One major accusation against Christianity is that it is based on the fabrications of Paul.
One popular phrasing of the argument is that Paul was aware of the fact that Jesus Christ died and in a bid to make sense of it, leapt to the conclusion that He must have died for the forgiveness of our sins.
To be honest, this is a very silly statement for a number of reasons.
First, the idea that Jesus Christ died for sin was not original with Paul. In fact Paul himself says,
“For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3)
The idea of atonement was one he had learned from those who were Christians before him.
Secondly, Paul was initially a persecutor of those who held to the Christian faith. How does he go from persecuting the Christian faith to inventing its core tenet? Was the core tenet of Christianity being based on Christ’s death and resurrection not what he had been fighting all along? As he says,
“…I persecuted this way to the death…” (Acts 22:4)
“Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities.” (Acts 26:9–11)
Third, even according to the scripture, before Paul became a Christian and while he was still persecuting the church, Peter was preaching about the atonement. Peter’s response to his audience after his first sermon was,
“Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)
And again, Peter preaches to Cornelius,
“To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.” (Acts 10:43)
Why again is Peter preaching a remission of sins in connection with the death and resurrection of Christ if it was a Pauline invention?
Fourth, Old Testament Scriptures (Isaiah 53 being one of the most explicit) prophesy of a servant of God who suffers, dies and is raised up in order to atone for the sins of the people,
“Who has believed our report?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant,
And as a root out of dry ground.
He has no comeliness;
And when we see Him,
There is no beauty that we should desire Him.
He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”
These prophecies in the New Testament were over and over again cited in reference to Jesus Christ.
Fifth and most importantly, Jesus Christ Himself explicitly stated that His death and resurrection was going to be for the purpose of saving us from sin.
“Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28)
“And as they were eating, Jesus took bread blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.”
Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you.
For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” (Matthew 26:26–28)
“Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations…”
Note that I have left out the several such references to atonement in John’s gospel just to avoid the shenanigans of sceptics and Muslim apologists around that gospel (never mind that John’s gospel all of a sudden becomes halal when they want to find Prophet Muhammad in it).
Now in light of the Old Testament scripture and the specific statement of Jesus in Luke 24:47, it makes sense why Peter was preaching atonement and why the church believes in it. The atonement was not an after-thought, it was the whole point of Jesus’ coming.
As the angel said to Joseph,
“ And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)
In conclusion, the idea that Paul invented the atoning death of Jesus Christ is very foolish. A desperate attempt to justify non-belief in Christianity and one that is not supported by evidence, scripture or history. The gospel is at the heart of scripture and the gospel is the death and resurrection of Christ for the sins of humanity, a reality that preceded Paul by a literal eternity. One that will also survive him for eternity.