In his new book Paul and Jesus, Prof. James Tabor explains the important role that Paul, who never met Jesus, plays in the creation of Christianity. He argues that the fundamental tenets of Christianity as practiced by various denominations come from Paul and not Jesus himself.
The fundamental doctrinal tenets of Christianity, namely that Christ is God “born in the flesh,” that his sacrificial death atones for the sins of humankind, and that his resurrection from the dead guarantees eternal life to all who believe, can be traced back to Paul — not to Jesus. Indeed, the spiritual union with Christ through baptism, as well as the “communion” with his body and blood through the sacred meal of bread and wine, also trace back to Paul. This is the Christianity most familiar to us, with the creeds and confessions that separated it from Judaism and put it on the road to becoming a new religion.[Christianity Before Paul]
But what were the original teachings of Jesus?
What we get in the letter of James is the most direct possible link to the Jewish teachings of Jesus himself. James is quite sure that the “Judge” is standing at the door, and that the kingdom of God has drawn very near (James 5:7). He warns the rich and those who oppress the weak that very soon the judgment of God will strike. James seems to be directly echoing and affirming what he had learned and passed on from his brother Jesus. It is important to note that James did not directly quote Jesus or attribute any of these teachings to Jesus by name — even though they are teaching of Jesus.
For James the Christian message is not the person of Jesus but the message that Jesus proclaimed. James’ letter lacks a single teaching that is characteristic of the apostle Paul and it draws nothing at all from the Gospel narratives. What we have preserved in this precious document is a reflection of the original apocalyptic proclamation of Jesus: the “Gospel of the kingdom of God” with its political and social implications.[Christianity Before Paul]
Thus it looks like, it was Paul who caused the shift from Jesus’ message to Jesus the person himself.
5 thoughts on “Paul's Christianity”
Paul’s statements such as
i) he has not derived his teachings from men or through men, but his access to Jesus has come through a revelation of the heavenly christ
ii) his own revelations directly from the heavenly Christ are more important than anything Jesus taught in his earthly life
iii) he considers himself the least and the last
simply amazed me.
If one were to replace Paul with Prophet Mohammad, it would still remain true. It would be interesting to contrast Paul’s life with that of Mohammad.
Kedar, That is a good observation.
I thinks this is the reason I ( and many other friends) like books likes the Sermon of the mount according to Vedanta by Swami Prabhavananda. It is more catholic in spirit!
Amazing how you came to this conclusion based on some quotes from a book. May be you have read all the books by writers other than Paul and came to this conclusion. Jesus’ life and ministry is present in books by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. You can find if other non-Paul writers has written on Jesus’ talking of his death, resurrection, baptism, communion etc.
James’ letter is helpful when you understand the reason for James writing it. It was not written as a biography on Jesus, the way books by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are. So, obviously you will not find all the details of Jesus’ sayings on his death, resurrection, baptism and communion.
I did not come to this conclusion, the professor who has been studying this for three decades has come to this conclusion.
Also, you are wrong about the synoptic gospels and John teaching us about his life events. Gospel of Mark (which by the way was not written by someone named Mark), does not mention about the infancy of Jesus. There is no resurrection in Mark as well. Matthew and Luke have two conflicting infancy narratives and a series of elaborate resurrection narratives. If these gospels were biographies of one man, why do they have so much disagreement on his birth and death. There is a new book called Zealot by Reza Aslan, which you should read.