Paul of Tarsus

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Paul of Tarsus was the author of many letters addressed to various groups of first-century Christians. They comprise most of the New Testament, and as such are very influential in modern Christianity.

Paul, also known as "Saul," was a first-century Pharisee Jew who was fiercely opposed to the new sect of Judaism founded by Jesus Christ called the "Way" until his conversion following a vision on the road to Damascus, Syria. Paul modified the Way by stripping it of most of its original Jewish character, including temple worship and observance of Mosaic law, e.g., the prohibition against consuming pork. He took a major role in spreading this sect's theology throughout the northeastern Mediterranean world from Antioch (where it was first called Christianity) through Asia Minor, Greece, and Italy.

Meanwhile most of the original twelve Apostles, led by James the Just, stayed in Palestine while Peter wavered between the two sides and tried to figure out what to do. Titus, the son of the Roman Emperor Vespasian, solved Peter's problem for him by sacking Jerusalem in 70 C.E. and scattering or enslaving most of the Jews, including Jewish Christians, leaving Paul's network of gentile churches intact. It was these churches which eventually merged into the Catholic Church. Thus, Paul could be considered the founder of Christianity.


[edit] Historicity

There is no evidence for Paul outside the Bible. No records of him ever visiting the kings and other powerful authority figures he supposedly held audiences with, no Jewish records of a Christian-hunter gone rogue, etc. Even the usual suspects brought up in defense of a historical Jesus: Josephus, Tacitus, etc, have nothing to say on Paul. That said, seven of the documents attributed to Paul do appear from textual analysis to be written by the same person. This is considered reasonable evidence that some single individual performed the role, and we may as well call him Paul, as does the author of Acts, thought by scholars to have also written the Gospel According to Luke. Even proof of the common authorship of some of these books, though, does not prove that Paul ever met Jesus, nor that Jesus ever existed.

[edit] Conversion/relationship with the Christ

The problem with teasing out the historical facts about Paul's conversion and life is that he was fairly scanty in providing details about himself in the epistles and that Acts is a problematic source for Paul's life, given its contradictions with what Paul actually wrote in the epistles. Even if we restrict ourselves to only what Paul wrote about himself, we know from more modern examples that it's not unusual to "beef up" one's prior skepticism to make the conversion seem all the greater.[1] Thus, the following has to be taken with a grain of salt.

Paul was raised a Pharisee and later converted, becoming a Sadducee. According to the author of Acts of the Apostles, his early adulthood was focused on persecuting the new Christian Jews. The Acts author wrote that Paul had a vision while travelling to Damascus, where he saw the resurrected Jesus. Although he never met Jesus, he took from his vision the authority to speak as an apostle of the risen Christ, equal in stature to the apostles who accompanied Jesus during his earthly ministry. The details of the traditional version of Paul's conversion are from the Book of Acts, believed by many scholars to be primarily a work of fiction. In Paul's own words Jesus teachings have been "revealed" to him. Compare Acts 9:1-9 with Galatians 1:11-16.

Paul expounded on many issues that Jesus didn't bring up. Jesus had nothing to say about women being subservient to men. Jesus was circumspect on the question of whether his Jewish followers continued to be under the authority of Mosaic law. These doctrinal points seem to originate with Paul or with the way misogynists interpret Paul. Supporters of the patriarchy may also generalise to far from directions given to specific local churches adressing specific local conditions. [2] Some misogynist texts may be later interpolations.

Significant in Paul's writings is what he does not say. He seems to be completely unaware of a recent, historical Jesus. He makes no mention of Jesus' Galilean ministry, or that he was accompanied by twelve disciples. Although he refers to Jesus as having been crucified, he offers no information about the time, place and circumstances of the trial and crucifixion described in the gospels. He makes no references to Jesus' teachings as recorded in the gospels, even when it would clearly advance his argument to do so.

Paul's missionary efforts were focused primarily on Gentiles - some of whom were "God-fearers" (Gentile converts to Judaism) and Hypsistarians (pagan monotheists) - in Asia Minor and Greece. His missionary travels, his establishment of churches, and his writings would begin about 14 years after his conversion. Some 13 years later, between 60-67 CE, Paul was arrested and, according to tradition, was beheaded by Roman authorities.

[edit] His writings

Dear Corinthians, this is my third time writing to you, still no reply. I don't know how you do things in Corinth, but where I come from, that's considered rude.
—Paul's third epistle to the Corinthians.

The New Testament attributes fourteen Epistles to Paul. However, scholars, looking at style, theological content and bibliographical content have put the 14 letters into 3 categories. Those considered indisputably Paul's, those that are considered unquestionably not Paul's, and those that remain in question.

[edit] Undisputed letters of Paul

[edit] Letters about which no consensus has been reached

[edit] Pseudepigraphal letters

[edit] His travels

Paul states that immediately after his conversion (c. 33 CE) he traveled to "Arabia" and later to Damascus, rather than to see the other apostles in Jerusalem, something which he postponed for three years (Galatians 1:17-18) as one would expect. Acts doesn't flat out contradict this as it claims that Paul went immediately to Damascus, but it neglects entirely to mention the three-year interval between the conversion and Paul's first visit to Jerusalem, making it seem as if he went to Jerusalem soon after his conversion (Acts 9:8, Acts 9:26).

