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Is Paul at Odds with Matthew?

In yesterday’s post I indicated that I really very much wish that we could have some of the writings produced by Paul’s opponents in Galatia.   They believed that in order to be a follower of Jesus, a person had to accept and follow the Law of Moses as laid out in the Jewish Scriptures.   Men were to be circumcised to join the people of God; men and women were, evidently, to adopt a Jewish lifestyle.  Presumably that meant keeping kosher, observing the Sabbath, and so on.   Anyone who didn’t do this was not really a member of the people of God, since to be one of God’s people meant following the law that God had given.

Paul was incensed at this interpretation of the faith and insisted with extraordinary vehemence that it was completely wrong.  The gentile followers of Jesus were not, absolutely not, supposed to become Jewish.  Anyone who thought so rendered the death of Jesus worthless.  It was only that death, and the resurrection, that made a person right with God.  Nothing else.  Certainly not following the Torah.

I often wonder whether Paul and the author of the Gospel of Matthew would have gotten along.

Matthew’s Gospel was probably…

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Jesus, Matthew, and the Law
Paul’s Christian Enemies: Galatians



  1. Avatar
    WimV  March 25, 2015

    “Matthew” is also very clear in chapter 23:
    “Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.’ ”

    That sure sounds like an instruction to strict Torah observance to me.

    You say there is only flimsy evidence to support the idea that “Matthew” was written in Antioch Syria. How likely is the alternative idea that this gospel was authored in Alexandria Egypt compared to an Antiochian authorship?

  2. Avatar
    Cristian  March 25, 2015

    Paul is not opposed to the law. He is opposed to keeping it as a way of getting some sort of merit before God. Would it not sort out the apparent contradiction?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 27, 2015

      I’m not sure if “merit” is quite the right way to look at it (though it is the traditional Lutheran way). It seems to have to do more with required ethnicity.

      • Avatar
        avonthalonus  May 5, 2015

        The idea was already developing in Rabbinic Judaism of the late second temple era that a gentile did not have to full convert to Judaism to be accepted by God. Hence the growth of those gentile sympathizers of Judaism known as “God-fearers (yirei shamayim)” who attended synagogues. Other schools were more strict and maintained this was only a half-way house to full conversion. In the Talmud the former view won out and become normative, and the rabbis of the Gemara required Gentiles to only keep what they called the “Seven Commandments of Noah”, a post-biblical development. BUT, it’s possible that the NT is the earliest written testimony to the early stages of the development of this idea, where both Peter’s council in Acts and Paul in his letters still require Gentile followers not to worship idols or their sacrifices, improperly slaughtered meat, and sexual immorality. These three are very close to three of the seven “Noahide” laws for Gentiles later reported in the Talmud and I don’t think that’s entirely a coincidence.

        Could it be that Paul was taking the now normative rabbinical Jewish opinion that full conversion to Judaism was not necessary for Gentiles, and the author of Matthew was taking the stricter position that it was?

        Was Paul in his letters saying at the same time that Jews should abandon Torah observance, or was he just saying that the Gentiles didn’t need to adopt the whole shebang (which is what circumcision would entail)? In Matthew, Jesus would presumably have been speaking to an all-Jewish audience. Was he just affirming that Torah observance *for Jews* would remain obligatory, without being able to infer whether or not he would think that Gentiles (if he even envisioned them as followers at that point) must also fully convert?

        I think these questions cannot be fully appreciated outside of the context of the debates of rabbinic oral law and halachah during late Second Temple Judaism.

        • Bart
          Bart  May 6, 2015

          Yup, it’s possible! It’s hard to know if Paul thought Jews were still to ovserve the law, in my view….

          • Avatar
            avonthalonus  May 7, 2015

            I agree. In my opinion, he did not, but he had to tread very carefully on that point because the rest of the apostles did and he was already in shaky standing with them. Not that he was afraid to confront them when he thought important matters were at stake (such as the one described in this very blog post), but I guess he thought that was not a high-priority battle.

  3. Avatar
    doug  March 25, 2015

    When I believed the Bible had no contradictions, I believed the preachers who twisted its meanings to make it seem “consistent”. It wasn’t what they said that convinced me – it was because I really, REALLY *wanted* to believe that the Bible was God’s perfect Word. But I couldn’t close my mind tightly enough to keep believing that.

