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Lost Letters of Paul’s Opponents

I’m back now to my thread on the lost writings of the early Christians that I would love to have discovered.    Onr bunch that would be absolutely fantastic to have would be the letters of Paul’s *opponents.*

I get asked all the time if I think that Paul is the true founder of Christianity and whether we should call it Paulinanity instead of Christianity (and related questions).  My answer is decidedly NO.   For two main reasons.

The first is the most obvious:  Paul did not himself invent Christianity.   He inherited it.

It is difficult to establish a firm chronology of Paul’s life.  There are scholars who have devoted many years just to this topic.  It’s messy and complicated.   My colleague from Duke, Douglas Campbell, has just written an-over-400-page book dealing just with the chronology of Paul’s *letters*, Framing Paul: An Epistolary Biography.   It is about how to situate the surviving letters of Paul (Douglas accepts ten of the thirteen as authentic – all but 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus) chronologically in relation to one another.  I haven’t read it yet, but Douglas is a very smart fellow and I imagine it will be a standard work for a very long time (though I doubt that he will convince the majority of scholars that Ephesians, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians are authentic.  But maybe he will!)

In any event, however one arranges Paul’s letters, it is possible…

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Paul’s Christian Enemies: Galatians
Paul’s “Exceptional” Letter to the Romans

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Comments

  1. talitakum
    talitakum  March 23, 2015

    You say that Paul had enemies only within the Church. Didn’t he have enemies also among the Jews?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 24, 2015

      I’m sure he did! I didn’t mean to say that his *only* enemies were in side the church!!

  2. Avatar
    MikeyS  March 23, 2015

    Paul is definitely and interesting character. But there are too many questions that make me wonder about his statements and his credibility. He said he persecuted Christians but didn’t say who they were and where it was or who he was doing it for. eg The Sandhedrin or the Romans? How did he know who were Christians and who wasn’t, as it was supposed to be a secret movement. Secondly, anyone that did have that commission would surely seek out the leaders of that movement in order to cut off the head so to speak and send a clear message to the rest of them. Its inconceivable that he didn’t seek out Peter and James who were based in Jerusalem itself and not some outlying province as that is where the Sandhedrin was based. Yet he never met them for years? No reasonable person would do that.

    His other claims about his conversion and again not seeking out the disciples who actually lived with him and heard him preach and yet ignored them going off for three years to Arabia makes no sense and what Christian Church did he start in that area anyway? Again, makes no sense.

    But the central and main doctrine of Paul was personal acknowledgement of the atoning sacrifice of the Son of God at Calvary and that was and is preached more than even the words of Jesus himself in all Christian Churches that I have gone to over the last 60 years. In fact the Church could not exist witthout that core doctrine that ALL have come short of the glory of God and we are all sick and need redemption. Without the death and shedding of Jesus’s blood as the only thing that would pacify a God seeking vengence based on original sin, even to babies is complete nonsense and Tosh. And has caused such misery since. For some unknown reason they haven’t read the account of Zaccheus and obviously, neither did Paul. If God believed in orginal sin that needed redemption by his only son, why did he wait 4000 years? And then to a few Jews in Palestine?

    Don’t get me started on his mysogeny! I think Paul was the most over rated man in biblical history! Just my opinion. No wonder the other Christians disagreed with him. Has Jesus spoken to any other person, Pope, Cardinal, Priest, Muslim, non believer since he supposedly spoke to Paul 2000 years ago, while three quarters of the world are all going to hell in a handcart? How disappointed he must have felt when Jesus failed to turn up in his lifetime and which he wrote about the whole time and promised all those who would keep the faith! Maybe its tomorrow?! They are still repeating that today in all churches across the world.

    In actual fact, we did end up with Paulinanity!

    • Avatar
      spiker  March 24, 2015

      Heya, Mikey

      As you probably suspect, I have some criticisms. You write that Paul “… said he persecuted Christians but didn’t say who they were and where it was or who he was doing it for. eg The Sandhedrin or the Romans?”

      Are those the only options? If Paul was motivated by what he considered an ugly insult,why would he have to be working for anyone? Notice when he converted, he doesn’t seem to have been working for
      anyone. However, If we take The Acts of the Apostles, seriously we find in 8:3 that Saul is going from House to House dragging “off both men and women and put them in prison” Similarly, Chapter 9 claims Paul “went to the high priest “and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus…,”

      If any of this is historically reliable, my suspicion is Saul offered his services and must have gotten his authority to put people in jail from the same source that was responsible for local
      order: The High Priest et al. I sincerely doubt the Romans considered this negligable movemnt as
      a threat.

