Paul vs. Jesus (and James)
In the early decades following Jesus’ death, his followers remained a small, local sect. They retained their Jewish identify and, in fact, only Jews could be baptized as new followers, as “Christians.”
Although this nascent Christian movement was clearly a faction of Judaism, many Jews felt threatened by their challenges to the established orthodoxy and the many radical new doctrines that were taught. And this resulted in much persecution of Christians by some (but by no means all, nor even a majority) of the Jews.
One of the early persecutors was named Saul of Tarsus. He had the rare status of being both a Jew (the people conquered by the Romans) as well as being a Roman citizen. It is lost to history how he obtained such status; it is speculated that perhaps his father had saved the life of a Roman leader and was thus rewarded, or in some other way gained favor. In any case, as an orthodox Jew he was loyal to the traditional teachings, and as a Roman citizen of means he had the freedom (and documents) and the means to travel anywhere throughout the Roman Empire.
Subsequently, Saul claimed to have had a dramatic vision on the road to Damascus and claims to have miraculously converted to this new cult he had been persecuting, in which it was Saul who held the coats of those who stoned the martyred apostle Stephen (Acts 7:58; 22:20). To signify his new life, he renamed himself from “Saul” to “Paul.” Because of his education and status, Paul was very impressive to most of the founding Christians who were mostly uneducated fishermen and shepherds, such as Peter and John, who are described in Acts 4:13 as being “unlearned and ignorant” (King James), which was written by gospel-writer Luke, a presumably-educated physician. (A couple of notable exceptions are James, the brother of Jesus, and Matthew, the Publican. In addition to being educated, these are two of the New Testament writers who had lived closest to Jesus during his actual lifetime and ministry.)
Through the centuries, Paul has enjoyed widespread, uncritical adulation by those whose views are shaped by listening to others instead of thinking for themselves. In contrast, many independent-minded analyses of how Paul deals with Jesus’ teachings are much more ready to find fault with Paul. One of the most famous critcisms comes from Thomas Jefferson, who wrote in a letter to William Short dated April 13, 1820, and repeated in a letter to James Smith dated December 8, 1822, that “Paul was … the first corruptor of the doctrines of Jesus.” George Bernard Shaw, the English playwright, is widely quoted as having said: “…it would have been a better world if Paul had never been born.”
Despite his education and eloquence, which come through so clearly in his extensive writings (more prolific than any other Bible writer and fully one third of the New Testament), Paul manages to completely contradict and undermine the teachings he claims to have become converted to and becomes more a renegade than an “apostle.”
Why is it that Paul’s many letters (epistles) so consistently and repeatedly contradict and undermine the teachings attributed to Jesus? Perhaps this admitted persecutor of Christians found a more effective way to subvert the followers of Jesus. Perhaps he infiltrated their ranks and taught a doctrine that opposed Jesus, replacing Jesus’ selfless teaching of universal compassionate action with a selfish teaching of desire to gain a “free gift” of salvation based only on faith and completely devoid of any behavioral requirement or obedience to law, thus distracting us from the selfless teachings of Jesus.
It is impossible for us to look into the mind of a man long dead and determine his motives conclusively. Was he a sincere and loyal convert who simply misunderstood the teachings of his new master, or did he have a more sinister intent to subert and undermine the teachings of him who he claimed to be the messianic savior? We’ll never know. What we can say with certainty, however, is that after examining the legacy of writing he left — more than any other writer in the Bible — that for whatever reason, intentional or a great historical misunderstanding, the message he left opposed and undermined that of the titular messiah (Jesus the “Christ”) to whom he claimed obeisance. The evidence becomes apparent when we compare the words of Paul side by side with those attributed to Jesus (who left no writings of his own) and to the other followers closest to Jesus, such as his brother James.
Let’s examine the record:
Faith vs. Works
On the critical religious matter of just what it takes to attain salvation, what Jesus teaches is very different than what is written in the words of the renegade “apostle” Paul.
While Paul teaches a salvation based solely on faith and not one’s deeds, Jesus reportedly teaches the opposte: that behavioral requirements (works/ deeds), rooted in an internal change of spiritual growth within the person (not external or apart from the person, though the gift of teaching and techniques to achieve this personal change are a gift of grace not earned or deserved by us, but requiring actions [deeds] to implement), are integral to salvation. While perhaps it is not possible for us to “earn” the “free gift” that Jesus did give — a teaching of the universal compassionate love by which the evil within us can be transformed into a more holy kindness of love — Jesus clearly includes a behavioral component to his requirements for “salvation.” While he does not say that this satisfies any “debt,” he still requires it; perhaps he is demanding merely a small partial “payment” as a gesture of “good faith.” (In fact, James suggests this by his comments in James 2:26, that we demonstrate our faith — if it is genuine — by our deeds.)
Some will say that puny mortals can never perform enough good behavior to “earn” or “merit” salvation based on the value of their deeds — that the attempts at human righteousness is as “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).
Aside from the fact that this simply contradicts Jesus, the point is not whether or not our puny mortal attempts at righteousness have intrinsic value or not. Just as a child may offer its parents an awkwardly-drawn piece of art, which likely holds little real artistic merit (in terms of art critics it might be as “filthy rags”), still the parents sincerely and genuinely cherish such efforts. It may not “merit” winning any serious art award and may be able to “earn” very little, but loving parents accept it for its true and lasting value.
Why would a loving god, as a more perfect spiritual father, not be able to give even greater acceptance, even of “filthy rags,” if sincerely offered as the best effort … especially if he has said that he would do so? To argue against that is to join Paul in contradicting the teachings of Jesus.
In his first public teaching (the Sermon on the Mount) Jesus introduces a bold new concept, not only that we should love friends and neighbors, but our enemies as well.
When asked by a lawyer what the most important commandment in the law was, Jesus answered (as reported in Matt 22:36-40 and Luke 10:25-37) with references from the Old Testament, that the greatest law was to love god (see Deut 6:5) and the second was to love your neighbor as yourself (see Lev 19:18). In the Luke text, the lawyer specifically asks what is necessary for eternal life (verse 25) and after Jesus references the two great commandments, he says “This do and you will live” (verse 28) — showing clearly that salvation is related to works/deeds/ actions, however important faith might be to motivating such behavior. Note further, that in the Luke version, this was illustrated by an example, the parable of the Good Samaritan, which was used to define “neighbor” very broadly, to include enemies. The Samaritan is the one who exemplifies this broad definition, and who provides the example of one who is saved by their compassionate actions toward their enemy. Yet the Samaritan is not even a believer, not one having “faith” and not one who has accepted Jesus as savior, yet this is who Jesus chooses as the example of one who gains eternal life, which is what the lawyer specifically asked.
Another time during his ministry, Jesus taught that the people who would go to heaven (be saved) must be as little children (Matt 18:4-5; 19:14; Mark 9:36-37; 10:14-15; Luke 18:15-17), while Paul wrote that maturity demands us to forsake the things of childhood (I Cor 13:11). Thus, while Jesus teaches us that the kingdom of heaven will be filled with those who lived their lives in active compassion and childlike innocence, Paul envisions a heaven of crusty, serious “mature” grouches who merely have to profess “acceptance” of Jesus without ever actually performing a single kind, compassionate, cheerful or childishly playful deed.
In his last public teaching, Matt. 25:31-45, Jesus describes the final judgment as being based solely on behavioral responses to internalized compassion. And Jesus makes it very clear that those who do express universal compassion in behavioral action will be saved, and those who do not will not be saved. Period. There is no other qualification.
As noted earlier, Mother Teresa juxtaposed these two messages (the “great commandments” and that what we do to “the least of these” is done to God) to postulate that our actions toward “the least of these” are actually done unto god, which she took very literally, and asserted that we fulfill the first commandment by obedience to the second — which motivated her to give up a well-to-do life in Albania, and search to find whoever was the ultimate “least of these” in the world, which she found first on the streets of Calcutta, India, and later in missions throughout the world.
Dr. Viktor Frankl, a German Jew who survived the Nazi concentration camps during the Holocaust, wrote in his book Man’s Search for Meaning of rare but remarkable examples of men in the concentration camps who, dying of hunger, still gave comfort, along with their last crusts of bread, to their fellow sufferers to alleviate their suffering. Even torture and extreme deprivation could not cause them to abandon their deeply-felt compassion. But those prisoners described by Frankl were Jewish. They haven’t confessed Jesus as their savior. Paul would consign them to hell (eternal torture — “fireboarding”? — worse than the universally condemned cruelty of waterboarding at Guantánamo Bay or Abu Ghraib) for even the slightest infraction) while Jesus would embrace them and count them among His sheep. The same thing also applies to the many Buddhists, Hindus and Pagans who express deep compassion in their lives who Jesus’ teaching welcomes into Eternal Glory, but who Paul consigns to eternal flames of Hell. Paul subverts Jesus’ joyful teaching of love and compassion and replaces it with a vision of eternal harshness and cruelty.
And, speaking of hell, we need to consider the very concept of “hell” — of eternal flames burning the flesh painfully but never consuming it, just burning painfully forever, never ever allowing the victim to be put out of his misery. Civilized societies around the world condemn torture even for the most heinous acts. To believe that a loving, compassionate god would consign people to the eternal torture of hell just because, without having been exposed to any direct evidence, and perhaps absent even the opportunity to have heard of him, they did not believe in him during this mortal lifetime. Try to imagine the sweetest, kindest, most loving and most Christ-like person you know. Do you think they rise to the level of God’s own compassion? Do you think, just maybe, God is even more compassionate and loving? Can you envision this sweet, loving person being the one to pour fuel over the body of another conscious human person, and then lighting the match and personally igniting the painful flames of torture? And then letting it run on? Forever? Do you really believe a “loving” deity could do this?
And for what heinous crime? Murder? Torture? Rape? Kidnapping? All of the above? No. It is merely because someone simply didn’t “believe.” Didn’t join the team. Even if they lived in deepest Africa hundreds of years before Jesus was born and never even had a chance to hear about him. This is a demand for pure primitive tribal affinity; nothing more, nothing less.
Please understand why I cannot believe in the silly nonsense of such a primitive, barbaric little deity fashioned by the primitive, tribalistic barbaric savages who invented him in their image.
Another issue must be considered when contemplating a theology of salvation based solely on belief in Jesus as the Savior and nothing else. Belief requires exposure; one cannot believe in something that one has never been exposed to. So what about those who were supposedly created by a God who is both just and merciful, but lived in a time or place when there would be absolutely no possible chance of ever being exposed to Jesus? Imagine an innocent child born in India, China or Africa 800 years before Jesus was born (or even 800 years afterward, for that matter). There would be absolutely no chance this child could ever be exposed to the opportunity of believing in Jesus or accepting him as personal savior. Again, Paul’s theology consigns such innocent children to hell, while (as noted previously) Jesus taught that of such is the kingdom of heaven (Matt 18:4-5; 19:14; Mark 9:36-37; 10:14-15; Luke 18:15-17), while (as noted previously) Jesus taught that of such is the kingdom of heaven (Matt 18:4-5; 19:14; Mark 9:36-37; 10:14-15; Luke 18:15-17). Is Paul’s doctrine of salvation only by faith, and consigning all others to eternal damnation, from the God of justice or mercy?
Even in John 3, the discourse to Nicodemus on salvation as a gift of grace, Jesus includes specific behavioral requirements (John 3:19-21). In any case, while some writings (other than Paul) may occasionally discuss faith as a separate topic (as with honesty, courage, etc.), no one (except Paul) ever states that salvation can occur with any of these virtues apart from works/deeds actions. This does not mean that, in teaching us the behavior of salvation that Jesus did not thus give us a free gift far beyond what we could ever earn, a gift of grace, but it does not mean that it was given entirely apart from specified behavioral conditions, as Paul says.
Occasionally, someone will bring up the case of the thief being crucified alongside Jesus, and note that Jesus said to him in Luke 23:43, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
The claim is that Jesus granted salvation solely on his profession of support for the dying Jesus. However, we do not know what past aspects of character or behavior Jesus took into consideration that preceded the cross. Perhaps if one is hanging on a cross, the utterance of a word of encouragement to one in similar straits — truly humbled to the status of “least of these” — might be the most you can do. But again, we don’t know why the thief was on the cross. Perhaps he had gotten caught stealing a loaf of bread from a Roman Centurion who had taken it from an impoverished widow, and the “thief” was trying to return it to its rightful owner. The text does not say, so I draw no conclusions, as are those who are quick to jump to conclusions about details not in the passage.
In any case, even if one accepted such an interpretation, it would simply be yet another Bible contradiction in addition to those already provided, since it directly opposes those verses I have cited in which Jesus clearly states that salvation is based on universal compassionate love expressed actively in deeds, but without mentioning faith or belief at all.
All of the gospels are replete with statements of behavioral obligation that never once make any statement remotely similar to Paul that the faith and grace that engender salvation occur “apart from” obedience, works or deeds.
Paul vs. James
Paul teaches that the gift of salvation through grace occurs apart from any behavioral requirement: Romans 3:28: “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.”
Paul reiterates this position in: Romans 4:6; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-9; II Timothy 1:9; Titus 3:5 — the first Bible writer to make the claim that salvation occurs apart from actions, which Paul repeatedly emphasizes.
Paul is specifically rebutted by the later writing of James (brother of Jesus) who offers one of the most striking and dramatic direct contradictions, in James 2:24, choosing vocabulary and syntax that specifically contradicts Paul’s wording in Romans 3:28 in both content and construction:
Here are the two passages, shown in various translations:
Romans 3:28 (Paul)
KJV: a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law.
RSV: a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.
Today’s English Version: a person is put right with god only through faith, and not by doing what the Law commands.
NIV: a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.
James 2:24 (James’ rebuttal)
KJV: by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
RSV: a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.
Today’s English Version: it is by his actions that a person is put right with god, and not by his faith alone.
NIV: a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.
Clearly, James seems to be saying exactly the opposite of what Paul says. The key words here, in both passages, are justified (or, in Today’s English, “put right with God”), works/deeds/actions (or, in NIV, “observing the law”), and faith (same in all versions of both passages). Not only does James echo the same words, in the same parallel structure, but he even cites exactly the same example and scriptural reference! The passage from Paul comes near the end of the third chapter of Romans; immediately after that, opening up the fourth chapter, Paul cites the example of Abraham, and quotes from Genesis 15:6, and says it was Abrham’s faith, not his works, that justified him (Romans 4:1-3). In James 2:21-24 (the same passage noted above), Paul’s very example and scriptural reference are used against him, but with the opposite (and contradictory) conclusion, that Abraham was justified by the combination of faith with works. James’ use of the same examples, quotes from the same Old Testament verse (Gen. 15:6) using the same words, and parallel structure clearly suggest that this was an intentional reply/rebuttal to Paul.
Examining the original texts: If anyone wants to suggest that, perhaps, the two passages have different root words in the original texts that just happened to pick up similar English equivalents by all these translators, then maybe we should look at the Greek source texts.
The same Greek word dikaioo is used by both Paul AND James for the term justification (or “put right with God”) in both passages. While the Today’s English Version does use a different term in their English translation, at least they apply it consistently in both Romans and James.
The same Greek word ergon is used by both Paul and James for the term variously translated as works, deeds, actions or “doing.” While English translators haven’t agreed on the best term, both Paul and James were talking about the same thing. And, with the exception of the NIV, the translators of each version at least are consistent in their own usages between Paul and James. I wonder, however, about the objectivity of the NIV — one of the most popular texts among conservative Christians — in choosing to change the wording used between Paul and James in a way that subtly changes the connotation of Paul to be less in contradiction to James.
The same Greek word pistis is used by both Paul and James for the word that all versions of both passages translated as “faith.” James is clearly rebutting Paul’s scandalous undermining of Jesus’ teachings.
Differences? Some have tried to explain these differences by saying that Paul and James had different meanings for their words “justification,” “faith” and “works/deeds.” Yet the simple fact remains they used the same words, in the same order and same context, even illustrated with the same example of Abraham and Isaac and the same scriptural citation from Genesis 15:6 (in reference to content; chapter and verse divisions had not yet been compiled).
On several occasions, attention has been called to one difference in the wording of Paul and James. While they use the same words, in the same context and the same order, when talking about the “works/deeds” Paul adds the phrase “of the law” while James does not. Some have argued that this means Paul is talking about something different. Not so.
Paul’s use of that phrase is a restrictive modifying clause to limit the scope of his reference. By omitting it, James at the very least accepts everything in Paul’s more restrictive context, broadened to include additional contexts. But earlier in the same chapter (James 2), just before the verse in question and his reference to Paul’s example of Abraham and Isaac, James discusses behavior (2:8-13) in very specific in terms of deeds of the Law. Aside from the possibility of simply broadening the more narrow focus of Paul, what seems more likely in context is that James does not need to say “of the law” since he has already made it clear a few verses before that he is talking about “deeds of the law.”
In fact, the only credible scenario is that James is clearly rebutting Paul’s scandalous undermining of Jesus’ teachings.
Paul is not only rebutted by James in the examples above, but also admits having some problems getting along with Peter, admitting in Galatians 2:11: “But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.”
In stark contrast to Paul’s teaching of salvation by faith apart from behavioral manifestations, Jesus (Matt. 7:21-27), states unequivocally that the mere profession of accepting him is not enough, but that such a profession must be backed up by deeds. Jesus teaches a salvation of universal compassionate love expressed in action. It is the centerpiece of everything he taught. And Jesus himself consistently expressed love and closeness to sinners, lepers, tax collectors and other outcasts, while saving his rare words of harshness and anger for the Pharisees and Sadducees — the pompous, self-righteous elite of the established religious orthodoxy.
But what about when Paul also writes of compassion? Yes, it is true that there are a number of passages from Paul in praise of universal compassionate love expressed actively through deeds and, of course, these do not contradict Jesus. In particular, I Corinthians 13 is one of the most inspirational passages on charitable compassionate (agape) love in all of literature. I have quoted it often, and have cited it to show that, while Paul contradicts Jesus repeatedly, and on key points of doctrine such as how people come to eternal salvation, he does not always contradict Jesus on everything, and it has never been my position that he did.
Jesus and Paul agreed on quite a few things: the sun rises in the east; breathing air is good for humans, and compassionate love expressed in deeds is good.
But here is the contradictory difference on that last one, which is especially amplified by Jesus’ brother James’ stunningly direct rebuttal against Paul in James chapter 2:
Jesus (and James) state that both faith and compassionate deeds are good, but that compassionate deeds are what get you into heaven (but faith is good because it motivates you to do the good deeds, but is not absolutely mandatory).
Paul states that both faith and compassionate deeds are good, but that faith is what gets you into heaven (but compassionate deeds are good because they are a reflection of the sincerity of faith, but not absolutely mandatory).
The Law of Moses
Jesus was a Jewish rabbi who always upheld the Law of Moses. In his first public teaching, the Sermon on the Mount, he made it very clear in Matt. 5:18-19: “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach [them], the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (“jot or tittle” in modern translations is “not one iota nor one dot”.) Have heaven and earth passed away? Have all the prophecies, including those of the last days, been fulfilled?
Even some of the occasions when Jesus seems to add to the Law or teach in new and different ways, he goes to great lengths to show that it is based on the Law. For example, when this rabbi asked by a “lawyer” (one versed in the Law of Moses) what was the greatest commandment in the Law, Jesus turns the question back to him and asks what is in the Law, and from that extrapolates his great commandments to Love God (from Deut 6:5) and Love Neighbor as Self (from Lev. 19:18) which was clearly the centerpiece of his ministry and his doctrine of active love and compassion for all.
Paul, on the other hand, wants to throw out the Law of Moses! Romans 3:19-21: “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law [is] the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets.” [Emphasis added]
And even more explicitly, Paul states in Romans 6:14, that “sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.”
Additionally, when Paul denounces the need for compassionate actions, or which Jesus and others spoke so much, in Romans 3:27-28 and Galatians 2:16, he also specifically mentions which works: that obedience to the Law is what is not required, contrary to Jesus’ statements.
Other Problems with Paul
Manner of Worship: Jesus and Paul left contradictory legacies as to the manner in which worship should be conducted.
Jesus preached as an itinerant wanderer, informally to locals he encountered in his travels. Usually these were small groups, though he did encounter the occasional large crowd. Jesus always prayed privately, and taught his followers to do the same. In fact, he specifically prohibited public prayer and public displays of worship (Matt. 6:1-18). In fact, in verses 5 and 6, Jesus explicitly states, “when thou prayest, thou shalt not…” do so publicly in the synagouges or on the street corners. The fact that he belabored this point so thoroughly in his Sermon on the Mount, his first and greatest public teaching, almost suggest a premonition that others would follow to undermine and contradict him. Jesus did not organize any great church. He led a small, itinerant band of traveling wanderers from town to town. The closest he came to establishing any kind of authority was in Matt. 16:18, when he designated an itinerant fisherman named Simon to become “Peter” the “rock” upon which his church would be founded.
Paul, in contrast, organized a great system of churches. The story of Acts is the story of Paul traveling throughout the known world, establishing great churches. His epistles, which comprise the greatest single portion of the New Testament, about a third of it, were written to maintain administrative control of this great ecclesiastical network and to standardize its doctrines, not based on the teachings of Jesus, but on his own contradictory theology.
As with so many other issues, today’s modern evangelical Christians fight for their right to expropriate public facilities for their worship and offer great churches with elaborate public worship rituals, once again coming down on the side of Paul and repudiating the simple teachings of the founder they accept, once again, in name only.
Dealing with sinners: Jesus ministered to the sinners, with no reluctance to engage adulterers, prostitutes, publicans, tax collectors, lepers, or any other “unclean” person (the whole need not a physician; a church is a hospital for sinners rather than a showcase for saints). This, of course, completely devastates the argument that god cannot be in the presence of sin by anyone who believes Jesus was god. Paul contradicts Jesus in 1Cor 5:11: “But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.”
Feeding the poor: Jesus taught in Matt 25:31-46 that our final salvation and judgment would be based in large part on our willingness to feed the poor. Jesus further emphasizes the importance of feeding the poor, apart from salvation issues, repeatedly throughout his ministry (Matt 19:21; Matt: 25:31-46; Matt 26:9; Mark 10:21; Luke 18:22; John 12:6). Jesus never, not once, imposes any qualification or conditional limitation on this requirement. Paul contradicts this: 2Thess 3:10 “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.” Does this mean that if poor people are unemployed, we should turn them away from any charity?
Slavery: When the Southerners in our country sought to defend slavery, they called upon Paul to back them up, citing Ephesians 6:5 and Titus 2:9-10, in which Paul exhorts slaves to obey their masters, yet Paul never even once condemned this evil that was so widely practiced in his time. Here, Paul again contradicts Jesus, who exalted the “least of these” (Matt 25:31-46) and elevated the servants above masters (Matt 20:27 and 23:11; and Mark 9:35 & 10:44).
Equality for Women: Paul was very anti-woman. He ordered that they not be allowed to speak in the churches (1Cor 14:34-45) and that they stay home and take care of the kids (1Timothy 5:14), and that wives should be submissive to the mastery of their husbands (Ephesians 2:12; 5:22-24 and Colossians 3:18-19).
This, of course, is in direct opposition to Jesus, who elevated women — even women of lowly status such as prostitutes, Samaritans (woman by the well), and everyday women such as Mary and Martha — to a degree unprecedented for that time. Note that in Luke 10:38-42, Jesus even chastises Martha for accepting a traditional woman’s role, while he praises her sister Mary for choosing the “better part” of more active participation. This was obviously recognized by the women of that time, as Luke 8:2-3 lists the names of a number of prominent women of means who provided economic support for Jesus’ ministry.
Homosexuals: The only passage in the New Testament offered as evidence against equal rights for homosexuals is from Paul (Romans 1:24-27). Jesus himself never uttered a single word against ` relationships and, given his affinity for sinners, lepers, tax collectors, and other outcasts (the “least of these”), it is likely that in our modern times it would be Jesus who would be embracing the homosexuals rejected by those who claim to be his followers. Just as it was Paul’s words that were held up in the mid-1800’s to justify slavery, so Paul’s words today are still used to persecute others.
There has been a popular piece that has been circulated among many Christian churches and publications, using a description of Paul and his background (without identifying him) on a résumé applying for a position as a pastor and ask if you would hire him. After turning him down, the punch line is that, just knowing data and not identity, you have just rejected the Apostle Paul. The message is supposed to be about judging others but, there is another message: knowing what we do know about Paul, many Christians are inclined to find him rather unsavory. Those who claim to take upon them the name of Jesus should carefully examine Paul’s undermining of Jesus’ message and his many contradictions of Jesus and the other apostles, as well as the plain nonsense of his bloody atonement theory of human sacrifice, and then decide if they want to be Christians or Paulians.
Punishment for Adam’s sin
Paul is the one who introduces the concept of original sin and the “inheritance” of sin, in Romans 5:12, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.”
Why are we, in any way whatsoever, held “responsible” for the sins of Adam and Eve? How can a person be “guilty” of something they didn’t do, which in fact was done thousands of years before they were even conceived? How can there be an “inherited” moral flaw. Morality is a matter of “right and wrong,” not a physical, tangible object. In any case, how can you be responsible for something you had nothing to do with?
If my father and mother do something wrong, why do I get punished for that? What do their wrongs have to do with my sins? Talk about unfair!
I cannot imagine that a god could be called “just” who allows people to be punished for something they have no control over: the way they were born; i.e., the way god created them. Is sin a matter of moral character, or a birth defect? Should babies born with birth defects be punished? Should we require abortions for fetuses born deformed?
It is interesting to note that while Paul invents a theology of atonement based on the offering of Jesus as a human sacrifice for sin, Jesus explicitly rejects this doctrine. The gospel according to Matthew twice, in Matt 9:13 and Matt 12:7, states that Jesus said: “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice” (KJV). More modern translations, such as the RSV and NIV, update the archaic meaning of the word “will” and translate Jesus’ statements in both verses as: “I desire mercy and not sacrifice” (emphasis added). This could not be a more explicit rejection of Paul’s later teaching.
Why Do People Follow Paul?
I have been asked occasionally why I believe so many people are willing to follow Paul. My thoughts boil down to basically two reasons:
1. It is the easy way. Jesus requires you to actually transform your character and put it into action. Paul says, “Just have faith and believe” and you get a free gift, without ever having to actually DO anything — something for nothing; the easy way out; the lazy man’s way to salvation; the free ride.
2. As has been noted previously, Paul was wealthy, educated, and had the rare status of being both a Jew and a Roman citizen, affording him both the means and papers with which to travel. He was able to travel widely, throughout the entire Roman empire, converting gullible victims by the thousands, giving him extraordinary power, and all of them had their interpretation of what Jesus taught coming by way of Paul’s version, so it gained traction early.
The doctrine of salvation by atonement through the bloody human sacrifice of a sinless substitute originates from Paul. It is fundamentally contradictory to the key principles taught by Jesus and his brother, James, yet it has become the core principle upon which evangelical Christian theology is founded. This doctrine has its own logical flaws and errors and merits further in-depth analysis and scrutiny, in the next article…
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