The following is an excerpt from the forthcoming critique of the 4th volume of Dr. Brown’s “Answering Jewish Objections.
Here Brown attempts to address the argument that it was Paul who invented Christianity as it is known today and not Jesus. Brown responds with the claim that Paul’s teachings are in complete harmony with the teachings of Jesus. Brown states: “The consistent testimony of the New Testament … affirms this point”.
I find this statement incredible.
A simple reading of Paul’s words reveals that Paul himself claimed to be the inventor of Christianity. Christians who want to believe that there was a smooth progression from the Jewish following of Jesus to the gentile following of Paul will find that there is no basis to their belief.
Let us allow Paul to speak for himself. “For I make known to you, brethren, as touching the gospel which was preached by me, that it is not after man. For neither did I receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but [it came to me] through revelation of Jesus Christ.”(Galatians 1:11,12). Paul is telling us that the gospel that he preached was not taught to him by the disciples of Jesus. Paul is admitting that his gospel was revealed to him in a vision by the deceased Jesus. Paul takes his point a step further. “But from those who were reputed to be somewhat (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth not man`s person)– they, I say, who were of repute imparted nothing to me: but contrariwise, when they saw that I had been intrusted with the gospel of the uncircumcision, even as Peter with [the gospel] of the circumcision (for he that wrought for Peter unto the apostleship of the circumcision wrought for me also unto the Gentiles); and when they perceived the grace that was given unto me, James and Cephas and John, they who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship, that we should go unto the Gentiles, and they unto the circumcision; only [they would] that we should remember the poor; which very thing I was also zealous to do. But when Cephas came to Antioch, I resisted him to the face, because he stood condemned. For before that certain came from James, he ate with the Gentiles; but when they came, he drew back and separated himself, fearing them that were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that even Barnabas was carried away with their dissimulation.” (Galatians 2:6-13).
Let us understand what Paul is saying here. He is telling us that “those of repute” imparted nothing to him. Who are these people “of repute”? Paul tells us in verse 9 that these people of repute were James, Peter (Cephas) and John. In other words the disciples of Jesus taught Paul nothing. Paul takes this a step further by drawing a distinct boundary between himself and the Jewish disciples of Jesus. He tells us that he and they were charged with two different missions. They (the Jewish disciples) were charged to minister to the Jewish people (“unto the circumcision”), while he (Paul) was charged to minister to the gentiles. This means that the teaching that Jesus imparted to his Jewish disciples in his lifetime was meant for the Jewish people, while the teaching that the deceased Jesus imparted to Paul was meant for the gentiles. Paul claims that the Jewish disciples of Jesus acknowledged this division in the gospel. He then criticizes Peter and the Jewish followers of Jesus for violating this accepted boundary. He tells us that Peter and other believers from Jerusalem were trying to influence the gentiles to follow the teachings that were meant for the Jews. We can now understand the opening verses in the book of Galatians. “Paul, an apostle (not from men, neither through man, but through Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead),and all the brethren that are with me, unto the churches of Galatia: Grace to you and peace from God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us out of this present evil world, according to the will of our God and Father: to whom [be] the glory for ever and ever. Amen. I marvel that ye are so quickly removing from him that called you in the grace of Christ unto a different gospel; which is not another [gospel] only there are some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach unto you any gospel other than that which we preached unto you, let him be anathema. As we have said before, so say I now again, if any man preacheth unto you any gospel other than that which ye received, let him be anathema.” (Galatians 1:1-9).
Paul is surprised that the gentile church of Galatia has so quickly abandoned his teachings. He is informing them that no man or angel has a right to disagree with him because his is the true teaching. Now who were these people that were trying to influence the people in Galatia to disobey Paul? It is clear that these would have been the Jewish disciples of Jesus, whom Paul accuses of duplicity (again – Paul claims that to his face they acknowledged that he had been appointed by the dead Jesus as an emissary to the gentiles, but behind his back they tried to influence the gentiles to follow their own version of the gospel. Remember, Paul accuses Peter; “…how compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?” Galatians 2:14). Paul does not hide the fact that his teachings were considered false by people who were very influential in the early Church (1Corinthians 9:2, 2Corinthians 11:13).
It should be noted that the writings of the Christian scriptures as we have them today were redacted by the gentile followers of Paul. The original Hebrew (or Aramaic) version of Matthew was destroyed by the gentile followers of Paul. Still, even the Pauline redactors had a difficult job attributing Pauline Christianity to Jesus. In the three Synoptic Gospels there is perhaps one statement attributed to Jesus that is a clear Pauline teaching (Matthew 26:28, Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20). The origin of this statement is highly questionable. The last supper of Jesus is the one area where Paul comments on Jesus’ lifetime activities. Paul explicitly states that he received this teaching directly from the dead Jesus (1Corinthians 11:23). The Pauline redactors of the gospels had what they considered a “reliable” source for this story. There is no reason to assume that there was any other source for this story. When this story is removed from the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus is no longer a Christian.
The book of Acts was written by a follower of Paul. It is clear that he was motivated to present a picture in which Paul and the Jewish followers of Jesus agreed on the fundamental issues. The story that the book of Acts relates is quite different than Paul’s version of the events. When Paul speaks of his own conversion, he finds it important to tell us that “straightway I conferred not with flesh and blood: neither went I up to Jerusalem to them that were apostles before me: but I went away into Arabia; and again I returned unto Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and tarried with him fifteen days” (Galatians 1:16,17,18). But when the book of Acts describes the same events we get an entirely different picture. No word is mentioned of a trip to Arabia. Paul spends time with the disciples in Damascus, then he preaches in Damascus. It is then told that he arrives in Jerusalem where the Christians were not convinced of the sincerity of Paul’s conversion to the degree that they were afraid of him. (This gives the impression that it was much less than three years between Paul’s conversion and his arrival in Jerusalem.) But Barnabas reassures the apostles and Paul was “with them going in and going out at Jerusalem” (Acts 9:28).
I am well aware that all of these contradictions can be reconciled by agile minds. But there is a deeper question to be asked. Why the differences? Why does Paul consider it of utmost importance to tell us of his trip to Arabia, of the three-year period that elapses before he comes to Jerusalem, and of the fact that he saw none of the apostles aside from Peter and James? Why does Paul start out his post-conversion story by telling us that “he conferred not with flesh and blood”? And why does the author of Acts regard these same facts to be so insignificant that the picture he paints leaves an opposite impression?
It is clear that the author of the book of Acts was motivated to present Paul’s preaching as a smooth progression from the preaching of the other apostles. Paul, on the other hand, was motivated to show that his preaching is from a source that is superior to the preaching of the other apostles. It was not important to Paul to show a smooth progression. It was enough for Paul to tell us of a begrudging acknowledgment of his preaching by the apostles who saw the live Jesus.
The story that Paul tells us in Galatians 2;7-9 is also roundly contradicted by the author of Acts. Paul claims that the leaders of the Jerusalem Church “saw that I had been intrusted with the gospel of the uncircumcision, even as Peter with [the gospel] of the circumcision”. Paul is claiming that these men recognized that the dead Jesus had spoken to him and authorized him to teach just as the live Jesus had spoken to Peter and authorized Peter to preach in his name. The book of Acts tells us that no such acknowledgment ever took place. In chapter 15 of the book of Acts we are told that when a question arose concerning gentile observance of the Law, Peter and James speak and present their understanding of the matter. If, as Paul claimed, Peter and James truly acknowledged Paul’s apostleship, they should have simply said; Jesus appointed Paul as an apostle to the gentiles, let us obey him. According to the book of Acts, they did nothing of the sort. Furthermore, the book of Acts describes the last meeting between James and Paul, and again the issue of gentile observance comes up, and again James makes reference to the previous decision of the Jerusalem Church and says not a word about Paul’s apostleship (Acts 21:25).
Another revealing episode is described in chapter 21 of the book of Acts. Paul arrives in Jerusalem and is informed by James that “Thou seest, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of them that have believed; and they are all zealous for the law. and they have been informed concerning thee, that thou teachest all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children neither to walk after the customs.What is it therefore? They will certainly hear that thou art come.” (Acts 21:20-22).
According to James, all the Jewish Christians are zealous for the law. The word that James uses (zealous), implies ardor, enthusiasm, passion and excitement. Is this Pauline Christianity? Which Christian denomination encourages Jewish people to be “zealous for the law”?
According to James, it is not the Jerusalem Church that oversteps its boundaries by trying to influence the gentiles (as per Galatians 2:14), but it is Paul who is overstepping his boundaries in trying to influence the Jews. The author of the book of Acts gives us the impression that this was a false accusation that was not accepted by James, but he does acknowledge that all the Jewish believers believed this accusation.
