Triumph of Paulianity
The young man in question was Saul of Tarsus, a Pharisee. He had already been an active participant in the martyrdom of Stephen, giving his vote in favour of the execution and looking after the cloaks of those who actually carried out the stoning. His blood was on fire to catch and put to death as many as possible of the people he hated more than anyone else in the world - the Christians.
Such is the Biblical account of the early appearances on the scene of the young Saul. He is first identified in the Acts of the Apostles simply as "a young man", a clear indication that at the time he was an unknown. His status was to change dramatically in the coming years as he was transformed into a major historical figure taking the new name of Paul - and that transformation began outside the gate of Damascus on his hateful journey of oppression, when Saul experienced a sudden and dramatic conversion.
Early on I became quite doubtful about the authenticity of the venue given as the site of Saul's conversion. Syria was a foreign country to the Jews, so how could the writ of a Jewish religious leader, however eminent, have any validity there? An equivalent situation in our own setting might be for a British churchman to issue warrants for the arrest of members of other faiths in, say, Paris. Clearly the French authorities would not permit any such interference in their domestic affairs. In like manner the Syrians would never, I reasoned, permit a man from another nation to drag their people away in chains. Within the domain of Israel, however, the situation was vastly different. Here the word of the High Priest was law, Holy law, and Rome, seeing the issue as an internal religious one, would have maintained its policy of letting the Jews sort out their own religious affairs. So it appeared to me that Saul's letters were addressed to the authorities in a Damascus which was in Israel - but where could that be? I could find no evidence at all in the beginning that there had ever been a Damascus in Israel, but the latest work on the Dead Sea Scrolls has raised some evidence that Qumran maay have been called Damascus in the early Christian era. Perhaps, then, Saul's journey was to Qumran. However, the actual site of his conversion is of little importance. What matters is that it occured, and its historical significance was enormous.
The Saul who walked away from his Damascus Gate experience is sometimes said to have been a totally changed character. He was not. His personality remained the same as it had been, rigid, uncompromising, intolerant. Saul had merely changed the objects of his hatred. Becoming a Christian of a particular kind he was frighteningly intolerant of other branches of the young faith - for, as we shall see, there was at least one other mainstream Christian body which grew up alongside, and in opposition to, Paul's idea of the faith.
This other form of Christianity was the Jerusalem Church, presided over by the surviving Apostles of Jesus. After his conversion Saul, as Paul, claimed to be an Apostle, but in fact he was not. His was a self appointment and had no validity, in spite of the spirited defence of his title made in the opening verses of the ninth chapter of the first letter to the Corinthian Church, a response which was clearly instigated by the fact that his credentials on this point had been challenged by some at Corinth.
The existence of two conflicting Christian Churches is clearly seen in the New Testament, although with that spiritual myopia which has been a hallmark of Christianity over two millenia, the great significance of the point is usually ignored. The young Church at Jerusalem dated from the days of Jesus and may be said to have continuity with him, whereas the Church of Paul is a later invention. Having said that, we must note that it was not very much later. Paul must have commenced his ministry very soon after the crucifixion, for in Galatians chapters one and two he mentions having made two visits to the Jerusalem Church over a period of seventeen years, meaning that at least that period of time had elapsed since the Damascus Gate incident. Probably it was longer as we do not know how much time elapsed between the second visit and Paul's mentioning it to the Galatians. There is much dispute over the date of this epistle, but even the latest date which I can find, 55 AD, would place Paul's conversation not later than 38 AD.
The attitude and theology of the Jerusalem Christians is perhaps best seen in the Epistle of James. This letter is quite out of line with the Pauline church, proclaiming that salvation is based not on faith but on deeds, a concept supported by Jesus but denied by Paul. The Epistle of James is very close in theology to the Gospels, but if anything presents the concepts more vigorously. It is surprising that this letter was ever admitted to the Canon of Scripture, still more surprising that it has remained there. Martin Luther wanted it removed, describing it as "an epistle of straw," but by his day the idea was well intrenched that the New Testament was inspired by God, and this made removal impossible without a major volte face. The response of the church has been to almost totally ignore it.
