Paul hijacked the Gospel?
“Paul hijacked Jesus’ message and changed it to fit his own interests”
There is no evidence from the Bible or any other reliable source that there was any major conflict between the apostolic community and Paul. Critics like to exaggerate Acts 15:39 as a major divide between Paul and Barnabas. Let us look at that verse in its context:
“Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.” (Act 15:36-41)
Paul and Barnabas had just returned from a long preaching journey together as brothers. We see from the context above that the source of disagreement was whether John Mark was a suitable traveling companion or not. It was simply not a theological disagreement.
On the contrary, there is strong evidence that they were in agreement. After Paul presented his teachings to Peter, James and John at the Jerusalem Council in AD 49, Paul was given the right hand of fellowship by these apostles. The gospel in Paul’s letters is the same gospel that is given in the letters of Peter, James and John, and the same as that of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They all agree on the same gospel, which can be summarized as below:
The Law is good but it cannot bring salvation since people cannot fully obey it, but God in his grace provided a means for salvation, atonement and reconciliation with God by sending the uniquely sinless Anointed Savior Jesus to bear our sins’ punishment on himself. This unmerited gift of salvation is received, not through religious affiliation or creed, but through becoming a disciple of Jesus, repenting of sin and learning to obey all his teaching.
This same gospel is found stated explicitly by Jesus many times throughout all the gospels: Matthew 26:28, John 3:15, Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45, John 10:9, John 14:6, John 6:44,47,48,51, John 10:11, John 10:28, John 11:25, John17:1-2, John 17:3, Luke 24:26-27, Luke 4:43, John 6:29, John 6:33,35, John 4:14, John 5:21, Matthew 18:21-35
It is the same gospel proclaimed by Peter (Acts 2:38, Acts 4:12, 1 Peter 1:18-19, 2 Peter 1:16), James (James 2:10), and John (1 John 2:1,2).
Everything about Paul’s life-story confirms that he was not meddling with the gospel. It was totally against Paul’s self-interest to preach as he did. Before becoming a follower of Jesus, Rabbi Paul was uniquely poised for a life of popularity, prestige and honor in society. He was trained at the feet of the leading rabbi Gamaliel, he was a Roman Citizen (a very rare honor for a Jew). He would have been guaranteed a life of prestige and honor if he had appeased the Jewish establishment by declaring that Jesus was no Savior but simply a reminder of the Torah. As Paul himself said bluntly, “If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).
Before becoming a believer, Paul was a zealous opponent of the church, who rounded up Jesus’ followers and had them thrown in prison (Acts 9). On the road to Damascus he had a dramatic conversion through a vision from Jesus. From a worldly perspective, his life was a ruin from this point on. The second half of his life became one of hardship and suffering as he was frequently beaten, flogged, mobbed and persecuted by the Jewish and Roman religious establishment for his teachings (2 Cor 11:23-29). He spent long years in jail and endured shipwrecks and traveling dangers, eventually dying in Rome. During this whole time he worked hard as a leatherworker to support himself, so that he wouldn’t have to ask for funding from his converts. It is incredible to suggest that such a person with such a life contorted the gospel for personal gain.