Understanding Paul: Addressing Criticisms And Approaching His Letters With Clarity

‘…Our good brother Paul, who was given much wisdom in these matters… Some things Paul writes are difficult to understand. Irresponsible people who don’t know what they are talking about twist them every which way. They do it to the rest of the scriptures, too, destroying themselves as they do it.’ 2 Pet 3:15-16 message (emphasis mine)

In today’s world, it’s not uncommon to see debates among Christians, including Christian leaders (televangelist and social media pastors) about the writings of Paul. Throughout church history, few individuals have had as much influence or sparked as much controversy as the apostle Paul. Since the early days of the Church up to now, Paul’s words have been both highly regarded and heavily criticized, leading to discussions and disagreements within the community of believers. However, upon closer examination of Paul’s teachings, one can uncover not just why there are criticisms but also appreciate the profound impact his ideas have had on Christian theology.

In this article, we have carved out five points why it appears so common to find people attack the Pauline Epistles and finally we proffer sound ways by which Christians should approach the Bible.


First and foremost, Paul’s emphasis on grace as the cornerstone of salvation has often been perceived as radical, challenging conventional notions of merit and righteousness. Paul’s theological teachings, particularly his emphasis on grace and justification by faith, have often been perceived as radical departures from traditional Jewish and even early Christian beliefs. His rejection of strict adherence to the Mosaic law, especially concerning circumcision, provoked significant controversy among Jewish Christians (Galatians 2:11-16). In Romans 6:1-2, Paul confronts the accusation that his message of grace encourages sin: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” (Romans 6:1-2, KJV). This passage highlights the tension between grace and obedience, illustrating Paul’s commitment to upholding both the free gift of salvation and the call to holy living.


Throughout his epistles, Paul addresses a myriad of contentious issues, from gender roles to marital ethics. In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul delves into the cultural practice of head coverings, prompting reflection on the nature of authority and submission within the Church. He writes, “But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God” (1 Corinthians 11:3, KJV). While these teachings may provoke discomfort or disagreement, they underscore Paul’s commitment to applying Christian principles to the complexities of everyday life. The Church of Pentecost has had it’s fair share of this contentious issue when the communique on head covering was released in 2010. All these point to the fact that, Apostle Paul really loved handling the ‘controversial’ issues.


Paul’s apostolic authority has always been an issue for him. Not being among the original twelve disciples, has been a point of contention among skeptics and critics.

In 1 Corinthians, amidst addressing various issues within the Corinthian church, Paul defends his apostleship, appealing to his encounter with the risen Christ as the foundation of his authority. He emphasizes his role in their spiritual formation, stating, “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord? Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 9:1-2, NIV). Similarly, in 2 Corinthians, Paul confronts criticisms of his apostolic authority more directly. He expresses his concern for the Corinthian believers, asserting his role as their spiritual guardian: “I hope you will put up with me in a little foolishness. Yes, please put up with me! I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy… But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:1-3, NIV). Here, Paul defends his authority as a messenger of Christ, entrusted with safeguarding the purity of the gospel among them. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul forcefully asserts the divine origin of his apostleship: “Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead” (Galatians 1:1, NIV). This uncompromising declaration underscores the authority with which Paul speaks and the divine commission under which he operates.

These examples highlight Paul’s need to consistently affirm his apostolic authority throughout his epistles, anchoring his ministry in the divine calling and commissioning he received from Christ. Despite facing opposition and criticism, Paul remains steadfast in his conviction of being chosen by God to proclaim the gospel and shepherd the early Christian communities entrusted to his care.


The Bible indeed preserves the unique voice and personality of each author, including Paul. His distinct style and rhetoric is evident throughout his epistles, reflecting his passionate commitment to spreading the gospel and shepherding the early Christian communities.

Paul’s strong personality shines through in his writings, characterized by boldness, fervor, and occasionally, sharp rebuke. For example, in Galatians 5:12, Paul’s impassioned response to those advocating circumcision demonstrates his direct and forceful communication style: “As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!” (NIV). This vivid expression of frustration and disdain reveals Paul’s unapologetic nature and his willingness to confront false teachings boldly.

Moreover, Paul’s letters are marked by personal narratives, emotional outpourings, and heartfelt prayers, showcasing the depth of his relationship with both God and the recipients of his letters. In 2 Corinthians, Paul’s vulnerability and transparency are palpable as he shares his struggles, doubts, and triumphs in ministry. For instance, in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, Paul describes his “thorn in the flesh” and his plea to the Lord for deliverance, highlighting his reliance on God’s grace and strength in weakness.

