Apostle Paul, a "False Teacher"?
by / on behalf of Universal House of Justice1998/2012
1. Published version (Lights of Irfan vol. 13, 2012)
2. Original letter, as submitted by recipient (1998)Whether the Apostle Paul was a "False Teacher"
The Research Department has studied the query contained in the email of 8 December 1997 to the Bahá'í World Centre from Mr. .... Mr. ... states that "some years ago" he read a letter in The American Bahá'í which quoted from a statement of the Research Department concerning the Apostle Paul. He recalls that this statement "covered references in the Bahá'í Writings to Paul and noted that there was no support for the view that Paul was a 'false teacher'". Mr. ... is requesting a copy of this statement by the Research Department.
It seems likely to us that the letter which Mr. ... recalls reading is the one published in the "Letters" section of The American Bahá'í, 4 November 1992, volume 23, number 16, page 11. We have attached a photocopy of this page for his convenience and note that in the letter to the editor in question, the writer introduces the term "false teacher" in his introductory remarks; it does not appear in any of the material he quotes. It is also important to clarify that the writer is quoting (with some inaccuracy) a reference to the Research Department in a letter dated 25 November 1980 written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice.
Regarding Mr. ...'s request, therefore, it seems appropriate to provide him with an extract from the House of Justice's letter cited above which contains the reference to the Research Department and the full text of the discussion of Peter and Paul. For clarity, we have preceded this extract by the incoming query to which this discussion is a response. Thus:
Incoming Query from an individual:
Also I would like to know if there is any statement in the writings of Bahá'u'lláh, 'Abdu'l-Bahá or the letters of the Guardian that state that Saint Paul "usurped the station of Peter, and that Saint Paul completely "changed the basic message of Jesus Christ." This is the substance of a section of a book recently published by George Ronald Pub. Co....
Response of the Universal House of Justice
Concerning the relationship of St. Peter and St. Paul, the Research Department has found nothing in the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, 'Abdu'l-Bahá or the Guardian which states that St. Paul "usurped the station of Peter" or that he "completely changed the basic message of Christ."Of St. Peter, the beloved Guardian has written:
...let it be stated without any hesitation or equivocation that ... the primacy of Peter, the Prince of the apostles, is upheld and defended.Bahá'u'lláh Himself has testified that the original Message of Jesus has not been lost. You are undoubtedly familiar with the passage on page 89 of the Kitab-I-Iqan, where He states:
We have also heard a number of the foolish of the earth assert that the genuine text of the heavenly Gospel doth not exist amongst the Christians, that it hath ascended unto heaven. How grievously they have erred! How oblivious of the fact that such a statement imputeth the gravest injustice and tyranny to a gracious and living Providence! How could God, when once the daystar of the beauty of Jesus had disappeared from the sight of His people, and ascended unto the fourth heaven, cause His holy Book, His most great testimony amongst His creatures, to disappear also? What would be left to that people to cling to from the setting of the daystar of Jesus until the rise of the sun of the Muhammadan Dispensation?In is indisputable, however, that many erroneous teachings have entered into Christianity, obscured the pure Gospel and caused disunity and schism. This is explained by the Guardian on pages 20 and 21 of the compilation entitled The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, where he points out that
...the fundamental reason why the unity of the Church of Christ was irretrievably shattered, and its influence was in the course of time undermined, was that the Edifice which the Fathers of the Church reared after the passing of His First Apostle was an Edifice that rested in no wise upon the explicit directions of Christ Himself.It is also undeniable that St. Peter had to face many problems in his own lifetime. On page 145 of The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, the Guardian writes:
Could Peter, the admitted chief of the Apostles, or the Imam Ali, the cousin and legitimate successor of the Prophet, produce in support of the primacy with which both had been invested written and explicit affirmations from Christ and Muhammad that could have silenced those who either among their contemporaries or in a later age have repudiated their authority and, by their action, precipitated the schisms that persist until the present day?That St. Paul on occasion disputed with St. Peter is seen from St. Paul's own words in the Epistle to the Galatians, 2:11-14. It is also St. Paul who mentions early divisions among the Christians, which he endeavours to heal, in I Corinthians 1:11-13. St. Peter's attitude to St. Paul appears in II Peter 3:15-18.
In considering the relationship between St. Peter and St. Paul, one needs to bear in mind all of these various factors. High praise in accorded to them both in the Bahá'í Writings. A particularly pertinent statement by 'Abdu'l-Bahá appears on page 223 of the new publication Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá:
One's conduct must be like the conduct of Paul, and one's faith similar to that of Peter.Mr. ... may also find of interest the following extract from a letter written by the Universal House of Justice regarding whether Paul was a "Covenant-breaker":
Your letter ... concerning the question of Saint Paul as an alleged Covenant-breaker doubtless arises from the comments of those who seek to compare the evolution of early Christianity with the origins of the Bahá'í Faith.
3. Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1980.
4. (sec. 189) Haifa: Bahá'í World Centre, 1978.
5. "Physical nearness or remoteness is of no importance; the essential fact is the spiritual affinity and ideal nearness. Judas Iscariot was for a long time favored in the holy court of His Holiness Christ, yet he was entirely far and remote; while Paul, the apostle, was in close embrace with His Holiness." (Tablets of 'Abdu'l- Baha Abbas, vol. 3 (New York: Bahá'í Publishing Committee, pp. 719-20.
6. Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1941.
Letter to the editor, American Bahá'í 23:16 (Nov. 1992), p. 11The Apostle Paul
To the Editor:
It has come to my attention that there are Bahá'ís who believe that the Apostle Paul was some kind of "false teacher." This viewpoint is not correct.
'Abdu'l-Bahá referred to Paul, saying, "Paul, the Apostle, was in his early life an enemy of Christ, whilst later he became his most faithful servant." (Paris Talks, p. 147)
The Universal House of Justice, in a letter to a believer dated February 25, 1980, wrote: "The Research Department has found nothing in the writings of Bahá'u'lláh, 'Abdu'l-Bahá or the Guardian which states that St. Paul 'usurped the station of Peter' or that he 'changed the basic message of Peter' or that he 'changed the basic message of Christ.'"
It is so much easier to teach Christians without having to deny Paul. In fact, I've found that Paul is my best friend when talking with Christians. Read his writings the way they really are -- not the way people have twisted them.
Paul wrote: "We speak ... expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things which come from the Spirit of God for they are foolishness to him and he cannot understand them because they are spiritually discerned." (I Corinthians 2:14; New International version)
Paul's teachings must be spiritually discerned or spiritually interpreted.
Paul's writings on resurrection are the oldest on this topic in the New Testament. He explains that when a person dies, his/her being is like a seed. "It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body...." Speaking of Jesus' resurrection, he wrote: "the last Adam [who was Jesus] became a life-giving spirit...flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God." (I Corinthians 15; Revised Standard version)
As one can see, Paul's teachings agree with the Bahá'í view on resurrection. When his teachings are "spiritually discerned" you'll find they agree with the Bahá'í writings. Resurrection, ascension, and return as taught by Paul and Peter are identical with the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá.
Paul is a Bahá'í's friend. It's time to start treating him as such.