Have you ever heard someone claim that Paul was a deceiver? More and more Christians are coming to believe that this is the case. And while I don't believe that Paul was a deceiver, I do understand why so many come to the conclusion that he was. Furthermore, the response I've seen from the Church not only does not defend Paul as a legitimate apostle (most of them, anyways), but only goes to further prove that Paul was a deceiver in the eyes of those who believe that. In this post, we're going to prove why these responses do the opposite of what is intended in the hopes that the Church will come up with actual defense.
In order to understand why the Church's responses to this claim do nothing for Paul's defense, we need to understand why Christians are coming to this conclusion in the first place. Oh, and if you say, "no true Christian believes Paul was a deceiver", let me remind you that it's believing in Jesus that makes you a Christian, not believing in Paul. So, why do people believe Paul was a deceiver? There are two main components to this reason: (1) They believe that Paul taught against God's Law, which would make him a false teacher. And (2) they believe that Paul publicly obeyed the Law in front of the Disciples and his accusers, but secretly taught against it in his letters to the Churches. They also believe that Paul changed his story about his conversion every time he told it. I will not be refuting these false beliefs in this post, but I will be in a different post. For now, let's take a look at how the Church responds to the claim that Paul was a deceiver.
Refuting the Responses
Let's get some of the more ridiculous responses out of the way first. Some will simply state that certain people deny Paul without giving any context whatsoever (not even the context that they believe Paul was a deceiver). This denial of Paul is typically used as a reason why such people are being labeled as "false teachers". And of course nobody is going to think about asking why they deny Paul in the first place. The Church tells you what to think, not how to think. If those making this response were honest, they would tell you why they deny Paul and explain why they are wrong. Of course those who think Paul was a deceiver deny him. Why accept a false teacher?
Another, equally-ridiculous response is that those who claim Paul was a deceiver are trying to remove parts of Scripture from the Bible. Again, this response tells you what to think, not how to think. If Paul really is a deceiver, then his writings are not Scripture by the modern definition of the word and therefore never belonged in the Bible in the first place. This response does nothing to refute the claim that Paul was a deceiver.
A slightly more reasonable response is the response that those making the claim are trying to push unbiblical teachings. That is, it seems reasonable until you realize that the "proof" that these teachings are unbiblical come from Paul's writings. And if Paul was a deceiver, this his writings cannot be used to prove that the alternative teachings are unbiblical. Typically, this response is framed with the previous claim as, "they're trying to replace parts of Scripture with unbiblical teachings". Typically in a manner that implies such people are wolves. Note the connection with the previously-mentioned response.
In one of the very few articles that I was able to find which responds to this claim, their response was along the lines of "those who claim this are Hebrew Roots who believe that Christians need to keep God's Law, but Paul proves otherwise". Not only is this the genetic fallacy because they tried to discredit the claim based purely on the source of the claim, they also committed what's known as an ad-hominem attack. That is, they attack the character of those making the claim, rather than the arguments of those making the claim. The Church loves to characterize Hebrew Roots as being anti-Christian, and to label those who's teachings they don't like as "Hebrew Roots". But remember, it's whether or not one believes in Jesus that makes them a Christian or non Christian, not whether they study the Hebrew roots of Scripture. And most of those who do study the Hebrew roots of Scripture are Christian. By the way, that article went to great lengths to hide the reason that people believe Paul is a deceiver.
One response I saw to this claim is that the disciples affirmed Paul's legitimacy. But remember how I mentioned that these people believe Paul did one thing in the presence of the Disciples, but wrote something else in his letters? Because of this, those who believe Paul was a deceiver believe that Paul successfully deceived the Disciples into believing he was one of them. Note that they do not believe that these Disciples were deceivers. They just believe they were deceived. So the Disciples believing that Paul was legitimate doesn't really work.
One article I found, which was written by someone who is in the Hebrew Roots Movement invoked the slippery slope in an attempt to defend Paul. The argument went something like this: "If you believe Paul was a deceiver and demand that his writings be removed form the Bible, then you will also believe that Luke, who was Paul's companion on his journey to Rome, was also a deceiver and that his writings should also be removed from Scripture. And you will also believe that the writings of the other disciples who affirmed Paul's legitimacy should also be removed from Scripture." This response does nothing to defend Paul. And I have found absolutely no evidence to back-up this hypothetical chain of events. Or any similar hypotheticals. Remember, those who believe that Paul was a deceiver believe that the Disciples were deceived by Paul's deception. They believe the other Disciples' teachings were true and that they were trustworthy.
About half of the responses to the claim that Paul was a deceiver are simply asserting that such a teaching is a "dangerous heresy". The source of the danger is never specified or proven, leaving it up to the viewers imagination to determine what is so dangerous about such a claim (eg: loss of Salvation). And as for the "heresy" part? That isn't explained either. It's as if the ones responding to the claim know that they don't have a response and want to spend as little time trying to address the claim as possible, so they scare you into not investigating the claim or its merits. This, and the one that came before it, amounts to nothing more than fear-mongering. Not to mention heresy, as the response basically amounts to "do not test Paul" in spite of the fact that Paul said to test all things [1st Thessalonians 5:20].
There is none the less, one response which is a defense of Paul. This response is that those who believe Paul was a deceiver do not understand Paul. They quote 2nd Peter 3:16, where Peter notes that Paul is hard to understand, in Paul's defense. However, they make no attempt to bring to light what this misunderstanding is, or how their understanding is wrong. It's also the case that those who believe Paul was a deceiver agree with the Church on the issue of what Paul actually taught. So if they believe what the Church believes about Paul's teachings, then they have the same understanding of Paul as the Church. So if those who believe Paul was a deceiver misunderstand Paul, then so does the Church.