  4. talitakum
    talitakum  March 25, 2015

    Hi, I believe that the limited size of a blog post may have forced you to oversimplify the matter. I don’t think it’s so easy to make a sharp comparison of Matthew and Paul due to some internal contradictions we find in both authors.
    For example, Paul recognizes the importance of the Mosaic law (“the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” Rom. 7:11). Also, he is dealing with specific issues of a gentile mission that it’s not the focus of Matthew’s gospel (let alone Jesus’ mission).
    Matthew has Jesus speaking to a Jewish audience confirming the Law (which law, btw?) and then contradicting it (e.g. the law says to make punishments fit the crimes […], to fulfill it you should show extreme mercy).
    Jesus tells his disciples to “not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans”, so his teachings were apparently valid within Jewish boundaries. However, after resurrection Matthew has Jesus telling his disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” so we have a gentile mission stuffed with proto-trinitrian theology.

    I don’t know what to do with such contradictions, that in some cases may even go back to Jesus, but I think they hardly provide a solid ground to compare Matthew and Paul, for at least we don’t know if Jewish and Gentiles had to observe the Law in the same way after Jesus’ resurrection. It should be noticed that Torah-observant Jewish already had different Law prescriptions for gentiles, the Noahide Laws, that by the way do not include circumcision practices. Paul may have developed along these lines in absence of more precise indications, Matthew we don’t know; if I don’t go wrong this was a debated topic in Jewish world even before Jesus, Paul and Matthew (I think that also Josephus says something about it).

    In conclusion, I wouldn’t exclude that both Matthew and Paul may have agreed on the fact that Jewish had to follow the Mosaic Law. Anything else about non Jewish is in my opinion a little obscure.

    • Avatar
      Scott  March 27, 2015

      Yes, but the emissaries from James were insisting on strict observance among the Jews in Galilee and Paul oppose them in this. So the Jerusalem leaders seemed to view the law as vital at least for Jewish Christians while Paul felt it was a problem

      • talitakum
        talitakum  March 30, 2015

        Thank you Scott. The main issues with the emissaries from James (as far as we know from Paul) were about practices like circumcision, kosher food, etc. We have nothing explicit about these practices from Matthew and his Jesus. They could well “assume” them implicitly, that’s for sure, but while such assumption applies to Jewish followers – it does not necessarily for gentiles. That was a debated issue in Judaism even before Christianity. So, regarding mission to Gentiles, in my opinion it’s hard to say if Matthew fully agreed with Paul, or fully agreed with the emissaries from James, or if he held a position somewhere in between (e.g. Noahide laws, etc.). Thank you.

  5. Avatar
    Philbert  March 25, 2015

    Awesome post Thank You

  6. Avatar
    salaminfo1  March 25, 2015

    Dr. Bart,
    I really enjoyed reading it. That is one of the reason, I mentioned in a comment a few days ago that I believe that Paul is the real founder of Christianity because he always taught opposite what the Gospal’s Jesus taught. For example, as you said Jesus insisted that no one will enter the kingdom of heaven until all the law is fulfilled but when you read Paul, he explicitly says not to follow the law. Thanks so much for your outstanding writings

  7. gmatthews
    gmatthews  March 25, 2015

    Is it possible the author of Matthew included this point to be specifically directed at Pauline communities (or any others who accepted Gentiles)? After 30 years surely Pauline ideas had spread a bit regardless of whether they were accepted.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 27, 2015

      It’s possible, though Matthew doesn’t directly address any of Paul’s points….

  8. Avatar
    MikeyS  March 25, 2015

    Hi Bart,
    Presumably then, Jesus would have agreed with the stoning of adulterers, Homosexuals and unruly children and the separation of menstuating women who were thought so unclean, they had to atone for that by giving a sacrifice in the temple?

    In a nutshell Bart, they were all crackers and had no real thinking skills to really believe the Torah was given not by stone age Jewish desert dwellers but God Almighty! I will add God Almighy, how did and how can today, anyone believe in any of this ‘stuff’? Yes, billions do…Without really giving it a great deal of thought, even the great intellectuals of yesteryear and today don’t.

    When I read through the synoptic gospels trying to find out IF the teachings of Jesus himself was the salvation of all mankind by his death and resurrection. I personally found very little in them to confirm that. Indeed as I often quote, he forgave sins while he was alive, whether he could or couldn’t is irrelevant but the story of Zacchaeus suggests that was not essential or necessary at all. More importantly, trying to foist that doctrine on the world was and is counterproductive to religious harmony and much historical conflict causing the death of many people. IF people could just see through all this ‘stuff’ and use their OWN brains, like you have and many more, they would surely see it all for what it is!

