Paul, slave of Jesus Christ

I would like to suggest that Paul’s persecution of the Church of God is a later fictional story told only in Acts. Rather than the letters of Paul confirming it, it offers up an alternative interpretation.

The key section that explains the connection between Acts and the Epistles of Paul is Galatians 1: 11-16. We know the story of Paul from Acts of the Apostles, but the story that Paul tells in his letters is quite different. We must think about it as if we knew nothing about the Paul of Acts:
11For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. 12For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

It is clear from 11-12 that Paul is speaking about his a revelation about Jesus Christ (Jesus the Anointed).

It is in 13 and 14 that we find a contradiction

13. For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it; 14and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions. 15But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased 16to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles,
In 13 he says that he persecuted the Church of God. In 14, he says that he was zealous for his ancestral traditions. It appears from this that the Church of God (the Christian Church, presumably) was against ancestral traditions. However the Church of God saw itself as the elect upholding ancestral traditions. If he was zealous about upholding ancestral traditions, Paul should want to join the Church of God. If we read it with Acts in mind, then it appears that the more devout Jews were attacking the Church of God. However, this is not what Paul says here at all.

We need to look at the two key words ἐδιώκον (I persecuted) and ἐπόρθουν (destroy) which suggest that Paul was a Jew against the Church of God.

Here is the definition of ediōkon (I persecuted) from

1377 diṓkō – properly, aggressively chase, like a hunter pursuing a catch (prize). 1377 (diṓkō) is used positively (“earnestly pursue”) and negatively (“zealously persecute, hunt down”). In each case, 1377 (diṓkō) means pursue with all haste (“chasing” after), earnestly desiring to overtake (apprehend).

The word can be used positively and negatively. Let us assume that the original meaning was positive. Paul did not “persecute” but he pursued with all haste the Church of God. In other words, he wanted to join the Church of God as quickly as possible. This matches the idea in the next sentence that he was zealous for Judaism.
One of the definitions for the root word διώκω  in LSJ fits perfectly: Διώκω 2. pursue an object, seek after
Paul himself uses the root word with precisely this meaning in Romans 9:30
Τί οὖν ἐροῦμεν; ὅτι ἔθνη τὰ μὴ διώκοντα δικαιοσύνην κατέλαβεν δικαιοσύνην, δικὰιοσύνην δὲ τὴν ἐκ πίστεως:
[30] What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, who didn’t follow after righteousness, attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith;

And again in Phillipians 3.14:

[14] κατὰ σκοπὸν διώκω εἰς τὸ βραβεῖον τῆς ἄνω κλήσεως τοῦ θεοῦ ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ.
[14] I press on toward the goal for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

Since in these other two uses of the word it means following or moving towards, it is reasonable to conclude that Paul was pursuing (trying to join) the Church of God.

We can also correct the other passages in Paul which use the same root term Διώκω, where the negative meaning instead of the positive one is given.

Corinthians 15.9
For I am the least of the apostles that am not meet to be called an apostle because I persecuted pursued the church of God

Philippians 3
4although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: uncircumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; 6as to zeal, a persecutor pursuer of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.

What about the use of the term  ἐπόρθουν (destroy), the second term in Galatians 1:13 where Paul apparently declares himself an enemy of the Church.

Again LSJ gives multiple definitions.
lay waste, devastate.
ἐπόρθουν    verb 3rd pl imperf ind act attic epic doric contr    
ἐπόρθουν    verb 1st sg imperf ind act attic epic doric contr    

, collat. form of πέρθω (more used in Prose),
A. destroy, ravage, plunder, “πόλεας καὶ τείχεα” Il.4.308; “ἀνδρῶν ἀγρούς” Od.14.264; “τοὺς χώρους” Hdt.3.58; “πόλιν” A.Th.583, etc.; “Φοινίκην” Isoc.9.62; “τὴν Σελλασίαν ἔκαον καὶ ἐπόρθουν” X.HG6.5.27; “τὴν ἤπειρον” Th.8.57; “τὴν χώραν λεηλατῆσαι καὶ τὴν πόλιν πορθῆσαι” D.S.12.34; “π. ἐκ τῶν ἱερῶν τὰ ἀγάλματα” Ath.12.523b:—Pass., “πᾶν τὸ ἄστυ ἐπορθέετο” Hdt. 1.84; “ὅλης τῆς Ἑλλάδος πεπορθημένης” Isoc.10.49; “τἀργύρια πορθεῖται” is carried off, Eup.155.
2. in pres. and impf., sts. endeavour to destroy, besiege a town, Hdt.1.162, Decr. ap. D.18.164, D.S.12.34, 15.4.
3. of persons, destroy, ruin, “θεοὺς τοὺς ἐγγενεῖς” A.Th.583; “φίλους” E.Fr. 605: abs., do havoc, Id.Andr.633: esp. in Pass., “αὐτοὶ ὑφ᾽ αὑτῶν . . πορθούμεθα.” A.Th.194; “κατ᾽ ἄκρας . . ὡς πορθούμεθα” Id.Ch.691; of women, “κόραι βία πρὸς ἀνδρῶν πορθούμεναι” E.Ph.565; σκόροδα πορθούμενος robbed of them, Com. phrase in Ar.Ach.164.
Henry George Liddell. Robert Scott. A Greek-English Lexicon. revised and augmented throughout by. Sir Henry Stuart Jones. with the assistance of. Roderick McKenzie. Oxford. Clarendon Press. 1940.