The author of the book of Acts does not explicitly tell us how the members of the Jerusalem Church felt about this accusation. But from the little he says, we can understand that this was no friendly misunderstanding. The words “they will certainly hear that thou art come”, imply that the mere fact of Paul’s arrival in Jerusalem will stir up agitation amongst the Jewish Christians. This agitation was not something that could have been settled by James reassuring his following that this was an innocent misunderstanding, and Paul was truly loyal to the law. The conflict was so deep that a verbal explanation on Paul’s part would also not put the issue to rest. It is clear that the Jewish Christians did not trust Paul’s words.
The only way James could end the conflict was by telling Paul; “Do therefore this that we say to thee: We have four men that have a vow on them; these take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges for them, that they may shave their heads: and all shall know that there is no truth in the things whereof they have been informed concerning thee; but that thou thyself also walkest orderly, keeping the law.” (Acts 21:23,24).
The author of the book of Acts would have us believe that this action on Paul’s part would serve as a declaration of Paul’s true beliefs. Paul’s participation in the Temple rites, would demonstrate to one and all that he was truly loyal to the law of Moses. This explanation fits with the inclination of the author of Acts to minimize the conflict between Paul and the Jerusalem Church. But this explanation is highly unlikely. If this conflict could not be settled through a verbal declaration on Paul’s part, why would a public performance put the accusations to rest? If the Jewish Christians suspected Paul of lying with his mouth, why would they be so naive to think that he could he not lie with his actions?
The more likely explanation is that the Jewish Christians of Jerusalem could not care less what it was that Paul believed in his heart. What they wanted with this public demonstration was an act of repudiation of his teaching. They wanted to make clear, that in the presence of the disciples of Jesus, Paul did not have the backbone to stand for his own principles. This was not to be a demonstration of loyalty, it was to stand as a public renunciation of Pauline Christianity.
Whether you believe that this activity on the part of Paul was to serve as a demonstration of loyalty, or you feel as I do, that this was a forced retraction, there are several questions that the author of Acts leaves unanswered. Of all the activities proscribed by the law of Moses, why did James choose a Temple rite for this public presentation? If the only purpose of this demonstration was to reassure the Jewish Christians that Paul was loyal to the law, a public act of observance of any point in the law would have served. Furthermore, we must ask ourselves, why was this particular Temple rite chosen by James? Why did it have to be a Nazirite offering? Why would a simple burnt offering not have served the same purpose? It is clear that nothing less than a Nazirite offering on the part of Paul would satisfy the Jerusalem Christians. Why not?
The answer is staring us in the face. A Nazirite offering includes a sacrifice that is offered for the explicit purpose of the expiation of sin (Numbers 6:14). Paul’s central teaching is that the only valid method of expiating sin is through the blood of Jesus. The Jewish Christians did not accept this teaching. They believed that the law of Moses provided for the expiation of sin through various methods including the offering of animals in the Temple for this purpose. When Paul would participate in this rite, he would be publicly repudiating his own teaching on the matter.
Some Christians have argued that these offerings on the part of the Jewish Christians would not serve as a repudiation of Pauline Christianity. These offerings were understood to be pointing back to the sacrifice of Jesus. This explanation fails for several reasons. First, the offerings were to be processed by the non-Christian Temple establishment. The priests who processed the offerings would have understood them as Moses explains, that these offerings themselves atoned for sin. The concept that the sacrifices no longer atoned stands as a polar opposite of the soul and spirit of the Temple establishment. The idea of handing offerings to these people as an expression of loyalty to Christian doctrine, is flatly ridiculous.
The second reason that this Christian explanation does not work is because this act was meant as a public demonstration. Paul was not given an opportunity to explain his actions. He was simply to go into the Temple and participate in this offering for the expiation of sin. James trusted that the onlookers would fully understand the message that is inherent in these actions. How would the Jerusalem crowds have understood this message? There is no question that these people would have read the message of Paul’s actions as an affirmation of the efficacy of the Temple sacrifices. No one ever taught these people a different understanding of the sacrifices. The entire concept of “sacrifices pointing back to Jesus” was invented recently under polemical pressure. This concept is not mentioned anywhere in the Christian scriptures or in the writings of any Christian theologian until recently. We can be sure that this concept was not popular currency in the Jerusalem Church of James.
