Let us turn to the most important person in Christianity: Paul, the creator and proselytizer of the new faith to which, according to Acts, he also gave its name. In his letters, Paul represented himself as a born Jew, an ardent Pharisee, and, at one time, a persecutor of Christians.
Luke, the author of the Book of Acts, provides additional information which is not confirmed in Paul's Epistles and sometimes, contradicts them. Many New Testament scholars consider unreliable and invalid those declarations in Acts which differ from statements in Paul's letters or that are not mentioned there.
An example of this is the question of Paul's Roman citizenship which the author of Acts "conferred" on him some thirty years after his death. Critical scholars also doubt that Paul had any connection with Rabban Gamileal and his academy or even was in Jerusalem prior to his call. Other spurious claims made in Acts which are not substantiated in any of Paul's letters are;
Now is where a "thinking" believer who has just a little background knowledge of the "times" in which Paul and Jesus lived encounter a multitude of problems!
Although a number of scholars today deny that Acts can be reliably used to reconstruct Paul's biography and consider it primarily a literary drama, there are researchers who accept some of the stories and have produced archaeological evidence as confirmation. Inasmuch as Acts is a canonized book and is accepted by Christians throughout the world, I will deal with many of the anti-Jewish allegations in it as with all other antisemitic assertions in the New Testament in following articles and webpages.
The identification of the city of Paul's birth is a conundrum. Traditionally, his birthplace was considered to be Tarsus, the capital of the Roman province of Cilicia in Asia Minor (Turkey). This is stated in Acts. However, "Paul the Tarsan" can mean Paul, the weaver in Aramaic. There is a tradition that he earned his living as a tent-maker or a weaver of cloth for tents.
Although Paul included a few Aramaic words in his letters, such as abba for father, he wrote, spoke, and read in Greek. He gave no indication of a knowledge of Hebrew (thus would not be acceptable to the school of Gamileal).
Of major importance and a big problem is that when Paul referred to the Bible, he usually cited passages in the Pentateuch and the Prophets as they appear in the Septuagint or Greek translation, not as the Hebrew text reads. Any "Jew" or "Pharisee of the Pharisees" would have know of the terrible translation of the Septuagint and its hundreds of falsifications of the Jewish Masoretic text and like all other Jews would not have used this text to quote anything let alone words believed spoken by God. Yet Paul uses these alterations of the Jewish Bible freely in his epistles without ever flinching! This is very telling for we have suspicions that Paul was not familiar with Hebrew a condition foreign to a Jew.
For example, in I Corinthians (I Cor. 15:54 Paul quoted from Isaiah 25:8 as follows:
Death has been swallowed up in victory.
However the verse in Isaiah from the Hebrew reads which Paul supposedly quotes reads differently:
He (God) will swallow up death (make death vanish) forever.
The Hebrew word for 'victory' and 'forever' is virtually the same. The distinction is understood from the context in which the word is used. Paul rendered the verse according to a Greek translation. Had Paul read the Bible in Hebrew, he would not have made this error. This is but one example of such mistakes. Paul's letters are filled with these kinds of Biblical renditions.
While his knowledge of Hebrew was limited or non-existent, he was fluent in Greek as one would expect of a Gentile who converted to Judaism as many did in the first century. Let us not forget that the Ebionite writers inform us that Paul was a Gentile who converted to Judaism. Besides one is hard pressed to name another Jew in the New Testament who has a Roman name besides Paul. Again this does not lend support that he would have been accepted to study with the master Gamileal.
When Paul claimed to be a Pharisee, he chose a respectable pedigree for himself. Unlike the Sadducees, the Pharisees were highly regarded by the populace whose religious values and political aspirations they shared. The subsequent denigration and maligning of the Pharisees in the Gospels have given them a bad name among those readers who have not sifted out the slander from the truth. In Paul's day to be a Pharisee was to be a member of a prestigious majority party.
Paul claimed in his letters that he persecuted the church before his conversion. That means that as a Pharisee he oppressed Nazarenes. But Pharisees did not oppose or persecute the Nazarene sect any more than they did the Essenes.
Answer for yourself: So what gives?
On the contrary, the Pharisees and Nazarenes shared many of the same beliefs: in one God, in the injunctions of the Torah, in the resurrection of the dead, and in the coming of a human messiah. There is no reason to persecute here. But a Sadducee would not and surely did not desire the coming of Messiah and the eventual war with Rome. The Nazarenes held that the messiah had come and was also a prophet. This was not a serious barrier between the two groups at that point in history. Differences between Nazarenes and Pharisees would not surface until a generation or two later when religious doctrines concerning the Messiah would be erroneously applied to the life and ministry of Yeshua (which anyone familiar with the facts of Yeshua's life clearly demonstrate otherwise). Then the Pharisaic teachings developed into a body of rabbinic literature which became authoritative for Jews. The Nazarenes believed in the sacredness of the Torah and Prophets but were unwilling to accept the authority of Rabbinic Judaism. This led to a cleavage between the two groups. However, it did not develop until years after Paul's death.
The Pharisaic view was expressed by Gamileal in Acts 5:34-39. He had a pragmatic, "wait and see" attitude about Yeshua as messiah. If Yeshua were like Theudas and Judah of Galilee, who had come to rescue Israel, he would fail. If Yeshua and his followers were "of God," they would succeed and no one would stop them in their mission. Both Pharisees and Nazarenes saw that mission as freeing Judea from the Romans. Paul had been arresting, imprisoning, and killing these people; definitely not something a Pharisee would have been doing but rather a Sadducee who was an ally with Rome and under orders to not allow religious rebellions to begin. Thus the quelling of the Messianic movement as was attempted by Paul.
In summary, upon coming to Jerusalem and after his falling out with the Chief Priest and the rest of the Sadducees, Paul identified himself with the Pharisees, who enjoyed great popularity and prestige, but he was not among its circle of scholars regardless of what is written about him in the New Testament. Internal evidences with the New Testament tell a different story. Paul did not claim that honor in his letters but did imply that he was very knowledgeable about, and deeply observant of, the Torah. It was said of him by others to those who did not know Paul and the conflict he endured from the Jerusalem church till his death. To say it mildly Paul was never an accepted apostle among those closest of Yeshua and for obvious reasons: Paul denied the role of circumcision, Paul denied of the Law for righteousness, Paul taught an unbiblical doctrine of vicarious atonement, Paul endeavored to cause the cancellation of kosher and clean/unclean for the Gentiles, etc. The problem only begins here for those who have deeply studied Paul. Shalom. You can find out the truth about Paul at: