Paul: Evangelist to the Gentiles
The Pauline and Judeo-Christianity
All historians agree that the existing Christian theology is based on the perception of Paul and not on the true message of Jesus. Paul is called the greatest missionary of Christianity and its first theologian. Yet all Christian preachers attribute Christianity to both Jesus and Paul.
Paul: Evangelist to the Gentiles
In the late 1900s, major attention in the history of Christianity was focused on Paul. This was due to a strong critical examination of his views on Judaism and the Mosaic Law. His position regarding the Law changed completely after his conversion. The book of Acts and Paul’s Epistles have been used as a source of understanding Paul’s early life, conversion, and approach to theology. However, there are problems in reconciling the accounts in Acts with those in Epistles. Gal. 1:15 suggests that, immediately before his conversion and for three years afterwards, Paul lived in Arabia and Damascus. Acts seems to suggest that he lived in Jerusalem (7:58-8:3; 9:1-2; 22:3). Similarly, while Paul’s letters mention two visits to Jerusalem (Gal.1:18; 2:1), and that he hoped to make a third (Rom. 15:25; 1 Cor. 16:4), Acts makes obvious references to five visits (9:26-28; 11:27-30; 15:1-4; 18:22; 21:17-19). Attempts to reconcile these contradictions were extremely difficult; so many scholars accepted their discrepancy and used Acts and the Epistles separately without trying to confuse the public.
Paul was born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia (in present day Turkey) in 4 AD. He became a convert to Christianity after experiencing a vision of Jesus during a journey from Jerusalem to Damascus (Acts 9:1-19, 22:5-16, 26:12-18) about 33-35 AD. It is important to remember the above contradiction relating to his companions during Paul’s vision. After 14 quiet years, Paul began to write his Epistles that took him through Syria, Galatia, Asia Minor, and Rome. Some scholars argue that Paul spent those missing 14 years in Macedonia, Greece. This is probably true if one assumes that he was testing and adjusting his method to present the new religion to Pagans. Though Paul was in Jerusalem at the same time as Jesus, it is doubtful that the two men ever met. His zeal for Mosaic Law led him to persecute the Christian church. First he thought of the church to be a Jewish sect that was untrue to the Law and should therefore be destroyed (Gal. 1:13). Acts 7:54-60 portrays him as a supportive witness to the stoning of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Paul was arrested in Jerusalem after riots heated by his Jewish opponents, and was eventually sent to Rome to stand trial. It is unclear how that trial ended, or if he ever left Rome. Eventually, in 64 he was executed near Rome.
Paul established his credibility by maintaining that Jesus spoke to him after he was raised to Heaven. Paul perceived this revelation to mark the end of all religions, and thus of all religious distinctions. He consistently spoke of God's "call" to him. God has called people and is continuing to call people into the Christian community. Paul recognized Peter’s effort to introduce Christianity to the Jews, but he was convinced that Christianity was God's call to the entire world. Although scholars do not fully understand Paul's motive for this effort, it is certain that he attempted to bring together the churches of his Gentile mission with the Jewish Christians in Palestine.
The New Testament contains 13 letters bearing Paul's name as author, and 7 of these were almost certainly written by Paul himself: 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Romans, Philippians, and Philemon. Christian scholars debate the authenticity of the rest of the letters. The seven letters, attributed to Paul, in which he occasionally speaks of his personal experience and his work, are the major sources of knowledge about the course of his life. Most scholars concentrate on them and consult the Acts of the Apostles as an additional source.
The letters of Paul reveal that his missionary itinerary was focused on three major objectives:
The expansion of Christian missionary to the Gentiles in areas not approached by other Christian evangelists—hence his plan to go as far west as Spain, (Romans 1:14; 5:24, 28).
The concern of a preacher to revisit his own congregations as problems arose. This was demonstrated by his several visits to Corinth.
His constant determination to collect money from his largely rich Gentile churches and to deliver the money himself to Jesus’ Apostles in Jerusalem.
Without a doubt, Paul had remarkable qualities that made him the top evangelist in the history of Christianity:
He was very active in traveling and propagating his version of Christianity to the Gentiles.
He had an extraordinary capability for adapting himself to the situation of his audience.
He was more effective in writing than in speaking.
He knew very well how to package the new religion, and presented it in an acceptable form to the Gentiles.
After knowing that about Paul, it is no wonder that very many "successful" TV evangelists are adopting Paul’s approach in addressing the Christian public. TV evangelists receive calls from God, and they continually talk about those divine calls. These God’s calls range from requesting money, to God’s revelation to the evangelist of his forgiveness if the evangelist committed a major sin.
The Pauline and Judeo-Christianity
In the early stages of Christianity, there were two versions of Christianity: one presented by James, a relative of Jesus, and the rest of the apostles as a mission to the Jews. Paul introduced the second version as a religion for Gentiles. Barnabas introduced Paul, to the other apostles in Jerusalem. But the disciples "were all afraid of Paul and believed not that he was a disciple, but Barnabas took him and brought him to the Apostles", (Act 9:26-27). The apostles had doubtful feelings that Paul was not what he seemed to claim. Paul tried first to preach to the Jews, but he was unsuccessful as some of the Apostles. They understood that the Jesus’ message was for "the black sheep of Israel", and Jesus came not to "destroy but to fulfill." And here was someone, that they did not trust, pushing to steal the show and expand the religion beyond its original boundaries. The apostles were trying to conserve the Jewish law, while Paul was exempting the Gentiles from this law. In Paul’s view, it was very difficult, or even impossible to approach a Greek or Roman with a new religion and then, for example, ask the future convert, to be circumcised. Just imagine a thirty-year old Greek leaning towards Christianity, and then someone tells him: by the way, you need to be circumcised; or if you commit adultery you are going to be stoned to death! What do you expect his reaction to be?
The author of 2 Peter speaks of difficulties in understanding Paul (2 Peter 3:16), and then he said that: "as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures." Peter was referring to the teachings of Paul. What did Peter mean by that? How were the scriptures explained in a way that was hard to understand? Who was Peter referring to by untaught and unstable people? The Bible does not give any clues to these questions.
The small group of apostles formed a Jewish sect that remained faithful to the form of worship practiced in the temples. Some men went to Antioch in 49 AD, and told the Gentiles"Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved." (Acts 15:1). Paul and Barnabas were against this teaching. When converts from paganism were presented to the apostles, a "special system" was offered to them in the council of Jerusalem in 49 AD that exempted them from circumcision and the Mosaic Law. This council was a meeting of Peter, Paul, and the leaders of Jerusalem's Christians. Many Judeo-Christians rejected this concession. This conservative group was separated from Paul. For Paul, the circumcision, Sabbath, and rituals of worship practiced in the temple were old fashioned, even for the Jews. Christianity was to free itself from Judaism and open itself to the Gentiles. The head of the community at that time was James. James represented the Judeo-Christian camp, which consciously adhered to Judaism as opposed to the Pauline Christianity. Jesus’ family, and certainly the Virgin Mary too, had a very important role in supporting the Judeo-Christian church of Jerusalem.
It was not just in Jerusalem and Palestine that Judeo-Christianity predominated during the first hundred years of the church. The Judeo-Christian mission seemed to have developed everywhere before the Pauline mission. This is certainly the explanation of the fact that the letters of Paul had difficulties in understanding the new religion. The whole Syrian-Palestinian coast from Gaza to Antioch was Judeo-Christian as witnessed by the Acts and the writings of Clement. In Asia Minor, Paul’s letters to the Galatians and Colossians indicated the existence of Judeo-Christians.
It is important to know these facts to understand the struggle between communities that ended up by shaping Christianity. The Gospels began to appear around 70 AD, the time where the two rival groups were engaged in a fierce struggle, with the Judeo-Christians winning this battle. Then the Jews revolted against Rome in 66 AD, and after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD the Pauline version won the victory after his death. From 70 AD to about 140 AD, the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John appeared. They did not constitute the first Christian documents: the letters of Paul dated well before them.
Paul is the most controversial person in Christianity. He was considered to be a traitor to Jesus’ teachings by the family and apostles of Jesus. Paul created Christianity at the expense of those whom Jesus had gathered around him to spread his Gospel. He proved the authority of his mission by declaring Jesus, raised from the dead, had appeared to him on the road to Damascus. It is reasonable to state that Christianity would not be the same without Paul. It is almost certain that if this atmosphere of struggle between Christians had not existed, we would not have had the Bible that we know today. The Gospels started to appear at a time of fierce struggle and political upheaval, when Pauline Christianity won the battle of the Gentiles, and created its own collection of documents. These texts constituted the "Canon" which condemned and excluded as heretical any other documents that were not following Paul’s version of Christianity. The Judeo-Christians were cut off from the church that gradually freed itself from Judaism and the Law. However, they existed in few numbers in the third and fourth centuries, especially in Palestine, Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Egypt, and Mesopotamia. They kept the original Christianity in their hearts, and tried very hard to keep it alive. This was demonstrated by the efforts of Arius in Alexandria to revive Judeo-Christianity.
Paul created a theology that was never described by Jesus. He adapted his version of Christianity to the Gentiles, after unsuccessful attempts to join the Judeo-Christians. The fact that each of his letters were written to a specific church with a different approach indicates that he wanted to adjust his teachings to address that church's previous belief. The following is an attempt to summarize Paul's thought:
Jesus’ Status: Unlike the Fathers of the Church, Paul never called Jesus "God". He called him "the Son of God" in the Jewish sense; Adam, David, and Israel were called sons of God. He never suggested that Jesus had been the incarnation of God. He only suggested that Jesus had the powers of God.
Rejection of the Jewish Law: After the incident of Antioch in 49 AD, Paul rejected the Mosaic Law "The service that brought death (the law) was written and engraven in stone" (2 Cor. 3:7); "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the Law" (Gal.3: 13).
Allegorical Interpretations: Paul was emphatic that by getting the broken bread and wine, the Christian is sharing in the sacrificing of the son to the father in his broken body and shed blood.
The Cross: According to Paul’s ideology, the cross can be perceived to reveal God's great power, a power made perfect in weakness. God confirmed this power by raising Jesus from the dead, by sending the Holy Spirit, and by establishing the church as the foundation of his New Kingdom.
Accepting Jesus: Paul emphasized that Jesus died for our sins, (1 Cor. 15:3). The resurrection of Jesus established his victory over our sins. He rejected the prevailing Judeo-Christian emphasis on repentance and forgiveness of sins. Paul did not call upon his audiences to repent of any sin, but rather to accept Jesus and his crucifixion as the only way of salvation. The symbol of the cross was a victory over all sins, and humans do not need to repent or ask God for forgiveness. Paul even rejected the call of John the Baptist to the Jews to repent, which Jesus did not object.
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