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Paul’s Own (and Only) Gospel

What does Paul mean in his letter to the Galatians when he says that he did not receive his gospel from humans but direct from God through a revelation of Jesus?  Does he mean that he was the one (through direct divine inspiration) who came up with the idea that it was the death and resurrection of Jesus, rather than, say, Jesus’ life and teachings, that brings salvation?  And if so, doesn’t that mean that Paul himself would be the founder and creator of Christianity, since Christianity is not the religion of Jesus himself, but the religion about Jesus, rooted in faith in his death and resurrection? It may seem like that’s the case, but it’s not.  Not at all.   In my previous post, I showed that the belief in Jesus’ death and resurrection were around before Paul and that Paul inherited this belief from Christians who were before him.   But then what would Paul mean when he explicitly says in Galatians 1:11-12 “For I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel that was [...]

2020-04-03T03:36:41-04:00June 5th, 2016|Paul and His Letters, Public Forum|

Another Problem with Calling Jesus the Messiah

I have been arguing that most Jews rejected Christian claims about Jesus because Jesus was just the *opposite* of what the messiah was expected to be.  The messiah was to be a figure of grandeur and power who would overthrow God’s enemies and set up a new kingdom on earth in which God’s will would prevail.  Jesus was and did none of that.  He was a lower-class peasant who was arrested, humiliated, tortured, and executed.  He didn’t destroy God’s enemies.  He was crushed by them. Paul is the first Jewish persecutor of the Christians that we know by name; there is really no doubt that he was bent on wiping out the followers of Jesus – since he himself says so (and says so to his own shame [Gal 1:13); he did not gain any glory for this rather despicable past) (despicable in both his eyes and the eyes of the Christians).  Presumably his reasons for hating and opposing the followers of Jesus were comparable to those of other Jewish persecutors. But Paul gives us [...]

2020-04-03T13:09:32-04:00November 9th, 2015|Paul and His Letters, Public Forum|

Paul’s Christian Enemies: Galatians

In my previous post I indicated that among the lost writings of early Christianity, one batch that I would especially like to see discovered would be those produced by Paul’s enemies among the Christians.   I don’t know how many of his opponents were writing-literate, but possibly some of them were, and their own attacks on him and defenses of their own positions would be fascinating and eye-opening.   Among these, I would especially love to see what his opponents in Galatia had to say for themselves.   My hunch is that they were every bit as aggressive and confident in their views as Paul was in his. I’ve always found the letter to the Galatians to be one of the most forceful, intriguing, and difficult letters of Paul.   I’ve studied it for over forty years, and there are still verses that I don’t understand.  My view is that most scholars don’t understand them either -- even the scholars who think they do!   It is a packed and theologically dense letter in places. But the basic point is [...]

2020-04-03T13:54:04-04:00March 24th, 2015|Paul and His Letters|

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 [...]

2020-04-03T13:54:13-04:00March 23rd, 2015|Paul and His Letters|

Gentile Judaizers

I ended my last post with a question: Suppose Matthew really did think a person had to be a Jew in order to be a follower of Jesus. Would that indicate that he himself was born and raised a Jew? In this case I think there is a clear and certain answer. But it may not be the answer you’d expect. I think the answer is certainly No. The reason is that we know of other Christians in the early church who insisted that to be a follower of Jesus, one had to adopt the ways of Judaism. And these other Christians were themselves born and raised pagan. The clearest instance involves Paul’s opponents in Galatia. Paul’s letter to the Galatians is one of the most dense and difficult writings of the New Testament. There are verses and even passages that are, in my opinion, virtually impenetrable, statements that Paul makes that I still have difficulty figuring out after years of thinking and reading about it. But the basic situation that prompted the letter, in [...]

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