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Post Reconciling Paul and Christ
Created by John Eipper on 04/25/17 5:43 PM

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Reconciling Paul and Christ (David Duggan, USA, 04/25/17 5:43 pm)

Do I dare attempt a reconciliation of Paul with Jesus? Can the sun be reconciled with the moon? Can the tides be reconciled with the shore? Can Athens be reconciled with Jerusalem? Can Antonin Scalia (rest in peace) be reconciled with Ruth Bader Ginsberg? Looked at from the standpoint of us mere temporal mortals, of course not. But looked at from the aspect of eternity, of course they can, for all are subject to the love of God against which Paul and Jesus, sun and moon, tide and shore, and Scalia and Ginsberg are judged, weighed and redeemed.

Jesus' blameless life, moral teachings, miraculous healings, and out-of-the-box associations exemplify His death, resurrection and ascension. Without the former, the latter would seem a Divine circus trick: wow, how'd He do that? Without the latter, the former would make Him a sort of cross between Albert Schweitzer and Diogenes. The pairing of human action and Divine intervention reinforces the Nicene Creed's statement that Jesus was both man and God, begotten of the Father before all worlds.

Paul bears none of these indicia. He was born in Tarsus of modern-day Turkey and early on came under the influence of Gamaliel, the chief Pharisee of the 1st Century of the common era in Jerusalem. As such he was a scholar, but one with a mission to eradicate followers of the Way, as those early believers that Jesus was the Christ or Messiah called themselves (sort of like a Eugene Genovese or George Wald, legitimate academics with political-social agendas). His Damascus Road conversion of course changed not only his life but the life of Christianity. For no longer was it a fringe sect, but one with a body of scripture, and an advocate who not only braved Mediterranean seas and unruly mobs, but defied the same Roman authorities which had put the One whom he had persecuted to death. The Gospels began to be written shortly after his conversion, and Paul's letters followed.

Of course there will be contradictions. Paul was writing to specific audiences at specific times and for specific reasons. The passage of time does not diminish the value of the message however. WAISers might well wonder what the world would look like if husbands did not love their wives as Christ loves His church, or if children did not obey their parents. (I'll leave for another day a discussion of wives' obedience to their husbands; suffice it that there is a flip side.) But the Gospels were written that others believe in Christ, and the 4th Gospel (John) so that His life could be seen in the context of a theology--an understanding of God--which had cleaved time in two. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. ...No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only who is at the Father's side, has made him known" (John 1: 1 & 18, NIV, capitalizations in original).

Back when I was practicing law in New York, I idolized two judges of the United States Court of Appeals: Augustus Noble Hand, and his younger but more famous cousin, [Billings] Learned Hand. Though they shared one quarter of a gene pool, they were near polar opposites: Gus an originalist before Scalia, Learned a progressive before Ginsberg; Gus a devoted churchman, Learned a skeptic. The word then was "quote Learned but follow Gus." The same could be said about Paul and Jesus: quote Paul, but follow Jesus. We could do worse.

JE comments:  Excellent essay, David, but I'm puzzled by your concluding analogy.  Isn't Jesus more of a "progressive" than Paul?  Granted, I may be out of my league on matters of Christian theology.

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  • Paul's Letters and Gospels (David Pike, -France 04/27/17 2:08 PM)

    David Duggan wrote on April 25: "The Gospels began to be written shortly after [Paul's] conversion, and Paul's letters followed."

    I understand it as fact undisputed by biblical scholars that Paul wrote his letters in AD 55, and that the Gospels followed, beginning with Mark (and not Matthew).

    JE comments:  I knew the Mark before Matthew part, but who can clarify the chronology of Paul's writings?

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    • Paul's Letters and Gospels (Enrique Torner, USA 04/28/17 12:48 PM)

      In response to David Pike (27 April), the chronology of Paul's letters and the Gospels is something I can easily give.

      Most scholars agree on the following chronology: Paul's letters were written first, in the 50s AD; Mark's Gospel came next in 65-70 AD; Matthew's and Luke's came next in 80-85 AD; John's came last, in 90-95 AD. The non-canonical Gospels were dated to the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, and even later. However, we don't have any of the original manuscripts, but only copies of copies of them. The earliest manuscript we have found dates 125-140 AD, on papyrus in codex form (like a book): P52, which means that it was the 52nd NT manuscript that was catalogued. Starting in the 4th century, scribes started copying documents on parchment. The first complete book of the NT on any surviving manuscript dates to the end of the 3rd century; the first complete copy of the NT dates to the 4th century.

