Reza Aslan's Misrepresentation of the Apostle Paul

Prior to getting into a detailed review of the many inaccurate claims found in Reza Aslan’s book Zealot: The Life and times of Jesus of Nazareth, I’ll mention what I questioned Aslan about at Powell’s bookstore last week. I don’t like to slander people’s character. Many times that is what people do when they themselves feel insulted by someone else. Yet Aslan holds high in defending his credentials and says that his book was a matter of academic pursuit with two decades of research. I don’t doubt the amount of years it took him to research for this project, but I do (and I did at Powell’s) question him on his academic honesty on the research as found in this book.

The information that I questioned Aslan on is found on pages 185 and 186 of his book. I will cover the chapter as a whole later, but will just deal with these pages and our discourse at Powell’s bookstore. I will cover five inaccuracies found on these two pages. Following are some quotes from Aslan’s book, speaking of the apostle Paul:

“He insists he is far superior to all the other apostles.”

“Are they Hebrews?” Paul writes of the apostles. “So am I! Are they Israelites? So am I! Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I! Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one

“Paul holds particular contempt for the Jerusalem-based triumvirate of James, Peter, and John, whom he derides as the “so-called pillars of the church” (Galatians 2:9). “Whatever they are makes no difference to me,” he writes. “Those leaders contributed noting to me” (Galatians 2:6). 

“The apostles may have walked and talked with the living Jesus (or, as Paul dismissively calls him, “Jesus-in-the-flesh”). But Paul walks and talks with the divine Jesus”

“according to Paul...Jesus imparts secret instructions intended solely for his ears.”

“The apostles may have been handpicked by Jesus as they toiled away on their fields or brought up their fishing nets. But Jesus chose Paul before he was born: he was, he tells the Galatians, called by Jesus into apostleship while still in his mother’s womb (Galatians 1:15).” In other words, Paul does not consider himself the thirteenth apostle. He thinks he is the first apostle.”

Misrepresentation One
Aslan says that the Apostle Paul insists that he is superior to all the other apostles. And he further misquotes Paul, by making up his own translation (as he admits to doing in the Author’s Note at the beginning of the book). He quotes Paul as saying “I am a better one” in the context of being better than the twelve apostles.

Fact: The church at Corinth began to listen to false teachers who claimed to be "super-apostles," or “chiefest apostles.” These false teachers attempted to discredit Paul to the church at Corinth, pointing out that he wasn’t very eloquent in his speech. Paul revealed to the church that these men were false apostles and deceitful workers.

2 Corinthians 11:13–15 For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.

2 Corinthians 11:3–4 But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him.

These so called “super apostles” were preaching another Jesus, another Spirit, and another gospel than what was the truth. Aslan in his speech said that Paul is referring to the twelve apostles as the “false apostles.” This is not true. Paul speaking of the apostles of Christ said that they preach the same gospel of Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. 

1 Corinthians 15:11 “whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed.”

It was other people who were deceiving the people into thinking that they themselves were “chiefest apostles” of Christ with their glamor, elitism, and they boasted in their Jewish heritage. Paul responds that he too is a Hebrew, is an Israelite, and of the seed of Abraham. Yet in direct opposite to the lifestyles of these false “super-apostles,” he mentions that he sacrificed more so that the church at Corinth would be able to hear the true gospel of Christ. He was reluctant to speak of his labors and apostleship, but was compelled to do so by the deception the false apostles were being to the church at Corinth.

2 Corinthians 11:23–28 ...(I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches.

Paul never boasted to be better than the other apostles of Christ. In fact, Paul said he didn’t even deserve to be an apostle and that he was the least of the apostles. He credited only the grace of God that he was able to serve as an apostle of Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:9–10 For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain...”

Misrepresentation Two
Aslan wrote that Paul holds contempt for James, Peter, and John, making a mockery out of them as "so-called pillars of the church" (Galatians 2:9). Aslan continues to add that Paul says of these three apostles of Christ, “Whatever they are makes no difference to me...those leaders contributed nothing to me" Galatians 2:6).

Fact: It was false brethren (Judaizers) who were trying to discredit the ministry of Paul to James, Peter, and John. Judaizers were those who taught that one had to keep the law of Moses to be saved. In particular here, they were teaching that one could not receive salvation unless they got circumcised first. Paul wasn’t being derogatory towards the twelve apostles themselves, but to the extravagant and exclusive claims of the Judaizers. Paul writes respectfully that James, Peter, and John didn’t have anything additional to him in regards to their credibility or in the message that they preached. That even these three great apostles concluded that Paul was called to be an apostle and preacher of the gospel. They were all preaching the same gospel, but unto different people groups: Paul primary to the Gentiles, and they primary to the Jews.

