Declaring War on ‘Saint’ Paul

July 22, 2007 at 9:00 am 37 comments

00930.jpgIn my last semester of my undergraduate studies, I took a seminar course on the early Christian church in Thessalonika. Much of the source material was, of course, Paul’s “first” letter to the Thessalonians – that is, the first letter that shows up in the Christian canon and that we have available to us. During my research for my term paper I came across some interesting statements regarding Paul, made by some very famous people in the last several centuries (there are several lists like this on the internet). It appears that Benjamin Franklin serendipitously anticipated this onslaught against Paul when he declared at Samuel Hemphill’s synod trial, “A virtuous heretic shall be saved before a wicked Christian.” Has modernity and postmodernity declared war on Paul? Are the attacks warranted? How do contemporary theologians defend such assaults?

St. Paul then, it seems, preach’d another and quite different Gospel from what was preach’d by Peter and the other Apostles. (Thomas Morgan, The Moral Philosopher, 1737)

That manufacturer of quibbles, St. Paul… [wrote] a collection of letters under the name of epistles…. Out of the matters contained in those books… the church has set up a system of religion very contradictory to the character of the person whose name it bears. It has set up a religion of pomp and of revenue, in pretended imitation of a person whose life was humility and poverty. (Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, 1794)

Paul was the… first corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus. (Thomas Jefferson, Letter to William Short, 1820)

It rests with every professor of the religion of Jesus to settle with himself, to which of the two religions, that of Jesus or that of Paul, he will adhere. (Jeremy Bentham, Not Paul But Jesus, 1823)

What kind of authority can there be for an ‘Apostle’ who, unlike the other Apostles, had never been prepared for the Apostolic office in Jesus’ own school but had only later dared to claim the Apostolic office on the basis of his own authority?… The only question comes to be how the Apostle Paul appears in his Epistles to be so indifferent to the historical facts of the life of Jesus… He bears himself but little like a disciple who has received the doctrines and the principles which he preaches from the Master whose name he bears. (Ferdinand Baur, The Christ Party in the Corinthian Church, the Opposition between Petrine and Pauline Christianity in the Ancient Church, and the Apostle Peter in Rome, 1831)

In Christ the religious is completely present-tense; in Paul it is already on the way to becoming doctrine. One can imagine the rest!… This trend has been kept up for God knows how many centuries… When Jesus Christ lived, he was indeed the prototype. The task of faith is… to imitate Christ, become a disciple. Then Christ dies. Now, through the Apostle Paul, comes a basic alteration… He draws attention away from imitation and fixes it decisively upon the death of Christ the Atoner… What Luther failed to realize is that the true situation is that the Apostle has already degenerated by comparison with the Gospel… It becomes the disciple who decides what Christianity is, not the master, not Christ but Paul… [who] threw Christianity away completely, turning it upside down, getting it to be just the opposite of what it is in the [genuine] Christian proclamation. (Søren Kierkegaard, The Journals, 1849)

The story of one of the most ambitious and obtrusive of souls, of a head as superstitious as it was crafty, the story of the Apostle Paul— who knows this, except a few scholars? Without this strange story, however, without the confusions and storms of such a head, such a soul, there would be no Christianity. (Friedrich Nietzsche, The Dawn, 1881)

Paul… advised against sexual intercourse altogether. A great change from the divine view… If Christ were here now, there is one thing he would not be— a Christian. (Mark Twain, Letters from the Earth, 1909) & Notebook)

I draw a great distinction between the Sermon on the Mount and the Letters of Paul. They are a graft on Christ’s teaching, his own gloss apart from Christ’s own experience. (Mahatma Gandhi, Discussion on Fellowship, 1928)

As far as Paul is concerned, in the Apocalypse (Rev. 21:14) only the names of the twelve apostles are found on the foundations of the New Jerusalem— there is no room for Paul… For Justin (Martyr in the mid-second century), everything is based on the gospel tradition…. The name of Paul is nowhere mentioned by Justin… not only is his name lacking, but also any congruence with his epistles… If one may be allowed to speak rather pointedly, the apostle Paul was the only arch-heretic known to the apostolic age… We must look to the circle of the twelve apostles to find the guardians of the most primitive information about the life and preaching of the Lord… This treasure lies hidden in the synoptic gospels. (Walter Bauer, Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity, 1934)

Tobacco… is not prohibited in the Scriptures, though, as Samuel Butler pointed out, St. Paul would no doubt have denounced it if he had known of it. (Bertrand Russell, An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish, 1943)

Paul created a theology of which none but the vaguest warrants can be found in the words of Christ… Through these interpretations Paul could neglect the actual life and sayings of Jesus, which he had not directly known… He had replaced conduct with creed as the test of virtue. It was a tragic change. (Will Durant, Caesar and Christ, 1944)

Paul: he’s in the Bible too. He is the fellow who theologized Christ almost out of Christianity. Look out for him. (Robert Frost, A Masque of Mercy, 1947)

What did the historical Jesus teach in comparison with what the historical Paul taught?… Jesus taught that to escape judgment a person must keep the central teachings of the Jewish Law as he, Jesus himself, interpreted them. Paul, interestingly enough, never mentions Jesus’ interpretation of the [Mosaic] Law, and Paul was quite insistent that keeping the Law would never bring Salvation. The only way to be saved, for Paul, was to trust Jesus’ death and resurrection… Paul transformed the religion of Jesus into a religion about Jesus. (Bart D. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, 1993)

