It has been over two months since my last installment in my series in response to Ali Ataie’s attack on the credibility of the Apostle Paul, found here. My last post can be found here. I played with the idea of moving to the video format for the continuation of these replies, but given that the original article is text only, I did not see that as a feasible option.
To this point we have documented numerous examples of eisegesis on the part of Mr. Ataie. We continue with his discussion of Paul:
Paul does eventually travel to the Holy Land but only meets with Cephas and James, the Lord’s brother. Paul makes it very evident that the Jerusalem leadership not in any way influences his teaching and feels strong enough about his convictions to take an oath: What I write is plain truth; before God I am not lying (Galatians 1:16-20).
Actually, we are left wondering how Mr. Ataie has determined that Paul only meets Cephas and James: surely he met all of the brethren who were still in Jerusalem at the moment. Obviously, there is a major leap involved in going from “these two men were named” to “these two men are the onlyof the leaders Paul met. Next, the substance of Paul’s concern to demonstrate his independence from the Jerusalem leaders was in reference to the heart of the gospel itself, not “his teaching” in general. He frankly admits that he stands with all the rest of us as a recipient of much of his knowledge of the teachings of Jesus Himself, obviously, but his point is to insist that the heart of His gospel is directly revelatory in nature.
After his meeting with Peter, Paul goes north into Syria and does not return to Jerusalem until fourteen years later accompanied by Titus and Barnabas for the church conference described in Acts 15.
There are, of course, many discussions in scholarly literature concerning how to collate all the information available from Acts and the Epistles to create a chronology of Paul’s life, not just this one outline offered by Ataie.
Luke gives us a description of Paul’s early career in Acts that is significantly different with respect to the extent of Paul’s relationship to the Jerusalem apostles. According to Luke, shortly after his conversion Paul travels to Jerusalem to try to join the body of disciples but is rejected as a deceiver. It was only after the careful convincing of Barnabas that the disciples accepted Paul as a member of the church (Acts 9:27).
Once again we are left wondering about Mr. Ataie’s cavalier reading of the biblical text. Paul was not “rejected as a deceiver.” In light of Ataie’s grossly unfair attack so far, this is obviously just another attempt to garner evidence for his accusations. The disciples knew Saul of Tarsus, and they knew he had been active in seeking their deaths. It was natural for them to avoid him, as they would be avoiding anyone in Saul’s party as well. The phraseology, καὶ πάντες ἐφοβοῦντο αὐτὸν μὴ πιστεύοντες ὅτι ἐστὶν μαθητής indicates they feared him because they felt his claim to being a disciple was a ruse to bring them out and expose them to arrest. That is rather obvious.
Surely Paul could have fabricated his so-called vision of Jesus and it was very apparent that the disciples had serious reservations about his sincerity.
How does this follow? How is there any logical connection whatsoever between the perfectly reasonable concern the disciples had that a man who had been instrumental in imprisoning Christians, and even putting some to death might be seeking to trick them, and the assertion of dishonesty on Paul’s part regarding his encounter with the risen Jesus? Ataie makes the connection, but upon what basis? It is obvious the other disciples did accept Paul’s claims, and this is the problem for Ataie’s position, for modern Islam has to paint Paul as a usurper, yet, there simply is no basis for this in the Scriptures.
Interestingly, scholars debate whether or not Paul would have ever been known to the world at large if it wasn’t for the vouching of Barnabas. However Paul unabashedly mentions nothing of Baranabas’ pledge for him but rather credits the three pillars for accepting as legitimate not only himself, but Barnabas as well!
Note Ataie’s deep and unfair bias: “unabashedly mentions nothing”? What is that supposed to mean? Paul and Barnabas were imprisoned together, preached together, and yet Ataie can conclude that Paul neverthanked him, never told others about his role? This is surely absurd. It is most likely that Luke himself knew of Barnabas’ action from Paul, resulting in its recording in Acts! And even when Barnabas fell into error in the matter in Antioch, Paul can write, ὥστε καὶ Βαρναβᾶς συναπήχθη αὐτῶν τῇ ὑποκρίσει, “so that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.” That little “even” points to Paul’s recognition of how unusual it was that someone with as tender a heart as Barnabas’ could be drawn away by the power of tradition so as to separate from the Gentile brethren. Barnabas’ action in Jerusalem is clearly behind this amazement on Paul’s part. But Ataie’s prejudice against Paul knows no bounds:
He tells us in Galatians 2:9: And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, PERCEIVED THE GRACE THAT WAS GIVEN UNTO ME, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we [should go] unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision.
Is it Ataie’s assertion that Paul is here even making reference to that initial encounter and how it was he was introduced to the believers in Jerusalem? This is absurd! He is so intent upon attacking Paul’s character that he mixes contexts and makes connections where none exist. I have listened as Ali Ataie has made an appeal for a fair treatment of Muhammad in his historical context, yet, Ataie clearly is unwilling to do the same for Paul.
Luke also tells us that Paul agrees with James’ notion that Gentile Christians should follow at least four Torah prohibitions: that they keep themselves from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from strangled, and from fornication.
Apparently James was concerned about what the thousands of zealous Jewish Christians might perceive of Paul if he spoke out against the observance of the Law. James orders Paul to Go with them to the Temple and join them in the purification ceremony, and pay for them to have their heads shaved. Then everyone will know that the RUMORS are all false and that you yourself OBSERVE THE JEWISH LAWS(New Living Translation, Acts 21:24).
Although Paul submits to James’ requirements in the book of Acts, he vehemently opposes all Torah restrictions in Galatians, calling the Law bondage, a curse and nailed to the cross.
Given the amount of confusion on the part of many in evangelicalism on the issue of the relationship of the law and faith, we can at least understand Ataie’s confusion as well, though, in the context of a non-stop attack on the character of Paul, we cannot excuse it. If Ataie were to even strive for a modicum of fairness, he would quote Paul’s own words, “νόμον οὖν καταργοῦμεν διὰ τῆς πίστεως; μὴ γένοιτο· ἀλλὰ νόμον ἱστάνομεν,” “Do we then nullify the law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we uphold the law” (Rom. 3:31). Obviously, the issue has to do with the nature of the law and its purposes, and Ataie is confusing categories just to score cheap debating points against the Apostle. But, despite the pages and pages of explanation found in Paul’s own epistles, and the shelves of volumes written by scholars on the same subject down through the ages, Ataie is intent upon pressing home his crusade against Paul:
Thus Paul’s hypocrisy is manifested in his apparent allegiance to the Mosaic laws by action and subsequent renunciation of them by words.
I can honestly before God say that I have exercised a thousand times the restraint and shown far more fairness in my study of Muhammad than Ataie has in his vociferous attacks upon a man clearly respected by the earliest Muslims, the Apostle Paul.