What a Shame: the Writings of a Crank Got Into the Bible

Please stop calling him “saint” Paul

One particular Christian cult has dedicated itself to putting Bibles in motel/hotel rooms; by one estimate they’ve distributed more than a billion Bibles over the decades. The idea is to put the Word of God within easy reach, right there in the drawer beside the bed. This probably worked better in the era before every motel/hotel room had a TV—and when many travelers had their laptop computers and cell phones. But picking up the Bible and reading a few verses or chapters doesn’t solve the problem of figuring out the meaning of the texts. Christianity has shattered into so many warring brands because there is so much difference of opinion about meaning.
So the true Word of God—what the deity actually meant people to understand from the text—is elusive, to say the least. Conservative Bible scholar, Ben Witherington III, makes a startling admission at the beginning of his 405-page book on Paul’s Letter to the Romans: “…the goal of understanding this formidable discourse is not reached for a considerable period of time.” (p. 1, Witherington, Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary
Say what? In other words, here's a big patch of scripture that the ordinary reader won’t be able to easily understand. Was that his god’s intention? And certainly, Witherington’s book—with that subtitle: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary—is not aimed at the lay reader; New Testament academicians tend to write for their fellow scholars (although there are popularizers who try to appeal to the folks in the pews). 
What are my reasons for suggesting that the apostle Paul was a crank
First: How did he know about Jesus? There is no evidence that he ever met Jesus in person, hence there few, if any, references to the ministry, teachings, miracles of Jesus in any of Paul’s letters. In fact, he was proud of the fact that he didn’t learn about Jesus from any human source (Galatians 1:11), and although he once stayed with Cephas (Peter) for fifteen days, he explicitly states that he avoided contact with the other disciples. He assures his readers, in Galatians 1:12, that his knowledge of their holy hero came through revelations given him by the heavenly Jesus himself. He apparently thought this was the highest credential imaginable: he had visions, dreams, hallucinations about Jesus. It takes a high level of gullibility to trust such claims. This has been the boast of countless religious fanatics—and those in different religions dismiss them totally. 
Second: Paul displays far too much rage. That happens when fanatics assume that they are right, and everyone else is wrong. Imagine your reaction if you came across a street preacher yelling about people who deserve to die: He includes in this list: gossips, rebellious children, those who covet and who are envious; those who are insolent, haughty, boastful. You’d probably mutter a few words about what a nut-job, and cross the street. That’s actually Paul: read Romans 1:29-32. And Romans 2:5: “But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. And Romans 2:8: “…for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but injustice, there will be wrath and fury.” He savors the idea that his god will get even, will go on punishing sprees.
Third: Paul didn’t like sex, and was sure Jesus was the key to getting away from it: “And those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:24) Belong to Christ is itself a mark of cult fanaticism. In his famous discussion of marriage in I Corinthians 7, while he suggests that it is “good for a man not to touch a woman,” he concedes that sex will happen, so go ahead with it. But then adds, “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain unmarried as I am. But if they are not practicing self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.” (vv. 8-9) That’s his idea of marriage? To avoid being aflame with passion? The word nut-job comes to mind again. There’s plenty of evidence that belonging to Christ doesn’t cancel passions and desires. All the Christians who have children have to overcome their lack of interest in sex? We can suspect that the priests and pastors who molest children don’t actually belong to Christ after all. Paul’s understanding of the impact of Christ is seriously flawed. 
There are four videos about Paul on my YouTube Channel, in a Playlist titled, 
Please Stop Calling Him “Saint” Paul.     
Video 1  (4.59 minutes)
Video 2  (4:28 minutes)                                                                                                                                          Video 3  (4:31 minutes)
Video 4  (4:32 minutes)
The Mediocre and Bad Theology in Romans, Chapter One
Anyone who reads the opening of this famous epistle critically, with the degree of savvy that comes with living in an age of science—that is, the serious study of nature—can appreciate how far it falls short of being sound theology...if there is any such thing.  
What Cannot Be Inferred about God
The easiest thing for ancient folks to assume was that the world had a creator, a deity who called the earth into being. And that’s still a common assumption in Christian theology. Perhaps, someday, cosmologists who are on the quest to understand cosmic origins will discover/identify a Cosmic Force that can be given credit for creation. But would they burden it with all the baggage that theologians have invented/imagined over the centuries? Paul played a major role in adding baggage.