These charges go beyond attempts to focus on the teachings of Jesus. These men, while holding fast to the possibility of an original Christianity, accuse the “apostle” of outright fraud and heretical arrogance. When Nietzsche proclaims, “who knows this, except a few scholars?,” he blatantly denounces Christians for their naivety. How can one read the Sermon on the Mount, as Gandhi and Frost pursue the issue, and see Paul’s theology? According to Morgan, Paine, Bentham, Bauer, and Ehrman, these changes were not merely alterations and corruptions, but a wholesale insurrection against the truth. Are these men simply blinded by their wanton need to discredit Christianity, or are Christians so dependent on their idolatry of their scripture that they can not recognize the radical differences that these “intellectuals” behold?

-The Apostate

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Ignorance is Bliss: The Origin of Languages? A Christian on the Sidelines

37 Comments Add your own

  • 1. wayman29  |  July 22, 2007 at 9:50 am

    Greetings,
    Loved the posts. While some of the authors you mention above are my favorite I think that the Aposal Paul has been seen in a bad light due to the changes he made when Christ went from the historical Jesus to be internalized. This was a large leap. I believe that the authors do not realize just how a metaphor changes over time and the process in which these transformations take place. One book that taught me just how hard Paul worked to get his point across is the text Paul and the Gnostics by Schmithals. I love reading the ideas like those above because they challenge my views and help me to farther define what I think about the issue.

    I realized for the fist time other possibilities that may have led to the types of views expressed above. The Gnostics twisted the teachings of Paul which frustrated him to no end . Unfortunately some of those views still exist. I just posted an article on Paul and the Phillipean opponents. Nice post. It got me thinking.

  • 2. Stephen (aka Q)  |  July 22, 2007 at 2:48 pm

    There is considerable merit in the perspective you represent here, but it can be overblown.

    (a) The main distinction is not insignificant: Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God; his followers (including Paul) proclaimed Jesus. In other words, Jesus went from being the Proclaimer to being the Proclaimed.

    (b) It’s true that Paul doesn’t focus much on the events of Jesus’ earthly life, but builds his theology almost entirely on Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.

    (c) The tradition explanation for this has some merit. Namely, that the resurrection surprised everyone (although the Gospels say that Jesus predicted it, most scholars are sceptical of that claim); and in light of that startling event, the focus shifted to the person of Jesus as the locus of salvation.

    (d) Paul doesn’t quote Jesus directly, but there are many points of contact between his ethical teaching and that of the Gospels. To give a single example, compare Romans 12:14 (“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them”) to Mt. 5:44 (“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”). Direct quotations may be few; allusions to the teaching of Jesus are commonplace.

    (e) Paul doesn’t mention many details about Jesus’ life, but they are there if one reads closely:
    1. descent from Abraham;
    2. direct descent from David;
    3. “born of a woman”;
    4. lived in poverty;
    5. born and lived under the law;
    6. a brother called James;
    7. a humble life style;
    8. ministered primarily to Jews;
    9. instituted a memorial meal before his betrayal;
    10. cruelly treated at that time;
    11. death;
    12. burial;
    13. resurrection;
    14. Note also the reference to the meekness and gentleness of Christ in 2Co. 10:1 — a description of Jesus’ temperament that corresponds to Mt. 11:29.

    In sum, the differences between the Gospels and the epistles of Paul are not insignificant, but it doesn’t amount to a complete disconnect.

  • 3. pbandj  |  July 22, 2007 at 3:26 pm

    thinking ape,

    i think you raise some really good Qs. i would refer you to NT Wright’s writings about paul. because i think he is a little more balanced about either “attacking” paul or “defending” the “orthodox” perspective of paul.

    you can read a short article by him about this at http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_New_Perspectives.htm

    peter

  • 4. bry0000000  |  July 22, 2007 at 11:54 pm

    Great post, thinking ape. I take it you’ve read “The Anti-Christ”.

  • 5. Thinking Ape  |  July 23, 2007 at 12:27 am

    pbandj, it appears that the ntwrightpage is down, do you know of any mirrors or additional resources. I have read some N.T, Wright, but I don’t recall his works right now.

    bry compliments, “Great post, thinking ape. I take it you’ve read “The Anti-Christ”.”

    Thank you. Yes, I actually had to use The Anti-Christ extensively for a term paper on the influence of Nietzsche on Anton LaVey’s brand of Satanism (or his blatant plagiarism of Nietzsche). Maybe I can warp something up for a later post on the subject.

    wayman and stephen, I thank you for your comments. I will not exhaustively reply to them here, but I make use of them in future posts, as this was more or less an introduction to my investigations into the historical Paul and the early Christians.

    Just some quick words concerning several of Stephen’s points:
    (a-c are basically the same argument): According to the Gospel stories, Jesus did not come back from the dead to change his mind, abolish the law, and redirect his entire teachings to concentrate solely on the death and resurrection. I have a hunch that if this was the case, Jesus would have told the disciples and not have appeared to one man to change the emphasis of his teachings.
    I will say in quick response to stephen’s point (d) that Paul may as well be quoting the Buddha. Additionally, I am not saying that Paul was not aware of who Jesus was. I am not in the camp, nor would most of those above authors, of “Paul made Jesus up”, at least not completely. The only critique at this point is that their is little evidence to show that Paul either knew of or cared for Jesus’ teachings.