      Of note, of the thousands of ancient copies of the NT that are still extant, most date from the Middle Ages. If anybody is interested in Bible history (canonical and non-canonical), the Great Courses company has several fantastic courses on this subject offered by outstanding Bible scholars, like Bart D. Ehrman and Luke Timothy Johnson, among others. I have listened to several, and they are all fascinating.

      JE comments:  This is probably a softball question, but here goes:  If Mark is the older Gospel, how did Matthew come to be placed first?

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      • Matthew, Mark...or Mark, Matthew? (Enrique Torner, USA 04/30/17 5:23 AM)
        John E asked how, being Mark the earliest Gospel, it is not the first book in the New Testament, but the second, right after Matthew. The answer rests in the process through which the NT canon was formed. I explained the whole process on WAIS some time ago. The first writer known to us who listed exactly the 27 books which traditionally make up the NT was Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria. In AD 367, in his 39th festal letter, Athanasius includes the list of canonical books of the Old and New Testaments that we have today, though not in the same order we have them today. Here is a link to an article that explains the whole process:


        Interestingly, it was not until 30-40 years later (397-407 AD) that somebody referred to the whole Bible as "ta biblia" (in transliterated Greek, the books): Chrysostom, "John of the Golden Mouth." The order of the books, however, was not set until Jerome's revised Vulgate Bible (in Latin) appeared in 383 AD. The canon of the NT was finally fixed. And Matthew was placed before Mark! John, if you want to know why Jerome placed Matthew ahead of Mark, you'll have to ask him, because I couldn't find the reason behind it!

        JE comments:  Thank you, Enrique.  Jerome would make an outstanding WAISer.  (!)  Seriously now, was there any Church Father who exercised more direct influence on Christianity than St Jerome?

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        • Who Was the Most Influential Church Father? (Robert Whealey, USA 05/02/17 4:41 AM)
          To answer John E's question (30 April), most scholars would put the Bishop of Hippo and his book the City of God. He was also St. Augustine.

          St. Augustine has been far more influential than St. Jerome. St. Augustine is worshiped by the Protestants and Catholics and greatly influenced the Protestant Reformation. The Protestants rejected St. Thomas Aquinas as a Scholastic.

          JE comments:  Augustine is remembered as the founding theorist of predestination, which became a central tenet of Calvinism.  As for "influential," we must also consider Martin Luther, who impacted Catholicism nearly as much as his own Protestant movement.

          A red-letter anniversary is upon us in less than six months:  Luther's 95 Theses of 31 October 1517.

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    • Was Christ more "Progressive" than Paul? (David Duggan, USA 04/29/17 4:23 AM)
      Let me say straight away that I am not a historian, Biblical scholar, etymologist, or examiner of ancient texts. I am a person of faith who can make reasonable inferences from the limited evidence, only some of which would prove either admissible or conclusive in a court of law, which has been my field for most of my life.

      There were no ancient copyright laws, and it is not clear that the third-party accounts (i.e, the canonical Gospels) were written by those who actually witnessed the events. The only textual references to someone with what a lawyer would say is "actual knowledge" are 1) the scene in Mark's Gospel (14:51-52) when a "young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was ... seized [and] fled naked, leaving his garment behind," which is generally interpreted to be a reference to the John Mark of Acts 12:25 (Mark's Gospel is the only one which records this incident, unlike the striking of the high priest's servant's ear); and 2) the references in John's Gospel to the "beloved Disciple" (e.g., John 19:26). None of the synoptics so describe John.

      But these are only inferences. Nor can Paul's conversion be dated with any accuracy. In the Acts, the author places the event between the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch on the road to Gaza and Peter's healing of Aeneas in Lydda with only the temporal reference "meanwhile" (Acts 9:1). Likewise, Paul's letters bear no date of authorship, and it is more likely than not that their order in the New Testament bears no relationship to the sequence in which they were written.

