One thing that I have to mention. I was having an ongoing discussion on Twitter (follow me, @biffster). This conversation in particular regarded a very conservative, hard-core, religious right nut job. He was pissed at me for daring to insinuate that Paul was sexist. (Actually, I did more than insinuate it, I flat-out said it.) The gentleman in question flipped out, accusing me of attacking his religion by daring to say anything negative about Paul.
Paul, mind you. Not God, not Jesus, but Paul.
This is something I simply don’t understand from basically all Christian denominations: why is Paul so important? Why is he treated reverently, like he is a part of God himself? How did Paul end up controlling and influencing the religion founded on Jesus Christ? I know the whole “the Holy Spirit descended upon him” and that God was actually dictating the words that Paul put down in his letters. And that the Holy Spirit influenced the decision for what books to put into the bible, and which to leave out.
Things look a lot differently, though, when you don’t believe in the holy spirit. In this case, what you had were dozens of men who either knew Jesus or said that they did, all writing letters and gospels and memoirs, all competing to be the person who helped steer believers into a way of life that they think Jesus wanted people to live. It was a power grab. Somehow, some way, Paul came out ahead. He was able to get his books accepted, to have other books rejected. He became synonymous with the word of God in general, and the edicts of Christianity in specifics. The keys to the kingdom were turned over to Paul. Just as Paul predicted they would be.
The phrase “self-fulling prophecy” comes to mind for some reason…
Anyway, onward Christian soldiers! It is time to dig into:
The Epistle of Paul to the Galatians
Amusingly enough, I was pretty much exactly right about the flow of the first chapter. Paul starts out greeting the church, giving glory to god, wishing everyone peace, etc. Paul then immediately starts chiding the Galatians. It seems that there are people in the Galatian church who are suggesting that Paul’s gospel is not necessarily true, and that there might be different ways to follow Christ. Paul isn’t going to have any of this, of course, and delivers a verbal smackdown. Threatening condemnation to blasphemers! “…even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that person be condemned!”
Because, of course, God won’t tolerate honest discourse or debate.
Paul declares that the gospel he preaches is from God through Jesus Christ, not from Paul. His “proof” for this is odd, though. He goes over his history – his zealousness, his persecution of early Christians, his encounter with Jesus. Paul then states he didn’t confer with anyone else, nor did he talk with the Apostles. He traveled for three years, then went to see Cephas (Peter), then started traveling again. The fact that he didn’t have contact with anyone else in the Christian churches is supposed to be proof that Paul’s gospel was handed down to him by god.
This could just be me… but that sure seems like Paul is saying “I came up with this all by myself, without discussion with actual Christians.”
Well, here is something new: Paul got into a heated dispute with Peter. Apparently it had been agreed that Peter would be the main apostle to work with Jews, while Paul would get the Gentiles. Peter stressed that followers stick to Judaic traditions, like circumcision (which apparently was an even bigger deal back then than I realized, since Paul keeps stressing it over and over). Paul, on the other hand, tailored his message for those who did not follow Judaism. Peter agreed to this, as long as Paul promised to take care of the poor and destitute.
Paul finds out that Peter is being hypocritical, though. Peter got into the habit of hanging out with the Gentiles in Antioch. Until, that is, some of the Judaic members of the church sent by James got there. Then Peter turned his back on the Gentiles, for fear that the Jews would revolt when hearing that Peter had been living the life of a Gentile. Paul calls out Peter on this hypocrisy, saying that he cannot expect Gentiles to follow Judaic law if Peter wasn’t going to do so himself.
Up next: The return of Paul the lawyer.
New installments of The New Testament In Review will be posted each Monday and Thursday. The new posts will always be on my blog, http://biffster.org. The entire series is accessible via http://biffster.org/ntir. If you are one of my Facebook friends, you can get an advance preview on my Facebook page. You can also follow me (@biffster) on Twitter to be alerted to new posts.