"In Acts...Paul is denied the title of Apostle." (Hengel & Schwemer, Paul between Damascus and Antioch (John Knox Press, 1997) at 321.)

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An excerpt from Robert Orlando's article April 2015 posted at Huffintgon Post

Lord, Liar, Lunatic or the Apostle Paul? An Alternate Proposal to CS Lewis' Trilemma

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In the first case, the argument that only a supernatural origin can explain the phenomena and growth of early Christianity, while reinforcing a theological perspective, is not an historical one. Prior to the Gospels (70-120AD), there was the Apostle Paul, who wrote many letters (50-60AD), and whose early vision of Jesus (The Christ) (appx 36 AD) was in direct conflict with Jesus' original followers, not only about mission, but about the nature of the gospel itself (Gal 1:8, 2 Cor 11:4). And it was his vision and gospel that would eventually win over his opponents, as evidenced below.

Moreover, what seems like a foregone conclusion two thousand years later, after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, does not square with Paul's desperate effort earlier to overcome ethnic exclusion of Gentiles, the clashing with the Jewish Apostles, and even the need to offer money to persuade the others about the notion of a gospel for all people (Gal 2:10). All phenomena involving politics, power, and the ability to decide the rulings of the mission, which were largely rejected after Paul's return to Jerusalem (Rom 15:30,31 Acts 21), display not a seamless divine mission, but one of familiar human origin.

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If Paul is arguing throughout his letters for the identity of Jesus, which he received through a vision, and was not concerned with His earthly life (2 Cor 5:16), how does that square with the post resurrection appearances before the Apostles? Did Jesus not inform them that Paul would be coming to open the gospel to "the ends of the world?" (Romans 15:29)

Furthermore, during his lifetime Paul could not convince the others of this new revelation. As a result, although he tried to unify the apostles through a remunerative gift, Paul was betrayed, nearly assassinated, and banished to die alone in a prison cell. (Acts 21). Based on this historical moment, early 60s AD, before the church had formulated a canon, how would CS Lewis frame his question, Lord Liar Lunatic? Would he pose his question to the Apostle Paul or James? Without the presumption of later church theology, we are left to speculate on the answer to this significant question.

 

A stronger historical proposal might be that an early cult movement with Jesus and his archetypal followers (of which we have some insight from the Gospels, but must consider them in light of the later dates, and changing audience from Jews to Gentiles given the Jewish War 70AD), might be better understood though the earlier Pauline sources and how those sources align with the history. For Paul, there was certainly no common revelation that turned Jesus' original followers from men of cowardice into those of abiding faith. Paul famously confronts Peter for waffling on his faith in Antioch (Gal 2:11). He accuses James and the Apostles of preaching a false gospel and one in direct contradiction with that of his vision, and he outright states that his gospel is of no human origin (Gal 1:12).

Where Paul (and even Acts) leave off, there ends our Bible source on the life of Jesus, but the history does not end. A failed Gentile movement would find its new life, not in the support of the Jerusalem Apostles, but from the fall of Jewish Christianity, in 70 AD, when the Romans invaded the Holy Land. As a result, Christianity was forced outside Judea to the Gentile mission field. It would be left to Paul's letters to determine the answer to Lewis' question of Lord Liar Lunatic? And though he promised an early return of Jesus, eventually Paul's followers, such as Timothy and Titus, and others into the 2nd century, would write in his name, as the church adapted itself to Roman culture (pater families).

By 313 AD, Emperor Constantine would proclaim Christianity the official religion in an attempt to harmonize the Empire. And what had started as a cult (Jesus) movement, was reinvented by Paul's new revelation. Although a failure in his own life, it would, after the Fall of Jerusalem, resurrect itself in the provinces of the Greco Roman world, until it was embraced by the Empire. One might be tempted to label this fantastic course of events supernatural, but nevertheless it is the true progression of history - Not necessary to determine if Jesus was liar or lunatic or Lord? In the same way, determining that Caesar was a Lord or Liar or Lunatic would not impact the actual historical events of the Roman Empire.

The point is, history can fine tune and temper theology, and theology can expand the limits of history with faith in new possibilities, but it is the life of human beings in the real body where true history is made.

My Comment On Mr. Orlando's Article

Mr. Orlando has captured that there are two strains of Christianity -- Pauline and that of the original Apostles. Luke in Acts reveals it even as he tries to weave a story where the original apostles interact with Paul. Mr. Orlando makes a good point that Paulinism got its boost by the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, and not because the 12 apostles endorsed Paul.

How ironic then that it is Paul's fault morally for Trophimus' entry into the Temple in an uncircumcised state. See our article on Trophimus. God in response had to destroy the Temple due to such an abomination -- likely fulfilling Daniel's prophecy of God doing so because of a sacrilegious object which entered the Temple. Hence, Paul actually aided and abetted the very same act which launched Paulinism by destroying Jewish Christianity which had taken root at Jerusalem. 

Then Mr. Orlando makes another observation that sophisticated scholarship supports -- that Pauline Christianity was embraced by Constantine even though Paulinism failed in Paul's own life. Another very astute observation.

For more about Mr. Orlando, you can read a 2009 Interview at the Paul Page.