      “How did he know who were Christians…”

      what evidence do we have that it was secret? But even secret movements get infiltrated and caught.
      I don’t see how secret movement translates into invisible or immune to being attacked.

      “anyone that did have that commission would surely seek out the leaders of that movement in order to cut off the head…”

      I don’t see why you put so much emphasis (Inconcievable? based on what?)on the cut off the head of the serpent strategy. If early Christianity was a secret movement what evidence do you have that
      Saul knew who the leaders were? you can’t have it both ways: Either Christianity was a secret movment and because of that there wasn’t really any way to know who its members and leaders were or it wasn’t. Even if that is the only concievable strategy, it had been tried and did not have the desired effect with the crucifixion of Jesus. Should Saul have just continued to employ the same unsuccessful tactic? If a clear message to the followers was his purpose, how could the message be any clearer than by directly attacking them. Rounding up followers is a tried and true tactic. It is still done today; particularly if one is trying to stop the spread of a movement.

      “His other claims about his conversion and again not seeking out the disciples who actually lived with him and heard him preach and yet ignored them going off for three years to Arabia makes no sense”

      What!? Saul’s conversion purportedly happened while he was on the road attacking Christians,
      I highly doubt there were “disciples who actually lived with him” what would he have been preaching? “murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples” is what he was “preaching” at that time according to Acts. Paul’s disappearancce into Arabia makes perfect sense. On the one hand he is openly attacking and prosecuting this new movement. I’m sure he understood that he would not be welcome in Christian circles. If some guy today was publically arresting and threatening members of this blog, I highly doubt any of us would be anxious to introduce ourselves or stick around if he came to our town. Perhaps, you might since you think “it makes no sense” .
      Second, conversions of this nature can take a long time. For the sake of argument, let’s say the account of Paul’s conversion in Acts is true. He is then with a group of men who probably shared his previous convictions. Does it “make sense” that he would want to stay with that group?
      Even if Paul knew who Peter et al were, he had plenty of reason to not go running to them considering his recent activities. He may have disappeared into Arabia as a wanted man (if he
      started informing his fellow travelers of his conversion experience they may have decided he
      needed prosecuting. On the other hand, he may have gone to figure things out. My suspicion is he spent some of time out there deconverting, as it were. Figuring out just what really happened to him; what he really experienced. Add to that the likelyhood that Peter was probably not immediately receptive to a visit from Saul of Tarsus (you know the guy who had recently been throwing his fellow Christians in Jail etc) arranging it may have taken some time.

      “But the central and main doctrine of Paul was personal acknowledgement of the atoning sacrifice…”

      Indeed, yet what evidence do you have that this was invented by Paul? Wouldn’t it need to have been for it to be Paulianity? If Christianity “was around – with the core of its theology already established — for a few years before [Paul] ever showed up on the scene as a Christian himself.”

      I fail to see how any of those docterines could be distinctively his. Paul was simply a potent ally
      in the spread of Christianity.

      Lastly, Mikey I can’t help but think you are in a process of deconversion that may have lasted for some time. I understand where you’re comming from. Been there done that, but letting your disallusion drive your analysis doesn’t accomplish anything constructive. All you’re managing to do is exactly what you think the gospel writers did. It’s not easy getting past it, but the only thing to do is do it the right way. Dealing with the disallusion ( anger etc) is the only way to get past it. It can be a destructive thing when not properly dealt with.

  3. Avatar
    Thomasfperkins  March 24, 2015

    What about the letter of James 2:14-26?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 24, 2015

      Yes indeed, I think that too is under influence of Paul, as a reaction against how Paul was being interpreted by some of his later followers.

  4. Avatar
    Todd  March 24, 2015

    I can think of s few other letters in the NT Canon that are not totally Pauline including those of John, James and Peter, and I’m wondering about the Didache which seems to be an instructional manual for early church members. The writings Paul seem to dominate (even today as most quoted verses) and the others are somewhat iqnored.

    All this really says to me is that there was a great variety of opinions early on regatding the significance of the Jesus event until it’s solidification through the establishment of a uniform doctrinal statements primarily in the creeds which largely ignored Jesus’ teaching ministry and social ethics.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 24, 2015

      James and Peter, absolutely. John, not so much. Or the Didache.

