D. C. Thielmann - Biblical Scholar and Author

Paul the Heretic: The Controversial Truth (Part 3)

D. C. Thielmann - Biblical Scholar & Author

Paul the Heretic: The Controversial Truth (Part 3)

Apostle Paul the Heretic of the New Testament : What Sort of a Jew Was Paul? (Part 3)

Paul the heretic - statue of Paul the heretic
Orvieto, Umbria, Italy: in St. Augustine’s church is placed the statue of St.Paul by Francesco Mosca (1531 – 1578).

In Galatians 1:1, 12, 16-17 Paul the heretic distances himself from those who are the very “heads” of the “Jerusalem Church” – the individuals who actually “witnessed” the teachings of Jesus, and who then became the original followers” of the teachings of Jesus!

Then, in Galatians 2:6 Paul the heretic states in regards to these “leaders” in Jerusalem, (headed by James, the brother of Jesus), that “what they once were makes no difference to me.” Clearly this statement demonstrates that Paul the heretic was using his own “opinions and teachings” in direct contradiction to not only what Jesus had taught, but also in contradiction to the individuals who were the actual trueoriginal followers” of Jesus who actually witnessed Jesus’ teachings, such as Peter, James and all of the legitimate “Apostles” who were passing down those “original teachings of Jesus”!

This is exactly why the “split” that occurred between the “gentile Church” and the “Jewish Synagogue” actually started at such an early point in time after Jesus’ crucifixion and even became more prevalent during the lifetime of theoriginal disciples of Jesus. This “split” can ultimately be traced back to the teachingsof Paul the heretic that formed what eventually became the Church of today.

This fact brought about the alterations in the Gospels and Epistles that distort the “historical Jesus” as well as distorting the “historical” Pharisees.[i]

Nils Dahl, is somewhat correct when he writes,[ii] “The historical Jesus is to be found at the crossroads where Christianity and Judaism begin separating from each other, although it only became gradually clear that the paths parted in such a way that Christianity appeared as a new religion alongside Judaism… On the other hand, we must view Jesus within the context of Palestinian Judaism.”

Also, as Samuel Sandmel so rightly puts it in regards to the First Epistle to the Corinthians,[iii] “Its separation from Judaism, therefore, although well defined, is not complete. It may be put this way, that when one tears a paper in two, one first creases and then tears; in Paul’s day the crease has been made, and the paper is divided by the crease – but the tearing is only commencing.”

Now, Walter Bauer is quite in error when he writes,[iv] “The Paul of the Pastoral Epistles fights in union with ‘the church’ against the heretics.” Bauer identifies these so-called “heretics” that he is referring to as “Jewish-Christians” who held fast to the Torah, Sabbath observance, and circumcision in opposition to the teachings of Paul the heretic, which to Bauer, seemingly derived from the Apostle John.[v]

Yet, Bauer ends up rightly noting that the Church of Rome separated itself from having any connection to Paul the heretic, and thus, made Peter’s teachings their basis because, “Peter provides the close tie to Jesus, which alone guarantees the purity of Church teaching.”[vi]

James Dunn, on the other hand, admits that it was Paul the heretic who “undercut the self-understanding of Judaism as expressed in the Torah,”[vii] and Jesus was wholly Jewish loyal to his Judaism[viii] and dedicated to the Torah! This fact is clearly reflected in his teachings, and in his actions.

As David Flusser states,[ix] “The Synoptic Gospels, however, if read through the eyes of their own time, still portray a picture of Jesus as a Jew who was faithful to the law.” Jesus even celebrated Hanukkah, or the victory of the Maccabees in the Hasmonean-Seleucid war that restored the Temple to “purity” as noted in John 10:22.[x]

There have been somemodern New Testament scholars who have in fact come to realize this fact and have changed their opinions to reflect this recognition of the “historical Jesus” as an individual who was wholly dedicated to first century Judaism and the Torah.[xi]

As Roger David Aus writes,[xii] “The more I have worked with Judaic materials, the more I have come to appreciate the great debt early Jewish Christians owed to their mother faith. Their thought patterns, and the way they dealt with specific passages from the Hebrew or Greek Bible, betrayed their Jewish heritage.”