  • 6. The de-Convert  |  July 23, 2007 at 1:00 am

    TA,

    I was able to get to the site.

    See the comment section of this blog for a discussion on N.T. Wright.

    Paul

  • 7. Thinking Ape  |  July 23, 2007 at 2:19 am

    Hmmm… odd, I still cannot access the site – but, uh, interesting discussion in the comment section.

  • 8. The de-Convert  |  July 23, 2007 at 7:41 am

    Try this: http://tinyurl.com/288oxg

  • 9. Stephen (aka Q)  |  July 23, 2007 at 9:53 am

    ThinkingApe:
    a-c are basically the same argument.

    No, they aren’t. Each is a self-contained proposition (thesis); each is subject to dispute in its own right.

    For example, (a) is a thesis about the content of Jesus’ message, whereas (b) is a thesis about the content of Paul’s message. I assert that Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God. Someone might wish to dispute that point.

    In the Gospel of John, Jesus is always talking about himself in elevated terms (e.g., “I am the way, the truth, and the life”). Scholars generally concede that John is theological rather than historical, however.

    Turning to the synoptics, someone might point to the saying, “If I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you”. Here the two ideas come together. Jesus is proclaiming the kingdom of God; but he is also claiming that his ministry is some kind of fulcrum on which salvation history turns. There’s an implicit christological claim there.

    So a-c do not all say the same thing; each thesis is worthy of exploration in its own right.

    I have a hunch that if this was the case, Jesus would have told the disciples and not have appeared to one man to change the emphasis of his teachings.

    Here you assume that Paul’s teaching was completely contrary to the teaching of everyone else. However, I’ve just pointed out that Jesus is always proclaiming himself in the Gospel of John. Therefore Paul and the Gospel of John are in essential agreement.

    The real conflict exists between Paul and James, as Ferdinand Baur’s favourite text (Galatians 2) plainly shows. Paul insisted that Gentile Christians were not bound to keep the law (notably Sabbath observance, food regulations, and circumcision). Even with respect to Jews, Paul insisted that the law played no part in anyone’s salvation.

    James begged to differ.

    Peter (who was recognized as the “apostle to the circumcised”) tried to occupy a mediating position between the two camps, but he got caught in the crossfire of the Galatians 2 conflict.

    In any event, Baur’s thesis has long since been recognized as an exaggeration and therefore a distortion of the facts. The gulf between Paul and Peter (not to mention the Gospel of John) is not as vast as Baur supposed.

  • 10. Brendan  |  July 23, 2007 at 10:08 am

    Interesting . . . How can one be sure that Paul should or can be accurately evaluated through the lens of the canonical “Gospels”?

    Most Biblical historians place the genuine Pauline epistles as the oldest documents in the New Testament. They are strange documents because they were written by a man who would have been alive, teaching as a Jewish scholar, when Jesus is said to have walked the Earth proclaiming the Kingdom. Yet, other than a couple of very general (and in themselves interesting) references to the mythology of the resurrection, Paul makes no reference to any of of the details of the life of Jesus, nor does he mention even one teaching attributed to Jesus.

    Rather, a teaching of Jesus does not appear until decades later, and “Gospel” or any account purported to be written by a witness to an historical Jesus does not appear until the mid-Second Century, in the writings of Justin Martyr. And there is no attribution of authorship to any of the “Gospels” until the time of Ireneaus at the end of the Second Century. The same is true with the “Acts of the Apostles,” to which there is no known extant reference until Ireneaus.

    What if the earliest accounts of the life, death and resurrection of “Jesus” are merely metaphorical fiction written to illustrate ideas about human psychology, guilt, violence and redemption, and the blossoming of moral awareness, and these were taken by later writers and readers as historical accounts of an actual person? What if Paul and the earliest Christians knew nothing of an earthly, historical Jesus, but were mystics writing about their psychological (spiritual) insights gleaned from the mythology of the Old Testament, Greek philosophy, and the mystery religions (paganism) that were the dominant religion of their time?

    Is it even possible to read Paul without interpreting his symbols and imagery through the the cultural noise of 2000 years of dogmatic “Christianity”?

  • 11. Stephen (aka Q)  |  July 23, 2007 at 11:33 am

    The only critique at this point is that their is little evidence to show that Paul either knew of or cared for Jesus’ teachings.

    That was the point I was addressing in (d), where I supplied a single example. You reply,

    Paul may as well be quoting the Buddha.

    Is that your argument — that Paul was a closet Buddhist? I’m sure that’s not your point, so I must misunderstand you.