  5. Avatar
    haoleboy26  March 24, 2015

    Are there any reasons to think the author of Luke/Acts either did or did not have access to any of undisputed Pauline letters?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 24, 2015

      It’s a much debated topic. My view is that he did not have access. Lots of other scholars think otherwise. He certainly never *mentions* any letters and in my view does not seem to know any of the ones that we have today.

  6. Avatar
    Scott  March 24, 2015

    On the topic of Paul, do you have any thoughts concerning his death? Should we believe that he was arrested and taken to Rome, even if the details and speeches surrounding the event in Acts may be more “artistic” than factual?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 24, 2015

      I don’t think the Acts narrative is reliable. But I suppose he probably did end up in Rome, as he indicates he wanted to do, and possibly died there.

  7. Avatar
    Stephen  March 24, 2015

    Prof Ehrman

    What do you think of the suggestion that the antagonists mentioned in the letters of John and the epistolary section of the Book of Revelation were in fact members of Pauline churches? I believe I read Raymond Brown make this suggestion (or quote somebody else who did).

    thanks

    • Bart
      Bart  March 24, 2015

      I’ve never been persuaded by the evidence of that.

      • Avatar
        spiker  May 27, 2015

        “We have his [Paul’s] letters to see what he says about them. What we don’t have are letters that they themselves wrote to explain, justify, and support their alternative views, and to express what they thought about him. I really wish we did!”

        Don’t we have an approximation of sorts? Elaine Pagels, in her book Revelations: Visions, Prophecy and Politics in the Book of Revelation casts John of Patmos as a second generation proto-christian ( Still very much a jewish follower) whose (Apologies to Elaine if I get this wrong) views about true Christians being fooled, etc may be a reference to Paul’s views ( kosher food for example) . I would think someone with your depth of knowledge would be able to evaluate this claim and even show what this might look like vis Galations etc

        • Bart
          Bart  May 28, 2015

          Yes, of course it’s a possibility. But there is really nothing to suggest that the author of Revelation was directly responding to Paul in particular.

  8. Avatar
    salaminfo1  March 24, 2015

    According to Michael Hart, the honor for founding Christianity is to be shared between Jesus and St. Paul. The latter he believes to be the real founder of Christianity.
    The word Christian is used mentioned three time in the NT (Acts:11:26; 26:28; 1 Peter:4:16). It was used first to address the followers of Christ and later believers embraced the word as badge of honor.

    NT gives us a choice; either follow Jesus Christ, or the anti-Christ Paul since each one demands his followers to accept his teachings:
    Paul (1 Corinthians 11:1)
    Jesus (John 8:31).

    Jesus was circumcised, Paul rejected circumcision :
    Jesus ((Luke 2:21)
    Paul ((Acts 15:1)

    Jesus taught salvation is attained by keeping the commandments, physical prayer, fasting, and observing the Law of Moses. While Paul said that “salvation comes through faith and grace” which is exactly what the missionaries are saying today
    Jesus Forbade the Gentiles: (Matthew 10:5-6) (Matthew 15:24) , while Paul openly preached among the Gentiles, a totally different religion: (Romans 11:13)
    If you ask anyone who is your Master: Jesus or Paul? They say Jesus but they follow Paul. According to the teaching of Jesus , there is no such Christianity. There is Christianity word in the bible at all. I had a short debate with a missionary a few days ago about the deity of Christ and his alleged crucification. He started to quote from Paul and this sickness is going on and on. I asked him what did Jesus say? No answer.

    • acircharo
      acircharo  March 26, 2015

      I have difficulty with this issue as well. I just don’t get a message that Jesus was beginning any “new” religion or even a new strain of Judaism. His message seems to me to be to observe the Law with even more diligence and rigor than the priests or various council members; Sanhedrin etc. E.g., on adultery, it wasn’t just committing the act that was sinful, it was even just lusting in your heart that was as bad as the sin itself. That’s the message I continually get; the Law, the Law, the Law. He seems pretty clear about it. Furthermore to believe he was the Messiah while somehow repudiating his Judaic heritage is out of the question to me. Lastly, he seems to proclaim that your salvation (if there really is any) comes from your works. James too, is quite clear on this as well. Paul, decidedly not. Geza Vermes wrote some excellent books about the “Jewish Jesus” where he, too, basically concludes he was simply an apocalyptic preacher, trouble maker to the authorities, and became just another self-proclaimed messiah to end up on a cross. Hyam Maccoby’s “Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity” is also a compelling argument as well. No Paul, no Christianity. As he says “Paul is Christianity, and Christianity is Paul.”