    No Jew or almost No Jew today would implement all the 613 laws given by God including those above. I emailed Rabbi Tovah? I think his name is who proudly keeps repeating that these are God given in debates with Christians and I asked him if he would execute Adulterers and Gays then? NO answer!

    • Bart
      Bart  March 27, 2015

      I’ve been talking about Matthew’s view of Jesus, not Jesus himself!

    • Lef
      Lef  October 1, 2015

      A limited knowledge is indeed very dangerous.
      The 613 precepts are discussed in the Talmud (book of discussions between rabbis on all sorts of subjects). The rabbis inventoried the precepts they found in the Bible and there is general consensus on the figure of 613.
      Precepts are NOT G-d’s laws as you seem you believe. They are more akin to ‘directives’ to live a good life. They are NOT applicable to all Jews, let alone all Humanity. Most precepts seem self evident, others have taken a long time to understand. And some are not yet fully understood (for example why to extract the nerves before eating the meat).
      Re. chastisements for various misdeeds, the overall concern is to establish a system of ‘Justice’ and to chastise misdeeds. It is up to Jewish society to define most punishments. There was indeed a time when adultery was punished by death. This was removed by Rabbi consensus a very, very, very long time ago. In modern times, Israel has no death penalty since over 60 years (except in one case of a nazi criminal who was hanged).
      It seems to me the Rabbi you wrote to in order to submit the “got you” question simply determined he had no time to waste on your silly question.
      Where on earth

  9. Avatar
    MikeyS  March 25, 2015

    Pope Francis now thinks that anyone that does good in the world will be loved by God and as such Atheists can go to heaven! I told you I would see you there one day. 😉 Then you may find out what all of Paul’s enemies thought of him at the time. They may even have a religious harvest of any manuscript that was ever written and if people ask, as they do, what will we find to do with all that eternal time? I can think of one man at least who will be able to fill their days and not just that! To have all the original authors there as well to clarify a point here and there. 😉

  10. Avatar
    Todd  March 25, 2015

    This is a very good post showing one distinct difference between Paul and Jesus.

    I recently had a short discussion with a friend about such differences but she said she can’t detect any differences in Paul and Jesus’ message.

    When such differences are so obvious I wonder why readers of the NT, especially those like her who take a literal view, can’t see the wide variety of different perspectives presented.

    • Avatar
      Hank_Z  March 28, 2015

      Because she believes it would be a horrendous and literally damning to acknowledge the Bible has contradictions. That’s a powerful motivator millions like her.

  11. Avatar
    Jason  March 26, 2015

    Is this a tacit endorsement of Langton’s divisions of the text?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 27, 2015

      I’m not sure what you mean!

      • Avatar
        Jason  March 28, 2015

        Sorry… The phrases “It is 28 chapters long, and the last 8 chapters…” seem like a foreign way to make a point when they come from the hand of an author from whom you are used to hearing about how there was no attribution, punctuation, indentation or even space between words in the manuscripts.

        • Bart
          Bart  March 29, 2015

          Yes indeed. One could also say that between 1/3 and 1/4 of the Gospel is on the Passion. But that would assume ancients used fractions. 🙂

  12. Avatar
    fishician  March 26, 2015

    Do you think Paul’s view eventually dominated because the pagans could accept his teachings, and there were a lot more pagans than Jews, and the Jews had a problem with accepting the Matthew-like teachings of a crucified so-called Messiah?

  13. Avatar
    Kevin Nelson  March 26, 2015

    Paul clearly opposed Gentiles keeping the Jewish Law when they became followers of Christ. But I interpret him as having no objection to Jewish followers of Christ keeping the full Law, and indeed it sounds like he regarded it as entirely applicable to them. (E.g. Romans 2:12, “All who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.”) Keeping in mind that Jesus’ original audience would have been Jewish, it doesn’t look to me like there’s all that much of a contradiction.

    • Avatar
      Scott  March 29, 2015

      Was Peter just keeping the law as a good Jew when he avoided eating with gentiles in order to keep kosher?

  14. Avatar
    Matt7  March 26, 2015

    Does Dispensationalism resolve the conflict?

  15. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  March 26, 2015

    The conflict between the writer of Matthew and Paul is quite interesting. Thanks for exploring it. I have always thought that the idea of just having the “correct” belief about Jesus gets you saved seemed more than a little simple and way too easy. Sounds like wishful thinking….No work or study or good works required. Just have the correct belief and Presto one goes to heaven.

