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Paul as a Problem in History and Culture: The Apostle and His Critics through the Centuries[Kindle Edition $18.14][Click title to purchase at Amazon] 
By: Patrick Gray [2016]

 

Book Review by Bro. Doug

This is a book from the Christian publishing house "Baker publishing" that anyone who makes a serious study of Paul must acquire. It purports to be a comprehensive historical review of those critical of Paul throughout the centuries. It has found endorsement as a "versatile volume" to be used in the "classroom or for personal reading." (Exploring Church History.) "It is a handy resource for scholars or anyone else who wishes to track down original sources that reflect anti-Paulinism."  (Lutheran Quarterly Vol. 30, No. 4 (Winter 2016).

The author, an Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Rhodes College, appears to aid Paul's defense but he never is too out in the open about doing so. Hence, on the surface it is mostly an objective presentation. Thus, for what it does discuss, it is a useful overview. 

However, Gray never acknowledges there is a legitimate Bible-based reason to reject the writings of Paul. He instead implies most of the time that only those who "despise Paul" reject Paul or his writings. The criticism of Paul is attributed by Gray to a non-stop stream of hate, not recognizing anyone ever having done so to seriously defend Yahweh / God / Jesus with the sole exception of Kierkegaard.

Shockingly, Gray omits entirely any serious mention of the early orthodox Christian critic of Paul's authority -- Tertullian -- a grand omission, or where those critiques can be found in his writings, as I discuss below.

Gray also surprisingly omits mention at all of the reputable Reverand Vincent Holmes-Gore who wrote Christ or Paul? (C. Daniels 1946). In it, this well published  Christian said Christ's doctrines are "opposed to the Pauline Gospel as light is opposed to darkness." See link. He said Christ's words in MATT 7:21-23 "fit Paul" because Christ warned many who called on Him as "Lord" and did miracles and prophecies in His name, Jesus will tell "I never knew you, you workers of Lawlessness." Paul abrogated the entire Mosaic Law in Romans 7:1-11.  Thus, this truly "fit Paul," as Holmes-Gore said. Holmes-Gore could have made the point stronger, but did not elaborate on the translation in Greek of "anomia" as Lawlessness. This word primarily means negation of the Mosaic Law. Apostasy from the Law. See this link. So Holmes-Gore was correct that Jesus very much had Paul in view in Matt 7:21-23. Jesus says He will tell Paul "I never knew you" because Paul worked anomia. (We will discuss anemia in more depth below.)

 

Thus, how can Gray not have searched his divinity school library for this book, especially as this criticism validly applies our Lord's words to prove Paul's teachings are false.  Vincent Holmes-Gore was not a hater of Paul, but rather an obedient lover and follower of our Lord Jesus. Why would Gray ignore this well-know critic of Paul? Is Gray truly trying to be comprehensive, or instead is he trying to skew how "anti-Paulinists" are perceived as haters, misfits, and unsupported by any legitimate Christian voices?

Whatever the explanation, Gray leaves only one non-hater Christian who ever seriously criticized Paul: Kierkegaard. But then Gray portrays Kierkegaard as someone whose criticisms of Paul's influence are outweighed by his supposedly positive statements about Paul's influence. (Kindle loc. 2169.) Hence, Gray implies we need not explore too deeply what Kierkegaard's concerns were all about -- what Paul did to Jesus' gospel. The way Gray leaves the lone figure of Kierkegaard whom Gray acknowledges was anti-Paul from purely spiritual motives and not from any hatred, Gray leaves a complete gap of understanding.

But Kierkegaard was scathing against Paulinism if you pay attention. Gray even quotes Kierkegaard saying Protestantism is "completely untenable" because it is "a revolution brought about by proclaiming 'the Apostle' (Paul) at the expense of the Master (Christ)." (Kindle loc 172.) At the same time, Gray does not cite nor quote any of the supposedly positive statements by Kierkegaard about Paul or Paul's influence that "outweigh" such negatives he expressed about Paul or Paulinism. Thus, we are left to simply accept Gray's 'hand-waive' that makes all Kierkegaard's negative comments go away. These positive remarks must be amazing if they do away with Kierkegaard's most radical rejection of Pauline Christianity as not truly Christian 

Thus, Gray leaves us, subject to that one primary exception, to see the anti-Paul critiques he tracks are mostly based upon hate of Paul. These haters are what Gray a couple of times describes as "Paul despisers." (Kindle loc. 5478; see also 1733, 1916.)