Aus goes on to state, “I now find it absolutely necessary, for example, when analyzing the Gospels, to understand and appreciate the nature of Haggadah. Without such an understanding, often the wrong questions are asked of a text. In addition, the hotly debated issue of the historicity of a specific passage, provoked by Fundamentalists or some Evangelicals, unfortunately at times defers attention from the religious meaning(s) of the text.”

Likewise, Barrie Wilson very accurately writes,[xiii] “All Jewish groups agreed upon keeping the law,” and this included even the “Jesus movement.” Wilson goes on to state that,[xiv] “For most groups, everything depended on keeping the law,” to which he further very rightly states concerning Jesus that,[xv] “He challenged his followers to observe Torah, strictly.”  

James Dunn rightly admits that Paul the heretic was “regarded as an apostate,” i.e., a “heretic!”[xvi] Therefore, it is quite erroneous for any scholar to claim that Paul the heretic was not instrumental in any way in altering or formulating the Christianity we have come to know today![xvii]

James Dunn though, states,[xviii] “But it does mean that Paul’s subsequent use of nomos[xix] to sum up Israel’s obligations as set out by Moses cannot be dismissed as a Hellenistic Jew’s Septuagintal distortion of his heritage, and that Paul’s theological argument was interacting with a very important strand of Jewish thought and life.”[xx]

Also, as Edgar J. Goodspeed writes[xxi] “… Paul’s letters have become for most readers of the standard versions a vast jungle of words, from which an intelligible idea only occasionally emerges. As Paul is the leading thinker among the writers of the New Testament, this has been in the highest degree disastrous.”

A further statement of importance comes from Barrie Wilson, who writes,[xxii] “Simply put, the teachings of Jesus himself were smothered by the religion of Paul.”

In regards to Paul’s “Septuagintal distortion” mentioned above, some scholars though, claim to find in the Dead Sea Scrolls certain Essen interpretations of Scripture derived from the Septuagintal translation of certain verses as opposed to the Hebrew of these same verses. Therefore, these scholars claim that one should not dismiss the Septuagintal translations such as Paul gives, as being “erroneous translations.”[xxiii] Yet if this is true, then this truth would place the “original followers” of Jesus much closer to the Qumran sect of the Essens than the majority of scholars are willing to admit!

Yet, despite all of this historical evidence that Paul was indeed a “heretic,”[xxiv] there are still far too many scholars who try to defend Paul the heretic.[xxv] Moshe Chaim Luzzatto gives a lengthy discussion on how one can easily recognize someone who has received a “false vision,” and thus termed a “false prophet,” or a “false witness.”[xxvi]

Barrie Wilson makes a very important point to mention here,[xxvii] and this being that not long after Paul’s supposed conversion into being a “follower of Jesus” (Acts 9:9-19), Paul the heretic begins proclaiming Jesus in the synagogues in Damascus (Acts 9:20-22). Yet Wilson rightly points out that a plot to kill Paul was raised by “the Jews” and Paul was helped to escape by his disciples” (Acts 9:23-25).

Wilson rightly states, “Some details here should set off alarm bells in the mind of a wary reader. Were there already members of the Jesus Movement so far from Jerusalem? Also, how was it that Paul already had disciples – where did they come from? Did Paul already have ‘a movement’? Moreover, would any member of the Jesus Movement have referred to the worshippers in synagogues as ‘the Jews’ – as ‘other’ – or was this a reflection of a much later stance, when the Christian community was separating from Judaism? A lot of things do not ring true in this account.”

Wilson then points out that Galatians 1:16 contradicts this account in Acts 9 by stating that immediately after his conversion, Paul the heretic did not confer with any human being,” for a while, having first gone to Arabia (Galatians 1:17).

D. C. Thielmann, (excerpts from my book, You Say So: The Trial of Jesus of Nazareth)

[i]  See the comments on this in Jewish Literacy, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, pp. 125-127.

[ii]  The Crucified Messiah and other Essays, Nils Dahl, p. 68.

[iii]  A Jewish Understanding of the New Testament, Samuel Sandmel, pp. 62-63.

[iv]  Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity, Walter Bauer, p. 84.

