I’m Rethinking the Apostle Paul…

“Paul is hard to understand.” Like me, you probably hear this all of the time. I finally had to start rethinking Paul.  Whatever position I arrived at, I knew that it had to agree with the Apostle Peter.

Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. [15] And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, [16] as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. [17] You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. [18] But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

2 Peter 3:14-18

Peter clearly admits Paul is ‘hard to understand’, but also admits that his writings fit with ‘the other Scriptures.’ I decided that I must be missing something or not seeing Paul correctly.  I had to rethink or re frame him.

Recently we had a comment here on the blog and a portion of that comment expresses exactly what has me concerned. And they are not alone in this difficulty.

“Since we know that Paul’s teachings/letters have done huge damage in getting people off track, as they are truly stumbling blocks, then why do so many messianic pastors try to ok his teaching against Torah and try to ok it? Yeshua warned us that the false tare words would remain till the end! And they sure have. Our Abba didn’t allow mixture then and He doesn’t allow it now. We had better be careful when we use Paul’s mixed teachings. I want nothing to do with stumbling blocks!.” 

Part of my concern is that many in the Torah walk have minimized or even outright rejected Paul’s letters! This is a very dangerous thing to do! Supposedly, Paul upheld and taught the Torah. Is it possible we misunderstand Paul because we are looking through the wrong lens? 

One thing that I think we often forget when we read Paul is one of the most basic rules of Bible study. CONTEXT IS KING. We often consider the surrounding context of Scripture, but we fail to understand the circumstantial or cultural context of his audience.  So let’s consider the context of Paul and his writings. 

Who was he writing to? 

What were the specific circumstances of his audience? 

Why does it seem that he is giving instructions that are adding to or taking from Torah?

What was changing during his time? 

How does all of this apply to us today? 

Paul was primarily writing to the dispersed tribes, and he was giving them practical instruction about how they could walk out the Torah in the diaspora. Many of these folks were brand new to the faith. They did not have the advantage of being in Jerusalem with the apostles. They did not have the advantage of living under a Torah based civil government. Many of them did not even know the Torah. They did not have access to the temple, or even to the synagogue for that matter. The fact is that Paul was writing to folks about how they could practically walk out the Torah without these elements being present. He wasn’t adding to or taking from the Torah. The instructions he gave are all based in the Torah. 

Recently, Pete and I have been discussing the concept of community with a group of other believers (some are Torah pursuant and some are not), and this was how Pete described this: 

“Yeshua wasn’t starting a new religion. For the context of this discussion on community, back up to Acts 1:6 and note that the Apostles’ most burning question is ‘Lord, is it at this time you are going to restore the kingdom of Israel?’

The point is He has a kingdom, it is the restored two houses, and they have a common set of rules. Isaiah 2:1-5 is one of many examples.

The whole of Torah is based on a patriarchal theocracy with all participants holding very similar beliefs. The new body of believers in Acts were fully Jewish and keeping Torah, BUT they found themselves outside of the protection of family structure. Therefore, they had to function as a family while elders became the patriarchs.

Paul takes the same principles further for those scattered in the diaspora. He wasn’t teaching a new set of laws, rather he was giving application for how Torah should work in the absence of patriarchal support and being in the Land.

The ‘commonality of resources’ was normally under the headship of the patriarch. But in the absence of that dynamic, because believers in Yeshua were perceived to be outcasts, they had to set up a parallel system in Acts 4…”

Many of the former gentile believers would find themselves in the same predicament that the Jewish believers in Yeshua found themselves. They were likely disowned by their families as a result of their faith in Yeshua. They would be unable to fully walk out all elements of the Torah. Paul was giving them basic instructions about how to behave righteously in the circumstances they were in. The truth is many of those same conditions exist for us today. My own extended family has rejected my understanding of the Bible and has doubled down on the false doctrines of dispensationalism and replacement theology. 

