What kind of person was Paul really? How many religious people throughout history would you not consider to be fanatics for judging and cursing everyone for believing differently, commanding their flock that it was best not to touch a woman, and it was best for married couples to live like they were celibates, and predicting that the Lord was coming soon? Why is Paul the only one we are supposed to take seriously? Based on statements in his own letters he comes off like the trifecta of fanatics.
We can get some knowledge of Paul based on statements he made in his letters, though thereʼs precious little we can count on when it comes to knowing much about Peter or James, including whether the Greek epistles attributed to them were actually written by Aramaic speaking fishermen—and just two short epistles attributed to Peter and one short epistle attributed to James are in the Christian canon. Thatʼs all from the pillars of the church? While Paulʼs letters crowd those questionable epistles out by far—even though it is believed that Peter and James walked with a flesh and blood Jesus for a year or more, while Paul did not. Sounds fishy to me that so few and questionable first hand letters survive from the pillars while so much from Paul is included in the canon.
Note Paulʼs humility when it comes to assessing his contributions:
“I was not a whit behind the chiefest apostles. But though I be rude in speech, yet not in knowledge.” 2 Cor 11:5-6
“For in nothing am I behind the chiefest apostles” 2 Cor 12:11
Paul “glories” in the Lord and other things in over twenty instances in his letters, but the Greek word he used, ‘kauchaomai,’ translated ‘glorying,’ actually means ‘boasting,’ and ‘vaunting.’ The proper Greek word for ‘glorying’ would be ‘doxa.’ That Paul elected not to use that word in lieu of the Greek word for ‘boasting,’ has been cleverly obscured by many translators. While in 1 and 2 Cor. in about ten places Paul stresses the importance of being a “fool” for the Gospel and denying the wisdom of this world. If you were to remove all the high sounding rhetoric (metaphors and analogies prove nothing), all the praise of foolishness, all the self-deprecation, the praises, curses and threats in Paulʼs letters, I doubt there would be much left. His letters read like the notes found in the margin of a preacherʼs Sunday sermon, “Point weak here, TALK LOUDER.”
Paul also stresses the need to become all things to all men, to the Jew he becomes a Jew, to the weak, he becomes weak, becoming all things to all men, for the Gospelʼs sake, anything one can say or do to get people to believe like himself. 1 Cor 9:20-23; 10:33 Adding, “But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say” Rom. 3:5 And, “[if] the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory; why am I also judged as a sinner?” Rom 3:7. And, “nevertheless, being crafty, I caught you in [to the church] with guile.” 2 Cor 12:16. And “what then… every way, whether in pretence, or truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice” Philip 1:18 To Paul there was little that “does not edify” 1 Cor 10:23. “Approving ourselves as the ministers of God… by dishonor and honor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true.” 2 Cor 6:8.
Paul even outlines a program of tongues speaking and prophesying in 1 Cor 14:22-32 that sounds like it was designed to attract “unbelievers,” “and there come in those that are… unbelievers,” but he had to ask that believers tone it down a bit, so they didnʼt appear quite so “mad” to unbelievers by speaking in tongues all at once. He suggested they prophesy more, which sounds like condemning sin via Old Testament sounding phrases, “But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you.” 1 Cor 14:24-25 “For whether we be besides ourselves, it is to God; or whether we be sober, it is for your cause.” 2 Cor 5:13 The Greek ‘existemi’ translated ‘beside ourselves,’ actually means ‘insane,’ ‘witless,’ ‘bewitched,’ and ‘make astounded.’ The same word, ‘existemi’ is also used to describe Jesus himself in “his friends went to lay hold on him; for they said, Jesus is beside himself” (Mk 3:21—and the Greek word ‘ho para’ translated as ‘friends,’ also means ‘family’).
As for Paulʼs sense of outrage and controlling nature…
“Hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.” 1 Cor 5:5
“If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed/anathema [devoted to destruction].” 1 Cor 16:22
“We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete.” 2 Cor 10:5-6
“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under Godʼs curse!” Gal 1:8
Referring to Judaizing Christians who preached that followers of Jesus should be circumcised, Paul wrote, “Of those that trouble you, I would they were even cut off [Gk. apokopto, literally, ‘castrated’].” Gal 5:11-12
Whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord… For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself… FOR THIS CAUSE many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep [have died]… For… we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord. 1 Cor 11:27-32
Note how Paul tossed individuals out of church with “curses” or “turned them over to Satan,” and even claimed that illnesses and deaths of many who remained in church were due to Godʼs “judgment.” Sounds like a more fanatical interpretation than most ministers would be willing to employ today, instead they would be more likely to check on the sanitation of objects used for sharing the Lordʼs supper. It also makes one wonder how Paul might have reacted if many at a church picnic began heaving up egg salad that had gone bad, would Paul claim God was judging them? What if children attended the same religious day care or Sunday school classes and illnesses began to spread among them? Another chastening from the deity? Paul implanted in peopleʼs minds that bad things happened because God was punishing believers for not falling in line with the one true belief system, i.e., Paulʼs. But thatʼs how religious fanaticism tends to work.
