By Femi Aribisala
Jesus says: “Beware of these Pharisees and the way they pretend to be good when they aren’t. But such hypocrisy cannot be hidden forever. It will become as evident as yeast in dough.” (Luke 12:1-2).
Paul remained a Pharisee even after his conversion to Christianity. He declared to the Sanhedrin: “I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee.” (Acts 23:6). Moreover, with the compilation of his epistles into the bible, Paul’s hypocrisy is no longer hidden. It is now abundantly clear.
God despises the boastful. The psalmist says to God: “The boastful shall not stand in your sight.” (Psalm 5:5). Paul acknowledges this. He maintains it is ungodly to boast. He says: “Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith.” (Romans 3:27). Accordingly, he rebukes the Corinthians: “Who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7).
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul says: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:31). He says furthermore: “Let no one boast in men.” (1 Corinthians 3:21). But, by the time he wrote his second letter to the same Corinthians, Paul had forgotten his own command. He says to them: “We are your boast as you also are ours.” (2 Corinthians 1:14). He then goes on to contradict his earlier injunction not to boast in men, saying: “I boast of you to the Macedonians.” (2 Corinthians 9:2).
By Galatians, Paul’s position has changed again. He now says we should boast in ourselves and not in others: “Let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor.” (Galatians 6:4).
Those who insist Paul’s word is the word of God might need to explain these hypocritical doctrinal somersaults. Surely, it is not God who keeps changing his mind: it is Paul. Soon, the forbidden boasting becomes conveniently permissible; the only caveat is that it must be done in moderation. Paul says: “We, however, will not boast beyond measure, but within the limits of the sphere which God appointed us- a sphere which especially includes you.” (2 Corinthians 10:13).
But, even after this, Paul still finds it necessary to create further expedient exceptions to his no boasting rule. He tells the Corinthians: “If I must boast, I will boast in the things which concern my infirmity.” (2 Corinthians 11:30). And yet, these self-serving modifications are coming from the same man who says boasting is categorically excluded by an inscrutable “law of faith.”
Inevitably, Paul ends up by doing what he initially enjoins us not to do; boasting considerably about himself. Paul witnesses about himself, saying: “This is our boast, the testimony of our conscience: we have behaved in the world with frankness and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom.” (2 Corinthians 1:12).
As a matter of fact, Paul declares the right to boast in himself as his inalienable right. He maintains he preaches the gospel free of charge without asking for payment; and insists: “I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of this boast.” (1 Corinthians 9:14-15). He no longer has any qualms about boasting, but says: “Even if I should boast somewhat more about our authority, which the Lord gave us for edification and not for your destruction, I shall not be ashamed.” (2 Corinthians 10:8).
With dubious self-deprecation, Paul says: “I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle.” (1 Corinthians 15:9). However, green with envy, he compares himself with those who walked with Jesus and boasts he is equal to them: “I consider that I am not at all inferior to the most eminent apostles.” (2 Corinthians 11:5). He justifies his double standards by reference to others: “Seeing that many boast according to the flesh, I also will boast.” (2 Corinthians 11:18).
He then launches into one of his most self-promoting boasts: “What anyone else dares to boast about- I am speaking as a fool- I also dare to boast about. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again.” (2 Corinthians 11:21-23).
Only God knows where Paul got the proof that he is in a class all by himself. And yet, this is the same Paul who says those who “compare themselves among themselves are not wise.” (2 Corinthians 10:12). It is the same Paul who says: “Love… does not boast, it is not proud.” (1 Corinthians 13:4). It is the same Paul who says: “God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 6:14). Paul says one thing here; then contradicts it elsewhere.
He says: “It is doubtless not profitable for me to boast.” (2 Corinthians 12:1). Nevertheless, he goes right ahead to boast: “I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 12:1). The trick he uses here is to boast of himself as if he were boasting about someone else. Paul says: “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago- whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows- such a one was caught up to the third heaven… Of such a one I will boast; yet of myself I will not boast.” (2 Corinthians 12:2-5).
Who is the man Paul is boasting about here who was allegedly caught up to heaven? It is none other than Paul himself. Thus, Paul still manages to boast about himself even while saying he will not. And even after boasting, he continues to insist that he is not boasting at all: “For though I might desire to boast, I will not be a fool; for I will speak the truth.” (2 Corinthians 12:6). For Paul, such outright lie is the truth.
What are we to make of Paul who knows it is ungodly to be boastful, but still ends up boasting while excusing his boastfulness? James calls someone like Paul: “a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:8). One thing is clear, it is ludicrous to insist the word of a man like Paul is the word of God. Paul bears little resemblance to God. God “does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17).
Nevertheless, many Christians are besotted with Paul, even calling him Jesus’ greatest apostle. But the truth of the matter is that Jesus is as different from Paul as cheese is from chalk.
Jesus is not a double-tongued. He lived exactly what he preached. His message is without hypocrisy. Jesus says: “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14).