      The point is that the Gospels are not limited to the four canonicals, and there's a body of evidence that both Mark and Matthew drew from the elusive "Quelle," or source, a collection of Jesus' sayings, and the apocryphal gospel of Thomas, also not a narrative, but mostly a collection of sayings. Luke himself writes as his justification that "[m]any have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who were the first eyewitnesses and servants of the word" (1:1-2). But before Paul's conversion there is no account of any written scripture. Paul's chronology of his years before writing to the Galatians is likely the most accurate dating of the events and account for 17 years, three in Arabia before going to Jerusalem, then to Syria and Cilicia, and 14 years later going back to Jerusalem. That would place Galatians as likely written in the 50s CE, allowing for several years between Christ's resurrection and Paul's trip to Damascus. Galatians also tells of Paul's dispute with Peter over the proper "preaching" of the gospel, suggesting that different schools of interpretation had arisen, needing a unified or common text. Even today the post-resurrection account in the last 12 verses of Mark (16:9-20), and John's account of the woman taken in adultery (8:1-11) are disputed.

      And, of course, the authenticity of Paul's letter to the Ephesians is disputed, and if not the entire letter at least that part adjuring "wives [to] submit to your husbands as to the Lord" (5:22). The Greek is different in this segment from that which Paul used elsewhere, I have been told, as if an author is limited to one style throughout his career. So wives can be off the hook under this interpretation, but on that theory, husbands need not love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it. Then we are back to a pre-Christian paradigm of arranged and politically driven marriages and look what that's done for us in the modern era (Charles-Diana; Bill-Hillary). But wait, Peter said pretty much the same thing (1 Peter 3:1), admittedly with a view toward converting non-believing husbands by their behavior without words.

      But on the theory that Paul wrote that verse and meant what he said, he comes across as at least as progressive in the marriage realm as Jesus. Jesus said that which God has joined together let no man put asunder (Matt. 19:6), pretty much putting the kibosh on divorce, but said nothing that I can find about how to act inside of a marriage (other than the warning against committing cardiac adultery in Matt. 5:28, and note that this proscription applies only to men, without regard to whether they or the object of their affections is married, scarcely "progressive" in this age of equal rights to sexual gratification).

      Paul's admonition to love wives (as opposed to treating them like chattel) is at least as revolutionary as Jesus' well-side conversation with the Samaritan woman living with a man without the benefit of clergy, having had five prior husbands (John 4:18-19; I suppose I'd have quit then, too). Sure, Paul condemned all sorts of other behavior, not limited to sexual impropriety, such as lying or cheating or suing each other, but I see no condoning of that by Jesus. Unless "progressive" means "anything goes," then I'm not sure how you can claim that Jesus, who came not to change the law but to fulfill it (Matt. 5:17), is more progressive than Paul. But reifying what I said earlier, I am not a theologian, minister, priest or scholar, but a person of faith.

      JE comments:  Wouldn't Jesus' admonition against the "Jimmy Carter sin," if it applies only to men, give women the right to lust in their hearts?  As for "progressive," I was thinking not so much about Christ's teachings on behavior, but on forgiveness.

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  • Reconciling Paul, Christ, and Moroni; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 04/28/17 5:09 AM)

    Gary Moore writes:

    The wonderfully two-sided WAIS exchange on the New Testament
    between Ric Mauricio (pointing out contradictions in rich and seldom achieved detail)
    and David Duggan (articulating the response from a position of deep faith)
    brings up such a profusion of landmarks that on every hand are vistas.  (See Ric's and David's postings of 25 April.)

    The mapping of this is made easier, though, by Ric's subsequent post focusing
    specifically on the origins of the Mormons--a topic which indeed reflects the
    whole landscape (below). But first, a phrase thanking Ric for his similar proofs
    on the misogyny of St. Paul, which I had heard about but didn't realize it went that far.
    What strikes me is how similar Paul's hair-shirt grumblings against marriage and
    procreation were to the view imputed a millennium later to the large Albigensian
    heretic community of southern France, including many nobles. They, too, were said
    to recommend people not get into the sexual niceties, but allegedly said that
    mere mortals shouldn't always be held to such standards, so there was a mix of
    celibates and ordinary shmoozers in the Albigensians, unlike in, say, the still later Shakers.
    But the point that jumps out from Ric's discussion is that the Church massacred the
    Albigensians, devastating the Provencal society that was then the flower of Europe;
    though from what Ric reveals, they were only following St. Paul.