Paul also wallows in self-castigation, or as psychologists point out, self-castigation is often an excuse to feel more proud of your particular religious beliefs. Itʼs the old paradox of the fragile or dissatisfied ego that attaches itself like a barnacle to something it imagines to be far greater than itself, thus becoming hyper-inflated with the feeling that they are “nothing” but this new truth or doctrine they have come to believe or practice is the one and only truth and must be spread at all cost. “For I know that in me dwelleth no good thing… but the evil which I would not, that I do… O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Rom 7:18-24 “I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung [Greek, ‘skubalon,’ excrement], that I may win Christ.” Philip 3:8
And when you compare Paulʼs writings with later ones in the New Testament, you see that Paul Paul mentions being resurrected in a “spiritual body” without claiming it has “flesh and bone” (compare later writings like the Gospel of Luke where the resurrected Jesus denies being a “spirit” at all, and claims he is “flesh and bone” and EATS a piece of fish as demonstration. You donʼt find that in Paul. Instead you find Paulʼs notion of a “spiritual body,” along with Paulʼs statements that “Flesh and blood shall not inherit the kingdom of God,” and, “Food is for the stomach, and the stomach is for food; but God will do away with both of them” 1 Cor 6:13 & 15:50. See also the discussion here of a statement by N.T. Wright concerning such questions.
Paulʼs “spiritual body” view certainly seems less “flesh and bone” than what appears in later New Testament writings concerning Jesusʼ resurrection. It also fits the way Paul despised the “flesh” (fleshly aspects of existence) throughout his writings, even looking down on the fact that people “burned” for one another, giving physical marriage this backhanded compliment, “It is better to marry than to burn,” a passage rarely quoted at Christian weddings. Paul even taught Christians that it was good to “never touch” a woman, and to remain as he was, celibate, and that married couples should live celibate lives if they can, so they can concentrate on “serving the Lord” rather than each other. The only form of marriage Paul endorses unequivocally is the churchʼs marriage to its heavenly bridegroom, the Lord—the marriage of believer with their beliefs, specifically with Paulʼs beliefs about the Lord. All others be cursed. Paulʼs “spiritual body” view also fits with his mention of Christians being taken up to heaven.
Keep in mind that the Pauline idea of a “spiritual body” is the earliest formulation of the “resurrection” according to the earliest documents we possess:
1 Thess 4:13-18, “We who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”
Paul seems to indicate not just in that verse but in others that the Kingdom of God will be in heaven:
2 Cor 5:1 “we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven…”
Philip 3:20a “But our citizenship is in heaven…”
Gal 4:26a “the Jerusalem which is above is free…”
Paradise is in the third heaven (2 Cor 12:2-4).
That is where the Christian elect will wind up in their “spiritual bodies,” to be in the company of Christ (1 Thes 5:9-10).
Even in the non-Pauline letter to the Hebrews, chapter 12, Christians are expected to be live in the heavenly Jerusalem, with no mention of it coming down to a new earth. In fact the author of Hebrews mentions that the patriarchs are “foreigners and strangers on earth.” Heb. 11
Paulʼs view resembles Philo of Alexandriaʼs, who also put heaven as the destination of the righteous after death. According to Philo: “And the proselyte… has received as a most appropriate reward a firm and sure habitation in heaven” (On reward and punishment”, ch. XXVI, 152) “looking upon the heavenly country in which they have the rights of citizens…” (On the confusion of tongues, ch. XVII).
Also consider the way Paul used every rhetorical method at his disposal, reasonable or not, to try and convert people, which included stretching the meaning of Old Testament words and stories, even utilizing odd readings of the Old Testament in inter-testamental works like the late apocryphal work titled, The Wisdom of Solomon—not to be confused with the Book of Proverbs, but instead, a late non-canonical apocryphal work attributed to “Solomon.” And scholar James King West adds, “Among the characteristics of Wisdom as depicted in The Wisdom of Solomon, one is of particular interest. The afterlife is described in terms of the Hellenistic dualism which debases matter in contrast to the immortality of the soul, rather than the Judaic concept of the resurrection of the body (cf. the remarkably beautiful passage in 3:1-9, also such vss. as 8:13):
- 1 But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them.