    Anyway, here are some more examples like the one I’ve already supplied.

    i. Jesus opposes divorce in Mt. 5:31-32. This is one of the rare instances where Paul actually cites Jesus: “To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband … and the husband should not divorce his wife” (1Co. 7:10-11).

    ii. The other direct citation is in 1Cor. 9:14, where Paul declares, “the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.” This is a reference to the saying preserved in Matthew 10:10. There Jesus tells his disciples to accept charity instead of carrying gold and silver with them, “for the laborer deserves his food”.

    iii. How about Paul’s radical break with the law? In the synoptic Gospels, we see that Jesus consistently offended the Pharisees by operating outside of their comfort zone with respect to the Sabbath. With respect to the food laws, we have a saying preserved in Mark 7 and Matthew 15, “There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him.” Mark interprets the saying, “Thus he declared all foods clean” (7:15, 19). This doesn’t quite add up to Paul’s repudiation of the law, but it’s clearly on that trajectory.

    iv. Jesus cites the two great commandments (love God, love your neighbour) then adds, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Mt. 22:40). Likewise Paul, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:10) and again “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself'” (Gal. 5:14).

    I could go on like this for a long time, but I’ve already left three lengthy comments. In sum, it isn’t true that there’s no correspondence between the teaching of Jesus and that of Paul.

    But I don’t mean to pick at your post. The thing is, you’re in very deep waters when you try to suss out the continuity and the discontinuity between Jesus and Paul. Unless you’ve done a lot of careful study on the subject, your statements are going to be off target.

  • 12. Thinking Ape  |  July 23, 2007 at 1:18 pm

    Stephen, I apologize as I was not meaning to offer a point-by-point in depth critique. As I said, I appreciate your comments and will keep them in mind for future articles. I was well aware that your first three arguments were technically different (which is why I said “basically the same”), but I hope to address that at a later time. Again, I certainly was not making the argument that Paul was a closet Buddha – but contemporary readers of this blog would have been more familiar with that reference than some of the other teachers that said similar words. It may have appeared that I was getting off track with some of my statements, but this is only because I do not want to get into my arguments as of yet.

    I must admit, however, that you come across as someone that trusts the sources as they are. I cannot do this. You say that I am in deep waters when challenging the continuity between Jesus and Paul. This, I do not believe, is because of the evidence, but because of the long tradition of faith. I hope you will stick around to critique my future posts on Paul. I will not be offering anything new – everything I write will be from the ink of 200 years of scholarly investigation. I will not be offended if you disagree. I will only hope that I can do these scholars justice.

  • 13. lostgirlfound  |  July 23, 2007 at 2:21 pm

    I’ve often wondered — as you’ve “hinted” toward — if Paul didn’t pervert what was given by Jesus. At the end of the day, I go back to the command that we were given (those of us that believe in God) to “not make idols,” be they men or material things.
    If it comes down between what Paul said. or what Jesus (reflecting Torah) said, I know which I choose to believe. Thanks for the “chewing” material …

  • 14. Thinking Ape  |  July 23, 2007 at 2:50 pm

    stephen says, “But I don’t mean to pick at your post.”

    Please, I encourage you to do so, and I can not emphasize this enough. I have read a lot of works on the subject and am always looking for different viewpoints. My mind is hardly closed on the subject of Paul, but I am looking for what makes the most sense, not trying to make sure it aligns with orthodoxy (I am not suggesting that you are doing the latter).

  • 15. pbandj  |  July 23, 2007 at 3:46 pm

    th-ape,

    try just http://www.ntwrightpage.com and then find the article on “new perspectives on paul”.

    peter

  • 16. Thinking Ape  |  July 23, 2007 at 7:55 pm

    Thanks pbandj – I had tried that but it appears that it is finally working. Very odd. I’ll take a look.

  • 17. Stephen  |  July 24, 2007 at 11:22 am

    You come across as someone that trusts the sources as they are.

    In fact, I’m aware that the sources are problematic. (Hence, for example, I don’t rely on the Gospel of John, which would be the easiest way to rebut you.)

    I have given a lot of thought to the synoptic problem, and that period of oral transmission that preceded the written Gospels. However, I think the scepticism of many scholars is overblown.

    You must also be aware that Thomas Jefferson, for instance, is relying on a scholarly reconstruction (sundry “liberal” lives of Jesus) that were debunked long ago (notably by Albert Schweitzer c. 1906).

    In the end, Jefferson, Gandhi et al must likewise rely on the texts of the Gospel to discern Jesus’ message. The only way to address the issue is to compare the Gospels to the epistles, with due regard for critical scholarship.

    But that is a huge project, unsuited to the casual treatment you give it here. I object to your post because you don’t delve into either the texts or the critical scholarship. Quotes from Jefferson and Gandhi are worthless. On Ehrman — we could talk.

    I’ve replied to your post on one of my two blogs, here.

  • 18. Thinking Ape  |  July 24, 2007 at 12:07 pm

    Stephen,

    …is relying on a scholarly reconstruction (sundry “liberal” lives of Jesus) that were debunked long ago (notably by Albert Schweitzer c. 1906).

    I am unsure what you mean by this statement. Very little about Jesus has ever been “debunked” since there is very little that we confirm. Using a term like “debunked” is certainly to strong to use in this context. I am fairly up to date with contemporary Jesus scholarship, and citing one blip, albeit an important blip, in history is hardly worthy of saying Schweitzer debunked anything. You must see the difference between providing a good argument and debunking.

    In the end, Jefferson, Gandhi et al must likewise rely on the texts of the Gospel to discern Jesus’ message. The only way to address the issue is to compare the Gospels to the epistles, with due regard for critical scholarship.