So, my assertion is that Paul was not altering the Torah or starting something new. Rather, he was explaining and making it applicable in the diaspora.  Let’s take a case study:

As alluded to above, Pete and I, along with several other men, have been hashing out how a proper Biblical community looks and functions.  In the process of the discussion we began to consider the role and function of elders. As a bit of background, we all agree that patriarchy is the consistent model and plan of God as set forth in the whole of Scripture.  Even Paul, as we point out over and over in our Restoring kol Israel Series, makes headship and patriarchy very clear in 1 Corinthians 11 as well as other passages.  So when the subject of elders came up, the obvious question was, ‘where did Paul get that?’  Our presupposition is that Torah is the foundation and anything Paul says or does must be rooted in the Torah. Thus, we began to wrestle with this seeming ‘new’ concept of elders.

In Titus 1:5 we see the common perception of elders as ‘appointed’ men.  5 For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you,  (NASB)

Is Paul doing a ‘new’ thing?  In Christendom, elders are generally chosen or elected by a congregation.  The candidates may need to meet a particular set of ‘qualifications’ or doctrinal standards, but the general assumption is that based on Paul’s statement and example, elders can be ‘appointed/elected.’  But, is this a correct understanding and how does it fit Torah?

The Torah speaks of ‘elders,’ most often using, 

H2205זָקֵןzaqenelders, old, old man, ancient, aged, eldest, ancient man, senators, old women

These are the men Moses consults with when he comes to Egypt.  See Exodus 3:16 & 18. These are the aged ones, the patriarchs!  They are the heads of families who are wise and respected leaders.  Consider Exodus 12:21,

21 Then Moses called for all the elders of Israel and said to them, “]Go and take for yourselves lambs according to your families, and slay the Passover lamb.

The role, though not necessarily a formal title, of ‘elder’ was a recognized position of leadership in Israel and even in Egypt. (Genesis 50:7)  These are the heads of families.

Paul, in ‘appointing elders’ was not doing something new.  He was teaching a non-familial group of new believers how to function as a family with leadership and wise decision makers.  I am fairly confident his intent was not to create an office or position, but was simply to place men in leadership roles until the community of believers matured and produced their own wise patriarchs.  Paul was giving a way to walk out Torah to a disparate group of people who did not have the familial or social structure the tribes and clans of Judea enjoyed.

So, in our case study we find that Paul is instituting Torah and Biblical family structure among a group of assembled believers who possessed neither, and who came “one from a family and two from a town”.  Within this context many things he, along with the apostles in Jerusalem, said and taught suddenly come to light as Torah based. A quick example was the appointment of deacons to distribute food and necessities to the widows.  Again, they were not creating an ‘office’ or ‘position’. In Torah, this was transitionally a function of the Levites. The new believers, however, were rejected by family and the synagogue and didn’t have Levitical support. They needed a ‘Levitical’ structure to distribute to and care for the widows and orphans among them.

When we begin to understand Paul through the lens of teaching and instituting Torah among believers that had no family structure, then many of the things he did and taught suddenly make sense. The “framework” he was establishing should lend itself to future generations getting married and becoming that patriarchal structure we see modeled throughout the Tanakh. This is further supported by the very consistent and direct instruction he gives with regard to wives being subject to and reverencing their husbands and husbands loving their wives as Messiah loved the assembly. He is giving practical Torah based instruction about family structure that when followed will fit perfectly in the patriarchal structure that will be present in the kingdom.   

To be clear, I believe that if we understand that Paul was teaching Torah to a dispersed people who had no, or very limited, Torah knowledge or foundation and lacked the social and governmental structure for walking out Torah, then we understand some very pragmatic moves he made. He wasn’t teaching something ‘new,’ he was taking the necessary, even pragmatic, steps to direct a Greco-Roman hedonistic-minded people in a way that would lead them toward building family and community units (assemblies?) with an eye toward the restoration of kol Israel!!