- 2 In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be an affliction,
- 3 and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace.
- 4 For though in the sight of men they were punished, their hope is full of immortality.
- 5 Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good, because God tested them and found them worthy of himself;
- 6 like gold in the furnace he tried them, and like a sacrificial burnt offering he accepted them.
- 7 In the time of their visitation they will shine forth, and will run like sparks through the stubble.
- 8 They will govern nations and rule over peoples, and the Lord will reign over them for ever.
- 9 Those who trust in him will understand truth, and the faithful will abide with him in love, because grace and mercy are upon his elect, and he watches over his holy ones.
Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9
Because of her I shall have immortality, and leave an everlasting remembrance to those who come after me.
Wisdom of Solomon 8:13”
Plenty of additional examples can be shown of Paulʼs ideas and teachings paralleling those found in The Wisdom of Solomon (and other inter-testamental works):
- 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.
- 20 Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse;
- 21 for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened.
- 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools,
- 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles.
(compare Wisdom of Solomon 13:1-5
- 1 For all men who were ignorant of God were foolish by nature; and they were unable from the good things that are seen to know him who exists, nor did they recognize the craftsman while paying heed to his works;
- 2 but they supposed that either fire or wind or swift air, or the circle of the stars, or turbulent water, or the luminaries of heaven were the gods that rule the world.
- 3 If through delight in the beauty of these things men assumed them to be gods, let them know how much better than these is their Lord, for the author of beauty created them.
- 4 And if men were amazed at their power and working, let them perceive from them how much more powerful is he who formed them.
- 5 For from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator.)
- 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles.
- 24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves,
(compare Wisdom of Solomon 14:22-31
- 22 Afterward it was not enough for them to err about the knowledge of God, but they live in great strife due to ignorance, and they call such great evils peace.
- 23 For whether they kill children in their initiations, or celebrate secret mysteries, or hold frenzied revels with strange customs,
- 24 they no longer keep either their lives or their marriages pure, but they either treacherously kill one another, or grieve one another by adultery,
- 25 and all is a raging riot of blood and murder, theft and deceit, corruption, faithlessness, tumult, perjury,
- 26 confusion over what is good, forgetfulness of favors, pollution of souls, sex perversion, disorder in marriage, adultery, and debauchery.
- 27 For the worship of idols not to be named is the beginning and cause and end of every evil.
- 28 For their worshipers either rave in exultation, or prophesy lies, or live unrighteously, or readily commit perjury;
- 29 for because they trust in lifeless idols they swear wicked oaths and expect to suffer no harm.
- 30 But just penalties will overtake them on two counts: because they thought wickedly of God in devoting themselves to idols, and because in deceit they swore unrighteously through contempt for holiness.
- 31 For it is not the power of the things by which men swear, but the just penalty for those who sin, that always pursues the transgression of the unrighteous.)
- 12 Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned—
- 13 sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law.
- 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.
- 15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one manʼs trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.
- 16 And the free gift is not like the effect of that one manʼs sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification.
- 17 If, because of one manʼs trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
- 18 Then as one manʼs trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one manʼs act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men.
- 19 For as by one manʼs disobedience many were made sinners, so by one manʼs obedience many will be made righteous.
- 20 Law came in, to increase the trespass; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,
- 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
(compare Wisdom of Solomon 2:23-24
- 23 for God created man for incorruption, and made him in the image of his own eternity,
- 24 but through the devilʼs envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his party experience it.)
- 19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?”
- 20 But who are you, a man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me thus?”
- 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for beauty and another for menial use?
- 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the vessels of wrath made for destruction,
- 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for the vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory,
(compare Wisdom of Solomon 12:12-18 and 15:7
- 12 For who will say, “What hast thou done?” Or will resist thy judgment? Who will accuse thee for the destruction of nations which thou didst make? Or who will come before thee to plead as an advocate for unrighteous men?
- 13 For neither is there any god besides thee, whose care is for all men, to whom thou shouldst prove that thou hast not judged unjustly;
- 14 nor can any king or monarch confront thee about those whom thou hast punished.
- 15 Thou art righteous and rulest all things righteously, deeming it alien to thy power to condemn him who does not deserve to be punished.
- 16 For thy strength is the source of righteousness, and thy sovereignty over all causes thee to spare all.
- 17 For thou dost show thy strength when men doubt the completeness of thy power, and dost rebuke any insolence among those who know it.
