Why Paul Persecuted the Christians I have been side-tracked by other things, but now can get back to the thread I started to spin, or rather the tapestry I started to weave. The ultimate question I’m puzzling over is how did Christianity become the dominant religion in the empire? My point at this stage is that before Christianity began to thrive, it was persecuted.
The persecutions go all the way back. Our first Christian author is Paul, who must have converted to be a follower of Jesus just three years or so after Jesus’ death. Paul tells us explicitly that before becoming a follower of Jesus he was a persecutor of the church. And why was he persecuting it? He doesn’t say directly, but my sense is that it was for a very basic reason. He despised their message. Specifically, he could not abide by what Christians were saying about Jesus. Why was that a problem? Because they insisted he was God’s messiah.
Paul Persecuted the Church. So What Happened?
In my previous post, I indicated something of one of the common views of what the Messiah was to be. Here I summarize that view for you briefly, before pointing out a couple of other live options in first-century Judaism, and then explaining why the Christian view would have been so insulting to Paul.
We now know from the Dead Sea Scrolls a range of expectations of what the messiah would be like. The term “messiah” itself literally means “anointed one” and originally referred to the king of Israel, who was anointed with oil during his coronation ceremony in order to show that he was the one God had chosen to lead his people.
In the first century, Jews did not have a king. They were ruled by a foreign power, Rome, and many Jews considered this to be an awful and untenable situation of oppression. They were anticipating that God would once again raise up a Jewish king to overthrow the enemy and reestablish a sovereign state in Israel. This would be God’s powerful and exalted anointed one, the messiah.
Other Jews maintained …