Galatians 2:4–8 And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage: To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you. But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man’s person:) for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me: But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter; (For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:)

It becomes very obvious that Aslan isn’t simply happening to be making a mistake in interpretation of Galatians 2:9. This isn’t even taking one verse out of context of a larger passage. This is taking a “few words” out of context of a “single verse.” Aslan said that Paul was deriding James, Peter, and John as “so called pillars of the church.” Paul was actually commending them as recognized great leaders of the church and speaks of them welcoming him into fellowship and sending him and Barnabas to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. 

Galatians 2:9 And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision.

At Powell’s bookstore, Aslan repetitively depicted Paul and these three apostles as always being at odds with each other as if they were enemies. The truth is that they loved each other, supported each other, and preached the same Jesus. James, Peter, and the rest of the apostles supported Paul’s mission (Acts 15). In one of Peter’s writings, he commended the wisdom of Paul and understood his epistles to be scripture.

2 Peter 3:15–16 And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.

Misrepresentation Three
Aslan portrays Paul as an egomaniac. He colors him as a prideful man that believes he is better than the other apostles because Jesus gives him secret instructions solely for his own ears. 

Fact: Paul was a humble man. We already saw that he considered himself to be the least of the apostles. He didn’t proudly brag about secret conversations with Jesus, but rather sometimes even spoke of visions he received in the third person (II Corinthians 12).

Misrepresentation Four
Aslan mentions that Paul, in an effort to prove his superiority over the other apostles, insists that the other apostles only got to walk and talk with Jesus-in-the-flesh. That he himself got to know the divine Jesus. Aslan says that Paul uses the terminology “Jesus-in-the-flesh” in a dismissive manner.

Fact: The apostle Paul never spoke in this manner. No wonder Aslan doesn’t quote an example here. The exact opposite is actually true. Paul was an eye-witness of the resurrected Jesus Christ. Jesus literally physically rose from the dead. It is this same Jesus the rest of the apostles walked with before he even died! Paul believed Jesus Christ to be both 100% human and 100% deity. This is often called the Hypostatic-Union amongst theologians. Paul said Jesus Christ our Lord was made of the seed of David according to the flesh and declared to be the Son of God with power. Paul also made it clear that Jesus was God in the flesh. Paul never dismissively referred to a “Jesus-in-the flesh,” but rather embraces the reality.

Romans 1:3–4 Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead:

1 Timothy 3:16 And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.
(see also 

Misrepresentation Five Aslan says that Paul implies in Galatians 1:15 that rather than being the thirteenth apostle he is really Jesus’ first choice as an apostle. He expresses this mindset as if Paul was thinking the other apostles didn’t get picked until Jesus was living amongst them, but that he was chosen before he was even born.

Fact: Paul declares that it was only because of the grace of God that he was appointed as an apostle and preacher of the gospel. Paul even acknowledged that the other apostles were appointed before he was. 

Galatians 1:17 Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus.

Misrepresentations - Intentional or Unintentional?
With these five misrepresentations showing up primary on one page (p.185) of Aslan’s book, it appears that this is a research project that is catastrophic at best. Are these misrepresentations intentional or unintentional? In his speech at Powell’s he tried to play things off as if there may be various interpretations about any passage of the scripture text. Yet it is obvious to me that this is not a case of difficult and various interpretations. The scripture texts are very plainly stated, and they don’t mean what Aslan taught them to mean. This book appears to purposefully twist and manipulate the text to give a portrayal of Jesus that is inaccurate. Here in particular it is giving a portrait of the apostle Paul that is false and not true to the very text that he supposedly quotes. You be the judge and leave a comment. Are these misrepresentations intentional or simply poor research that may have been unintentional? Or do you not think there is any misrepresentation at all?

One thing is abundantly clear to me, with at least five inaccuracies on one page, something does not add up right. A work that distorts historical documents does not hold up to its claims of being an academic and scholarly research project. It is apparent to me that this is simply a work with an agenda to undermine the real historical Jesus as also depicted in the historical documents we know as the scriptures. The apostle Paul must of known what he was talking about when he mentioned that there were those who preach “another Jesus” and “another gospel,” “which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.” Galatians 1:17


  1. Great job, Jason. The Muslims so want to discredit Paul, because his writings directly contradict the blasphemy that they teach: Jesus is not the Son of God and Jesus did not die on the cross, but was translated directly into Paradise. Next, the Muslims want to discredit the Apostle John, for he too clearly teaches contrary to Muslim doctrine concerning the person of Christ. Muslims are told to believe the Injil (the Gospels), so they have to discredit the Bible as we now have it, somehow claiming that it has been changed drastically post Muhammad.


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