- 18 Thou who art sovereign in strength dost judge with mildness, and with great forbearance thou dost govern us; for thou hast power to act whenever thou dost choose…
- 19 The Lord will take his zeal as his whole armor, and will arm all creation to repel his enemies)
- 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
(compare Wisdom of Solomon 6:18
- 18 And love of her is the keeping of her laws, and giving heed to her laws is assurance of immortality)
1 Corinthians 2:9
- 9 But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him,”
(compare the non-canonical Ascension of Isaiah 11:34 “And this angel said unto me: ‘Isaiah, son of Amoz, it is enough for thee;… for thou hast seen what no child of flesh has seen’”; also note that the early church father Origin said this verse in 1 Cor. was from the non-canonical, Apocalypse of Elijah—Origen, Commentary on Matthew 27.9. Originʼs idea was bitterly disputed by Jerome (Letter 57 [to Pammachius] §9 [NPNF, 2nd series, vol. 6, p. 117]), who claimed the verse was taken from Isaiah 64:3-4 “according to the Hebrew text,” which states, “When thou didst terrible things which we looked not for, thou camest down, the mountains quaked at thy presence. From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear,no eye has seen a God besides thee, who works for those who wait for him.” In fact, however, the Hebrew is only a very rough approximation of Paulʼs language in 1 Corinthians 2:9, so Jerome may well have been wrong on this point. So, compare the Ascension of Isaiah 11:34 as originally noted.)
1 Corinthians 6:2
- 2 Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases?
(compare Wisdom of Solomon 3:8
- 8 They will govern nations and rule over peoples, and the Lord will reign over them for ever.)
1 Corinthians 10:4 (Jewish tradition)
2 Corinthians 11:14 Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.
(compare Life of Adam and Eve 27:12-14
- 12 No sooner had Adam said this, than an angel from God appeared to him in the cave, who said to him, “O Adam, fear not. This is Satan and his hosts; he wishes to deceive you as he deceived you at first. For the first time, he was hidden in the serpent; but this time he is come to you in the likeness of an angel of light; in order that, when you worshipped him, he might enslave you, in the very presence of God.”
- 13 Then the angel went from Adam and seized Satan at the opening of the cave, and stripped him of the pretense he had assumed, and brought him in his own hideous form to Adam and Eve; who were afraid of him when they saw him.
- 14 And the angel said to Adam, “This hideous form has been his ever since God made him fall from heaven. He could not have come near you in it; he therefore transformed himself into an angel of light.”)
Galatians 3:19 (Jewish tradition; cf. also Acts 7:38, Acts 7:53, and Hebrews 2:2)
Ephesians 5:14 (Apocalypse of Elijah—So identified by Epiphanius, Against Heresies 1.3.42; see also Jerome, Commentary on Ephesians 3.5.15.)
- 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
- 12 For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
- 13 Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
- 14 Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,
- 15 and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace;
- 16 besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one.
- 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
(compare Wisdom of Solomon 5:17-20)
- 17 The Lord will take his zeal as his whole armor, and will arm all creation to repel his enemies;
- 18 he will put on righteousness as a breastplate, and wear impartial justice as a helmet;
- 19 he will take holiness as an invincible shield,
- 20 and sharpen stern wrath for a sword, and creation will join with him to fight against the madmen.)
And concerning the question of Paulʼs high Christology, one might mention once again something scholar James King West has pointed out, namely that the personification of wisdom, introduced, for example, in Proverbs 1-9, is carried much farther in The Wisdom of Solomon than in any parallel Judaic literature. In the book of Proverbs the personification of wisdom is symbolic, but in the Wisdom of Solomon ‘wisdom’ is described in terms intended to be taken quite seriously as:
- ‘a kindly spirit’ (1:6);
- ‘radiant and unfading’ (6:12);
- ‘the fashioner of all things,’ whose twenty-one attributes include intelligence, holiness, mobility, omnipotence, interpenetration, and the like (7:22);
- ‘breath of the power of God, and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty’ (7:25);
- ‘spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness’ (7:26; cf. 10:1, 5, 6, 9; 11:1; 12:1).
These descriptions of wisdom, especially the crucial passage in 7:22-8:21, reflect the increasing emphasis on the transcendence of God characteristic of later Judaism, combined with an unmistakable influence from Hellenism. How far the author intended his definition of Wisdom as an intermediary between God and the world is impossible to say. Viewing his words from the perspective of Greek thought, it would probably be easy to read too much into them. Whether consciously or not, he nevertheless spoke a language that during the next two centuries and later was to play a profound role in religious development.” (Introduction to the Old Testament, pp. 464-465)
So even Paulʼs Christology seems to owe something to the way Wisdom is viewed more like a person than a metaphor according to The Wisdom of Solomon.
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