  9. Avatar
    jgranade  March 24, 2015

    Would it be fair to say, then, that the orthodox Christianity that eventually “won out” over other early Christianities was heavily influenced by Paul’s interpretations, perhaps more so than any other? So that in his day, Paul may have been one voice among many, but much of what later became orthodox Christianity (and how it is understood today) is largely based on Paul’s theology, Christology, soteriology, and ecclesiology.

  10. Ryan Pence
    Ryan Pence  March 24, 2015

    I agree. Paul’s letters, those authentic and not, those that we know existed that we have not, are part of the most interesting and pivotal aspects of early protto-orthodox christianity to me. That would be a huge find, those letters opposite to Paul’s views. It’s of of my favorite aspects of Christianity in antiquity.

  11. Avatar
    Slydog1227  March 24, 2015

    Thank you Sir! A great explanation!

  12. Avatar
    Philbert  March 24, 2015

    Great post Thank You!

  13. Avatar
    jhague  March 24, 2015

    Is it likely that Paul’s early persecution of Christians was actually persecution of Jews that followed Jesus? I think there’s a difference. With Paul devoting his life to the message that Gentiles can become Christians without converting to Judaism, this further separated him from the original followers of Jesus. Could it be that as Paul continued his efforts that the majority of his enemies were Jesus Movement Jews, not Christians (again, I see a difference)? Also, the term Christian seems to be from Paul’s (and maybe others’) use of the term Christ for Jesus. Paul did not seem to have any concern regarding Jesus. His concern was with his claimed vision of a cosmic Christ which he applied to Jesus. (His idea or someone else’s?) After Paul’s influence on the writers of the Gospels and Acts, the appearance was given that the original Jesus followers were Christians. I would say that the Jerusalem Jews continued to call themselves Jews, not Christians.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 24, 2015

      I don’t think Jews who follow Jesus are any less Christian than gentiles who follow him.

      • Avatar
        jhague  March 24, 2015

        But Jews who followed Jesus certainly did not call themselves Christians. Jews who followed Jesus were looking for a Messiah to return and set up God’s kingdom on earth. Gentile followers were looking for a cosmic Christ to take them into the sky and onto Heaven. Is this accurate?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 25, 2015

          I’m defining CHristian as anyone who believes that Jesus is the one who brings salvation (e.g., through his death and resurrection), whether Jewish or gentile.

          • Avatar
            jhague  March 26, 2015

            Didn’t Jews believe that salvation was from God, not a man? Didn’t Jesus’ followers see Jesus as God’s chosen one to be the king of God’s kingdom on earth? Not as a savior. Jesus’ original followers saw his death as a failure, not a way of salvation. I know this might be semantics but I can’t see calling the original Jewish followers of Jesus “Christians.” Especially since they lived as Jews before and after Jesus.

          • Bart
            Bart  March 27, 2015

            It simply means what you mean by “Christian.” I mean anyone who believes that Christ is the way God has provided salvation.

      • Avatar
        MikeyS  March 24, 2015

        I think jhague has it spot on. There was no need to persecute any gentiles as they were not mainstream and mostly didn’t live in Palestine anyway. The Sanhedrin would also not be concerned about any non jews believing in Jesus. So its not hard to see if he persecuted anyone at all and I have my doubts as think the man was clearly deranged after his Road to Damascus experience that was clearly a fit or sezure, that they were Jews who the Sandhredin wanted to keep onside. For me Paul would have needed to be far more specific in his words and what he did previously when doing the persecuting. And as someone said on the other forum. Had he turned traitor to the Sanhedrin, is it really likely they would then have allowed him to go and preach about Jesus without himself being arrested by them and stoned to death as was their right. The moment he set foot back in Jerusalem, they would have arrested him surely along with Peter and James?

    • acircharo
      acircharo  March 26, 2015

      I agree. James and the remaining Jerusalem Church continued right on going to Temple, observing Jewish law and praying for the soon-to-be apocalypse which, of course, never came.

  14. Avatar
    Wilusa  March 24, 2015

    “Those who were Christians before him were certainly declaring that Jesus had been raised from the dead; and they certainly had drawn the conclusion that Jesus was God’s suffering messiah and that therefore his death was a fulfilment of God’s plan and of the Jewish Scriptures.”

    I’m sure the first of those statements is true…but can we be sure of the latter, when Paul is the earliest written source? When I was young, I imagined the core doctrines were that Jesus had come to urge people to show concern for the needy, etc. – teachings they’d been neglecting, while fussing over details such as what could and couldn’t be done on the Sabbath – and his resurrection was all-important *because it proved he was God*, and therefore had to be heeded. Couldn’t his earliest followers have believed something as simple as that?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 25, 2015

      Well, Paul says that he “received” this teaching from others (1 Cor. 15:3-5).