    Talk about "It doesn't matter what I said yesterday, because I'm still the boss today..."

    The countless fanciful wanderings of Church doctrine between Gethsemane
    and, say, the Borgias or Medicis, remind us that What I Said Yesterday could have
    a brave new ring every day--and it was always supposed to be the only truth. Way back
    in the early days, stalwarts from Venice went to Egypt and stole the supposed body of St. Mark
    so they could take it home and make it Venice's patron saint, with Venice ever afterward living
    and dying by cries of "San Marco!" It didn't matter that it was stolen, or that it was probably not
    any sort of real Mark anyway, because every day was a brand new day, and was not what we
    said yesterday. Well, yes, this is faith--but is it really the faith that we are given to understand
    the faithful are faithfully following? It would seem to need some other name. Fear?
    Grandiosity? Mere happy confidence? A profound deeper personal meaning that finds the
    inner truth no matter what? This was worth massacring the Albigensians for being like Paul?
    (Voice among the skulls: Well, we needed to feel good, and the heretics were depriving the people
    of certainty, so they couldn't feel good...)

    There are reasons to suspect that we owe an
    unrecognized debt of gratitude to such Church demonstrations of life's mysteries--because
    current theological cant, whether from euphoria in politics or even scientist apostles like Richard
    Dawkins, sound suspiciously as if they are going to keep hitting us, no matter what, with this
    kind of enduring happy confidence.

    Now: Moroni. Ric is right to bring up questions about the history of the Mormons in this discussion
    because, being close enough in time to us for some documentation, they so neatly capture how
    a new messianic sect (the news used to call them cults) can outlast many other frailer flowers,
    if it can bring meaning and happiness into enough lives, and then can take on a mainstream-type
    bureaucracy, while shedding its early difficulties like polygamy--which is what Ric's discussion
    implies also happened two thousand or so years ago. There are not going to be many Church
    disquisitions on the disowned allegation that before his vision, young Joseph Smith (that Kinko's
    allusion was clairvoyant) worked in a print shop, where, in typical Great Awakening fashion, an
    especially creative minister brought in a fanciful historical romance he had penned--almost a science
    fiction novel--which Smith then allegedly stole, laundered a bit, and presented as the Book of Mormon.
    This allegation may not be true. But we don't have to wonder whether this also happened in another
    case a millennium or so earlier--because the Koran actively incorporates the Old Testament, with just
    a shift in ownership; how much more Mosaic could you get than jihad?

    What is certainly true is that Joseph Smith said he deciphered his golden tablets by using his established skills
    as a magical diviner, and burying his face in a hat in which two divining stones were cradled--the Urim and Thummim
    (whose very names have the liberating feel of glossolalia)--and these stones taught him how to translate the tablets
    from their original Egyptian. He said he had found these Egyptian tablets after visitation from the angel Moroni,
    who told him to go to a place near his home in western New York state, and dig in the Hill Cumorah, where,
    sure enough, he found the tablets. The antebellum United States was filled at the same time with wild exuberance
    over the Roman-ruin appearance of abandoned Indian mounds. Indeed, the Book of Mormon (or its progenitor book)
    is straightforwardly a history of the American Indians, and how Jesus came among them as the great white God,
    with bad Indians attacking good Indians, and all Indians, in fact, coming from long ago Israelites. Joseph Smith's
    era was filled with speculations and fanciful novels to such effect.

    But those tablets. What happened to them? Smith sternly said that only the most pure in heart would be allowed
    to get a privileged glimpse of them. If one or two especially reliable acolytes climbed up through the hierarchy, he might take them
    into the darkened room, then triumphantly give them a glimpse, very briefly: Did you see 'em? Yeah, yeah, I saw 'em, I'm sure I saw 'em.
    Add a couple of thousand years, a few Albigensians here and there, and all of this could conceivably become a completely unpardonable
    discussion someday.

    JE comments:  The "poor Albigensians" have come up in WAIS discussion since our early days; see, for example, this Ronald Hilton post from last century:


    Their ruthless persecution underscores Gary Moore's observation that ambiguity in matters of the Divine is not to be tolerated.  How many millions have been slaughtered in the name of "certainty"?

    A fine essay, Gary.

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