Although the Jerusalem church was loyal to the spirit and teaching of Jesus as regards social and behavioural matters, it held a firm adherance to Judaism, seeing Christianity as a branch of the Jewish faith and insisting on circumcision and the keeping of the Law. It appears from the Gospels that Jesus, while a Jew, was very broad in his outlook, and indeed displayed in his theology a marked Buddhist influence. Paul, although originally a rigid and extreme Pharisee, broke away totally from Judaism and roundly condemned the Jerusalem Church for remaining within it. In the second chapter of the Epistle to the Galatians Paul tells of how he spoke bitterly to Peter, condemning him because after his conversion at Joppa (modern day Jaffa) to the idea of allowing non-Jews to become Christians, he had reverted at the instigation of James. Paul virtually accuses Peter of cowardice. The bitter dispute between Paul and Peter was ongoing, and in the light of that fact it is surprising that many episcopal churches today have joint dedications to these two saints - yet another example of Christianity ignoring history.
In the second Letter to the Corinthians, chapter eleven, Paul refers to people who came and preached "another Jesus." As he identifies these preachers as "superlative apostles" it is apparent that he refers to the Jerusalem Church. The bitterness seems to increase with the passage of time and eventually Paul met with the Apostles in Jerusalem in an attempt to sort out the matter once and for all. It was James who placed before this meeting a compromise proposal, to the effect that Paul's converts should obey only certain essentials of the Jewish Law, and be free of the greater part. The issue of circumcision was apparently dropped. While one can applaud James' attempt at a compromise for peace, there can be no doubt that the Jerusalem Church had conceded almost everything and Paul very little. It was a mighty victory for the Damascus convert, and may well have given the final push to the movement to make Paulianity the official "Christian" religion - a movement which was to be very successful.
Paulianity took over as the orthodox Christian faith and the Church at Jerusalem gradually sank in the shifting sands of time. So completely did Paul's ideas dominate the coming centuries that Professor G. G. Findlay, writing in the 1920 edition of Peake's Commentary on the Bible could say that the Epistle to the Romans "signalises the victory of Christianity over the Judaistic reaction." Such a view will simply not hold water. What was signalised was the triumph of Paulianity over Christianity.
How did the ideas of Paul differ from the teachings of Jesus as portrayed in the Gospels? In many ways. I shall attempt to outline the main ones.
A very vital point was in Paul's doctrine of salvation. As I have argued in another article (THE ATONEMENT), the idea that the death of Jesus had power to wash away our sins is simply not viable. It contradicts the Gospels, in particular Matthew chapter 25, and defies all logic and reason. Yet Paul made it a central plank of his theology, probably borrowing the idea from old Pagan concepts of the Saviour - Gods. These elements were present in Greek theology, and Paul was clearly influenced by this. It has to be said, however, that the Epistles do not give a totally consistent message on this point, for in two places, Romans chapter 2 verse 6 and Philippians chapter 2 verse 12 Paul seems to be advocating the doctrine of salvation by deeds. This contradiction is puzzling, to say the least, and can best be explained by asserting that Paul had not worked out a consistent theology.
Paul places a great value on the Resurrection of Jesus, so much so that in Romans 10.9 he offers belief in the Resurrection as, along with a verbal confession of faith in Jesus as Lord, the sole basis of human salvation. This clearly comes into conflict with his atonementalist ideas mentioned in the last paragraph, but we must face up to further contradictions at this point. In Philippians 3.11 Paul states that only those who have achieved a certain spiritual status are given the gift of resurrection, the rest simply cease to exist. A quite different concept is put forward in Romans 2.8 where Paul states that all survive death but are divided in the afterlife into those who are destined for happiness and those marked out for eternal punishment. In this Passage Paul's hatred of the Jews is apparent - he has the Children of Israel leading the marching column through the gates of Hell! However, whichever concept of the afterlife is in vogue Paul continues to lay a great emphasis on the resurrection of Jesus, a point which the Master himself did not make. With regard to the afterlife Jesus was consistent in his belief that all human beings survived death. He also implied that the afterlife had been in existence before his time, whereas Paul states that there was no resurrection before Jesus. If Paul were correct on this point it would be impossible to make sense of the story of the Transfiguration, where the long-departed pre-Christian spirits of Moses and Elijah manifested. Finally on this point, whereas Jesus believed in the survival of the spirit, a concept very similar to modern-day Spiritualism, Paul opts for a bodily resurrection, albeit with a new kind of body. This is outlined in I Corinthians 15, although Paul does not make it at all clear what the renewed body is like.