Thus, Gray catalogs those who despise Paul -- the "anti-Paulinist" -- which you "know when you see it" (Kindle 272) -- as either suffering from clinical insanity (Nietzche), or are anti-Semites because Paul was a Jew while giving Jesus a pass (Hitler), or were defending homosexuality from Paul's verses against it, or are women liberationists who despise Paul for his supposed "hatred" of "women in particular" (Kindle 2865), or who are Muslims who think Paul is licentious, etc.

The lesson Gray leaves without much effort to bury in his academic prose is that anti-Paulinists are a strange bunch of predominantly Paul haters. 

Again, all this makes me wish Gray would give us a clue whether anyone ever had a Bible-based reason to reject Paul's writings as works of a false prophet. Even what Kiekegaard's theological problem was with Paul - cheap grace without repentance, that is faith-alone -- is not expressly articulated by Gray. (See Kindle Loc. 2164, Gray closest quote is K.'s soft statement that with Paul "man gets off a litle easier in becoming a Christian.") So we are left starving for knowledge of what Christians who are true Christians have ever thought are substantive criticisms about Paul, especially his writings, let alone what our savior thought about Paul.

Despite this flaw or gap, Gray does often mention that anti-Paulism is sometimes based upon an admiration for Jesus' moral teachings which Paul supposedly undermines. Jefferson is an example. Gray cites many in this category -- but mostly from among non-Christians or those who kept their faith to themselves if they had any, e.g., Wil Durant, H.G. Wells, etc.

Even there, Gray never gives us any concrete example of what conflict is thought to exist between Paul's doctrine and Jesus' doctrine by those who are non-believers. Hence, the one thing I would like to know about what even non-believers see as a conflict is left nebulous, vague, and unclear. 

Gray also has very little effort in his final chapter at finding any meaning in all this hard work. I am sure he had an observation that could have been more helpful than to warn solely about "confirmation bias." That is, he says that those who pit Jesus versus Paul have a confirmation bias potentially that they "know" what Jesus says, and that proves Paul is wrong, when the real problem can be that we don't know what Jesus truly said.  (Kindle Loc. 5244 some anti-Paul voices who rely upon Jesus to criticize Paul are "oblivious to the effects of confirmation bias" -- a bias "that the existing body of knowledge about Jesus is sufficiently complete as to permit authoritative and incontrovertible repudiation of Pauline teaching.") (Please note how Paul gets a pass based on probability unless the proof from Jesus is an "incontrovertible repudiation" of Paul...a fallacy of special pleading- one low burden of proof for the Pauline defender but a higher burden for the Jesus defender.)

What does Gray mean? This was somewhat vague but it is obvious Gray has read some of my website. He makes a vague back-handed broad brush critique aimed at someone on the Internet who links scholars to make his points. See Kindle 2803 (some Internet-based critics of Paul cite academic sources "even if they are not always willing to digest the content or appreciate the nuances that scholars bring to a topic.")

Thus, I think he knows there are arguments based upon Jesus' words by sincere Christians corroborated by citing scholarly, mostly Christian, sources. I will surmise that Gray contends that I must accept that Pauline scholars plausibly argue that Matthew was altered to make it appear Jesus was anti-Paul's doctrine on the Law, especially in Matthew 5:17-19. That is the clearest conflict of all. Pettinghill, for example, says a Judaizer must have added Matt 5:17-19 later to make Paul look bad. (See link.) Hence, if that is true or just plausible, I am guilty supposedly of confirmation bias that I believe Jesus truly said Matt 5:17-19 and I am supposedly thus wrong to think this an "incontrovertible repudiation" of Paul by Jesus.

Assuming that is what Gray is talking about, I have a response. Jesus' prophecy in Matt 5:17-19 defeats the confirmation bias argument all by itself! Why?  

Jesus says in that passage that the one who teaches us not to follow the Law will be "called" by those in the kingdom the "least" - elicthos in Greek. This automatically defeats the argument about confirmation bias. The reason is that even if this was written after Paul's writings were circulating, Matthew would not know Paul's name PAULUS  -- a Latin name transliterated into Greek -- was a contraction in Latin of PAUXILLUS, and that full name means LEAST. See our link. Hence, this a prophetic statement by Jesus that only with His inspired knowledge would He know it would be the means of identifying Paul centuries later.

This passage of Matt 5:17-20 is quoted no later than 70 AD by a Jewish Rabbi (Hillel) to rebut a Christian judge in a trial where the Christian judge was not applying the Law, Hillel insisting the judge needs to follow Matt 5:17-19. Hence, in that time frame up through 70 AD, no one who lives in Israel where Aramaic, Hebrew and some Greek were spoken would ever know that the name Paul is a contraction of a word in Latin meaning LEAST. Only Jesus could have known this; Matthew would not be able to fathom its full significance.

