Doctrine based on the witness of Jesus' words is the one hope for unity in the present chaotic division in the churches. (Minister, A. Buzzard, 1998)

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Unstable Paul

In an article "Paul and the Judaizers" at http://paulproblem.faithweb.com/judiazers.htm, we find a reasonably intelligent critique of Paul. The homesite explains this author believes there is a Gnostic Paul and a Roman Paul presented in his letters and they are contrary to one another. The homesite author favors doctrinally the Gnostic Paul, and that Gentiles become followers of Jesus as God-fearers. He believes the anti-Mosaic-law Paul was manufactured by Rome for Roman purposes, and inserted into Scripture. (I do not agree with these views. I only mention them because they are plausible and provoke thought.) The author writes:

" I am very kind and redemptive to the real Paul, that being the "Gnostic Paul" to which Rome will give great effort to destroy over the next 5 centuries of the emerging Gentile Roman Church. In doing these studies it is my intent that you, the reader, come to understand that both within Judaism of yesterday, as well as today, is the place God gave the "non-Jew" to find his relationship with Him. We call this today being a "Godfearer" and not a "Christian" if I might be so blunt for the theologies for each are completely different in many regards. " (link)

While I do not agree with these perspectives, he makes cogent observations about the tone and instability of the mind that wrote the harsh and mean words in Paul's epistles. I believe it is always Paul. Regardless, here are excerpts that are worthy of consideration when the author is talking about the parts of Paul he thinks are authentic and yet are very problematical. From this point on down and indented is from the author of the above-referenced article:

[N]umerous ... references [are made] to the ideological differences with "those who would lead them astray." These were people who were perceived by Paul as serious and dangerous adversaries and came to be known as "Judaizers" (Encyclopedia Judaica, 1971, Vol. 10, p. 398; New Catholic Encyclopedia, 1967, Vol. 8, p. 13) The word is not found in the New Testament. The term is used loosely to identify persons who practiced some Jewish customs and observed some Jewish laws.

PAUL'S WARNING TO BELIEVE NO OTHERS THAN HIMSELF

Several epistles are largely or partly devoted to attacks on Jewish missionaries and the backsliding proselytes of Paul. The letters range from warnings to avoid those who mislead them away from Christianity to threats of forfeiting salvation by leaving the faith (Hebrews for example is a treatise written trying to stop those leaving Pauline Christianity for a more Biblical example of Biblical Faith as taught by Yeshua).

Paul realized that prevention was the best cure. He, therefore, admonished his reader to stay away from "unbelievers" who questioned or challenged his teachings.

    • In 2 Cor. 6:14-16 Paul cautioned his respondents against being "yoked together with unbelievers" whom he likened to Belial (meaning worthless or wickedness in Hebrew). It was used as a code word for Jews and others who did not accept Paul's doctrines. Thus, Paul built up the "logical" sequence: those who disagree with his teachings are unbelievers (no matter their monotheistic beliefs); unbelievers are wicked; therefore, disagreement with Paul is wickedness which can and must be avoided by shunning those who reject his religious ideas.
    • Paul continued this theme in Rom. 16:17-18 when he urged his respondents "to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way, contrary to the teachings you have learned. Keep away from them....By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people."
    • The same idea obsessed Paul in 2 Cor. 11:3-6 when he warned against being led astray by false apostles, as Eve had been beguiled by the serpent. He expressed disappointment in the people for their tolerance in listening to other apostles who preached a gospel different from his. Let us not forget that these other Apostles represented the Jerusalem Church, James, Peter, and John; the Apostles who knew Jesus best!
    • He cautioned his listeners to beware of those who "are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us so that you may be zealous for them" (Gal. 4:17).

This is an exact description of Paul's objective: to win over converts who would be committed exclusively to his doctrines and to turn those converts against their former beliefs and against those who still held them. In psychology it is called projection, for he projected onto the Judaizers his own methods and goals.

Paul endured no competition. He was not about to give the same quarter to others which he had been afforded. Prior to becoming the apostle exclusively to the Gentiles, Paul had preached to Jews in synagogues according to Acts.

****

PAUL'S MAGNUM OPUS...THE BOOK OF GALATIANS

Paul's strongest invectives against Judaizers are found in his Epistle to the Galatians. He denounced any other teaching as false. His alone was true. He pronounced a solemn curse on those who preached a different doctrine. Let us read his words in 1:6-9:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel--which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other titan the one we preached to you, let him be cursed. As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be cursed.

Such was Paul's reaction to the competition of Judaizers! How different are these words from his self-righteous claim in 1 Cor. 4: 12-13:

When we are cursed, we bless...When we are slandered, we answer kindly.

