passages on the law in the Hebrew scriptures …

Let’s see; apparently I’m not supposed to be a false prophet. What’s the penalty for violating that one? Death. Okay, I can check that one off …

Also, I can’t sleep with another man’s fiance. If I do, the penalty is … um … yep: death.

If I curse my dear old dad, death!

If I sleep with my mother-in-law or daughter-in-law, death!

Hey, this is getting pretty easy!

I’m not supposed to sleep with a slave promised to another man. The penalty? Death! Oh … wait just a second. Actually, it says not to put me to death. I just have to hand over a ram as an offering. Hmm; maybe this is a mistake. Let me keep looking …

Uh oh; there’s a whole passage here about sin offerings. I guess in a whole bunch of cases if I sin I just have to perform certain sacrifices.

Well, shit. I thought the penalty for not following the law perfectly was death. But it turns out that’s the penalty only for some of the laws, not all of them. For some of them I just get a slap on the wrist or have to perform an offering. So what’s Paul talking about when he says that the wages of sin are death? That’s not true in all cases. It looks like he’s a liar!

Well, I suppose we might wriggle out of this criticism by suggesting that Paul wasn’t literally saying that the penalty for breaking any of the rules is death. Maybe he meant that sin is a supernatural force which brings death with it. (He does seem to employ a sort of animism when talking about the power of sin—perhaps those cognitive science theories will be of some use after all!)

However, if he’s making some sort of claim about spiritual forces, then what relation does this talk have to do with the law? When I read Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, I don’t see any talk about these sorts of spiritual forces.

Paul says that “all have sinned.” Does he mean we’ve all broken the Jewish law? Or does he mean we’re all infected with this negative spiritual contagion he calls sin or death?

If he means we’ve all broken the Jewish law in some way or another and we therefore deserve death, then he’s lying: death is not the penalty for every law.

If he means we’ve all been infected by sin, then he’s making stuff up which has nothing to do with the Jewish law.

So, which is it? Is Paul a liar or is he making stuff up?

Either way he’s distorting the Hewbrew scriptures and gets an “F” for exegesis.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. John permalink
    June 21, 2009 1:51 pm

    I always took this passage to mean that sin (which in Judaism consists of breaking the Law) leads to death (meaning you don’t go to heaven), but Jesus will forgive your sins and allow you to live forever in heaven. Earlier in that chapter Paul says, “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” Doesn’t this just mean that Christians don’t have to follow Mosaic Law because they’ve been saved by Jesus?

  2. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    June 21, 2009 2:08 pm

    Hi John! You say, “I always took this passage to mean that sin (which in Judaism consists of breaking the Law) leads to death”

    But I’m pointing out that the penalty for all sins, in fact, IS NOT death.

    But you go on to say, “death (meaning you don’t go to heaven)”

    First, if this is what he means, then he’s still distorting the Jewish law—there’s nothing about heaven in there.

    Second, I don’t think this is what he means, since Paul himself doesn’t really talk about heaven. He talks about death and the resurrection of the dead. The idea that when you die you jump to heaven or hell doesn’t seem consistent with Paul’s letter.

    You also say, “Doesn’t this just mean that Christians don’t have to follow Mosaic Law because they’ve been saved by Jesus?” Yes, I think this is right, but it doesn’t seem to have any bearing on what I said in my post, which is that Paul’s interpretation of the law seems like a sham.

  3. June 21, 2009 2:44 pm

    I always thought all that Jewlaw stuff was only for Jews.
    Us gentiles only need to follow the rules given to Noah, not even the 10 commandments.

    …notsure how that changes things though.

  4. June 22, 2009 2:32 pm

    You could of course interpret the offerings as part of the law.
    Like if I break the law and pay a fine I am at peace with the law. If I dont pay my fine, that is when I sufer the penalty.

  5. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    June 22, 2009 2:34 pm

    Yea, but Paul says the penalty is death, when it is clearly NOT in all cases.

  6. June 22, 2009 3:32 pm

    what though if you dont do any of the offerings, maybe then its death?


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