That's how we as Christians all KNOW this prophecy of Jesus about the anti-Law teacher called "least" in Matthew 5:17-19 is truly from Jesus. We don't rely upon a confirmation bias -- we are not supposedly so anti-Paul that we trust any statement by Jesus that is critical of Paul without regard to the possibility these statements were invented by Matthew to make it look like Jesus was anti-Paul. Nope! We can be 100% sure Jesus uttered this because Matthew had no clue how elicthos in Greek means pauxillus in Latin and thus how this contracted into Paulos in its Greek transliteration -- and thus how Paul and elicthos at their root mean the same thing! 

In fact, the only way this was first discovered in 1902 was because it was found that in the 300s that the priest-commentator Augustine at Rome -- where Latin was spoken every day -- mentions that Paul's name in Latin meant "least," and this is why Paul referred to himself as the "least" of the apostles -- Paul playing on meaning of his own name. See 2 Cor. 12. Only people saturated in a Latin culture could possibly have known Paul's name (a) is a Latin contraction; and (b) its uncontracted form -- Pauxillus - meant Least. Then centuries later a Christian scholar in 1902 connected the dots that Jesus in Matt 5:17-19 was identifying Paul. Thus, there is no confirmation bias that could legitimately explain why a true Christian should ignore that in fact his Lord in Matt 5:17-19 did negatively prophesy about Paul and against his most famous teachings abolishing the Law given Moses as obsolete, faded away, and voided, etc.

Criticisms of Gray's Book

That said, I do have some criticisms of Gray's book. I believe Gray's summary of the Ebionites is appallingly shallow. He never quotes their actual words of criticism about Paul despite quoting a snippet at least from everyone else who has something to say negative about Paul or his writings.

Why is this important? The Ebionites are the main focal point for Christians to consider because they represent the earliest rejection of Paul's writings from within the Christian church. As Uhlhorn and others note, Ebionites was the name of the earliest Christian church. See link. The Ebionite criticism of Paul as an "apostate from the Law" as Gray summarizes was indeed consistent with the earliest church's concern about Paul in the Book of Acts. James at Jerusalem asks Paul in Acts 21:21 whether Paul is guilty of "apostasy" -- using that very word in Greek -- although rarely translated that way, almost all translations keeping us in the dark. Gray clearly tells us the Ebionites concluded Paul was an "apostate" from the Law. Thus, there is no reason to believe that the Ebionite quotes are anything but the authentic records of the apostolic 12's church under James a short while after Acts 21:21 as their investigation continued. Scholars have begun to concur this is the likely fact. Yet, Gray never quotes the Ebionites despite numerous quotes available. See my article. As a Christian, when I first saw these quotes of the Ebionites, it strongly impacted me like no paraphrase would. I realized there could be a Bible-based reason for rejecting Paul's writings.

 

How so? If you look up the word apostasy, you find it comes from the Greek translation of Deuteronomy 13:1-5. This is important because unlike any other of the dozens of critiques of Paul summarized by Gray, the Ebionite critique of his writings is the only one mentioned by Gray that is BIBLE-BASED. In other words, Christians are commanded to reject Paul's writings as from a false prophet and as apostasy, God's word says in Deut 13:1-5, because they reflect a "seduction" against following the Law.

This passage from Deuteronomy is repeated by Jesus in Matt 7:21-23 if one pays close attention to the words "signs and wonders" -- a verbatim parallel to Deut 13:15 -- and that Jesus says we must ignore such miracles / signs if the ones with such powers also work "ANOMIA" -- a word in Greek meaning negation of the Law. What Law?

Jesus had in mind no doubt the Mosaic law -- always called NOMOS throughout the New Testament. The negative prefix A in Greek means ANTI what follows -- NOMOS. Anomia is an anti-Mosaic Law doctrine. This parallels Deut 13:1-5 which says the false prophet has true prophecy and signs and wonders but you know they are a false prophet which God allows to "test" you because they try to "seduce you from following the Law given you here today" - the Ten Commandments in context.

That's why Gray should have set forth these Ebionite quotes so Christians can see that there is something for us to consider in a review of all the criticisms of Paul. We are the main readers of such books. We don't care that much about Neitzche, or Muslim writers, or G.B. Shaw. But we do dearly care about what the Ebionites, Tertullian, Kierkegaard, and apostle Matthew, and Jesus all say. But that's all softened, or not quoted, or hand-waived away, so we don't see how strong is this problem in Christian history.

