Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Paul vs Jesus

Some observations...

In many believing environs, the Pauline Epistles seem to be the entire base of Christianity. Those letters that stand out and carry the most weight in any discussion are usually 1st and 2nd Corinthians, Galatians, and Romans. In a number of cases, I've noticed a disproportionate appeal to and use of these specific texts or the Pauline corpus as a whole compared any other Biblical text or body of texts. Despite the common notion of "interpreting scripture with scripture", theologies, viewpoints, and behaviors are often formed, argued, and defended solely on the basis of a few fragments from Paul. Has anyone else noticed this frequent imbalance?

There seems to be an unsupported presupposition among many believing communities that everything Paul said, simply because he was Paul the Apostle and wrote inspired of the Spirit, aligns perfectly with something Yeshua did or would have said. It is, therefore, not surprising that instead of referring to Christ himself and following him, Christians frequently refer to Paul and follow him. It is assumed that in doing the later, the former is done.

Conversely, there seems to be an unsupported presupposition among many unbelieving communities that Paul controverted, subverted, or otherwise authored a faith substantially different than Yeshua. Therefore, in this view, the observable, grand alignment to Paul alone proves that Christianity is based more on Paul than on Christ. It is assumed that there are many points of departure between the Jesus of history and the Paul of faith.

Not having any of these two presuppositions myself, when presented with something from Paul, I immediately wonder--where did this come from? Did Yeshua say or do anything from which this would coherently and consistently arise? Sometimes the influence of Yeshua's message and witness is obvious... Like, for instance, in Galatians when Paul speaks of sowing and reaping--either to destruction or eternal life. This immediately brings to mind the frequent use by Yeshua of the sowing metaphor in his parables and discourse, which itself was drawn from the prophets. So the question is then how did Paul understand those things and how did he use them in his epistles?

What I would really like to read is a critical-historical book (as opposed to a grammatical-historical so that, hopefully, nothing is presupposed) that shows how much Paul's writing relies on and is a direct outflowing of the works and words of the historical Jesus.


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