Foolish Galatians

TAPPED: ENOUGH OF ST. PAUL

Charles P. Pierce simply doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Paul of Tarsus did not write any of the “Pastoral Epistles” (1 and 2 Timothy, Titus). They were written many years after his time (probably in the second century) by people who considered him their founder but profoundly distorted his message in order to reinforce the status quo. In point of fact, what happened to Paul after his death is exactly what liberals often accuse Paul of doing to Jesus.

Consider Galatians 3, one of the greatest calls for human equality (within the Church, anyway) ever put on paper, especially verses 28-29:

28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.

29 And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

In the Roman Empire, this is pretty radical. Now, Paul never advocated an end to slavery, something that in the Roman Empire was impossible to contemplate. (He clearly agonized over it, though — read the genuine epistle Philemon.) This statement — that slaves were at least morally equal to free men, and that women were morally equal to men — is the most radical statement of equality in the Bible, if not in all of classical literature. Jesus never said anything like that, or if it was it wasn’t recorded.

Get rid of St. Paul? Get rid of Plato, first, and the rest of the slave power that ran Greek and Roman antiquity.

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6 responses to “Foolish Galatians

  1. Thank you! I’ve been arguing this point all over the blogosphere since the story broke on the firing of the Sunday School teacher. Not only do biblical scholars say Paul didn’t write the words used to ban the teacher, the person who did write them said “I”, not “God”.

  2. The problem is that many fundamentalists don’t believe bible scholars. They actually think Paul wrote all of the letters ascribed to him, just as they think that actual apostles wrote the gospels assigned to them.

    And even if he did write all of them, they’re merely one man’s opinion of specific circumstances affecting specific churches within a specific context, and not the actual, universal words of God or Jesus. IMHO, his solutions to the problems faced by those early Christians are interesting, but in no way binding.

  3. Maybe not… But since Paul was closer to Jesus than any of the gospel authors (he wrote in the fifties, while Mark was written in the seventies) his interpretation is probably closer to Jesus’ actual message than anything save perhaps the “Q” sayings. The pastoral epistles, for their part, are rather loathsome documents that should not be part of the canon — many works that were rejected as “too late” are actually earlier.

    What fundamentalists believe doesn’t interest me.

  4. His writings are the earliest, but if Acts is to be believed, there was obviously tension and disagreement between him and the apostles, which suggests that his take on Jesus may have been out of step with what Jesus was actually going on about.

    What I see from Paul is a universalist message infused with what I can only call a deep mysticism, yet retaining certain Pharisaical obsessions with personal conduct. You really don’t get that from the synoptics until you hit John, and that’s just pseudo- or quasi-gnostical nonsense.

    I think if we had more or later letters from Paul, or if he had been allowed to develop his theology further, he may have eventually dropped the Pharsisaical nonsense and pushed Christianity so far into mysticism and universalism. It may have even precluded many writings of the church fathers who steered the religion into the form that we see it today. If you read his letters in chronological order, you can definitely seem him heading in that direction.

    Still, I wonder if he’d be surprised to learn that the letters he wrote would eventually become holy writ and co-equal with the words of Jesus. That would be like making Jefferson’s letters part of the Consitution.

  5. I don’t know how far away from Jesus’ teachings Paul was, because I don’t know how far to trust Acts. It was, after all, written by one of the Evangelists, and its source material (for the problems with James) seems to be largely the letters of Paul. “Luke” may even have been a member of the same party as wrote the Pastorals (if you accept a late date for Luke which I’m not convinced of). I don’t see any great difference between Paul and the other authentically early material (“Q”) beyond the natural changes from the shift in social class and region.

  6. Yeah, but “Q” is merely a sayings document and probably post-dates Paul by a few years, plus I think it was produced by and for a Jewish audience, where Paul focused almost exclusively on Greco-Romans.

    I only say this because both Mark and Matthew are obviously written by Jews for Jews (especially Matthew), while Paul’s letters were crafted for Gentiles, who wouldn’t really care about all that backstory and why Jesus was supposed to be historically significant for the Jews (not humanity).

    While Jesus does have an egalitarian bent (“the rain falls on the good as well as the bad” or the Jew and the Gentile), he is a Jew teaching to other Jews wihin a context that all of them understand. I don’t see anything in the early gospels that portray Jesus as being a universalist, or as anything other than a teacher who fulfills a Mosaic function. Instead of freeing the people from physical bondage from Pharoah, he supposedly sets people free from the spiritual bondage of death.

    Paul, however, goes way beyond Jesus’ scope and rpesents him as something more than the early gospels present him. I can see the Q sayings as being an initial starting point for Paul, but he pretty much formulated a primitive theology out of his own reasoning. I usually consider him apart from the real Jesus movement.

    He happens to be an early tangent that gained traction and success due to successful evangelization over a wide area in well-populated and influential cities.

    The early gospel writers (Mark and Matthew) were Jews living in and around Judea just after the failed revolt and destruction of the Temple, and I think that is the pivotal moment in the Jewish-Christian community. It’s when their identity really began to take shape and they started writing down their stories. They had to figure out who they were, who Jesus was, and what his and their role in the world was supposed to be.

    I this community developed concurrently with the Pauline churches until they eventually hit a merge point and started working things out together around the turn of the first century.

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