Destroy, ravage, plunder are synonyms when applied to a city. There is no reason given for Paul wanting to destroy the church. Paul is explaining in this whole section of the epistle that he is not a person who seeks the pleasure of men,  (Galatians 10) “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.” Paul is trying to prove that he is not a sycophant, somebody who says things for money. It seems that Paul has to answer these charges because somebody has told the Galatians that he did exactly that when he belonged to the Church of God.

13. For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I use to pursue the church of God beyond measure and tried to plunder it.

Paul is answering the charge that he joined the Church of God and somehow plundered it. We can assume that the charge was embezzlement as only that really makes sense in regards to the charges he is answering.

14and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions. 15But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased 16to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles,
I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, 17nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus.

What the writer is communicating is that he was a zealous Jew who joined the radical Jewish Church of God.

He had a revelation from God. He did not rejoin the Church of God or go to Jerusalem because of the revelation from God, but he instead went to Damascus. We don’t know what he learned in Damascus or why he went. We may suggest that this information has been cut out. It is clear that the revelation from God did not bring Paul to the Church of God, but brought him in another direction.

It is clear that the writer of Acts has misunderstood Paul. He has portrayed Paul as attacking the Church of God, when he did no such thing. He appears to have been a member of the Church of God with a reputation for stealing or plundering it. The revelation kept him from even going to Jerusalem to see the apostles for three years.

Again in 23, we get the same mistaken interpretations of  Διώκων and ἐπόρθει

18Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days. 19But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord’s brother. 20(Now in what I am writing to you, I assure you before God that I am not lying.) 21Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea which were in Christ; 23but only, they kept hearing, “He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy.” 24And they were glorifying God because of me.

When we substitute the terms “pursue” and “plunder,” we get a quite different interpretation:

22I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea which were in Christ; 23but only, they kept hearing, “He who once persecuted pursued us is now preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy plunder” 24And they were glorifying God because of me.

Paul wanted to join the Church. They rejected him because they felt he wanted to plunder the Church. The next thing they know, three years later, he is an independent preacher in Syria and Cilicia supporting the Church. The “they” is ambiguous. It could refer to the Churches of Judea or to the people to whom Paul was preaching the faith. More likely, he is referring to the people of Syria and Cilicia whom he taught. The Churches of Jerusalem could not have been sure if Paul was really preaching the correct faith, so they would have no reason to Glorify God.

Paul still doesn’t do anything with the zealous Church of God for another 14 years, he remains on his own and only returns after a second revelation from God.

1Then after an interval of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also. 2It was because of a revelation that I went up; and I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but I did so in private to those who were of reputation, for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain.

Paul is an independent rival franchise to the Church of God. They allow him to continue and he later pays them for the privilege of using their good name. Imagine somebody who has a boyhood dream of owning a McDonald’s fast food restaurant. He goes to McDonald’s Franchise School, but flunks out, when they find out that he intends to change the formula for French Fries and/or changes the accounting records to keep more of the profits.  He goes to some South American country, let’s say Nicaragua, which doesn’t have a McDonald’s and opens a restaurant called MacDonald’s. It becomes a success. After 17 years, he goes back to McDonald’s and asks to join. They tell him that he can’t join, but he can keep his franchises as long as he pays them a certain amount each year. That is basically the story that Paul is telling in his letters about his relationship to the Christian Church of God.

The writer/editor of Acts uses the same root term that Paul uses in regards to his relationship to the Church of God – πορθέω.

(Acts 9:21) εξισταντο δε παντες οι ακουοντες και ελεγον ουχ ουτος εστιν ο πορθησας εν ιερουσαλημ τους επικαλουμενους το ονομα τουτο και ωδε εις τουτο εληλυθει ινα δεδεμενους αυτους αγαγη επι τους αρχιερεις

(NIV)All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?”

(King James Version) But all that heard him were amazed, and said; Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests?

The story that Acts tells of a zealous Jew who hated and persecuted the Church of God is a revision of the story. Since the writer of Acts uses the same root word that we find in Galatians, it is apparent that he/they knew Paul’s epistles. The writer made his own interpretation of the words to fit with their dramatic reformed-persecutor story about Paul. The writer of Acts wants to portray Paul as an enemy of the Church who was later reconciled to the Church by a miraculous revelation from God.

Paul rather seems to be answering the charges that he stole doctrines or money (plundered) the Church of God when he was a member in his youth.

If we just take the most logical interpretation of Paul’s own words, the only revelation from God that Paul seems to have had is that he didn’t need the Jewish Church of God to be an Apostle for the Jewish God called Jesus the Anointed.

The story of Paul in Acts is one of a persecutor of the Church of God who reforms after a revelation from God. The story of Paul in the epistles is someone who runs with the Church of God, gets thrown out, forms his own Church and establishes an uneasy alliance with them. It has been suggested that Marcion was the first to edit the letters of Paul. This interpretation supports that viewpoint. Paul’s relationship to the Church of God in the epistles seems to reflect Marcion’s relationship with the Catholic Church.