The communion service is central to most forms of Christian worship, and many Christians think of it as being instituted by the Lord himself. It was not. The words of the Institution were given by Paul in I Corinthians 11, and in an astonishing subtext Paul gives an idea which is totally and completely at variance with the Spirit of Jesus. In verse 30 of that chapter he states that some cases of sickness and death among the Christian community are punishments for taking the Holy Communion in the wrong spirit. Jesus, on the other hand, regarded sickness as an evil to be cast out. Healing formed a major, perhaps the major, part of his ministry.
This leads us to another point. The life and ministry of Jesus was socially oriented. He was a healer, comforter, carer. The feeding of the five thousand came about because Jesus expressed concern that the people were hungry, and when he healed Jairus' daughter his first instruction was to give her something to eat. This caring spirit with its emphasis on the social gospel finds no echo in Paul's epistles, although there are some traces of it in the Acts of the Apostles, where Luke presents a picture of Paul's character somewhat at variance with that which we derive from the direct evidence of the epistles. The warm humanity of Jesus is replaced in Paul's writings by a mystical religion which appears to fly high above the heads of ordinary mortals and looks down on them from a great height without caring about their needs.
There is a hymn which is very popular in our churches and is often regarded as an epitome of the Christian faith. One verse of it goes like this,
Spreads o'er his body on the tree.
Then am I dead to all the globe
And all the globe is dead to me."
Blasphemy! Pure, unadulterated blasphemy! The warm-hearted, caring, concerned figure of the Nazarene would surely have recoiled at words which imply that adoration of him would lead to a divorce from the world, a shutting of the door of the mind to the cries of our race. Yet the words are very typical of the distant, divorced attitude of Paul - a fact not easily recognised in the Church, for the Church follows Paul, not Jesus, and often appears blind to his shortcomings. Perhaps we should not be surprised at this. The Gospel of Paul, with its inturned emphasis on personal salvation and its inturned attitude offers a much easier path than the socially challenging and hard-to-follow Gospel of Jesus. It is much easier to base our lives on the Epistles of Paul than on the Epistle of James - and how often does one hear the Epistle of James read in a Christian church?
Closely allied to this social concern is the attitude of the two faiths towards people. Jesus was known to have a tolerant attitude to sinners and outcasts of society, and to have no bias against women. The compassion towards the outcasts is lacking in Paul, and his attitude to women is remarkable. It is due to Paul that we do not have women priests in the Catholic church, and have only very recently introduced them to the Church of England and the Church in Wales. It is down to Paul's attitude to marriage, outlined below, that many priests in the episcopalian churches, and all in the Catholic church, are unmarried. Paul carried his misogynist ideas to the point of stating that no woman should have full membership of the church, an opinion which he sets forth in the First Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 14. His attitude to women is seen all too clearly in his views on marriage, which, to say the least, do not place that scared institution in a very good light. Paul thinks that marriage is best avoided because it gives both partners responsibilities which detract from their spiritual work. This is set forth in I Corinthians chapter 7, and in the same chapter Paul states his belief that sex is undesirable, but because we are human marriage can be tolerated as a sexual outlet.
There is another peculiar concept in the theology of Paul which has no echo in the words of Jesus. It is an idea which lacks any trace of logic and presents God in a very bad light. This is the belief that God makes us disobedient, if necessarily against our wills, in order that He can redeem us! The view is set out in Romans 11.32. The idea of God conveyed in this theological position leaves the reader with a vision of a Deity who plays about, creating a situation in which He can make use of His toy. We may well ask why it is necessary for the Deity to do such a thing. Surely there is sufficient disobedience in the world due to the normal course of events, so creating more and forcing it upon the human race is superfluous - as well as showing a contempt for human freewill and choice.
Paul in fact created a religion of his own and attached it to Christianity.
His faith was based on the old mystery religions with their concepts
of a dying, rising, redeeming Saviour-God. D. C. Somervell describes
in his book "A short history of our religion" the main tenet of one
of these old Mystery faiths:-
The similarities between this concept and the religion of Paul are
too obvious to need emphasis, but we find no shade of such beliefs
in the recorded stories of Jesus. To the above Somervell adds:-
As I have already argued, the concept of the afterlife beginning with the sacrifice of the Saviour-God is not consistent with the reported views of Jesus. It is a view, however, which Paul took over from the mystery faiths and made one of the keystones of his teaching.