    • SBrudney091941
      SBrudney091941  March 26, 2015

      But what is simple about that? It does not follow that if one is resurrected one is divine.

      • Bart
        Bart  March 27, 2015

        Ah, there is a logic to that, actually, if it’s an actual resurrection and not a resuscitation. I explain it in my book How Jesus Became God.

        • Avatar
          Wilusa  March 27, 2015

          Because those who were merely “resuscitated” would continue aging and ultimately die again, while the “resurrected” Jesus wouldn’t? But if people thought they’d encountered the “risen” Jesus in the weeks after his death, and never learned what later became of him, they wouldn’t have known that.

          • Bart
            Bart  March 29, 2015

            Jesus wasn’t merely brought back to life. he was taken up to heaven where he sits at God’s right hand.

      • Avatar
        Wilusa  March 27, 2015

        Now, of course, I agree with you!

        But when I was in, possibly, my teens, I thought the central doctrine was that Jesus had risen from the dead under his own power (he didn’t need to be “raised,” even by another member of the Trinity) – something unique in history. In fact, the only miracle workers who’d ever been able to raise others from the dead were Jesus himself, and disciples to whom he’d given the power.

        Also, I thought all Christians believed he’d indisputably been seen alive by many people after the date of his death. The only thing that might have been questioned was whether he’d died. That was why he’d let himself suffer the most public kind of death, by crucifixion.

        And as I said before, I thought the point of it was to prove he was, as he’d claimed to be, the ultimate authority – God – and everyone should, therefore, heed his teachings! Basically, the “Golden Rule”: to treat others as they themselves would want to be treated. I didn’t understand any of the rigmarole about his death and resurrection somehow “atoning” for others’ sins.

        Like most people, I never let myself think too much about the conundrum at the heart of the story: if Jesus needed to die by crucifixion, and freely accepted it, why was Judas considered a villain for bringing it about?

  15. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  March 24, 2015

    Thanks. It is interesting to think of Paul’s views as being one of many.

  16. Avatar
    jrhislb  March 25, 2015

    What could Paul’s persecution have amounted to? What sort of power would the Jewish leadership have to persecute dissenters, considering they were living under Roman rule? Are we talking about mob actions or formal court proceedings?

  17. SBrudney091941
    SBrudney091941  March 25, 2015

    Bart, I think jhague is on to something except that he didn’t spell it out enough. I’ll try to unpack it as I would unpack it: unless a set of beliefs about Jesus includes the idea that his suffering, blood, death, and resurrection were for the expiation of human sinfulness (and that a person must believe that in order to be saved), it is not Christianity. (Marcus Borg might disagree.) If all some Jewish followers of Jesus believed, after his death, was that he had risen, was in some way or another in waiting (maybe with God), and would return to restore the nation and people Israel, expel its enemies, and usher in the Kingdom of God, then they weren’t Christians. They were messianists waiting for the return of their messiah Jesus without believing that believing in him could absolve them of their sins—i.e. they were not waiting for the return of Paul’s Christ. (By “Christ,” Paul meant something much more (and much less) than most Jews meant by “messiah,” even given the variations in the messiahs various Jews envisioned. Machiach and christos are not simply interchangeable.) If that was the limits of their beliefs about Jesus, then it is misleading to call them Christians. Paul set out to persecute followers of Jesus—Jews who continued to believe that he, although executed, was the messiah and would return. But were they Christians? What I want to ask of you (I just don’t have it together to study on my own and nail all this down) are citations to verses that make it clear that they believed the additional things (about the salvific power of Jesus’ death and resurrection) that it would have taken to qualify them as Christians and that they weren’t simply followers of Jesus as the messiah who would return, perhaps as that messiah “of power and grandeur” you’ve often referred to, to complete the tasks a Jewish messiah had been expected to accomplish.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 27, 2015

      I don’t see what grounds you have for saying that something or someone is Christian based on several doctrines that you specify. In other words, to put it bluntly: “Says who?” 🙂

