False Wisdom

 

 

In a passage we will examine more fully later in this article, Peter writes the following exhortation to the Saints:

Be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness.  (II Peter 3:17)

Along these lines I read the most astounding essay online recently in which the author tried exhaustively to defame and diminish the work of the Apostle Paul in the early Church.  Needless to say, I was not convinced.

The author’s accusations were lengthy.  However, even Paul’s detractors in the first century were unsuccessful, so only a slanderer or one deceived could think that such arguments might succeed.  I won’t mention the author’s name or the title of the article because it isn’t worth anyone’s time. I will briefly summarize the author’s points to offer my own rebuttals.

They included the arguments that 1.) Paul was not a real apostle because he wasn’t one of the original disciples; 2.) Paul never was taught directly by Jesus, only by “revelation”; and 3.) Paul was constantly at war with Peter and the other leaders in the Church over Gospel teachings. Most seriously, the author 4.) criticized Paul for appealing to Caesar and subsequently traveling to Rome for trial as a Roman citizen. His appeal set the Church on the road to being centered in Rome, resulting in Catholicism and the papacy. Finally, 5.) the author also lamented the fact that because so many of Paul’s writings appeared in the New Testament canon, other more important works were left out, including the Gospel of Enoch, a Gnostic text that they author evidently favors over the works of Paul.

 

Gnosticism

I won’t thoroughly analyze  in depth Gnosticism or the problems this heretical teaching brought to the early Church, but I will give a brief overview to serve as a framework for the truth.

The term gnosis essentially means “secret knowledge,” a knowledge that arises from within the self, a teaching that is similar to many religions still today.

Like Satan’s original temptation in the Garden of Eden, gnostic followers are told that they will be like gods, knowing good and evil.  In fact, the Gnostics believed that all matter is evil, so the idea that Jesus Christ is God incarnate, fully human and fully divine, is false in their view.  

The Church’s fundamental teachings are directly opposed to this idea, for Christ could only take our place as a loving substitute and receive the full judgment for the results of sin by fully taking on humanity in a sinless form.

Salvation, to the Gnostics, was only an escape from the material world back to the spiritual position from which humans had fallen; this salvation is obtained through hidden knowledge, as opposed to obedient faith in Jesus Christ.  Thus, the problem of sin is not confronted in Gnosticism necessarily, for the works of the flesh are considered irrelevant in the mystical realms of knowledge.

 

Gnosticism Refuted

Gnosticism was soundly refuted and condemned by all of the Apostles, particularly John. In his letters John denounces the teachings of the Gnostics by demonstrating the truth of the Christian Gospel and by contrasting these truths with the antichrist heresies and teachings of his day, including the idea that Jesus did not actually come in the flesh:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. (I John 4:1-3)

Peter and Paul both taught stringently against not only the errors of Gnosticism, but also the false teachings of all of the “Mystery Religions.”

From the earliest times in Christianity, these cults were problematic; they included strange and private initiation rituals, passing on secrets to the initiate about the life of the cult’s god or goddess, including how these initiates might achieve unity with that deity. This secret esoteric knowledge was unattainable by any person outside the circle of the cult, and even initiates had to progress in secret knowledge from stage to stage  to reach the heights of knowledge.

Paul specifically warns Timothy about these teachers in his letter:

O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called “knowledge”—which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith. (I Timothy 6:20-21)

Paul’s Letter to the Colossians

Paul was also directly concerned about the heresies of Gnosticism in his letter to the Colossians, not by directly confronting and refuting the Gnostic errors but by relating the truths of the Christian Gospel and the Mystery of Christ:

That is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me. (Colossians 1:28-29)

Note the inclusion of the Gentiles in God’s plans for saving all who will call upon the name of Jesus Christ.  The idea that Christ can live in us and we can experience the Hope of glory is the genuine relationship with God, not the counterfeit.