So we see that a very different view of Christianity is presented in the writings of Paul from that set out in the Gospels. This creates a great problem. It is generally conceded that the Gospels are later than the Pauline writings. If this is so then the Gospels appeared at a time when the Pauline viewpoint was well established, for even in some of the earlier letters of Paul we find evidence of well-established churches taking their cue from Paul in matters of faith.
Three possibilities face us:-
I find it difficult to be convinced in favour of possibility one. If the Gospels were consciously anti-Paul then it is highly likely that this fact would have been specifically referred to, or at least intimated. There is no such indication. Option two has more to recommend it. However, in view of the difficulty in dating the works it is well worth looking at the possibility that they may be, against all tradition, earlier than the words of Paul. Let us explore this option.
Writing in 1976 John Robinson was struck by
This is generally true. There is one glaring exception to the rule, as I have indicated earlier in this article, and this lies in the first two chapters of Galatians where Paul outlines a history of his visits to Jerusalem which make it clear that at least seventeen years had elapsed between the commencement of his mission and the writing of this letter. Even this does not give us anything like an exact date, but it at least points us in the direction of the early fifties CE , give or take a few years, as a probable date. However the uncertainty surrounding even this good clue serves to emphasise the poverty of guidelines as to the actual dating of these ancient documents.
In researching this article I have come to the conclusion that the Gospels could not have been produced at a time when Paulianity was fully established. By then the Church had chosen the road it was to go down, and that highway was the way of Paul. I have referred above to the degree of organisation exhibited by some of the early churches established by Paul. There can be no doubt that this degree of organisation existed, and with the passage of time we would expect this factor to increase in strength as Paul's successful mission gained ground. With each passing month the likelihood of the Gospels being produced in an atmosphere that did not immediately reject them as heretical to the established position decreased. From this we may conclude that the Gospels were written before the air became poisoned against them. In other words, they were very early. I submit that any of the Gospels, if produced at the generally-conceded dates, would have shrivelled up in the alien theological atmosphere as soon as it saw the light of the unfriendly day of publication. This I call Probability Theonomy. It falls far below certainty, but that is true of all attempts to date the Gospels, as the quotation from John Robinson, given above, makes clear. In this regard I would refer the reader to an excellent recent work "The Jesus Papyrus" by Carsten Thiede and Matthew D'Ancona. This book by two serious academics argues cogently that the most recent evidence points to the Gospels being much earlier than has been believed. The arguments again fall into the realm of probility rather than proof, but in such an historically and theonomically grey area Probability might at least set up a clue as to which direction it is best to proceed in.
One more argument points, in my view, to an early date for the Gospels, based again on Probability Theology, and it is this. Is it likely that such works would not have been produced early in the history of the Church? The glaring need for some documentary evidence as a basis for evangelism and for the inspiration of those already safely in the fold would have dictated that somebody should put pen to papyrus. Much is sometimes made of the argument that the early Christians believed the end of the world was just around the corner and therefore they would not bother to put things down in writing. However, the opposite can equally well be argued. With the shortness of time the young faith would need every resource at its disposal to spread its message. Surely the lack of time would give even more urgency to the task of setting down the things that Jesus did and taught?
We see, then, how on the historical stage of the Apostolic era, a drama was played out in which the followers of the teachings of Jesus were challenged by the faith invented by Paul. Paul's religion was easier to embrace than the difficult and challenging path of Jesus and had its roots in the older Mystery Religions, faiths already widely accepted by the people of the Near East. Perhaps the main reasons for the success of Paulianity were the "Easy Pathway" concept and the link with familiar ideas and practices - for there is often a resistance in the human spirit to change. Whatever the reasons, Paul's theology triumphed and the teachings of Jesus faded away into an obscurity in which they were represented by only a tiny handful of the faithful. Paul had triumphed, his faith became known as Christianity, something which it was not. The convert of Damascus Gate had hijacked the faith of Jesus and his ideas smothered the faith of the Jerusalem Christians.
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