    Jefferson did not rely on the text at all. As you are probably aware, Jefferson became so disgusted with the myth of Christianity that he cut up his Bible to exclude all the miraculous works – as you can imagine, Robert Funk was a big fan of Jefferson.
    As I said, the gospels are not the only way to decipher the issue here. Contemporary scholars cannot take the historicity of the gospels seriously, and so many rely on those of Paul’s letters that are considered authentic. The only way in which the gospels are useful is that it shows us that their were narratives and collections of sayings written down at one point during the 1st century BCE. Again, I will explain this is due detail in later posts.

    But that is a huge project, unsuited to the casual treatment you give it here. I object to your post because you don’t delve into either the texts or the critical scholarship. Quotes from Jefferson and Gandhi are worthless. On Ehrman — we could talk.

    This is large project – but because of such, many people have misconceptions and flawed information. I think you are trying to ignore something I have said several times – this is an introduction. I offered no real argument at this point. This was not meant to be an argument, it was meant to be a simple post so people knew it was okay to think about these things. Saying that quotes by Jefferson and Gandhi are “worthless” seems to me a little impertinent. They have historical value and were leaders at their time in their place. You have to know that everybody I quoted here was a soundbite and had very little substance (if I was going to make an argument on this post, do you not think I would have placed scripture somewhere?).

  • 19. chad  |  July 24, 2007 at 12:52 pm

    Why are people so attached to the historical Jesus anyway much less the gospel depiction of him? It certainly isn’t the novelty of his teaching or or the uniqueness of his suffering that has changed the world. Why are people afraid Paul has corrupted something? Do you want to practice Jesus’ odd apocalyptic ethics or stand by him in his view of ancient Palestinian politics and who the rightful king was then, proper levels of taxation, replicate his magical cures? Could he be more irrelevant or odd?

    It is the mythical understanding, promulgated by Paul, of Jesus’ identity, the significance of that death and his teaching of the resurrection which has made Jesus an inspiring figure allowing us to value his every word because we see more to them then he himself would have allowed. It is Paul’s Christ that has sustained Christianity. Ironically, if it weren’t for Paul’s teaching none of these quotables would give a rip about him. Most of them are simply giving voice to their unbelief in church dogma in an age when you couldn’t ‘dis’ Jesus as well. It’s like they were saying ‘I’m spiritual but not religious’ today. Play the church off of Jesus. It’s now old hat. Who would want any Jesus but Paul’s though…. really, honestly?

    To explain Paul’s indifference to Jesus I think one must investigate how he regards “Jesus according to the flesh” (2Cor5). He is interested in Jesus true identity ‘according to the Spirit’ declared after the resurrection (Romans 1:3-4) Why? Look at 1 Cor 15 where he deals with the nature of the body of Christ. It is no longer flesh, but a life giving Spirit. The Spirit/flesh dichotomy is key to building the mystical religion from the work of the historical Jesus.

    As always it all comes down to the resurrection. It changes everything and everything rides on it. Loving, serving, dying , and rising with the ‘Son of God’ not simply, simple old ‘Jesus’. If you believe that how could you not follow Paul? If you don’t believe it, why bother with any of it?

    Chad

  • 20. karen  |  July 24, 2007 at 1:00 pm

    Why are people so attached to the historical Jesus anyway much less the gospel depiction of him? It certainly isn’t the novelty of his teaching or or the uniqueness of his suffering that has changed the world. Why are people afraid Paul has corrupted something? Do you want to practice Jesus’ odd apocalyptic ethics or stand by him in his view of ancient Palestinian politics and who the rightful king was then, proper levels of taxation, replicate his magical cures? Could he be more irrelevant or odd?

    Very interesting point, Chad. The Gospel of Q – a compilation of what are possibly the only authentic sayings of Jesus during his lifetime – presents Jesus as an itinerant rabbi in the “cynics” tradition.

    While many of his teachings are insightful and beautiful, many others are frankly rather odd, humorous and even risque. It’s interesting to study them completely separate from the rest of the NT mythology that rose up to surround them.

  • 21. Thinking Ape  |  July 24, 2007 at 9:26 pm

    Chad queries,

    Why are people so attached to the historical Jesus anyway much less the gospel depiction of him? It certainly isn’t the novelty of his teaching or or the uniqueness of his suffering that has changed the world. Why are people afraid Paul has corrupted something? Do you want to practice Jesus’ odd apocalyptic ethics or stand by him in his view of ancient Palestinian politics and who the rightful king was then, proper levels of taxation, replicate his magical cures? Could he be more irrelevant or odd?…If you believe that how could you not follow Paul? If you don’t believe it, why bother with any of it?

    For one, I care for the truth of the matter. I could care less about the theological implications. I care about the historical persons because they were important people in history. I study history and love it for whatever reason. But if I read that someone thought that we should all start worshiping Isaac Newton, I would be a little distraught. Jesus was, especially for his time and place, a revolutionary – his treatment of women, non-Jews, inclusiveness, tolerance, and compassion are all relatively unique, but certainly not exclusive. The investigation into the historical Jesus and historical Paul are not matters of “wanting to practice”, but a matter of searching for the historical truth.

  • 22. Thinking Ape  |  July 24, 2007 at 9:28 pm

    Karen, in agreement, says,

    While many of his teachings are insightful and beautiful, many others are frankly rather odd, humorous and even risque.