Not only did Paul's opponents not curse him--he did not record a single imprecation against him--but he initiated the anathema. Nor was he slandered. His adversaries had come to clarify certain crucial religious matters. Paul's churches in Galatia (and possibly elsewhere) were visited by Christian Jews who preached at least a partial observance of Mosaic Law. Today, in normative Judaism, there is no such designation as a Christian Jew. (Jews for Jesus are not considered Jews by any recognized group in Judaism.) At the time of Paul, the Nazarene Church believed that Jesus was a messiah, not a deity, and that observance of Mosaic Law was incumbent on its adherents. This group was a sect of Judaism. It persisted as a small sect for three or four centuries after Paul until its members merged with Christianity or Judaism. Most became Christians. By the fifth century there were no more Judaizing Christians or Jewish Christians.

The immediate issue at hand was whether Christians of Gentile or Jewish background should observe Jewish law. Apparently missionaries from Jerusalem presented themselves and Paul as subject to the authority of the Jerusalem Church. Paul denied this and responded with vilification of his antagonists and their religious ideas.

Paul asserted that he received his commission directly from Jesus in a revelation and insisted on his complete independence from the Council in Jerusalem. He went on to complain that the problem arose because "false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves" (Gal. 2:4). Again these "false brothers" were none other than the Jerusalem Church and the Apostles that knew Jesus best! This idea is totally preposterous!

The freedom Paul wanted was to distort the Torah by making spurious claims about it, such as insisting that the entire law must be obeyed in order for its followers to be in the covenant (receive salvation) and disregarding or denying the importance of repentance in Judaism for its adherents to achieve God's forgiveness (grace). This subversion of Judaism was offered to unsuspecting listeners like the Gentiles who had little or no prior understanding of Judaism in the first place.

Answer for yourself: Is this situation any different from the majority of Gentile Christians today?

Many of the people who came to hear Paul believed he represented the religion of the Jerusalem Church inasmuch as that was the central authority and original disseminator of the faith after Jesusµ death.

****

Paul recognized the implications for himself and his religion if the Galatians returned to Jewish practices. He met the danger head-on. He repeated the usual arguments of "justification by faith" and "no righteousness through law" and then pulled out all the stops as he resorted to hyperbole. He equated Judaism with enslavement. He rhetorically asked his listeners:

How is it you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you. (Gal. 4:9-11)

What Paul feared was the loss of his converts in Galatia and the spread of this trend to other towns and cities and churches. In the heat of battle Paul defended his turf against those from whom he has snatched it in his proselytizing. With his back to the wall, he responded with name-calling and malicious comparisons. He termed the laws "miserable principles" and the return to them, enslavement. The "slavery" Paul threatened for observing special occasions has long since been taken over by his Church. Instead of the Sabbath day, Christians subsequently designated Sunday as holy. As for a special month in which there are restrictions or limitations, the Church was not lax in instituting such a custom. For six weeks before Easter, during Lent, Christians give up certain foods and engage in other rites to commemorate Jesus' fasting in the wilderness. How different is this in terms of restrictions from the mourning period which Jews observe during the month of Av, a Hebrew month which usually falls in August. For three weeks before the Ninth of Av religious Jews refrain from swimming or celebrations in memory of the destruction of both Temples. Paul may have referred to the first month of the Hebrew calendar as a special season for it marks the celebration of several holidays. Christians, likewise, enjoy a Christmas season which, for many, lasts well over a month. Although the Sabbatical year has not been incorporated into Christian theology, most academics eagerly avail themselves of its benefits. The observance of the sabbatical year in agriculture has proven beneficial to the earth and the farmers who depend on its produce whether or not they live by the Mosaic laws. Paul's warning of hardships--enslavement-- resulting from keeping special holy days and festivals by ritual practices was a red herring. Every nation, religion, and culture has its special events observed with specific rites or ceremonies that add a richness to the lives of the people and a uniqueness to the individual groups.

Good taste and fair play did not figure in Paul's preaching when he spoke of his opponents. He must have been in a rage when he wished "they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves." He was referring to his rivals who practiced and advocated circumcision (Gal. 5:12).

He accused the Judaizers of urging circumcision on his audience in order to become indistinguishable from the Jews and thereby to avoid persecution. The dishonesty of his claim was only surpassed by its irony in light of subsequent Jewish history. Both in Paul's time and afterward there was no record of Jewish persecution of Gentiles. Furthermore, the latter were welcome in their synagogues, a fact which caused Paul distress. In the course of history during which the Church reached ascendancy, Jewish men were identified by their circumcision for the purpose of Christian persecution.

In the same manner of verbal excess which he used in Galatians, Paul wrote in Phil. 3:2:

Watch out for those dogs, those who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh.

Paul knew, either from his own experience since he claimed to be circumcised or from the many Jews he had met, that circumcision is not mutilation.

Paul's verbal assaults on his adversaries were often venomous, despite his avowal of love and the need for love of humanity. Although he said that the Spirit brought love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22), it didn't seem to have that effect on him: When he was dealing with opponents or competitors, his brotherly love disappeared into anathemas, name-calling, spurious accusations, and intimidation. His attacks showed neither restraint nor compassion. His extreme feelings and behavior project a picture of an unstable personality (Howard Kee, op. cit., p. 217)