[v]  See the comments on this in Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity, Walter Bauer, pp. 85-89, and 99.

[vi]  Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity, Walter Bauer, pp. 113-114.

[vii]  The Partings of the Ways, James Dunn, p. 140.

[viii]  See the comments on this in Jesus and Israel, Jules Isaac, pp. 11-29, and his summary conclusions pp. 401-405; Jesus of Nazareth, Dale C. Allison, pp. 68-69; Conflict, Holiness & Politics, Marcus Borg, p. 71; Jewish Law from Jesus to the Mishnah, E. P. Sanders, pp. 90-96; and see the entire book Hillel, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin where one will find example after example of how the teachings of Jesus directly parallel the teachings of Hillel.

[ix]  Jesus, David Flusser, p. 46.

[x]  See the comments on this in Maccabees, Zealots, and Josephus, W. R. Farmer, pp. 141-145; Kaufmann Kohler, “Hanukkah,” Jewish Encyclopedia.

[xi]  See for example the comments in The Last Week, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, p. 30; The New Testament, Bart D. Ehrman, pp. 35-36; Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, Bart D. Ehrman, p. 164 cited in On Earth As It Is In Heaven, D. C. Thielmann, pp. 704-705; The Mythmaker, Hyam Maccoby, n. 1, p. 19 citing The Origins of Anti-Semitism, John G. Gager, pp. 129 and 141; Christianity: A Jewish Perspective, Rabbi Moshe Reiss, 6 “The Torah and the Gospel of Matthew” who cites Anthony Saldarini, Matthew’s Christian-Jewish Community, and J. A. Overman, Matthew’s Gospel and Formative Judaism.

[xii]  Barabbas and Esther, Roger David Aus, p. ix.

[xiii]  How Jesus Became Christian, Barrie Wilson, p. 45.

[xiv]  How Jesus Became Christian, Barrie Wilson, p. 58.

[xv]  How Jesus Became Christian, Barrie Wilson, p. 63, and see his further comments on pp. 73-74, 95, and 103.

[xvi]  The Partings of the Ways, James Dunn, p. 233; How Jesus Became Christian, Barrie Wilson, pp. 101, 109-130, and 165; On Earth As It Is In Heaven, D. C. Thielmann, n. 2, pp. 423-424; The Jesus Mysteries, Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, pp. 161-162). See also Jewish Christianity Reconsidered, Matt Jackson-McCabe, pp. 285-304, (F. Stanley Jones commenting); Essays on the Semitic Background of the New Testament, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, pp. 447-453, and 463; Paul and Rabbinic Judaism, W. D. Davies, pp. 50-51.

[xvii]  See the comments, for example, in The New Testament, Bart D. Ehrman, Box 9.6, p. 147.

[xviii]  The Partings of the Ways, James Dunn, p. 24.

[xix]  See the comments on this word nomos in On Earth As It Is In Heaven, D. C. Thielmann, pp. 128-129 and the corresponding scholars notations to these pages.

[xx]  James Dunn then references in The Partings of the Ways, n. 32, p. 287, “See particularly S. Westerholm, “Torah, Nomos and Law: A Question of ‘Meaning’,” Studies in Religion 15, (1986), pp 327-336; Also, A. F. Segal, “Torah and nomos in Recent Scholarly Discussion,” Studies in Religion 13, (1984), pp. 19-28, reprinted in Other Judaisms, pp. 131-145; and the earlier protest to the same effect by E. E. Urbach, The Sages, pp. 288-290.”

[xxi]  Problems of New Testament Translation, Edgar J. Goodspeed, p. 3.

[xxii]  How Jesus Became Christian, Barrie Wilson, p. 255.

[xxiii]  See the comments in Essays on the Semitic Background of the New Testament, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, pp. 87-89.

[xxiv]  See the comments in The New Testament, Bart D. Ehrman, p. 3.

[xxv]  See for example the comments in The Crucifixion of Jesus, Gerard S. Sloyan, p. 49 and n. 2, p. 49 where he references Terrance Callan, The Origins of Christian Faith, pp. 7-35.

[xxvi]  The Way of God, Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, pp. 231-237.

[xxvii]  How Jesus Became Christian, Barrie Wilson, pp. 138-140.

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