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Review of "Quest for the Real Paul"

 

This video Quest for the Real Paul by Vision.org seeks to prove Paul was a law-adherent Jew, and did not teach the abrogation of the Law. At the 50 minute mark, the narrator calls Paul the "commandment keeper" as if the point is well-proven.

The narrator extracts this opinion about Paul's doctrines by snippet quotes from a cross-section of scholars. Some are not Christian, like Tabor. Others are Christians and clerics, but are not mainstream evangelical scholars. Like Messianics, their purpose may be benign, i.e., to promote law-abiding lives, to remove anti-semitism among Christians, etc. However, the analysis is slippery and weak. Let's see why.

First, the video starts off letting you know its point of view is to prove Paul is law-adherent, pro-Sabbath, and did not abrogate the law. Yet, not once did the video address the many verses relied upon for an opposing conclusion. Hence, this is hardly persuasive.

Rather, the supposed proof that Paul was law-adherent was by a mix of history -- about Marcion and Constantine -- combined with Paul going to preach upon invitation at a synagogue that was meeting on Sabbath. There also was one reference that in the Epistle to the Corinthians Paul supposedly told the Corinthians to observe the Passover. We shall see that this is a ridiculous claim.

Let's now break down these various proofs, and test them.

Marcion Proof. The video explains that Marcion was a Christian who in the early 100s taught the Mosaic law was abrogated. He was declared by the church universally to be a heretic. The inference one is left to deduce is that the church who fought Marcion was following teachings of Paul, at least in part, and thus Paul must have taught the same pro-law view as the orthodox Church who fought Marcionism. In other words, a law-abiding church supposedly created by Paul is what supposedly skewered Marcion as a heretic. Hence, a law-abiding view must reflect Paul's own views. Was this true? Absolutely not.

First, the video author leaves out that after Paul, Apostle John took over influence in churches that were once Pauline. It is generally agreed that John's influence restored the orthodox views of the church on the Law's continuity in those once Pauline regions, and Pauline anti-law doctrine floundered and died as a result. See our article Apostle John's Gospel is Critical of Paul. Hence, there was no Pauline doctrine any longer reflected in the early church when Marcion arose in 144 AD.

Second, Marcionism was Paulinism...this was conveniently left out. Marcion claimed Paul was the only apostle. He relied upon Paul's Epistles -- none were tampered with in any material way that we know -- to prove the Law was abrogated. These are the same passages relied upon for the same view today. Hence, the video ludicrously is using a Pauline movement that is castigated by orthodox Christianity in the mid-100s to 3d century as anti-law as an alleged proof that the orthodox church represented a Pauline church that was pro-Law, and pro-Sabbath.

Rather, it was an orthodox church previously purged of Paulinism by Apostle John's influence which later fought the heresy of Marcion -- the revival of the anti-law heresy of Paul.  Marcion in 144 AD expressly revived interest in these anti-law passages from Paul's letters.

Hence, the church which battled the express Paulinism of Marcion was not Pauline to begin with. Thus, the battle against Marcion does not prove the church's pro-law position came from Paul when Marcion arose in 144 AD. The pro-law view came from John when he brought revival of the true Jesus' principles to the previously Pauline churches in Asia Minor, principally at Ephesus.

Constantine Proof. This early portion of the video claims that Constantine in the 300s turned the church against the Law, and this would have displeased Paul.

However, this ignores that Constantine relied upon Paul's anti-law views, and turned attention toward Paul when Paul's anti-law doctrines had previously withered especially due to the church routing out Marcionism.

What was the new attention on Paul under Constantine?

By the early 300s, Paul was 27% of the time in a separate volume from other NT works, and the other times it was joined to Luke's Acts and the epistles, or the gospels too. However, under Constantine's influence, Paul's works now appear immediately after the gospels. Attention was now turned to Paul for his anti-Sabbath statements to help support Constantine's desire to turn Sunday into the new day of rest. Constantine was a sun worshipper, and his effort was not to promote Christ but instead his favored god - Sol Invictus - the Invincible Sun.

No Jew Nor Gentile in Christ. At about the 22 minute mark of the video, the argument is made that Paul did not view the church as two distinct groups--Gentiles who had no Mosaic Law, and Jews who did have to follow it. Instead, Paul supposedly thought there was one congregation under the Mosaic law. To prove this, the authors quote "there is neither Jew nor Gentile...but one in Christ." But this means the opposite from what the video editor claims. Paul is saying there is no more Jew or Gentile as categories. Under the Law given Moses, there are different commands applicable to each - "Sons of Israel" and "Sojourners" (Gentiles). For example, circumcision only applies to "sons of Israel" under Leviticus 12:1-3, and does not apply to Sojourners (Gentiles) unless they want to participate in Passover. By Paul erasing any distinction, Paul was pointing to the creation of a new religion. These categories are the core of the Torah, without which no one can be sure what law applies to whom.

Furthermore, contrary to the video editor's claim, Paul did regard the church as split in two. In Galatians, Paul claims that the 12 apostles ceded to him that he would "go to the Gentiles," and they to the "circumcision." (Gal 2:9) This is called the Separation Treaty by scholars, but the video editor is totally unaware about it, so it seems. This treaty is likely only how Paul viewed it because the 12 were vigorously evangelizing Gentiles by the time of Acts 10 and later. Peter was even called to be the Apostle to the Gentiles according to the "Holy Spirit," as recalled by Peter in the conference of the 12 Apostles in Acts 15.

