Jesus & Paul

Two weeks ago Jana and I were at my favorite place in the world, the Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua, NY. Chautauqua is sort of a Disneyland for intellectuals. The day Jana and I were there Michael Sandel was lecturing.

We were sitting in the Hall of Philosophy (like I said, Disneyland for intellectuals) waiting for Sandel to start. Historically, Chautauqua is rooted in the Christian tradition but it is very ecumenical. People from a wide range of faiths are there. This is relevant because while we were waiting an older lady came and sat next to me, looked over and then asked what I was reading.

"Ancestral Sin by John Romanides," I say. "It's a Greek Orthodox view on what Western Christians call Original Sin which the Orthodox don't believe in."

"Well, I'm Jewish," she says with a laugh, "I guess don't believe in either one."

"I guess not," I say, "Just think of it as a bunch of Christians trying to make sense of the first couple of chapters of the Torah."

She nods then says, "You know who really screwed up the relationship between Christianity and Judaism?"

"Who?" I ask.

She leans in and whispers, "It was that bastard St. Paul."

I laugh and nod in understanding. We then had a wonderful conversation about the relationship between the life and teachings of Jesus with the theology of Paul.

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19 thoughts on “Jesus & Paul”

  1. So interesting that you mention Michael Sandel...  I heard his interview on the Colbert Report last week, and have listened to the first few lectures of Harvard's (free) online 'Justice' course.

    I hope you'll be writing more on Jesus and Paul.  I know I read a post (or series) here a while back on interpreting the Letter to the Romans.  Would love to hear more of your thoughts on Paul and his theological perspective :-)

  2. I had a similar conversation many years ago with a work colleague who was Jewish.  He said that Paul and the Gospel writers conspired to blame the Jews for Jesus' death because they were afraid to blame the Romans.  As I recall, he also said that Paul wrenched Christianity away from Judaism in a way that Jesus never intended.

    Now that people like NT Wright are trying to put Jesus and Paul back into their Jewish context and in so doing making it easier to reconcile Jesus with Paul, I wonder if that criticism stems more from Christian misunderstandings of Paul that cropped up over the years rather than Jewish misunderstandings of Paul.

  3. I realized, as an adult, that in the Christian Church I heard way more Paul than I did Jesus.  That was the turning point to me, that there was no priority given to the Gospels in the church of my youth.  I'm back to being able to tolerate paul now but I sure don't preach on him very often because of my background.  If I see one of those maps of his journey I sort begin to feel queasy.

  4. Ha, ha, hah, ha (and also, HAH!).

    You know who loves Paul more than Jesus? Calvinists. Pick up any Calvinist-written book and count the references. I had to read one for work, and I counted 186 to three in Paul's favor by halfway through the book. There were maybe ten references to the Old Testament in there for flavor, too (which were of course verses of Poetry being quoted as if they were part of the Law).

    Perhaps N.T. is right (Wright?) to argue for Paul's just being misinterpreted. I'm too lazy to care much right now. My sense is that Paul was a dude who'd been highly trained in Greek thought, and was offering an interpretation of Jesus that happened to jive with the Greco-Roman mindset... which as a result hugely enabled the mass-expansion of Christianity throughout the empire. A small part of a big story that's been taken as the Final True Moment of human intellectual achievement. 

    As an artist, I find it difficult to comprehend why anyone would want to read the same little piece of the same small story over and over and over again. Life's too wonderful and the Creative Work too interesting to allow ourselves to stagnate. God doesn't seem to get stuck in the past, why should we? Much better to allow the past to inform the present as we joyfully and lovingly co-create the future.

    Also, allow me to pause for a sin moment (envy, envy, envy) regarding your Sandel experience. I watched the entire Harvard Justice course online and loved it. 