    Many of his teachings may be odd to our ears, but most scholars of the historical Jesus would note that these oddities would be perfectly normal to the climate of Palestine at the time – a time full of messianic anticipation and political and religious turmoil.

  • 23. chad  |  July 24, 2007 at 10:57 pm

    “his treatment of women, non-Jews, inclusiveness, tolerance, and compassion”

    Oh dear….I believe Stephen’s previous point about Schweitzer’s critique holds here. Jesus becomes something of a blank slate on which we project positive values and see nothing but a ‘fall’ in Paul and the church. This simply overlooks the bizarre in Jesus ideas and theology. This naive privileging of Jesus as a ‘great man of history’ persists. Paul would not be seen as a ‘distorter’ if people could grasp how outlandish Jesus ministries aims were and how they couldn’t outlast his death. He wasn’t Gandhi ahead of his time.

    You say:
    “But if I read that someone thought that we should all start worshiping Isaac Newton, I would be a little distraught.”

    Again it is the resurrection that makes all the difference at least for Paul. If you are wanting to charge Paul with changing the message of Jesus then I don’t think Paul would deny it. The theological event of resurrection, which you disavow or bracket for hisotrical purposes, causes Paul to reevaluate Jesus significance and what ‘really happened’ as you might put it. He doesn’t however present you with a fabricated historical Jesus who is not the real one. He suggests this one he preaches is the Son of God. If Paul is correct, he is not the corrupter of Christianity as (Ehrman would have it) but perhaps its first earthly proponent. Jesus simpy didn’t pass on a religion to corrupt.

    As I read your post, Paul was being presented as the ‘corrupter’, ‘heretic’, ‘fraud’ of a (usually purer more palatable) teaching of Jesus. Certainly that is what those you quote were saying. Yet Paul never presented himself as a follower of Jesus of Palestine perpetuating his earthly mission and preaching. He was, according to his own testimony, an apostle of the resurrected Lord, a matter not irrelevant to the ‘truth’ of Jesus’ identity. He might say “Insurrection against the truth or Resurrection of the Truth?”

    You say :
    “The investigation into the historical Jesus and historical Paul are not matters of “wanting to practice”, but a matter of searching for the historical truth.”

    I again question whether people’s obsession with a Jesus behind Christianity isn’t motivated by a “wanting to practice” as Jesus so often represents authentic religion and the like particularly in relation to Paul. It is impossible to imagine that those who make a great deal of such things aren’t arguing out and justifying their disavowal of a faith which ironically doesn’t purport to preach Jesus. These more historically minded adhere to the ‘truth’ and are not ‘naive’ in following Paul as Neitzche charges Christians. Yet I would add that it is quite a ‘practical’ matter that Christians do not follow a Jesus according to the flesh but rather claim to know the ‘truth’ of the resurrected Lord according to the Spirit. The truth is inseparable from practice here it seems.

    Chad

  • 24. Thinking Ape  |  July 25, 2007 at 1:54 am

    Chad,
    regarding the teaching of Jesus,
    Do you deny that Jesus was a revolutionary teacher? If we are to trust anything in the gospels, which I do, than how can one deny that his treatment of women was well above the norm (many great philosophers wouldn’t even talk to women, much less have them among disciples). How can one deny that his treatment among non-Jews was exemplary (he consistently refers to Samaritans, who were even worst than gentiles because of they “pervert” the Jewish tradition)? How can one deny his inclusiveness (fisherman? tax collectors?!?!)? How can one deny his compassion (healings, feedings, etc.)? What gospel are you reading? This may seem like just a swell guy to us, but please lets put Jesus in his political and religious perspective.

    Paul would not be seen as a ‘distorter’ if people could grasp how outlandish Jesus ministries aims were and how they couldn’t outlast his death.

    I don’t think I ever implied otherwise. Jesus was not some Gandhi. He was probably more like David Icke.

    I would not consider the majority of the rest of your post remotely in line with any orthodox Christian thinking, so I am unsure how to even go about responding to it. You obviously have a very interesting perspective of Paul, and I would like to know what you are reading to make you come to such conclusions. In just reading what you are saying, Paul sounds like he really is his own sort of Messianic figure, and that Jesus was more of a stepping stone. And really, it could have been anybody. Paul could have picked John the Baptist or Ananias or Stephen (oh, the drama on that would be beautiful).

    Quite frankly, I am confused on your overall position of the teachings and whether you hold any real value to Jesus or Paul. Perhaps it is simply too late and I am just missing the general drift.

  • 25. chad  |  July 25, 2007 at 9:44 am

    Ape,

    I was tired when I wrote it so that’s fine. You need to move on so I’ll go away after this.

    “, and that Jesus was more of a stepping stone. And really, it could have been anybody…..”

    To some degree if they were resurrected perhaps. But I think Jesus’ earthly pretensions to kingship or messiah status were important to Paul. The centrality of what Paul experienced of the resurrected Christ is what mattered though.

    Bultmann and more importantly Luke Timothy Johnson has been the most interesting as far as reading though not all of what I say here comes from them. I am suspicious of the aspects of the revolutionary teacher you point to on nearly every point or at least how we are to construe them. Dale Allison and E.P. Sanders are my references there.