Paul's Visit on Sabbath to a Synagogue. Next, the video editor claims at the 39 minute mark that the fact Paul went upon an invitation to visit a Gentile synagogue on a Sabbath means that Paul surely did not teach against keeping the Sabbath. He says that there must have been Jewish believers present, and rhetorically asks whether Paul would have taught one group to keep the Law and another not to do so? Having raised this straw man argument, then the video editor says it is impossible therefore that Paul taught against keeping the Sabbath. However, since Paul admitted using the tactic of guile -- pretending to be subject to the Law given Moses, although he knows he is no longer subject to the Law (nomos in Greek) so as to 'gain' more for Christ, it is absurd to deduce Paul's acceptance of others' observance of Sabbath meant Paul thought it mandatory on Gentiles. Paul's silence at the synagogue on the Sabbath issue during his talks would be completely consistent with trying to evangelize Christ by means of Paul preaching on a day others observed as Sabbath. Paul did not feel the compulsion always to confront others who thought the Law continued.

Passover and Corinthians: A Figurative or Actual Ceremonial Observance? One final proof for the claim in the video that Paul was law-adherent was that Paul supposedly "undoubtedly" told Gentiles to observe Passover -- sometimes called the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

We can figure out the reference. It is 1 Corinthians 5:8 which says: "Let us keep the feast [of unleavened bread?], not with old leaven, nor the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth."

This does mention the feast. However, not only does it not encourage its ceremonial observance, but also it provides a better 'spiritual' figurative version -- a version that does not depend upon removing actual "old" leaven from one's home. Under Paul's exhortation, if this is about keeping the feast at all, it is solely by purifying our lives by means of a symbolic unleavened bread -- having sincerity and truth in our home.

One would have to stretch this beyond reason to think this is Paul endorsing keeping a feast by removing actual unleavened bread from one's home. Paul is exhorting a figurative version, not an actual observance, of the true feast. Paul's words completely fit in with the idea that Paul is offering a new alternative system to Judaism where its observances lack any further active aspects. It is now all in the heart, and can be done any place or anywhere at any time solely in the spirit. "No works required," still operated in Paul's statement about the Feast of Unleavened bread. 

The website As Bereans Do correctly explains in Were Gentiles at Corinth Keeping the Festival of Unleavened Bread (2013): "The words are right there in front of us. Paul's instruction is to keep the feast NOT with the old leaven...but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Paul has elevated the Feast of Unleavened Bread from a physical ritual of putting leaven out of a house to a moral imperative...."

In other words, as Paul says elsewhere, the law was a tutor, but now that Christ has come, we are no longer under a tutor. We walk in the spirit, and not by the letter of the Law, Paul taught. This Vision.org cites a verse therefore which contradicts their view, and thus preposterously argues it proves their case.

 

Conclusion. I know why Messianics favor the view that Paul was a law-adherent but why would such non-Christian or liberal Christian non-evangelical scholars do so in this video?

It bleeds out a bit in the middle of the video. It mentions that Luther was guilty of extreme anti-semitism. The anti-law view of Luther was used as a justification of being anti-semitic. The video mentions that the Lutheran church four centuries later formally apologized for such anti-Semitic statements of Luther, including Luther's call that Jewish homes should be burned to the ground. I sympathize strongly with this hope to exterminate anti-semitism among Christians. But the cure is not to incorrectly tell Christians that Paul is not anti-law, or he had not become anti-semitic.

The cure is to tell Christians that Paul was not inspired when Paul made his anti-law remarks. And Paul was not inspired when Paul made anti-Jewish hateful comments as Paul clearly does in 1 Thess 2:14-16 (Jews "killed the Lord Jesus," and "are displeasing to God," and are the "enemies" of "all people") And Paul also did so in a wicked manner in Galatians 4:23-31 when Paul says that the Jews are represented by Hagar as an allegory, and were allegorically "cast out" when Hagar was cast out by Abraham from Sarah and himself into the desert. Paul contended in this allegory that only Hagar was subject to the "bondage" to the Law. (Paul's allegory is wicked because the truth is Sarah was the mother of the sons of Israel, and she stayed with Abraham, and only Sarah's children had the blessing to be under the Covenant of the Law, with its promises besides its threatening curses; Hagar had no covenant benefits or burdens from the Law.)

What should the video editors have done instead? They should have admitted these passages exist, and then declared the truth as the better solution. Jesus said the truth will free us. James said the rich killed Jesus for jealousy (James 5:4-8), not Jews. Paul was wrong also that Jews as a people displease God. Instead, James again gives us the truth, telling Paul that many "myriads" (tens of thousands) of "our people" have come to Christ by the time of Acts 21:20. The falsity of Paul's allegory that made Jews out to be sons of Hagar thrown out by Abraham and subjected to the law as some harsh slavery or "bondage" is cured by simply reading Genesis 21:14 and Exodus 20's blessings for obedience for moral actions imposed by the Law.

Why revive the truth rather than tolerate benign untruths? Because Jesus said, the truth will set you free. These truths will set us free from Christian anti-law and anti-semitism a lot faster than untruths or weak arguments that contend Paul was pro-law, or that ignore Paul had viscious anti-semitical statements.