We do need to test this further, but over the last year, and particularly the last six months, this blog has focused on the Restoration of kol Israel.  As we have done so, we have become increasingly aware that the next step that must be taken for us to walk out Torah in the diaspora is to coalesce into communities that function according to Biblical patriarchy.  There is only so much Torah that can be obeyed when functioning as individuals and scattered families who only gather on Shabbat or Feasts for fellowship.  Part of our solution to ‘getting there’ is written in the letters of Paul and become obvious when the right lens is applied. He taught Torah with many counter Roman=culture ideas neatly placed between the lines.  [A teaser for a current study we are doing is 1 Timothy 5:1-16. Paul is teaching a basic Torah principle to a people under Roman law that disallowed some very basic Biblical principles regarding marriage… Shocker? Maybe not.  Ponder carefully the dynamic of Roman culture, persecution, life expectancy of men v women and how Paul advises this be handled…]

I look forward to your feedback. Please tell us what you think.


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5 Responses to I’m Rethinking the Apostle Paul…

  1. lambspasture says:

    Many of Paul’s letters pull from (quote or reference) the Torah directly. I agree, he was not in opposition to the Torah or teaching something different. As you shared, Peter states that Paul is a brother and that his writings are also ‘scripture’. Peter says that people will distort Paul’s letters to their own destruction….destruction. That’s a scary thought. We know that scripture agrees with scripture and does not contradict itself so Paul was not teaching against Torah scripture. Paul’s letters are ‘hard to understand’ which is why people who are untaught (in Torah, not brought up in Torah)(are unstable) distort/misinterpret what Paul is saying. We need a good foundation in Torah to truly understand Paul. God’s word stands forever, it cannot be broken as Yeshua said. We just need to read all of God’s word to understand Paul! Thanks for the article!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Kevin McMillen says:

    It’s the misunderstanding of Paul that I have been dealing with here because Hebrew Roots folk only have an elementary understanding of God’s law. Most assume law means Sinai, it does not. God’s law has existed long before Sinai, and obedience to that law is required by our creator, not by any covenant.

    When Paul says in Gal. 3 that the law was added, he doesn’t mean that it suddenly came into existence at that point. In Gal. 3 Paul was dealing with the Promise covenant that God had made with Abraham that mankinds savior would come through his lineage.

    That Promise covenant did not have any requirements associated with it for Abraham’s kids. God was going to keep his promise no matter what. But because of Israel’s breaking of God’s laws God had to make an additional covenant making law keeping mandatory. An additional covenant because the Promise covenant couldn’t be added to because it had already been ratified. But that didn’t exclude a second covenant to go alongside the Promise covenant which would end at the completion of the Promise, that being Christ. The Mt. Sinai added covenant ended with Christ.

    Paul is not against God’s law, what he’s against is the idea that one has to come under that temperary covenant to be saved, and that law keep can save. Only Christ can save.

    Hebrew Roots lead people to the old Mt. Sinai covenant, which Paul calls Hagar in Galatians 4. It has ended, but God’s law remains.

    It’s not difficult to understand!

    Kevin McMillen


  3. Kevin McMillen says:

    Pete, you, Psalms 119 ministries, and others in the Hebrew Roots movement are complicating a simple subject. God’s sabbath is to be kept not because the fourth commandment commands it, but because it was made for man. It was a part of God’s law from the garden. The same goes for the feasts and clean/unclean. All of this emphasis on Mt. Sinai is detrimental to faith in Christ. Again, remember this is coming from someone who this coming fall will be keeping his 54th Feast of Tabernacles and has been keeping the sabbath for just as long.

    Kevin McMillen


  4. Glen Johnson says:

    Excellent article. I didn’t read all of it yet, but over the last ten years or so I have studied this issue and have found that Paul is misunderstood by so many Sunday pastors who have spread that word that what we are fighting is the traditions of men. These are interpretations and partial understandings, usually out of context, from the 20th and 21st century viewpoint. Most modern Christians are not aware of the anti-Semitism of the “early church fathers” who have passed on their prejudices through the centuries. The pastors of today seem to pass these interpretations on to their own congregations without much, if any, investigation. Therefore, many do not have an accurate understanding of the intended meaning of first century documents written by first-hand witnesses. Paul’s words are in line with the Torah when you read what he actually says and do not try to filter it through, or add, modern concepts. Paul said that the law alone will not save you, but it is obvious from the lists he gave us of those who will not enter the kingdom of heaven that those “law-breakers” will not make it. Sounds like he is in line with the Torah to me.

    Liked by 1 person

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