Jesus's Words

The Cult of Paul

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An Introductory Look at Paul of Tarsus Back to Top ↑

While there are several extra-biblical sources that mention Paul,(including Clement's 1st epistle to the Romans, Ignatius' letter to the Romans, and Polycarp's letter to the Philippians - all written during the late 1st and/or early 2nd centuries) the primary historical wellspring related to the life and teachings of Saul of Tarsus is the Bible itself - both the book of Acts(written by Paul's traveling companion and ostensible friend, Luke) and the authenticated biblical works written by Paul himself.(1 Thessalonians, Philippians, Philemon, Galatians, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Romans and Colossians) In these latter writings, Paul is heard to instruct his would-be followers in all manner of things theological - among them the over-arching worth (or lack thereof) of the Judaic Law,(what some called "the Law and the prophets" in his day and what many call "the Old Testament" today) the non-necessity of circumcision, the power of grace, the necessity of faith over works, the way to Salvation via atonement, the nature of the Holy Spirit, the nature of Jesus as the only Son of God, the reception of spiritual gifts, the donning of "the armor of God", how to properly worship the Divine, the specific qualifications for church organization and membership, and how others were to conduct themselves in their relationships with believers and non-believers alike.

And yet what makes Paul's letters most intriguing is their authoritative tone. Paul is not writing as one giving mere advice to companions or cohorts. No, he is writing as one who knows - as one whose opinions must be obeyed - as one who is an authoritative "apostle" of Christ. And Paul goes so far as to explicitly announce the same on a number of occasions. Consider this passage from his letter to the Galatians as proof enough of the same: For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it flour a human source, nor was I taught it, but instead received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism; how I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors. But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being.Galatians 1:11-16, NRSV(?) And this is in fact the case, for if we examine the biblical texts closely, we see that Paul never once met Jesus Christ in the flesh and never once heard Jesus preach or teach in person. Indeed, when we first meet Paul in the Bible, he is seen as a violent persecutor of a non-violent group of Jesus-adherents who called themselves Followers of The Way.(Read from Acts 7:54 - where Paul is seen witnessing and even approving of the dramatically immoral stoning of Stephen - through Acts 8:3 and thereafter Acts 9:1-2 and Galatians 1:13, where Paul himself admits to committing those same acts of abuse.) Thereafter we read that Paul experienced his aforementioned "revelation" on the Road to Damascus - presumably from the spirit of Jesus Christ(Acts 9:3-6.) - and goes blind for three days as a result.(Acts 9:8-9.) Then, oddly enough, after regaining his sight Paul goes on to spend the rest of his life championing a Jesus-based theology that is nowhere to be found in the Gospel-teachings of Jesus himself.(Even having the gall to call his newly converted followers "Christians" - see Acts 11:26.) In truth, when we read Paul's letters, we hear him go on and on and on about being a "servant" of Jesus or being "in Jesus Christ" or working "though Jesus" or being informed "by Jesus' revelation", and yet Jesus himself is almost completely absent from Paul's written works - with almost no mention of his teachings, and almost no mention of his life.

It is also intriguing that Paul only quotes Jesus a few times in all of his letters, and that the few times he does so are done curiously. In Acts 20:35, Paul has Jesus quoting a common Greek proverb - a saying from Jesus that is found nowhere else in the Gospels. Later, Paul supposedly quotes Jesus at "the last supper"(See 1 Corinthians 11:23-26.) - a letter that was in all likelihood written before the biblical Gospels were penned at all. As such we are left to wonder: what were Paul's sources for these quotations, and how are we to consider those sources, seeing as how neither of them belong to the canonical record?

Indeed, as the rest of the latter pages of this tome will show, not only does Paul fail to even indirectly summon the moral majesty of the teachings of his self-professed "Lord" but the unique theology he creates actually abandons and in many ways openly rejects the same. As such, it can really be no surprise to the ardent student of the Scriptures to read thereafter about the intense conflicts Paul experienced with Jesus' actual disciples(See Acts 4:15-31, 2 Corinthians 11:4-5,22-24, Galatians 1:6, 18, 2:11-21, 3:1-3 et al.) - with those men who had actually spent time with Jesus and watched him enliven his Way in his interactions with others, with those men who had actually heard Jesus' teachings directly from his lips, with those men who were actually striving to follow and emulate the same. Possibly as a consequence thereof, in Acts 15:7 we see Peter(Upon whom Jesus himself said his true followers should rest their spiritual fellowship - see Matthew 16:18.) in effect banishing the rogue Paul to the Gentiles, whereafter Paul mutinies once more and remains instead primarily ensconced in the comfortable confines of the Jewish communities with which he was already familiar.(See Galatians 2:7 et al.)

In essence then, what we see in the Scriptures is not Paul going forth to help the disciples spread the "Good News", but rather Paul going forth - without any authority from those original apostles to do so - and spreading a Gospel message that directly contradicted their own. In truth, Paul actually had the gall to proudly claim in his letters that he needed no external authority to preach his self-engendered version of the Gospel.(Galatians 1:1 et al.) And so it can again come as no surprise that all Hell broke loose when the envoys that James had sent to check up on Paul heard his heresies firsthand.(Galatians 2:11-13.) Indeed, several of Paul's other letters also appear to have been written in no small part to quell a similar unrest amongst his Jewish Christian critics.(See Galatians 1:20 and 2 Corinthians 11:31 et al.)

Regardless of how it came to pass, of course, come to pass it did. The theology of Paul was steadily and assuredly adopted as the cornerstone of the Christian Church, and The Way of Jesus Christ steadily faded into its now-shadowed background.

Now as Saul was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do' Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight.Acts 9:3-9, NRSV(?)
[And Jesus] said to them, I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.Luke 10:18, NRSV(?)

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