    Your interest in my orthodoxy is interesting making your argument seem more anti-theological than you claim, not merely an historical pursuit of the truth. To make your point(fun) you need orthodoxy to be tied to the historical Jesus teachings and mission. My point is that Paul is already indicating it is not(or his isn’t) by his disavowal of Jesus according to the flesh. By extension orthodoxy therefore is not committed to such. Notice the creeds notorious complete disinterest.

    I’ll admit that some (the few who even consider the matter)naively believe in some historical Jesus/Paul continuity, but I argue that it is not central to their faith and certainly not to the substance of its proclamation since most are committed to the Christ revealed in the Scriptures. They should know that the Christ of the gospels has always been the narrative of the risen Christ(who he really is) not some biography of Jesus. Insofar as what I say undermines the confidence one can have in the gospels as history, some will be unnecessarily turned off. They have confused history with truth the flesh with the Spirit. The resurrection undermines that directly.

    Since most Christians are ultimately committed to the same Christ I speak of they will, to your frustration, deny your arguments to the end. Unfortunately they will mostly deny them on historical grounds, when theological ones are enough. I wanted to elucidate the rationality of their madness for you in advance.

    Cheers

  • 26. HeIsSailing  |  July 25, 2007 at 11:50 am

    Karen sez:

    The Gospel of Q – a compilation of what are possibly the only authentic sayings of Jesus during his lifetime – presents Jesus as an itinerant rabbi in the “cynics” tradition.

    I am almost finished reading Burton Mack’s ‘Gospel of Q’. I like how he spends the later half of the book trying to put the sayings into a socilogical context so they make more sense to us modern readers. I have a few problems with the beginning half of the book. Mack argues the Q has gone through distinct levels of editing, or an original document with material added on based on the genre of the saying. But he then does some circular reasoning that is not at all convincing to me – if the reasoning is there, I wish he would have gone into a little more depth to make it clearer. His arguments for the existance of Q, and what it consists of, are very convincing to me though. His arguments for the historicizing of Jesus as Cynic with respect to the Sayings of Q are very plausible.

  • 27. karen  |  July 25, 2007 at 12:14 pm

    HIS:
    I am almost finished reading Burton Mack’s ‘Gospel of Q’.

    Cool! I bought a tape of a lecture he gave to the Skeptics Society on that book. It sounded fascinating.

    He read some of the teachings from Q alongside the corresponding red-letter verses we have in the gospels. That was stunning to me!

    I found his arguments quite plausible, but I don’t think he talked too about the authenticity of Q. I’d be interested to hear more of your take on that part when you finish the book.

  • 28. chrisduffner  |  July 27, 2007 at 12:17 am

    Thinking Ape, I found your post very interesting as I had to do a research paper this year on Paul in my Exegesis class. In my evaluation of Pauline theology’s impact through the centuries I came to the same conclusion: its interpretations (and/or misinterpretations) are the most varied of Gospel canon. Mainly through proof-texting did “heretics” such as Valentinius and Marcion make their Gnostic claims.

    I personally am an Athiest, but I had to take the class, and in fact enjoyed it as I view religion and the bible as anthropological phenomena. Anyway, I’m a new reader, and excited to join in the conversation. I’ll be around!

  • 29. Anonymous  |  October 21, 2007 at 9:38 am

    In Revelation 22: 18-19, we read the warning not to add or to take away any words, which I believe is in regard to the whole Bible, not just the Revelation, for the Bible itself is ” prophecy”.
    I’m no scholar, and this settles it for me if tempted to disregard
    Paul’s writings. They are part of the Bible. Without Revelation 22 :18, 19 we get into all these controversies about who or what belongs in the Bible. Paul is misunderstood by many of us at times and i think it causes these problems. god gave us Revelation 22 : 18, 19 I believe, to avoid the ongoing debates.

  • 30. Thinking Ape  |  October 21, 2007 at 2:08 pm

    Anon:

    In Revelation 22: 18-19, we read the warning not to add or to take away any words, which I believe is in regard to the whole Bible, not just the Revelation, for the Bible itself is ” prophecy”.

    That’s nice that you believe that, but the Bible did not come out of thin air and there was no “Bible” when the book of Revelation was written. The reason for Rev. 22:18-19 was that it was common practice to write literature, especially of a “religious” nature, in community (which is how the gospels were most likely written). Letters such as the Pauline epistles, Hebrews, and Revelation were written by individual authors. The author of Revelation, known today only as “John,” expressed that this obviously personal vision was not to be added to by anyone else, whether in the “Johannine” community or otherwise.

    Without Revelation 22 :18, 19 we get into all these controversies about who or what belongs in the Bible.

    Revelation itself was rarely accepted into early lists of the canon. The canon itself was fought over right up until the 9th century. I strongly encourage a deeper look into how your Bible was created.

  • 31. Bobby Garner  |  November 23, 2007 at 4:21 pm

    Paul prophesied that the arrival of “The Lawless One” would be accompanied by a “grand delusion”, but perhaps did not realize his own influence in being primarily responsible for creating it as the essential father of Christendom, which is and has always been a hotbed of paganism taught as the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul’s influence was largely rejected by Jesus’ followers who knew him personally, even Peter who was given the vision of “The Way” (as taught to them by Jesus) being extended to the Gentiles.

    This in no way means that Paul was not inspired by God to transform his life from a persecutor to a promoter. His association with the “Great Conspiracy” against God as represented by the Pharisaic tradition means that he had the ancient knowledge of the secrets and was oath bound under “pain of death” to keep them. Thus his writing is so heavily influenced by the symbolic language of secret societies that many people have refused to accept him as an “inspired of God” author. Some go so far as to reject the entire Bible because of this. Many others (the vast majority of Christians) believe that his every word supersedes (in many cases) even the very words and principles taught by Jesus.

    The apparent contradictions are resolved by the proper understanding of the grand delusion (or working of error) as stated at 2nd Thessalonians 2: 9-11. The delusion is for those who fail – or refuse as the case may be – to understand the importance of resolving their contradictions, allowing them to stand as justified and teaching them to others as the truth.

    The grand delusion has created Christendom which cannot provide a satisfactory answer to the question of division among the different denominations, and it leaves Christians with little or no effective defense against the New Age program of “Syncretism”, the blending of all religions and philosophies into one. Syncretism is “deception through duplicity, saying one thing, but meaning another, and having it appeal to a diverse global audience for the purpose of achieving their complicity in the deception by their acceptance of the resulting consensus which develops from the process.” Syncretism is an argument for realizing the Human Potential, becoming as God, and its in fulfillment of Revelation 12:9 because it is a global phenomenon.

  • 32. Joe  |  December 14, 2007 at 1:16 am

    Great set of quotes on Paul. Concur with the sentiments expressed therein. One further point: “What kind of authority can there be for an ‘Apostle’ who, unlike the other Apostles, had never been prepared for the Apostolic office in Jesus’ own school but had only later dared to claim the Apostolic office on the basis of his own authority?” Quoting Ferdinand Baur. Robert Eisenman has suggested that Paul was a Herodian. I believe this point calls out for closer inspection. The authority Paul carried may have been of birth, not study under a master.

  • 33. Mkhan  |  December 26, 2009 at 12:26 pm

    If you think that you will die and that is the end of it then wait till you read this. You will be surprised to learn that the religious
    contention that man will rise from the grave is not just a myth or wishful thinking but is based on real scientific principles. Rising up from the grave and coming back alive can happen simply with the reversal of time.

    The world (but not the universe) can end because of earthquake, tsunami, meteor strike, nuclear war, supernova, and some other natural or man made disaster. These are however just local ends that have nothing to do with The Day of Judgment. End will also not happen on any arbitrary date like December 2012. The end of the universe is an entirely different phenomenon that is built into the laws of the universe by the creator. The contraction of the universe with reversal of time and gravity will commence the beginning of the end which will last for thousands and possibly millions of years. We will be removed from the regressing effects of reversed time as we
    come back alive in our own time. We will the be taken across many dimensions to beyond this universe. A beautiful natural
    mechanism that is based on the laws of physics will cause all that to happen. This real end has nothing to do with wishful thinking and predictions of priests or shamans.

  • 34. Pamela Henson  |  May 16, 2010 at 12:20 am

    Did anyone notice that in the book of Matthew ch24 vs 23 -27 Jesus explains to the diciples of the Antichrist! And warned them that if anyone came from the desert saying lo I am there don’t go and don’t listen,and believe it not!. Paul came from the desert claiming Jesus had came and spoken to him! And had no solid witness. Jesus even had a witness to his person; the sky opened up and spoke “this is MY Beloved Son in Whom I AM well pleased”!
    Paul tells on himself ,about adding to the scriptures.
    Paul teaches that it’s OK to eat things offered to Idols;Jesus teaches especially against it.
    Paul teaches circumcision is nothing; Jesus was circumcised.
    Paul teaches it’s OK to marry your own daughter,and the wife is held by the law;Jesus teaches to even look on a woman with lust is a sin.
    Paul teaches to put out of the church the unrepentant man(if two or so deem him as such). But Jesus said Judge not; else ye be judged
    Paul set up church buildings; Jesus said GOD does not dwell in temples made with mans hands; that you are the Temple of GOD
    .Paul teaches us to pay tithes to a man. Jesus was confused and had Peter to go get him money from a fishes belly to pay there tribute.
    Paul teaches that we are now under a new law. Jesus fulfilled the LAWS OF GOD (Ten Commandments written by GODS own hand). Jesus brought more understanding of the Commandments. Example: Thou shalt have no other Gods before me.Jesus enlightenment goes like this; Love the LORD THY GOD with all your heart all your soul and all your mind! And love thy neighbor as
    your self ; Goes like this; Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. And thou shalt not lie; Jesus said, all liars will have there part in the lake of fire that burneth forever and ever. This list goes on and on…….
    Paul did deceive the diciples and they took him at his word after a while, and many people have been deceived.
    All the prophecies from the old testament that have been fulfilled is no coincidence. GOD IS REAL! History proclaims the most of what we know as the bible! And even science has proven much of it. GOD IS the same yesterday and forever. Jesus said ,not one jot or one title shall pass from the LAW(of GOD) until all be fulfilled.

  • 35. Rene Diebenkorn  |  October 26, 2011 at 12:57 am

    So bummed to have missed this discussion! Amazing quotes!

    Paul is definitely a tricky subject to talk about!

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Attention Christian Readers

Just in case you were wondering who we are and why we de-converted.

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Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.

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