Monday, February 25, 2002

Theological Foray #4: Do Jesus and Paul Teach the Same Christianity?

I haven't read the responses of Kevin Holtsberry, Mark Byron, or Amy Welborn yet, so that this isn't unduly influenced by them. If there's some overlap, just remember that great minds think alike.

The topic was suggested by Kevin as a response to a Letters Never Sent post that is riddled with misconceptions, including quite a few that have since been taken down, but I'll address near the end of this. I'll take the questions one at a time. All quotes are from the New American Standard Bible.

Jesus said "And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these." Paul said "For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat." They appear to have different stances on the necessity of work. What's up?
Jesus' comment wasn't about the necessity of work. He was scolding those who cared about fashion, pointing out that even flowers, which do no work, are pleasant to look at. He was not saying that one shouldn't work. When he took his apostles from their jobs, it wasn't because work was unncessary, but because he had a more important task. As he said to the fishermen Simon and Andrew in Mark 1:17, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men." Paul's comment is a criticism of the lazy.

How come Paul avoids quoting Jesus, mentioning Jesus' parables, or even the Lord's Prayer?
Paul and Jesus were speaking to different audiences. Jesus was speaking exclusively to Jews in Roman Palestine, and thus spoke to them in familiar terms. Parables and midrash (the use of Scripture to justify) were Jewish techniques, and thus were most effective in that context. Paul, on the other hand, was speaking to Gentiles and Hellenized Jews, to whom diatribe (the raising and answering of questions in a monologue) and allegory were familiar. Furthermore, Paul wasn't present with Jesus at any time, and thus wouldn't have known the details of them. At such an early stage of Christianity, the canon had yet to be developed, and thus it was the concepts conveyed by Christ, rather than his actual words that were more important.

Didn't Paul introduce the concept of eating meat?"
Depending on what you mean, the answer is still "no." Paul certainly didn't introduce meat to the world, as evidenced by the fact that the Corinthians asked him if, as Christians, they should eat meat previously sacrificed to idols. Jesus didn't seem to have a problem eating meat, since in Matthew 14:17-20 and John 21:9-12 he provided fish for his disciples to eat. But, you say, many people don't consider fish to be meat! Well, then, it's time to check out the Old Testament. In Leviticus 11:2-3, God tells Moses and Aaron to "Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, 'These are the creatures which you may eat from all the animals that are on the earth. Whatever divides a hoof, thus making split hoofs, and chews the cud, among the animals, that you may eat.'" It then goes on to list certain animals proscribed by the Law, but obviously allows for the eating of meat. Now, in Genesis 1:28, God says to Adam and Eve "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you." However, in Genesis 9:3, after the Great Flood, it is amended to "Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave green plant." Clearly, the eating of meat predates Jesus and Paul.

What about Paul's abysmal treatment of women, telling them to always do their husband's bidding?"
The idea of the wife being subservient to the husband was the way all societies at the time functioned. However, further reading of Pauline letters reveals passages such as Ephesians 5:28, "So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself." This was a very radical concept at a time when women were considered inferior, and not much better than simple property. Far from degrading women, Paul is one of the first recorded as saying that they deserved to be treated as humans.

How about Paul's acceptance of slavery? Jesus surely would never have approved of what the South did during early American history!
Firstly, the slavery of the time was very different from American slavery. A more accurate comparison would be with indentured servitude. Slaves were subjected for a period of seven years, and all slaves were to be freed during Jubilee years. A master could be punished by law for beating or killing his slaves without sufficient reason. Slaves could even own property and have their own slaves!Jacob essentially sold himself into slavery to Laban for Leah and again for Rachel, since he didn't have money to pay for them. Slavery was so established and so common in Jesus' time that there is not a single recorded comment by him on the subject. It was widely regarded that slavery was mutually beneficial, providing income for the master and a purpose and security for the slave. Now, for Paul to have condemned slavery as a whole would have been utterly without precedent in recorded history. In his letter to Philemon, he urges him to reconcile with his runaway slave Onesimus, and to free him. In other instances, he mentiones slaves and free in the same breath as saved by baptism and faith. Judging Paul by contemporary standards is very unfair, since it is partly due to his influence that we have such standards today.

Yeah, but Paul didn't even know Jesus, so how could he possibly know what was true Christian doctrine?
Not so. On his was to Damascus to persecute the Jews, Paul, known then as Saul of Tarsus, was blinded. During this time, Jesus appeared to him and told him that he was chosen to spread his message. Paul was a very unique man. He was of both Jewish and Roman descent, and was thus a citizen of Rome. He had lived in Greece growing up, and was thus intimately familiar with Hellenistic culture and styles of argumentation. Finally, he was a Pharisee, and knew the Jewish techniques of midrash and parable. If not for his Jewishness, he would never have been accepted by the other apostles. If not for his Greek upbringing, he wouldn't have been able to begin the conversion of the Gentiles, a task the original apostles didn't want. Lastly, due to his citizenship, he was able to have the right to trial in Rome, saving him from his Jewish persecuters once, and allowing him time to write several letters while in prison. Paul was the instrument that allowed Christianity to become more than simply Neo-Judaism.

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