Jesus's Words

The Cult of Paul

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Contrast #02: their personal wealth...

Though the scholarship on this issue admittedly remains slightly divided, the majority of those "in the know" agree that the Bible shows Paul coming from an upbringing of great wealth and Jesus from one of great poverty. As far as the former is concerned,(and aside from the fact that Paul himself admits to a relatively luxurious pre-apostle life in his letter to the Philippians, stating quite plainly I know what it is to have plenty, Philippians 4:12) consider the following evidence:

  • * Paul was born into the home of a devout Pharisee who also happened to be a Roman citizen(See Acts 22:25-28, 23:6, 25:27-12, Philippians 3 :5.) - a pedigree that in and of itself granted Paul no small measure of social status...
  • *Paul twice introduces himself as being a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilia(Acts 21:39, 22:3), with Tarsus being the capital of Cilia at the time, and having a reputation as being a center of Greek philosophical and literary education. This would explain Paul's high degree of learning, which was evidenced by the large and distinctively sophisticated Greek vocabulary he employed in his letters. Indeed, over half of the words used in the Greek New Testament are used by him and him alone...
  • * Paul's letters also employ metaphors drawn from the upper-class domains of law, business, politics, and leisure, and they regularly reflect Greek oratory tradition and Stoic methods of argumentation - forms of prose essentially unknown to the common men of the day. Indeed, his style of debate was often so sophisticated that even Peter and the other disciples had difficulty understanding it...(2 Peter 3:16.)
  • *Scholars have also noted that Paul was obviously familiar with the Greek Septuagint translation of the Jewish scriptures(seeing as how he quoted from it frequently) - not a trait prevalently found in the average Judean pauper...
  • *In addition, the Bible makes it clear that Paul was later able to receive the highest level of tutelage available(at the feet of Gamaliel, a leading scholar of Jewish law who was held in great repute at the time - see Acts 22:3, 5:34) in Jerusalem...(located some 350 miles from Tarsus; an expensive distance to travel by any means, and thus more evidence of the probable wealth of Paul's family)
  • * Paul's privileged youth also brought early fruits, as evidenced by him being entrusted at a relatively young age with the task of arresting early Christians(followers of "The Way" - see Acts 9:2) in Damascus and returning them to Jerusalem to be tried for blasphemy;(See Acts 8:3, 9:1—2, 16:4, 22:4.) a task of some import, and not one that would have been given to any mere "college student"...
  • * Paul traveled along the Road to Damascus with a group of men who were clearly his subordinates, if not his servants...(Acts 9:7-8.)
  • * He was also able to repeatedly defend himself with no small amount of mastery in Jewish, Greek, and Roman courts of law.(Impressing the Roman proconsul on Cyprus, escaping from Jewish prosecutors in Antioch and Iconium and Lystra, asserting his legal rights in Philippi, settling a case in Thessalonica, obtaining a stay of action in Athens, winning a legal victory before the proconsul of Corinth, exposing illegal magicians in Ephesus, and defending himself before the Roman governors in Caesarea.) While more than a few historians have noted that these successes had little to do with his Roman citizenship or his manipulation of the actual law, there can be little doubt that the average layman would not have been able to finagle such successes - that in all likelihood the high social standing of Paul's family(and/or the powerful social connections he had forged therewith) was instrumental in allowing Paul to so often escape his lions' legal dens...
  • * While there is admittedly some evidence that Paul chose to live more austerely during the days of his latter ministry, there is also much to suggest that he remained a man of means until the very end - living in a Roman apartment for two whole years at his own expense,Acts 28:30 sponsoring a Nazarite vow,(Acts 21:23-26.) being held in special custody by Felix for a lengthy period of time(Acts 24:27.) - the former of whom openly had hopes of receiving a bribe from Paul during said house arrest,(Acts 24:26.) and promising to pay Philemon any debts incurred by Onesimus(Philemon 1:18-19.) - not to mention having regular access to writing materials throughout his travels.

"But we have this glorious treasure hidden in clay jars, so that it might be made clear that our potential for extraordinary beauty belongs to God and does not come from ourselves."Paul, 2 Corinthians 4:7, NRSV(?). Ahh, the irony!

In marked contrast, Jesus is seen throughout the Gospels as being a man of meager means, a man who embraced detachment from material riches as a means to the true wealth of spiritual purity.(Matthew 6:25-33.) Consider the following biblical evidence thereof:

  • * Prior to his birth, Mary is seen joyfully announcing He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with pure things, and sent the rich away empty-handed...Luke 1:52-53
  • * Jesus was not born in an inn or a household, but rather in a "dwelling"(Matthew 2:11.) where he was thereafter was laid in a "manger"...(Luke 2:7, 16.)
  • *Jesus was raised by a father who was a "menial laborer"(see Footnote 2, earlier) in the meager village of Nazareth...(Luke 2:39, Matthew 21:11.)
  • * After his birth, Jesus is taken to the Temple where a sacrifice of a pair of turtledoves and two young pigeons(Luke 2:22-24.) is made for him there - the sacrifice that was demanded of all poor families...(Leviticus 12:8.)
  • *Jesus lived home-free; as an itinerant preacher who had no home of his own...(Matthew 8:20.)
  • *Jesus openly blessed and even lauded the poor, saying Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God...Luke 6:20. Unlike in Matthew 5:3, where the words "in spirit" amend the word "poor" (ptochoi - Strong's #4434), here the term stands alone, and thus does indeed mean those who are materially destitute; those who are the extreme opposite of rich.
  • * Even Paul - the self-proclaimed "apostle of Christ" - admits that Jesus became poor, so that through his poverty you might become [spiritually] wealthy...2 Corinthians 8:9
  • * Jesus publicly denounced those who expected him to wear fine clothes and/or live in pomp and luxury...(Matthew 11:7-8.)
  • * Jesus repeatedly made it clear that neither he nor the founding values of his ministry were of this world...(John 16 :11, 33, 17:16, Acts 18:36.)
  • * Jesus quite flagrantly tells the wealthy young man to sell all your possessions, give the proceeds to the poor, and then come and follow me...Matthew 19:21
  • * Thereafter he tells his disciples that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God....Matthew 19:24
  • * Jesus passed on his ministry of austerity to his disciples, sending them forth in abject material poverty, with neither gold not silver nor copper in your money belts...Matthew 10:9-12
  • * In one of his greatest sermons(if not his greatest sermon of all) Jesus extols his followers, saying, Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves can break in and steal For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also...Matthew 6: 19-21
  • *Jesus even references the dangers of material wealth in the Parable of The Sower - the parable that provides the foundation for understanding all his other parables(Mark 4:13.) - when he says, As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the Word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the Word, and it yields nothing...Matthew 13:22
  • * Even in Jesus' greatest moment of earthly triumph, he chooses to broadcast the virtues of humility and purposeful poverty; entering Jerusalem as a servant and not a king - doing so humbly riding on a donkey...(Matthew 21:1-8, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:29-35, John 12:12-15. Compare with Zechariah 9:9)
  • * This is also one of the reasons he proclaimed that all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted...Matthew 23:12
  • * Remember as well that one of the primary directives for becoming a true follower of Christ was willing self-sacrifice. If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me...Luke 9:23 cf. Matthew 10:38, Mark 8:34-37
  • * Indeed, this is one of the reasons why Jesus said, Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all,Mark 9:35 and why he warns his followers in the Gospel of Luke against material riches as well, saying, Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions... The land of a rich man produces abundantly. And he thinks to himself, 'I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.' And yet God says to that man, 'You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward the Lord. None of you can truly become my disciples if you do not first give up all your possessions.Luke 12:15-21, 14:33

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