Paul was the … first corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus. (Thomas Jefferson, Letter to William Short, 1820)
The above quote comes from a post on the blog deConversion. The blog is interesting, but sad from a Christian perspective: it amounts to a kind of support group for people who are extricating themselves from fundamentalist Christianity. Many now reject Christianity altogether.
Unfortunately, many of the posts are badly misinformed, in my opinion. The current post is an example. Here is another in the series of quotes selected by the blogger, Thinking Ape:
Jesus taught that to escape judgment a person must keep the central teachings of the Jewish Law as he, Jesus himself, interpreted them.
Paul, interestingly enough, never mentions Jesus’ interpretation of the [Mosaic] Law, and Paul was quite insistent that keeping the Law would never bring Salvation.
The only way to be saved, for Paul, was to trust Jesus’ death and resurrection. … Paul transformed the religion of Jesus into a religion about Jesus.
(Bart D. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, 1993)
Ehrman is a good scholar. He supports his positions with relevant data, and he is a clear, engaging communicator. But he’s also a sceptic who leaps to unwarranted conclusions (for example, that copyist errors render the Bible completely unreliable).
Returning to deConversion.com — the current post offers nothing more than gross generalizations. Thinking Ape hasn’t done his homework, which involves wrestling with the minutiae of the New Testament.
This is a real problem for blogging as a medium. I made an attempt at biblioblogging with Toward Jerusalem. In my experience it’s difficult to sustain interest in detailed textual analysis on a blog.
But sometimes detailed textual analysis is required by the subject matter. There is both continuity and discontinuity between Jesus and Paul: the data are complex. To do the issue justice, one must consider dozens of specific verses, carefully comparing what the Gospels say to what Paul says.
Here’s a gross simplification of the data from my perspective:
|Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God: e.g., “the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Mt. 12:28.)||Paul proclaimed Jesus, “delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Rom. 4:25)|
|christology||Jesus makes an implicit christological claim: “If I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Mt. 12:28.) — suggesting that Jesus’ ministry is the fulcrum upon which salvation history turns||explicit claim: “Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23)|
|“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. … Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt. 5:17-19)||“For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:4)|
|“‘There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him’ …. (Thus he declared all foods clean.)” (Mark 7:15-19)||“To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law.” (1Co. 9:20-21)|
|“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. [and] You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Mt. 22:37-40)||“Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:10)|
There are serious challenges of interpretation in the texts selected above. For example, what does Paul mean, “Christ is the end of the law”? In my view, the word “end” has a dual significance. Paul is claiming both that Jesus fulfilled the law and that he revoked the law as an instrument of salvation. But Christians disagree strenuously over the correct interpretation of the verse.
How well does Paul’s message cohere with that of Jesus? There is both continuity and discontinuity. The above table merely scratches the surface of the data. I could continue making such comparisons until everyone was bored spitless. (Assuming you aren’t already!)
Traditionally, the discontinuity has been explained by reference to (1) a policy of coyness on Jesus’ part during his ministry; and (2) the shocking event of the resurrection, which caused the first Christians to evaluate Jesus from a very different perspective. Whether the explanation is adequate or not, the reader may decide.
Bottom line: the discontinuity is real and substantial — but so is the continuity.
The deConversion post doesn’t provide the sort of detailed, nuanced analysis of actual texts that the subject requires. Gross generalizations are worthless, whether they come from Thomas Jefferson, Bart Ehrman, or Thinking Ape.