Paul and Jesus

Hello! It’s been a while since I’ve posted – but I’ve not given up blogging. Just not done it for a while, though I have kept on reading quite a few other people’s blogs. Kind of like my attitude to playing cricket.

Anyway, thought I’d mention that have put up an excellent lecture by David Wenham on whether Paul is the real founder of Christianity. David Wenham is also the author of a number of books on the subject – Paul: Follower of Jesus or Founder of Christianity? (Eerdmans, 1995) and Paul and Jesus: The True Story (SPCK, 2002), both of which I’ve managed to find in my university library, so if you’re a student at a university which offers Theology/Religious Studies you might be able to read a copy for free. Of the two, the second is probably a bit more accessible.

The debate, which I had not encountered at all until coming to university, revolves around the charge that Paul actually invented what we would recognise as “Christianity”, and that Jesus (if he even existed!) taught something entirely different to Paul, and did not believe he was the divine Son of God or that his death was sacrificial (“for our sins” 1Cor 15:3; Gal. 1:4).

This is something which a lot of more liberal Jesus scholars have put across, and which quite a lot of non-scholars have found quite attractive. The idea finds a lot of resonance (apparently – I’ve not read it yet) in Philip Pullman’s new book The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ. I think part of the attraction is the idea that you can have Jesus’ moral teaching without all the crazy stuff about the resurrection, sacrificial death, Son of God stuff. In fact, you can have Jesus as just a human being (which is probably all you’ll find if you look at the gospels with atheist presuppositions) who taught some nice stuff but was misunderstood by his followers and misrepresented by the Church. It’s a lie, but a tremendously powerful lie because it lets you have Jesus on your own terms (he can even be an atheist if you want) and because he’s not God incarnate he can’t challenge you any more than Plato or Cicero challenge you: Take the bits of his teaching you like and discard the bits you don’t. It’s a way of being against the Church without necessarily being against Jesus (at least, not the Jesus you think really existed).

Wenham deals with these arguments very cogently, particularly in the area of Christology. I won’t summarise the arguments in this post, but I’ll just add that I’ve been studying some stuff Paul wrote for my dissertation and have discovered quite a few verbal parallels with the teaching of Jesus, and much theological cohesiveness between the attitudes of Jesus and Paul to (in this case) civil government. The two of them aren’t opposed, at least not in the texts I’ve been studying.

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