I have one final criticism. Where is Tertullian's scathing criticism of Paul's authority as an alleged apostle of Jesus in Tertullian's book Against Marcion from 207 AD? Or Tertullian's comment that Paul's words fit what Jesus warned about coming from a false prophet? Tertullian, after many Biblical proofs that Paul's claim in Galatians to being an apostle of Jesus was a self-serving one -- unconfirmed anywhere -- and hence invalid, says to Marcion about Paul: 

If there is one that makes a false claim to be Christ, much more can there be one who professes that he is an apostle of Christ.... [L]et the apostle [Paul], belong to your other god [i.e the NT God Marcion said justifies a new dispensation of faith alone with no more Law].... (Tertullian, Against Marcion (Oxford University Press, 1972) at 509, 511.)

See also two of our many articles on Tertullian: 

 

How could Gray write this book and not know about any of this?

Gray mentions scholarly titles on Marcion seventeen times. Gray has apparently read enough of Against Marcion to cite book 5, paragraph 21 to demonstrate Marcion "esteems Paul above all other authorities" but Marcion does not accept the pastoral epistles (e.g., Timothy, Philemon, etc.) (Kindle loc. 683.) Yet, no mention is made of Tertullian's scathing criticisms, nor that they are present somewhere in Against Marcion.

At the same time, it is not a secret that Tertullian called Paul in Against Marcion the "apostle of the heretics" -- in Latin haereticorum apostolos. It is not just in my book and on my website. One of the foremost Christian Protestant writers -- Hans Lietzmann -- cites Tertullian from 207 AD, and says about Paul that "the writings of Paul --- the haereticorum apostolos of Tertullian ---  were regarded suspiciously at Rome." (Hans Lietzmann,The Lord's Supper (Brill: 1979) at 282.)  

 

Despite Tertullian saying that nothing corroborates Paul was chosen as an apostle of Jesus, and Paul fits a false prophet as predicted by Jesus (see link) -- quoted in my book at length -- what does Gray have to say? Gray mentions "wariness" by Tertullian exists, but never cites where wariness in its strongest demonstrable form appears in Tertullian's works -- in Against Marcion.  Yet, Gray says the "wariness of writers like Tertullian does not reflect any rebuke of Paul." (Gray, loc. 682 in Kindle edition.) How so?

Gray offers no synopsis of Tertullian's critiques that he knows expressed any level of "wariness" to prove that no rebuke is intended. Gray does not even cite Against Marcion as a place that a reader could find the most serious expressions of "wariness" that Tertullian had. Instead, Gray processes that Tertullian has a wariness about Paul without complete identification where this could be found. Gray does so for your benefit so you don't have to read the negative sources or even know the title of the most the relevant work to look up. Yet, we must trust that whatever "wariness" Tertullian expressed is supposedly simply no rebuke at all. Really?

Lietzenmann quoting Against Marcion says Tertullian viewed Paul as the "apostle of the heretics," in line with a negative "suspicion" about Paul at Rome. But Gray knows there is "no rebuke" of Paul by Tertullian based upon some unexplained means. Amazing!

Conclusion

urge everyone to buy this book to see what it dares not talk about. If left uncorrected, a book like Gray's will purge from historical attention the words of the Ebionites, Tertullian, and Kierkegaard. For in Gray's world, these negatives about Paul, especially about his writings, disappear into greyness and oblivion. These Christian critics of Paul's validity don't need to be taken seriously at all. They don't have to be dealt with, or quoted meaningfully, or explained, or rebutted as of any weight by more than broad-brush strokes and hand-waives. 

But for the true Christian, they are the only part of Gray's book we need to pay attention to. By doing so, we will realize what is being OMITTED is the important lesson to take away from Gray's book. Our Christian sources of criticism of Paul are to be marginalized by not being taken seriously and not being mentioned, or barely and briefly so, in a book supposedly devoted to a summary of all critical statements about Paul in history. This way, the most important points in the history of criticism of Paul from a Christian perspective are simply to be silently overlooked.

 

If Paul-defenders' history presented as supposedly neutral and comprehensive wins out, then Christian-based criticism of Paul is to be forgotten and never mentioned seriously again. The Lutheran Quarterly gave Gray's work implicit endorsement as certainly the most comprehensive list of every important work of Anti-Paulinism to consider -- yet unaware that the most important work -- Tertullian's criticisms in Against Marcion of 207 AD are never pointedly referenced, summarized or quoted. Seminarian Arland Hultgen writes in a review that one can implicitly trust Gray's work as thorough and comprehensive -- as indeed it appears:

"It is a handy resource for scholars or anyone else who wishes to track down original sources that reflect anti-Paulinism."  (Lutheran Quarterly Vol. 30, No. 4 (Winter 2016), review by Arland J. Hultgren, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota. (link).