  16. Avatar
    sinopah  March 26, 2015

    In light of this discussion, I have a question. In the relatively small Montana community where I live, almost every small church has erected giant signs showing the ten commandments. Why is this movement so big given the differences between Paul and Matthew?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 27, 2015

      Well, Paul would have agreed that Christians should keep the ten commandments, I think (except the Sabbath commandment); and most Christians don’t see a tension between Paul and Matthew!

  17. SBrudney091941
    SBrudney091941  March 26, 2015

    It seems, then, that the author of Matthew would think that Paul would be “called least in the kingdom of God.”

    Paul’s view of the impossibility of following the Law has always struck me as odd and faulty. It seems that he had either been hardened against the Law by his own inability to live up to it according to his, not God’s, standards of perfection or he missed the significance of the fact that God loved David in spite of David’s transgressions or he missed or ignored the many figures in the LXX who walked perfectly in the Law (Noah, Josi’ah, Job, Caleb, Hezeki’ah) or he was being purposefully manipulative in order to scare people (Jews at least) into following his teaching (because they faced doom since they could never follow the Law perfectly) or any combination of these. Like a good salesman he first sells the problem and then offers the solution.

  18. Avatar
    jhague  March 26, 2015

    “The controversy with the Galatian opposition was not over whether Jesus’ death brings salvation.”

    Is this stated in the text of Galatians that Paul’s Galatian opponents agree that Jesus’ death brings salvation? (sorry, too lazy to look up)

    • Bart
      Bart  March 27, 2015

      No, Paul never states the views of his opponents, but assumes that his readers know them. But if they denied the salvific effect of Jesus’ death, Paul certainly would have found that even more offensive than he found the circumcision issue.

  19. cheito
    cheito  March 26, 2015

    The author of Matthew is unknown. What he writes can’t be trusted as reliable. We can’t be certain that Jesus said the things recorded in this book. We don’t know where Matthew got all his information.

    We do know He wasn’t an eyewitness Like Paul… Matthew did to know, Peter, John, nor James. Matthew doesn’t claim to have been commissioned by God or Christ to write his account as Paul does…For all we know Matthew was a false prophet deliberately introducing false teachings to deceive the true believers.

    Quoting Matthew as though he were a trustworthy authority is like quoting Bill O’Reilly’s account of what Jesus said and did and why Jesus said and did it in His book, ‘Killing Jesus”. It’s futility…

    On the other hand, Paul’s teaching is authoritative. He received it directly from Christ himself. Paul was literally commissioned by God to preach His gospel…This is what Paul claims…Whether we believe his testimony or not is a different issue.

    Paul knew what he was talking about when speaking about the law of moses and circumcision. In His own words, “I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions…

    Paul understood and knew that those who bragged about the law did not keep the law themselves…

    Paul had a revelation and a teaching directly from Christ’s mind, that the entire law was fulfilled in one statement:
    Galatians 5:14-For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”

    Paul also understood that in Christ what matters is Faith working through love:

    Galatians 5:6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.

    And the last thing I’ll state is that Paul received from Christ the revelation that the way to receive God’s spirit of righteousness as a gift is through faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and by walking in Love, and not by observing days, months, seasons and years, or by rituals such as circumcision…

    There is no law against Love…..

    • Avatar
      MikeyS  March 27, 2015

      Love others as you love your self? I have never quite figured that statement out. How many people actually ‘love’ themselves? One may assume that Jesus loved himself in order to make that statement. What did he mean, when he asked Peter, if he loved him more than any of the others? Does that sound like a Gay Cabal?

      Hitchens used to say its perverse to ask anyone to love their enemies. eg Does any American Christian including Billy Graham, actually love those Muslim Terrorists who flew into the world trade centre? What about someone who rapes and kills a child? Should they be ‘loved’?

      That is crazy talk by someone who has no real experience of the world. I don’t think God would love any of the above. OK, Hitler who murdered six million of his chosen people then? The NT teaches that all these can get salvation on their death bed, whilst all non christians no matter how good they have lived will go to hell.

      I would advise ALL Christians to give some serious thought to their beliefs.

      • Bart
        Bart  March 29, 2015

        Well, most of us do feed and clothe and shelter ourselves, for example….

  20. talitakum
    talitakum  March 27, 2015

    Paul, Rom. 3:31 <>
    Paul, Rom. 2:13 <>

    Shouldn’t we conclude that Paul, like Matthew, thought that the Law was good?

    Mt 28:19 <>

    So apparently Paul did what Matthew expected.
    Do we know anything else about what Matthew expected about the message to be spread among the gentiles (vs. the message among the Jews)?
    Thank you.

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