the apostle Paul: that liberal, lukewarm, wolf in sheep’s clothing

Posted by PeteEnns on February 17, 2017 in nature of the Bible 25 Comments

wold in sheep's clothingSome of you may not be aware, but I write a lot on God, Jesus, the Bible, and things of that sort. I also find—as do others—that every once in a teensy weensy while I get criticized for what I say, which, as I never grow tired of saying, is par for the course. If you take on every criticism, don’t write. And definitely don’t write about faith.

So criticism is fair game, but one type of criticism is quite annoying to me: “Enns wrote about X, but he is wrong because he did not mention the following items that I think should always be mentioned every time one writes about X, namely A-L, Q, U-W, and, to be on the safe side, Z. Enns therefore is a closet-atheist-wolf-in-sheeps-clothing-liberal-lukewarm-tool-of-Satan.”

Well, I’ll have you know that I’ve been reading the Bible lately (finally getting around to it), and I’ve begun to wonder what would happen if the same criticism were leveled at biblical writers, like Paul.

Though given ample opportunity to so do, Paul never mentioned that Jesus is born of a virgin. I mean, right there in Romans Paul had a golden opportunity to preach the true gospel, but he failed. I’m talking about Romans 1:3-4. There, at the very outset of his letter, where one would expect him to have been extra careful, Paul says of Jesus that he,

descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Hmm. Is that all he’s got? “David according to the flesh”?

How about, “David according to the flesh on his mother’s side” to remove all possible misunderstanding? And to make matters worse, Paul leaves the door wide open for the heresy of adoptionism by suggesting that at his resurrection Jesus became “Son of God.” Of course, we’re all happy Paul affirms the resurrection, but his wording is confusing at best: wasn’t Jesus Son of God before then? It’s almost as if Paul had never read the Gospels.

First Corinthians is a minefield of potential confusion for what Paul leaves out. Here is a church that is divided into bickering factions, practices sexual immorality, takes other members to court over stupid things, gets hammered at the Lord’s supper—and they are even confused about the resurrection.

This is a messed up church, so how about not starting the letter with:

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 1:2-3)

Paul gets critical later on, but by failing to be consistent and unwavering in his condemnation of sin, Paul is leaving the door open for all sorts of misunderstandings.

Hey Paul, how about not calling these losers the “church of God,” “sanctified,” or “saints”? Do a little more of what you did in Galatians, where you took no prisoners and ate heretics alive. Those where the good old days. What happened to you, Paul? Where is your zeal? You got soft on us. You’re going liberal.

I’m just not sure what to do about all this. Someone help me.

[Comments are moderated and it may take me several hours or as much as a day to get to yours. If you don’t have a sense of humor, or if you think one should never have a sense of humor about faith, or if you are put off by my sense of humor in particular, try to remember that the God loves us both, you’re not going to change me, and the world will continue spinning even if you don’t write a comment like you’re one of the angels to the 7 churches and I am the embodiment of the church in Sardis. Look it up.]


  • Thank you for this gracious and humorous response to the many criticism you must receive. I have enjoyed your books, been strengthened and encouraged by them – sp. The Sin of Certainty.
    Keep serving God and God’s church with your gifts.
    Albert Durksen

  • I see 1 Cor as an example of a “grace sandwich” where Paul starts with positive things and ends with positive things and in between discusses negative painful correcting things. FWIIW, studies have shown that memories of past painful events depend on the last moments so that shifting to the positive means the memories are assessed as less painful.

  • Just like the Beatles, Paul’s greatest hits come early, but his best material is seasoned by the road. Maybe he would’ve endured fewer beatings if he’d written it all in one letter, but we’d have missed the growth, the journey, the changing of mind. The “experienced” Paul (2Corinthians maybe?) is my favorite Paul, even if he is something of a hippie. Keep up the good work, Dr Enns.

  • Mmm…apparently there are no comments. It’s probably because we are trying to pick ourselves off the floor after rolling around laughing.

    Love this post for the picture of St. Paul in wolf’s clothing :)

    Now I must go and see if I can find out what happened to your candlestick.

  • “I’m just not sure what to do about all this. Someone help me.”

    You have a few options:
    1. Admit you are an atheist wolf…and turn yourself in to the theology police. (I can’t remember where they are located, but call your local Christian radio station and they’ll connect you.)
    2. Stop writing and teaching altogether. (Don’t do this.)
    3. Get another Cat. (I don’t recommend this either.)
    4. Grapefruit League tickets are on sale now. Phillies vs. Yankees next Friday in Tampa. (I’d go with that.)

    There might be other options…but I doubt it.

  • “It’s almost as if Paul had never read the Gospels” – I need every bit of humor I can find these days. Thanks for your post!

  • I’d have to agree, both yourself and St. Paul should stop writing about those things you don’t know about, e.g. matters of faith and our exalted Lord and One Parent Child. Just stick to that game you play over there, the one with the stick and ball. St. Paul is excellent and totally non Satanic at his cricket commentaries.

  • jBut Pete you know the John Calvin and the reformers got it all figured out the only thing left was their messed up eschatology.. Nothing new to add. Darn that Barth, Jenson,Louth, David Bentley Hart, John Sanders, et al

  • I have no advice for you (I do appreciate your encouragement about criticism though), but I reeeeeeeeeeally hate that “wolf in sheep’s clothing” phrase, and I know some Christians who adore it in all sorts of fun contexts. One recently told me that my Somali refugee friends were wolves in sheep’s clothing (as are all Muslims). I wanted to bash my head against a wall. (I just blocked her on fb instead.)

    • It’s just a bit of biblical metaphor a la Jesus:

      Matthew 7:15
      Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.

      I think we’re supposed to beware bad trees and white-washed tombs as well.

  • Paul is my favorite whipping boy, and not only because of his weird excursion in 2 Cor 35-58. His insistence on salvation by grace alone leaves something to be desired.

  • What I meant to say above was that Paul’s insistence on salvation by *faith* alone leaves something to be desired. Grace is always available.

  • Haven’t read comments, but want to say, Pete, I love your blog. I don’t even read blogs! Thankful for your thoughts. Keep ’em coming dispite the inevitable trolls at large on the internet.

  • Thanks for this. I’m so sick of hearing pastors lambast biblical scholarship showing that these issues are not as simple as we’ve been lead to believe. The pastor of our church has been harping on the virgin birth a lot lately, and how people who don’t buy into that shouldn’t be calling themselves Christians.

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