  5.  What is with the Paul bashing? 
    Let's take a short look at Paul.  First he was a religious fanatic who thought, due to his religion, he could persecute any all believers in Jesus, putting them in prison, stoning them, etc. etc. 
    Then, to drive home the point of his religious blindness, Jesus blinds him on the road to Damascus.  To bring a very proud man to his knees and remake him into the great missionary for Jesus that he became.  He, the rising star  of the current Jewish religion, dismayed so many of his colleagues that they followed him from town to town as he preached the (get this) the gospel. 
    Driving wedges into new congregations, stirring up unrest, slandering the name of Christ, rumor-mongering etc. etc. Anywhere Paul went, people were sure to follow that hated him.
    And now, over 2 000 years later, people still can get over it.

  6. Yes, I used to also be down on Paul for a long long time.  But having read a variety of things about the Jewish context of early Christianity (including taking a class on this at my local JCC!!) I've switched camps altogether.  Paul had his flaws, of course, but I am a big fan.   I don't think he wrenched Christianity from Judaism at all - Judaism at that time was not only sharply divided, but it was also undergoing enormous changes due to both the diaspora and the destruction of the Temple. 

    I highly recommend reading on the New Perspective on Paul - which deals primarily with the issue of the Jewish context of Paul's writings.  I'm more familiar with James Dunn's writing on this than NT Wright, but they are both part of that camp. 

  7. Yeah, NPP is good, although I need to read it again so that I can absorb and understand it better.  I'm reading a JDG Dunn book on NT Theology now.

  8. Ah,there's the rub! A resurrected Jesus confronts a hyper-committed rabbi named Saul. Kind of ironic isn't it? Would the "New Perspective" on Paul chafe people like the little Jewish lady any less than Reformed Soterology? It's that resurrection thing...Dear! What a delightful encounter! What a blast you must have had!

  9. I think it's more a backlash against the emphasis in churches on Paul's perspective being privileged over Jesus Himself. It's one of those "Pawn to King 4" things, how he gets used, not an actual critique of the man himself.

  10. My Calvinist friend a few weeks ago moderately rebuked me for essentially having too much Jesus and not enough Paul.  He said I wasn't taking all the New Testament into account. 

    I replied, "Are you kidding?  I LOVE Paul!  He wrote the very first version of "Love Wins!" 

    The conversation pretty much went down hill after that. 

  11. Ha, ha, that cracks me up. I've found since I've come to know Paul better (late have I loved thee) I've been able to relate to more conservative Christians much better. I think we still differ on much important theology but because I use the language of Paul they can affirm what I say even if they would reject what I mean. I think Paul is much maligned and greatly misunderstood.

  12. Thank you!!!!!!!

    The Calvinist emphasis of Paul over Jesus (a form of idolatry?) is something that I think Paul, himself, would have decried.  I think that 1 Corinthians 1:12-17 makes this clear. Far too often the fundis and neo-fundis reinterpret Jesus' teachi8ngs to fit Pauline theology, when it probably should go the other way if reconcilliation is indeed necessary.

  13. I'm lucky I came to this post late --- because I got to read all of the posts in one big swoop. (Maybe nobody will read my post now, oh well).  

    I had a friend who taught in an Orthodox Jewish school in Dallas. (She was Christian). She once told a story of a parent who came to school and lambasted her for the way she was teaching math, saying (imagine a nasal New York City accent): "In Israel second graders are already doing thus-and-so". She wanted to say why don't you take your kid to Israel then, but felt that this would not be prudent. Hurt and upset, she went to the rabbi who was the headmaster and told him what had transpired. He retorted, "Why didn't you tell her to take her kid to Israel? ... You gotta toughen up!"

    Aside from the way his English-translated sentences turn into horrible run-ons, the thing that sticks out to me MOST about Paul is his Jewishness. I heard Isaac Perlmann say once that Israelis refer to themselves as "sabras" (the spiny pads of the cactus). That's St. Paul, all over.

  14. I think we're all in big trouble if we don't like Paul.... He was a devoted servant of the risen and enthroned Jesus, the one the church worships and hopes to be with one day. If he's wrong about this (a) we should all be Jews; and (b) the church is an archaeological society dedicated to the accurate memory of their founder, which isn't quite right is it?! 

    An utterly biased warning: the NPP won't help ultimately. Right questions, wrong answers. 

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