Jesus vs. Paul


#1

So, when I was responding to some question on another website, I ran into this one here: answering-christianity.com/paul_docs.htm

Now, if you just ignore the fact that most of the people listed are not specialists in theology or Biblical criticism, and that these quote aren’t arguments (which the author is probably aware of), I want to hear your thoughts on this wicked strain within modern thought to pit Paul against Jesus.

Personally, I think it has to do with ignorance of what Jesus and Paul actually taught (I haven’t found a contradiction between Jesus and Paul: in fact, I find them very complementary) and, more interestingly, the desire to claim that Jesus “really” agrees with the critic’s ideology, or at least the basics of it. What I find fascinating is that post-Christian people, people who absolutely hate Christianity, still wish to have Jesus on their side. They also don’t want to make Jesus stupid, so they would rather claim that all the things Jesus taught that they don’t agree with was “actually” taught by Paul or whoever. This rhetorical slight of hand allows them to pick and choose from Jesus’s teaching, throwing the “supernatural”, “theological,” and “unenlightened” teachings with the “idiot” Paul, and enables them to go on and write about the true teachings™ of Jesus, which seem more like the philosophical fads of today instead of what the historical evidence seems to suggest (Side Question: are there parallels of this sort of think in Gnostic religions?)

I also think the Reformation has something to do with it, as the Reformers pit Jesus’s teaching on faith and works against Paul’s so called “faith alone” doctrine (which I never understood where Luther got it from anyway). In our age, which celebrates practical action over speculative beliefs, it makes sense that people today would attack “Paul’s” salvation by intellectual consent (how intolerant of other viewpoints!), and prefer “Jesus” salvation by works.

What are your thoughts on all this?

Christi pax,

Lucretius


#2

I don’t think it’s “modern” thought that compares jesus and paul’s words. It’s been going on for centuries.

One of the first issues to address, of course, is that most biblical scholars believe that half the Paul writings that we have were not written by him.
So if that is the case, we cannot be sure that all that we have from him is what he meant to teach.

And his not ever knowing Jesus is another factor people keep in mind and many are not comfortable with it.
I don’t think Jesus would have ever said the bit about women not talking in church, etc. As if!
(tho i think this is one of the bits scholars think is not really from Paul).

Who made Paul an official “apostle” by the way? Is he an apostle just because he says he is? Or did one of the remaining apostles give him the “title”?

You say: “people who absolutely hate Christianity, still wish to have Jesus on their side”.
This thought makes no sense to me.
I think people who are not religious still look for the wise words said by wise people…so they will look for that in anything someone like Jesus said. I wouldn’t call that cherry-picking so much as…understanding that most enlightened men and women try to deliver the same message of loving our fellow human beings and encouraging peace, etc.

.


#3

Psychologically, perhaps it is a way to try to disguise anti-Christianity by trying to make it look like they favor Christ while actually slighting Christianity by slamming Paul, who indeed taught authentic Christianity.

Since this is related, if anyone is interested, here is a paper I did a few years ago critiquing John Gager who argued for a dual-salvation path in his book Reinventing Paul, one for Jews and one for Christians. Perhaps theologians like him influenced at least his contemporaries and successors.


#4

I think that a lot of it comes from conflicting teachings of some forms of Protestantism. I actually despised Saint Paul because of how the churches I used to attend interpreted him; in favor of once saved always saved, against helping the poor, no works necessary, etc. I clearly understood Jesus in the Gospels, and their interpretation of Paul really contradicted what Jesus taught. It was during my conversion to Catholicism that I fell in love with saint Paul and began to understand him better. I have since decided that if someone thinks that Paul is contradicting Jesus, that person is misunderstanding Paul. Even Peter said that Paul is difficult to understand and would be twisted by the wicked (2Peter 3:16).


#5

He did know Jesus when Jesus appeared to him when he was Saul.


#6

I actually just finished a Teaching Company tape on Paul by Bart Ehrman, and I’m almost finished reading a book on him as well. I’m not an expert, but here are some thoughts:

First, the web site the original poster cites is a Muslim site designed to attack Christianity. I have no doubt the quotations on the site are real, but they are hardly a representative cross-section of opinion, and they’re short on theologians (does Albert Schweitzer count?). Bishop Spong and George Bernard Shaw are not exactly unbiased. The standard Muslim line of attack is that Christianity as we know it today is the religion of Paul, who corrupted the teachings of Jesus.

Next, you have to read Paul to understand what he’s about. He sees himself as the apostle to the Gentiles, and he’s almost constantly defending Gentiles against Jews who want to make Gentiles into Jewish Christians who obey all the Jewish laws–particularly circumcision, diet, and keeping the Sabbath. So he has to find a way to show that Gentiles don’t need to become Jews to become Christians. This leads him into the idea that Jesus’s death made everyone (including Gentiles) “righteous.” That meant that Gentiles didn’t have to follow Jewish laws; in the past Jewish laws made Jews “righteous,” but that day is over–it still applies to the Jews, but it’s unnecessary for others. In fact, Paul goes to far as to say it is counter-productive for Gentiles to follow Jewish law since Jewish law distracts from the real truth–that Jesus died for our sins, etc. At one point he even equates the old Jewish law with sin.

Paul says almost nothing about Jesus. I think there are 4-5 brief mentions of facts about Jesus in Paul, and there is nothing original there. No stories, parables, etc. You could explain that in multiple ways. Maybe Paul didn’t know much about Jesus aside from his own personal vision–after all, he doesn’t meet the other apostles until three years later. Maybe Paul felt there were a lot of well-known stories about Jesus going around, and he didn’t need to tell them himself. Maybe it didn’t come up because his epistles are written to respond to various problems in congregations, not to summarize the story of Jesus.

Paul claims apostleship from his vision of Jesus, whatever that may have been. Acts gives contradictory versions–in one the others present see Jesus but don’t hear him and in the other they hear him but don’t see him. But clearly something major happened to make Paul switch sides.

Paul also seems to get himself into contradictory positions, or at least he is sometimes misunderstood by his followers. He doesn’t systematically think through what he’s writing. When the people of Corinth became Christian, Paul taught them they were somehow “saved” by the death of Jesus, and the Jewish law didn’t apply to them. So they took that as a license for debauchery–almost a Gnostic view that the body didn’t matter. So Paul had to write 1 Corinthians to get them back on track and assure them that their actions DID matter. But since Paul was expecting the end of the world momentarily, he dismissed a lot of things–like marriage. Why get married if the world ends tomorrow? Etc.

Where Luther and the Reformation went wrong is to take Paul’s statements about the death of Jesus making everyone “righteous” out of context. The context–again–was an argument to show that Gentiles didn’t need to become Jews and follow the Jewish laws to become Christians. The death of Jesus made them righteous, not the Jewish law. Somehow Luther missed that part, although Paul goes on and on about it.

So yes, in a sense Paul and the Gospels are complementary. In another sense, Paul foreshadows the Gospels because Paul clearly thinks Jesus is God; and since Paul wrote about 20 years before the first Gospel (Mark), and about 40 years before John, where the divinity of Jesus is really stressed, it shows that the doctrine of the divinity of Jesus existed c. 50 AD when Paul was writing. Whether it was commonly accepted or even discussed at that point is another story.

Almost half of the epistles attributed to Paul probably weren’t written by him. You can give arguments from the vocabulary used, the style, anachronistic facts (like pre-supposing a church structure that didn’t exist in Paul’s time or a bias against women–when Paul clearly relied on women–he named them–for various important tasks), and theology (there is a reference to Gnosticism which was probably not around at the time of Paul).


#7

This view is often used by atheists to discredit Christianity and the rejection of Paul as part of Christianity is not limited to Muslims.

I have met several people who describe themselves as Christian but reject mainstream Christianity as “Paulism.”

-Tim-


#8

I am glad the other poster noticed this was from a Muslim website trying to discredit Christianity.


#9

The Catholic Church put the Bible together, which means that Paul’s works were selected carefully to be a part of the canonical Scriptures. To understand this it totally makes these silly ideas invalid before the debate begins. Christianity did not come from the Bible but the Bible came from the Church which is the vessel to practice Christianity. Granted, Protestantism has confused many about the roots of Christianity and the whole intended structure that Christ laid down, so numerous people assume that the Bible is the beginning point of Christianity, and this leads some to think up ideas that somehow Paul was in opposition to Christ. If that was the case then the Church would have put together a much different looking canon.


#10

You made some very good points!


#11

With Paul’s history that he admits to, and his fervent zeal in spreading the word after his epiphany, one can almost speculate that he possibly had a role in Jesus’ crucifixion that he never wanted to admit to.

As for the stoning of Stephen which occurred several months later, Paul said he held the cloaks of those who tossed the stones, but he could easily have been a ringleader with a greater role.

Certainly, Saul (later Paul) was on close terms with the High Priest (probably Jonathan) who sent him off to Damascus to round up the Apostles that had been harried out of Jerusalem.

Jonathan was the brother-in-law to Caiaphas, who was removed after the Passover of A.D. 36.


#12

Dear DaddyGirl:

I don’t think it’s “modern” thought that compares jesus and paul’s words. It’s been going on for centuries.

I’m not sure if I could agree with that (if you don’t mean “compare” in the uncontroversial and trivial sense). As far as I’m aware, not even Marcion argued such that Paul and Jesus contradicted, although he did come close in some ways.

One of the first issues to address, of course, is that most biblical scholars believe that half the Paul writings that we have were not written by him.
So if that is the case, we cannot be sure that all that we have from him is what he meant to teach.

Wouldn’t that mean though that later writers were the ones then who added the “extra” stuff to Jesus’s teaching, rather than Paul himself, making Paul innocent or at least apparently innocent of these charges (if we assume such material is not Jesus’s teaching)?

(And this all only makes sense if you accept the Scholars’ premises from which they reached those conclusions. I don’t find many of the arguments against Pauline authorship for the majority of the letters in question very convincing).

And his not ever knowing Jesus is another factor people keep in mind and many are not comfortable with it.

Good point. I think the best argument against this though is the fact that Paul was accepted by the other Apostles, like Peter, despite their personal dislike for each other. Both Acts and Paul’s own letters (Galatians) supports the acceptance of Paul as an apostle by the others.

Imagine how hard of a time Paul must have had with those who knew of his past. I actually would argue that the other Christians were probably very skeptical of Paul at first, and kept an eye on him. In other words, the other Apostles would have made sure Paul wasn’t teaching falsity.

I don’t think Jesus would have ever said the bit about women not talking in church, etc. As if!
(tho i think this is one of the bits scholars think is not really from Paul).

I’m only vaguely familiar with Scholarly opinion on this controversy, so don’t take me too seriously here, but IIRC, some scholars seem to thing that just the line itself is an addition. In other words, Paul could have written the rest of the letter, but that line was an addition from someone else.

Anyway, historically speaking, I don’t think Jesus would have said something like that, for the simple fact that certain ideas about women in the house of worship weren’t controversial in Jesus’s time. Even today, Orthodox Jews, who follow the tradition of Judaism that best preserves the first century synagogue style of worship, have women worship behind a barrier in the back: en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mechitza. In other words, what Paul wrote was not controversial among Jewish converts, but might have been a bit to Gentile converts (hence he including the statement in a letter to a mostly Gentile-convert community), who lived in a different culture than Jesus and Paul grew up in. Paul is really just discussing the separation of the sexes in worship.

To be continued…


#13

Who made Paul an official “apostle” by the way? Is he an apostle just because he says he is? Or did one of the remaining apostles give him the “title”?

I think I already alluded to this above: Paul received such a title after being accepted by the other Apostles, as Acts and Paul himself indicate.

Also, Paul’s material ultimately complements Jesus’s teachings and gives new insights to many of them. For example, Paul’s teaching that we are "Temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19) adds new insight to Jesus teaching on His Body being the Temple (John 2:19), Jesus’s teaching on the necessity of receiving the Spirit in Baptism (John 3:5), and St. John’s teaching on us “becoming like Him (1 John 3:2)”, as well as forming part of the basis of the concept of Theosis, which was explained with more detail by the Fathers.

I also notice that Paul uses much Jewish thought in his writing as well, thought that Jesus took for granted, as he was debating with Jews who were familiar with it. Paul, on the other hand, was writing to Gentile converts, so had to explain some of these things. In his letter to the Romans, for example, Paul explains the Jewish concepts of yetzer-hara and yetzer-hatov to the Christians there, by translating the terms into the Greek terms we translate as “spirit” and “flesh.”

Ultimately, I see a huge overlap in Jesus’s teaching and Paul’s, and think it is pretty unfounded to place such a wedge between them. My point of starting this thread though was to not think of reasons “how” people think Paul is opposed to Jesus, for I heard many of those reasons, and find them silly or based on misunderstandings of Jesus and Paul. What I’m comtemplating is the “why:” why do people make this claim. Is it just ignorance, or is there a psychological factor to this?

You say: “people who absolutely hate Christianity, still wish to have Jesus on their side”.
This thought makes no sense to me.
I think people who are not religious still look for the wise words said by wise people…so they will look for that in anything someone like Jesus said. I wouldn’t call that cherry-picking so much as…understanding that most enlightened men and women try to deliver the same message of loving our fellow human beings and encouraging peace, etc.

I don’t mean that there are not some people whom you describe, who express agreement with Jesus independently of Jesus himself. Who I’m describing are the type of people who wish to think their ideology is the “true Christianity” of sorts. The two extreme examples of this I think (on the top of my head) are Elton John, who claimed that if Jesus were alive today, he would accept gay marriage, and Richard Dawkins, who claimed that if Jesus were alive today, he would be an atheist. This sort of (non)thinker likes to flatter himself with agreement with Jesus, and such people might go as far to say that what they believe is true is actually what Jesus intended, and not Christianity. These sort of people have always been fascinating to me. I find their thinking incredibly irrational and silly, though.

Christi pax,

Lucretius


#14

I am surprised by this statement. I can’t imagine that both men busy with their missions and agreeing to carve out their target population Jews/Gentiles would hold to such petty feelings. And both end up in the church at Rome. Criticisms of one failings by the other rarely lead to such feelings, especially when all are infused with the Holy Spirit. Only if they are petty hearted.

Imagine how hard of a time Paul must have had with those who knew of his past. I actually would argue that the other Christians were probably very skeptical of Paul at first, and kept an eye on him. In other words, the other Apostles would have made sure Paul wasn’t teaching falsity.

Yes, Paul from time to time verified his teachings to be in sync with the other apostles.


#15

Barnabas was his advocate and brought Paul out of semi-exile.


#16

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