This is how the most important Anti-Paulinist work ever is effaced from history. No criticism of Paul with a citation to Against Marcion is ever presented. A quick dismissal of the "wariness" about Paul by author Tertullian is downplayed as "no rebuke" of Paul, and thus there is no need to share his major criticisms of Paul. Then Lutheran Quarterly annoints Gray's work as a work to find cites to the key original sources. That should seal the fate forever of Against Marcion as not even deserving mention among the valid sources of criticism of Paul. The only attention that needed to be paid to Tertullian's works is somewhere they express some "wariness" about Paul's validity but otherwise they deserve nothing more to say or to reference.

But Gray's work is far from complete when the most important work critical of Paul's authority written by a leading Christian in 207 AD is not mentioned as containing serious criticisms of Paul! We will try to restore attention to it by mentioning it here again...these critiques can be found in Against Marcion. 

Nothing proves the inability to defend Paul from history better than to see that Christian history has to be erased or re-written in a plain vanilla wrapper to suit Paul's defenders. In Gray's work, we see Christian history must be given a misshapen view that Paul's critics predominantly fit a stereotype of haters. Christian history must freeze out legitimate Christian critics, mentioning either rarely or never that among Paul critics are several legitimate Bible defenders who are true Christians. And we cannot be told these Christians had a dedication to God and Jesus stronger than toward Paul or even any apostle, as Jesus even tells us twice must always be the case for a true disciple of his. See Matt 10:37; John 13:16 ("the apostolos is not greater than his master").

Thus, Gray is the first salvo to undermine the movement among true Christians to weigh Paul's validity Biblically. It functions to undermine or downplay the truth that serious Christians, even the founders known as the Ebionites, ever held a view critical of Paul and his writings. We who aspire to being heirs to the analyses of the Ebionites, Tertullian, and Kierkegaard, should take away from Gray's work that academia no longer can ignore Christ's movement among us to regain His "sole teacher" status once again. Christ is winning over Paul, and Gray's work is the first academic book that addresses the latest revival of the Biblical problems with Paul. Gray's work cannot convince the devoted disciples of Jesus that a true and complete picture was given of Paul critics through all time. This strengthens our confidence even more that Pauline Christianity is crumbling. It cannot face the whole truth. It must hide it or dismiss it, or defame it, or marginalize it, or try to crush it by its academic authority. But it no longer can entirely ignore it.  Thus, true original Jesus-centric Christianity, defended by the Ebionite finding of apostasy in Paul's writings, pursuant to Deut 13:1-5, is rising so that one day, the Ebionite finding must be finally studied and resolved in each Christian's personal journey as well as should be resolved by the church at large.

Blessings, Doug

PS Baker Academic Publishing sells for $508 Baker Academic Pauline Studies Collection in 22 volumes. See link. Perhaps this explains why nothing substantive is stated about Tertullian's critiques; and no quotes; and no citation to Against Marcion as a place to find these critiques.

 

PPS  

Michael C. Legaspi, Associate Professor of Classics at Pennsylvania State University, makes an excellent observation in First Things (October 2016) about what is not covered in Gray's review of Paul critics. Legaspi acknowledges that Gray gives us a long list of Paul haters which we can safely ignore -- those who make baseless and libelous attacks on Paul. However, Legaspi acknowledge there remain others whose criticisms should be addressed with "humility and self-awareness." These others make no substantial appearance in Gray's work. Even though Legaspi believes Paul and Jesus can be reconciled, he recognizes that some Christians make serious Bible-based cases against Paul. Legaspi implies that next time out, the defenders of Paul need to engage the critics who are not libeling Paul but are asking theological questions which deserve being treated with "humility and self-awareness." For after all, truth is the issue. Legaspi writes:

This brings us, finally, to the title of Gray’s book. In what sense is Paul a problem? For many, Paul is a nuisance, an impediment to progress, or a convenient target in a proxy war against traditional Christianity. Many of Paul’s critics—those who wrote baseless and libelous attacks—may be safely ignored. But astute critics remind us that, as Peter admitted, there are in Paul’s letters things that are “hard to understand” (2 Pet. 3:16). We ought to hear and read them with humility and self-awareness, on guard against familiar pitfalls like antinomianism and dogmatic overreach. (Michael C. Legaspi, "All Things to All Men," First Things (October 2016) - link.)