This aspect of Paul’s personality is a testament to the authenticity of the Bible as a collection of diverse voices inspired by God. It underscores the beauty of God’s sovereignty in using imperfect human vessels to convey His eternal truths. The Bible is not a product of human invention or manipulation but a divine revelation, where God works through the distinct personalities, experiences, and writing styles of its authors to communicate His message to humanity.

In essence, Paul’s personal style and rhetoric exemplify the richness and complexity of the biblical text, inviting readers to engage with the living Word of God in all its depth and diversity. Through the lens of Paul’s writings, we glimpse not only the workings of God’s redemptive plan but also the intricate interplay between divine inspiration and human expression, reaffirming the profound truth that “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16)


Paul’s letters have sometimes been subject to misinterpretation and selective reading, leading to distortions of his intended message as rightly posited by Apostle Peter ‘Some things Paul writes are difficult to understand’.  For instance, passages such as Romans 7:7-25, where Paul discusses the struggle with sin, have been misconstrued to suggest that Paul condoned sinful behavior. However, a closer examination of the broader context reveals Paul’s acknowledgment of the law’s inability to save and the need for grace (Romans 7:24-25).

To navigate the complexities of Paul’s letters and avoid misinterpretation, Christians must approach his writings with humility and discernment. Recognizing the historical and cultural contexts in which his epistles were written is crucial for grasping their intended meaning. Moreover, understanding the overarching themes of Paul’s theology, such as the primacy of Christ and the transformative power of grace, provides a coherent framework for interpreting his teachings.

In conclusion, while criticisms of Paul and his epistles are manifold, a thorough examination of his writings reveals the depth of his theological insights and the enduring relevance of his message. Here are some suggestions to help us approach the Bible as a whole;

PERSONAL BIBLE STUDY AND DISCERNMENT: Christians should resist the temptation to be spoon-fed spiritual content through brief social media videos or sensationalized teachings. Instead, they should prioritize personal Bible study and reflection, just as the Bereans did in Acts 17:11. The Bereans were commended for examining the Scriptures daily to verify the teachings they received. Similarly, believers today should take ownership of their spiritual growth by engaging in diligent study of God’s Word and seeking understanding through prayer and reflection.

WATCH WHAT YOU CONSUME ONLINE: It’s important for Christians to exercise discernment when consuming spiritual content on social media platforms. While social media can be a valuable tool for sharing and disseminating biblical teachings, it is also rife with misinformation and distortion of Scripture. Many televangelists and influencers prioritize sensationalism and popularity over doctrinal accuracy, spreading half-truths or outright falsehoods to attract followers and generate income.

HERMENEUTICAL PRINCIPLES: Employing sound hermeneutical principles is crucial for interpreting the Bible accurately and avoiding misinterpretation or misunderstanding. Christians should approach Scripture with a commitment to exegetical integrity, seeking to understand the author’s original intent and meaning. This involves studying the text in its original languages (where possible), analyzing its literary genre, and employing tools of biblical interpretation such as historical-grammatical exegesis. By adhering to these principles, Christians can discern the timeless truths embedded within the Pauline writings while avoiding simplistic or out-of-context interpretations that may lead to erroneous conclusions. . For CoP members at large, there is the need to embrace the Lay Leadership School. Local presbyteries must ensure that these programs are heavily patronized.

UNITY IN DIVERSITY: Finally, Christians should embrace the diversity of perspectives and voices within the Bible while maintaining unity in essential matters of faith. The New Testament comprises a variety of literary genres and authors, each contributing unique insights to the overarching narrative of God’s redemptive plan. Rather than viewing differences in interpretation or theological emphasis as divisive, believers should recognize them as enriching aspects of the Christian tradition. Unity in diversity allows Christians to appreciate the multifaceted nature of Scripture and to engage in constructive dialogue with fellow believers, fostering mutual edification and growth in faith.

In summary, Christians are encouraged to prioritize personal Bible study and reflection, following the example of the Bereans in Acts 17:11 who diligently examined the Scriptures daily. This commitment to personal study enables believers to deepen their understanding of God’s Word and grow spiritually. It’s also crucial to exercise discernment when consuming spiritual content online, as social media platforms can be rife with misinformation and distorted teachings. By applying sound hermeneutical principles, such as exegetical integrity and contextual analysis, Christians can interpret the Bible accurately and avoid misinterpretation. Furthermore, embracing the diversity of perspectives within the Bible while maintaining unity in essential matters of faith fosters mutual edification and growth among believers.

Written by Elder David Broohm

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