      • SBrudney091941
        SBrudney091941  March 27, 2015

        Sorry, Bart. I guess I’m confused. I’m Jewish and, although I’ve studied Christian beginnings from time to time for over 30 years, I am apparently just not getting it. I’ve always thought that a Jew (in the years after Jesus died) might have been considered a bit whacko by other Jews if he continued after Jesus’ execution to believe Jesus was still the messiah and had risen, was in some way or another in waiting (maybe with God), and would return to restore the nation and people Israel, expel its enemies, and usher in the Kingdom of God. It has seemed to me that there’s nothing non-Jewish about a set of beliefs like that in any essential way, just a strange variation among other Jewish messianic beliefs. Whereas, I’ve been thinking for a long time that Jews at the time (as many today would) would have thought that it went beyond the pale of Judaism to believe that Jesus was the literal, partly divine Son of God or God incarnate or that salvation could be found through him rather than through God. What parts of this picture are the most off-base?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 29, 2015

          Yes, I would agree, early Christianity was a sect of Judaism with its own beliefs and practices but also identifiably Jewish.

  18. acircharo
    acircharo  March 26, 2015

    How many “Christians” could there have been right after Jesus died? My impression is that the following was quite small, maybe a couple of hundred at most? And, since they seem to be observing Jewish Law what would the charges be, that they disagreed with the degree to which one must observe the Law or that Jesus was the Messiah? Was that a “sin?”

    • Bart
      Bart  March 27, 2015

      Right after he died? Just a handful — even the NT indicates it was just 11 men and a small group of women. I don’t think it could have been more than that.

  19. Avatar
    Eric  April 1, 2015

    Sorry for commenting so late, this is actually a request inspired by your post. I don;t think you have dealt with this before:

    Natrually you’ve spent a lot of ink and posting on Paul’s views and meaning (christology, plan of salvation etc). You’ve also spent time comparing and constrasting the authentic Paul letters with the forgeries, and maybe what these forgeries were trying to “alter.”

    Could you post on what in my meager understanding are the “independent” yet relatively contemporary schools of thought provided in the NT. I think these are at least four (I know the names aren;t really the authors ): 1) James 2) Hebrews 3) Peter 4) John i, ii, iii (do these “go” with the gospel of John

    Things I would like to understand include christology, plan of salvation, theology, to degree they are in contnetion, was this contention specific, known and in response to each other, or were these writers simply broadcasting “in the clear” without concerning themselves with the other voices we currently know of, etc?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 1, 2015

      I would say there are more schools than four! Virtually every author is a separate school of thought in my book.

  20. Avatar
    Prizm  August 16, 2015

    I’ve never heard the argument that Paul invented Christianity. My understanding of the argument is that Paul took Christianity and turned it into something it was not originally: primarily, salvation by grace. Hence, paulianity.
    But you know what, thank Zeus that Paul twisted it around to reject the Law. If he didn’t, we’d probably have both fundamentalist Muslims AND Christians stoning adulterers and homosexuals today.

    • SBrudney091941
      SBrudney091941  August 17, 2015

      One book to read on this subject is Hyam Maccoby’s The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity. I am still trying to get clear (ha ha ha ha ha! Like that’ll ever happen!) on whether anything that could be identified as Christianity existed before Paul. I don’t think Paul ever said why he was persecuting believers and many don’t think we can trust the apparent history in Acts. So, do we know? Maybe he thought Jews who continued to belief Jesus was the messiah were nuts. Many people like persecuting people they think are nuts. Maybe he thought a number of people waiting for a King of the Jews could move Pilate and gentile leaders to anticipate an uprising and hurt Jews. In any case, believing that Jesus was the Jewish messiah–that is, believing he raised from death and would return to help God re-establish the nation Israel and usher in the Kingdom of God–was not in itself outside pale of Jewish thinking. But let’s get one thing straight: Jews were growing away from a literal interpretation of “an eye for an eye” (for example) without the help of Paul or Christianity. Interpretation of the Law was evolving then and has been ever since, Christianity or no Christianity. You say, “thank Zeus that Paul twisted it around to reject the Law. If he didn’t, we’d probably have both fundamentalist Muslims AND Christians stoning adulterers and homosexuals today.” Well, we have Jews and Christians and Muslims today and what Jews or Christians are stoning anyone? Nor is it the case that most Muslims are interested in stoning anyone. Again, Judaism and its love of Torah (the “Law”) kept on going, evolved, and is alive and well. It didn’t need Paul or Christianity to drop the Law. Even many or most Orthodox Jews today aren’t fundamentalist, much less the Conservative and Reform Jews. They don’t believe that no one can be saved unless he or she believes in Judaism or the Law. The New Testament taught that. And yet one cannot conclude that that was the view of all New Testament writers. Most Christians don’t believe that.

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