In Romans 1:20, we find these words: “Ever since the creation of the world God’s eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been seen and understood through the things God has made.” No, this is imagination-based speculation. We cannot understand God “through the things he made.” The devout have commonly assumed that the beauties of nature allow us to infer the power and nature of a god. They already have an image of their god in mind, and usually overlook that their creator god must also take credit/blame for microbes, thousands of genetic diseases, mental illnesses, the major hazards in the natural world that bring so much suffering. Of course, Paul had his explanation for these evils: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and injustice of those who by their injustice suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.” (Romans 1:18-19) His creator god had a violent temper, hardly a surprise for someone who was nurtured on the vindictive Yahweh described in the Old Testament. Curious, critical readers of this text cannot be satisfied with Paul’s alarming speculations about his god. We want to know where we can find reliable, verifiable, objective data for his claims. 
One of the Famous Clobber-the-Gays Texts
We have to be stumped when devout Christians ignore Paul’s advice about straight sex, but heartily endorse his ranting about gay sex. How is that not hypocrisy? Here is another disaster text in Romans 1:26-27:
“God gave them over to dishonorable passions. Their females exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the males, giving up natural intercourse with females, were consumed with their passionate desires for one another. Males committed shameless acts with males and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.”
Says the man who recommended that men not touch women! But, even worse, he seems to be blaming his deity for this slide into sin: “God gave them over to dishonorable passions.” Because he can’t wait to punish them? But again, curious, critical readers want to pay more attention to what we have learned about human sexuality in the last few decades. It was in 1974 that the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its diagnostic manual—true enough, under pressure from gay rights activists. But it was becoming clear that homosexuality could no longer considered a disorder or mental illness. Same-sex love and attraction is just something that happens, in animals as well as humans. And as more and more gay people have come out —and gotten married—the level of acceptance has grown. The kind of ranting we find in Romans 1:26-27 just doesn’t seem to be relevant, and falls far short of love and compassion. As was illustrated just this month in Ashtabula, Ohio. A lineup of pastors spoke at the City Council to oppose a planned Gay Pride event at a public beach. Sure enough, one of them quoted Romans 1:26-27 to make his point. 
[Full disclosure here: I am gay. My husband and I celebrated our 46th anniversary a few days ago. We were legally married after we’d been together for thirty years.]
Paul’s List of People Who Deserve to Die
When Paul was in a good mood, he could say things like, “Love is patient and kind.” But when he was in a bad mood, watch out. In his book, Jesus: A Life, British scholar A. N. Wilson offered this evaluation of Paul: 
“To say that he was self-contradictory is an understatement. He was a man who was fighting himself and quarrelling with himself all the time, and he managed to project the warfare in his own breast on to the Cosmos itself.” (p. 23, Jesus: A Life)
Thus he unleashed his rage, Romans 1:29-32:
“They were filled with every kind of injustice, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. They know God’s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die, yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them.” 
Paul himself comes across here as ruthless. Why not muster some compassion, to enable those on his list to do better? The warfare in his own breast is pretty ugly.
Christian theologians have displayed far too much idolatry about the Book of Romans. Martin Luther recommended memorizing it. The first line of C. H. Dodd’s 1932 commentary on Romans: “The Epistle to the Romans is the first great work on Christian theology.” At the beginning of Ben Witherington commentary, he presents a 22-page bibliography of books and articles that have been written about Romans; the list of commentaries, he notes, “could go on for miles.” (p. xvii) These devout scholars are in the business of justifying ancient theologies/superstitions for the benefit of other devout scholars. If even one percent of this output has been read by the laity, I would be surprised. 
That parade of pastors before the City Council in Ashtabula, Ohio, by the way, didn’t carry the day. Quoting Romans 1 had no impact whatever. The Pride Event was not denied use of the city beach. Ruthless Paul would no doubt want to add the members of the City Council to his list of people who deserve to die. 

David Madison was a pastor in the Methodist Church for nine years, and has a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston University. He is the author of two books, Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: a Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith, now being reissued in several volumes, the first of which is Guessing About God (2023) and Ten Things Christians Wish Jesus Hadn’t Taught: And Other Reasons to Question His Words (2021). The Spanish translation of this book is also now available. 
His YouTube channel is here. At the invitation of John Loftus, he has written for the Debunking Christianity Blog since 2016.
The Cure-for-Christianity Library©, now with more than 500 titles, is here. A brief video explanation of the Library is here