Monthly Archives: September 2014

“Paul the Liar”

The Jewish-Christian sectarians, the Ebionites – inheritors of the original Judean-Jewish Jesus movement, were accustomed to calling Saul of Tarsus – “Saint Paul” – by the sobriquet, “the great Liar” – this because they saw him as a false prophet who – contrary to Jesus’ own policies – invalidated Judaism and condemned and rejected the Mosaic Law. This charge seems to be accurate, based on Paul’s own letters in the New Testament, and on Luke-Acts’ depiction of Jesus’ disciples’ reaction to Paul’s wayward teachings.  In his “seven authentic letters”, Paul repeatedly claims that Judaism no longer has any salvific power, and that, in virtue of Jesus’s atoning death and resurrection, those seeking salvation can now only find it “in Christ Jesus”, and not in defunct Judaism.

Scripture itself reveals that Paul was not well-received by the “Apostles”, i.e., “the Twelve” and the other Jewish disciples living in Judea.  In certain of his letters, Paul takes nearly every available opportunity to bad-mouth his Judean “brethren” to his Gentile congregations, but worst of all: after he promised to abide by James’ decree that Gentile converts should follow the Noachide Covenant, while Jewish converts would continue observing the Mosaic Law, (Acts 15:13-35)  Paul broke his promise, which action, if historical, essentially does makes him a liar.

In his letters Paul derides Judaism and the Jewish disciples, claiming to have received a superior revelation, different from, and more lofty and authentic, than theirs. Thus Paul, who never met Jesus, placed himself in a superior position to those who actually knew Jesus in his earthly life and who were best equipped to know what Jesus really taught and wished might happen with his renewed “synagogue”. Paul’s attitude toward the disciples’ privileged status of having known the historical Jesus was dismissive and worse, for he boasts, “From now on, we know no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth we know him no more” ( 2 Cor 5:16). Even though the Judean disciples obtained their personal experience of Jesus while he was “in the flesh”, this way of knowing is of no significance to Paul, who thinks that he now knows Christ in a purely revealed and spiritual manner. Perhaps this is the chief reason that Paul seldom references the historical Jesus in his letters. The relatively unfortunate disciples merely knew Jesus in the flesh; but Paul knows him in the spirit, in the soul – where, seemingly,  it really counts.

It seems that the Judean disciples in Jerusalem finally caught wind that the treacherous Paul was violating the terms of the Jerusalem conference, and was preaching to his congregations that Judaism was now worthless for salvation, and that the Law and circumcision were no longer valid, even for Jews and Jewish converts to the Jesus movement. When Paul came to Jerusalem (supposedly to deliver funds he had collected to present to the Jerusalem church – a gift the Judean disciples apparently rejected, since neither Luke nor Paul mention its receipt), the disciples pulled Paul’s feet to the fire, as well they should have:

Disciples to Paul: “You see how many thousands of Jews there are here who believe; and they are all zealous for the Law. But they are informed about you, that you teach Jews who are living among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them that they ought not circumcise their children, or to follow the customs. What will it be, therefore?  All the people will have gathered together by now, because they have heard that you have arrived” (Acts 21:17-22).  The disiples want an answer, and they want it now. And they want Paul to state it before a large gathering that is waiting for his justification of his policies. Luke unburdens himself of resolving this dramatic confrontation: Paul doesn’t really answer the charges. Instead, he makes a symbolic gesture, supposedly at the disciples’ insistence, of undergoing a Nazirite vow for a pre-arranged period, to end with a sacrifice in the Temple. However, even this “dodgy” non-resolution is not permitted its completion, for Paul’s presence in the Temple with Gentile proselytes causes a riot among “the Jews”, who have him arrested, and the story proceeds from there, with the moment of Law-oriented crisis forgotten. Forgotten but not erased. It still stands in Luke’s Acts as a testimony to a very plausible rift between Jewish and Pauline forms of Jesus-kerygma.

The Jerusalem disciples, Jews all, still followed the Law, just as Jesus had – i.e., the basic Mosaic rubrics, with certain “tweaks” made by Jesus relative to his new message of the Reign of God being present in the here-and-now.  Paul heretically denied, rejected, and excoriated the Law, thus going against the Jewish Jesus and his Jewish disciples – as well as violating the agreement he made at the first Jerusalem conference. The Apostles caught him at it, and they informed him of all the “thousands” of Jewish converts who were “zealous for the Law”. This confrontation, somewhat amazingly preserved in canonical scripture, indicates that the original Jesus-followers regarded Paul as a liar and promise-breaker, and it also shows that these adherents to the historical Jesus still practiced the Mosaic Law (with, presumably Jesus-directed modifications) and circumcision, and that they were naturally infuriated with the promise-breaking, Judaism-depotentiating Paul.