Finally, this explanation (the sacrifices pointed back to Jesus) fails to explain why the members of the Jerusalem Church saw in this act of Paul a declaration of loyalty to the principles they held so dear. Why would this act stand as a symbol of their zeal for the Law?
Let us summarize what we have learned. Paul claimed that no living person taught him anything. He claimed that the teachings that Jesus imparted during his lifetime were meant for the Jews, while the teachings that Paul learned in his visions were meant for the gentiles. Paul accuses the Jewish followers of Jesus for failing to respect this division and attempting to influence the gentiles. Paul tells us that there were people who were very influential in the Church who preached a different gospel than his own. Despite the fact that Paul’s disciples redacted the synoptic gospels, it is still difficult to find a clear Pauline statement attributed to Jesus in these books. The book of Acts makes clear that the Jerusalem Church never acknowledged Paul’s claim to prophecy. The book of Acts also makes clear that there were deep differences between Paul and the members of the Jerusalem Church. (There is more to discuss here, such as the tone and the emphasis of the book of James, the fact that the Jewish disciples of Jesus were shocked by his death, and the fact that the Church of James was allowed to flourish in Pharisaic Jerusalem, but the discussion has already become to lengthy.)
We have an abundance of evidence that Paul and not Jesus was the inventor of Christianity. How does Brown deal with this accusation? In the thirteen pages that Brown devoted to this subject, there are only a few sentences that deal with the issues we raised here. On page 201 Brown tells us that Paul was “recognized as a key player by the other key leaders in Acts 15”. Brown does not explain how the description of the author of Acts contradicts Paul’s own version of the event. Brown also does not tell us that the episode as described in Acts makes clear that the leaders of the Jerusalem Church did NOT accept Paul’s claim to prophecy.
Brown tells us that Paul “dispelled any doubts about his teachings and personal practices in Acts 21” (page 201). This is quite a bizarre statement. The story in Acts 21 reveals the deep friction that existed between all of the Jewish believers and Paul. The Jerusalem Church saw the core of their differences in the Temple offerings. And Brown is satisfied with the pat assurance that Paul “dispelled any doubts”?! Why was there this deep distrust between Paul and the Jerusalem Church? Why were the members of the Jerusalem Church busy with Temple offerings after the crucifixion of Jesus? Why could Paul not reassure the Jewish believers with a simple speech? Why did James and Peter not reassure their own followers? Why did Paul have to do it? Why were the members of the Jerusalem Church so zealous for the Law of Moses? Brown does not seem to have answers for these questions.
Brown tells us that Paul “passed on what he received”. Brown does not make clear to his readership that when Paul says the word “received” he does not mean that he received the teaching from the Jewish disciples of Jesus, but rather he personally received these teachings in visions from the dead Jesus.
Brown tells us that “with the exception of some heretical groups (like the Ebionites), Paul’s teachings were received by the second generation of believers, including men who were disciples of the original apostles (such as Polycarp).” I find this sentence quite astounding. Brown tells us nothing about the deep opposition to Paul from within the Church in his own lifetime. This opposition came straight from Jerusalem, the place where Jesus lived and taught. Instead Brown is satisfied to pass on to his readers a piece of Christian mythology. None of the original Hebrew and Aramaic writings of the Jewish disciples of Jesus and their subsequent followings survived the blind fury of the Pauline Church. All of the writings we have from the early Christians were either written or redacted by the gentile followers of Paul. The writings of the early Church fathers tell us precious little about the life and teachings of the Jewish disciples of Jesus. There is one association that Brown and other fundamentalist Christians seize upon. Polycarp! It is claimed that Polycarp was a disciple of John. Polycarp died approximately in the year 160 C.E. If he ever saw John, it could only have been at a time that he was a small boy and John was an old man. Polycarp does not quote John. He does not tell us anything about the life and teachings of John. The entire claim of Polycarp’s discipleship of John, is at best, an exaggeration of a brief sighting in his youth.
If you are a Christian, I beg of you please absorb what you have just read. The accusation that Paul invented Christianity has deep foundations in the Christian scriptures and in the history of the early Church. Dr. Brown who is a very capable person (and I do not mean this sarcastically), could not provide a defense against this accusation aside from four hollow sentences. So what is the basis of your faith?
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal