Wednesday, June 06, 2007

jesus and paul

i've come into a few discussions lately about people who seem eager to dismiss the apostle paul from conversations about christianity.

their claim is that paul somehow misrepresented jesus, thereby hijacking christianity and making it into something other than what jesus himself intended.

in their minds, the theology of jesus [and the kingdom] is very different from the theology of paul [and christianity]; and, if we're true christ-followers, we'll focus far, far less on paul than on jesus.

after all,
paul only quotes jesus once in all his letters
and only references the gospel stories 4-5 times

i think there are a couple of giant leaps made in this kind of thinking

dangerous leaps

first of all,
the great worth of jesus christ is not primarily his teaching's HIMself

don't get me wrong - jesus' teachings are crucial
but he was more than just a good moral teacher

he is the resurrected
prophecied about
who superceded the messianic expectations of his friends and followers
and manifested divinity in a skin suit

he is god

when we take away these important
little details
we're left with only a better ghandi

and a better ghandi in no way addresses the real metaphysical issue
of our separation from our creator

ghandi can't atone for sin

and we do need atonement
even though that's not a popular understanding these days

the second big flaw i see in this silly line of reasoning
is the arrogant assumption that a 21st century american
somehow beter understands the local context of a 1st century palestinian jew
than the apostle paul
who was, himself, a 1st century palestinian jew

i mean
how did we get so full of ourselves
that we think we would be able to magically understand something about jewish messianic expectation that paul would not have understood
or sacrificial atonement
or the nature of god
or the promise to abraham

if paul had totally screwed up the reality of christ
and all of the other disciples whom paul knew personally
would have set him straight

it was repeatedly paul who set the disciples straight
because they kept making the gospel smaller and smaller
focusing on just jews
focusing on just the legality of righteousness

i do understand that the gospels were all written after paul's missionary journeys were completed
and i do understand that john mark, who wrote the gospel of mark [aka peter's account of jesus' life] traveled with him
so there are some who say that maybe the gospels were a correction of paul's misunderstandings

but this is an argument from silence

...and a silly one at that

how do we best understand jesus?

is it by his teaching alone?

or is it also by the work of the new testament theologians who made his identity and significance clear?

i know.

i shouldn't even have asked the question.

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