 

The Apostle Paul’s Revelations

The Apostle Paul also received revelations in the spirit, therefore, even though he had once been an unbeliever and a persecutor of the Church.  Nevertheless, he received the grace of the Lord and became a prophet and a teacher in the Church at Antioch after he had been brought there by Barnabus (Acts 11:25-26).

It is possible that the “fourteen years” mentioned by Paul in II Corinthians 12:2 refers to this time he spent in Antioch.

Boasting is necessary, though it is not profitable; but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a man was caught up to the third heaven.

At any rate, Paul recalls that he received marvelous “visions and revelations” from the Lord:

And I know how such a man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows—was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak.  (II Corinthians 12:3-4)

In his Letter to the Ephesians, Paul summarizes the mysteries he has received, specifically the “mystery of His will,” beginning in Chapter 1:

In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. (Ephesians 1:8-12)

Paul clearly writes to show that these revelations were not private for him alone, not secret knowledge, but were intended for all the saints in order to reveal the manifest wisdom of God, and in particular the Gentiles who had once been excluded from the Covenants of God.

Paul refers to this same summary later in Ephesians, or “As I wrote before in brief,” so that his readers might understand his insights into this mystery:

That by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit. the gospel. (Ephesians 3:3-6)

Here is a brief statement of Paul’s mystery:

That the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power. (Ephesians 3:6-7) 

Then Paul clearly shows that he is not taking personal pride in this revelation’s being given to him, confessing his own weaknesses:

To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly placesThis was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him. (Ephesians 3:8-12)

What is the essence of this mystery?  It was that the Gentiles were to be fellow-partakers of the promises of salvation and redemption in Christ Jesus, working through faith in the sacrifice of Christ.

Thus, Paul did not hesitate to claim that the mysteries he had received were indeed given to him by revelation from God, but he did not do so in pride. And the difference between his claims and those of the gnostics is that these mysteries were never intended to be kept secret, but instead taught to all believers as the full truth of the Gospel.

Yes, the “Mystery of Christ” was indeed a secret, kept hidden from the foundation of the world.  However, the glory of the mystery is that the “manifold wisdom of God” has now been made manifest to the Church of which Paul had been made a minister.

The full gospel of Christianity was never intended to be a “mystery religion,” in which a few supposedly holy men keep secret their revelations in order to enforce authority and control over their followers, as did the leaders of the cults in the early centuries after Christ’s resurrection, and the cult leaders since that time have continued to do the same, even today.

 

Peter’s Revelations

Significantly, these truths were given by revelation not only to Paul, but also to Peter.  This is Peter’s story:

But he [Peter] became hungry and was desiring to eat; but while they were making preparations, he fell into a trance; and he *saw the sky opened up, and an object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, and there were in it all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air. A voice came to him, “Get up, Peter, kill and eat!” But Peter said, “By no means,Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.” Again a voice came to him a second time, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.” This happened three times, and immediately the object was taken up into the sky. (Acts 10:10-16)

This vision and its fulfillment described in the next chapter in Acts, when Peter came to the house of Cornelius the Centurion, laid the foundation for the acceptance of the Gentiles into the Christian Church and affirmed the statements of Jesus when He declared that He had sheep from another flock that would be joined together into one:

I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the  Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd. (John 10:14-18)

Paul, however, was commissioned by God to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, and he took the largest responsibility for doing so, as he wrote in the passage cited above and also below:   

To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ.

And the Book of Acts reveals how this commission was worked out in Paul’s life. However, rather than opposing Paul’s revelations and teachings, Peter emphatically defends them:

But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, 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. (II Peter 3:14-18)

Don’t you just love Peter?  In this passage we see Peter the fisherman, not one to indulge in studious reading, not always able to completely follow what Paul is writing, declaring openly that Paul is sometimes hard to understand!

However, Peter knew the teachings and statements of Paul to be true, for they connected powerfully with the revelations Peter himself had on the rooftop concerning the salvation of the Gentiles if they would only believe in Christ’s salvation.

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