Paul records that after three years (c. 36 CE) he went to Jerusalem for 15 days, seeing no apostles except Peter (AKA Cephas[3]) and James (Galatians 1:18, 19). Paul then wrote in Galatians 2:1 that he returned to Jerusalem after 14 years (c. 50 CE), though offering no explanation of what he did during those 14 years. However, given that he wrote that his purpose of this second journey to Jerusalem was to tell the city's congregation about the gospel that he had been preaching (Galatians 2:2), preaching (and probably continuing his correspondence with far-flung congregations) is a good guess. How much of this reflects actual history, rather than Paul trying to burnish his credentials as a Christian authority (to give weight to his admonishments to the Galatian congregation), is unclear because of the scarcity of verifiable details. Paul's assurances that he's not lying (Galatians 1:20) is essentially just an argument by assertion and, when combined with his claims about his status, an argument from authority. The very fact that Paul felt it necessary to insert such a "trust me"-passage in his letter and to warn against false teachers amongst the Galatians spreading rumours about him (Galatians 5:7-12:1) suggests that his status and authority at the time was far from rock solid. On this second trip to Jerusalem, Paul met with James, Peter, and John[4] who confirmed Paul's role as minister to the Gentiles and asked that he continue to deliver the collection (Galatians 2:9, 10). However, contrary to Acts, where Paul is extremely respectful towards the Jerusalem congregation, in Galatians Paul describes the James/Peter/John Jerusalem trio as people "who seemed to be pillars" (in the KJV version), suggesting that Paul didn't actually consider their authority to be genuine.

Paul related that thereafter Peter came to Antioch, at which time there was a strong disagreement between the two regarding the necessity for Gentiles to observe "the law",[5] a dispute which continued during Paul's subsequent visit to Jerusalem (Galatians 2:11-21). In fact, Paul wrote that his travelling partner and associate, Barnabas, was won over by the "Judaisers" (Galatians 2:12-13) and since Paul made no mention of having "reconverted" Barnabas to his point of view, it's not far fetched to suggest that Paul did not fare well in his dispute with the Jerusalem faction over the adherence to Jewish customs. By contrast, Acts 15:2-22 offered an entirely different rendition of the same events that downplayed the argument with Peter and finished the Jerusalem encounter with an outright endorsement of Paul by James. Rather than the conflictual story presented by Paul which suggested the theological disputes in the early Christian community surrounding such things as the retention of Jewish customs,[6] Acts instead tried to paper over these differences and present a harmonious picture where Paul, Peter and James were all essentially in agreement and that the main problem was some malcontents among "certain of the sect of the Pharisees" (Acts 15:5).

In Romans 15:25, Paul wrote of his intention to return to Jerusalem (c. 57 CE), which is where Acts put the date of his arrest (Acts 21:33) and subsequent journey to Rome for an appeals trial. Here, Acts abruptly broke off, but Christian tradition has it that Paul was ultimately executed in 67 CE.

Acts details many travels that Paul does not mention. For example, Acts 11:27-30 refers to a trip to Antioch for the purposes of delivering a collection for famine relief.

[edit] The collection

If one is looking for a motive for participation in the early Christian church, one need look no further than the collection. It was Paul's promise to "remember the poor" that apparently allowed an agreement between him and the "pillars" in Jerusalem (Galatians 2:9-10).

In his letters, Paul gives instructions to several churches to prepare a collection for Jerusalem in anticipation of his arrival (1 Corinthians 16:1-3, 2 Corinthians 8:1-15, 2 Corinthians 9). Paul thanks Philippi for their aid (Philippians 4:10-19) and mentions a contribution for Jerusalem made by Macedonia and Achaia in Romans 15:25-28.

It was apparently while delivering this collection that Paul was arrested in Jerusalem, and it is claimed he mentioned it at his trial in Acts 24:17.

[edit] In Acts

We know about the historical Paul not only through statements he makes in his canonical letters but also from the book of Acts. However, at times, these works differ in their portrayal of the person Paul.

Paul proclaims himself to be an apostle of Jesus in Galatians 2:8, 1 Corinthians 9:1-2, and in several other instances. However, according to Acts 1:21, to be considered for inclusion by the other apostles, one must have "been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us," making Paul ineligible. One has to wonder why, if Paul was not considered to be an apostle, did he play such a prominent role in a book titled Acts of the Apostles.

Paul in fact regarded his claim to apostleship to be just as valid as that of anyone. He notes, concerning "important" men in the church, "...those men added nothing to my message" (Galatians 2:6). However, Acts has Paul acknowledging "those who had traveled with [Jesus] from Galilee to Jerusalem" (Acts 13:31) to be of greater importance. Also note that Paul believed no one could dispute that his vision of the living Jesus after the crucifixion was as significant as other sightings of the resurrected Jesus, which casts doubt on the claim that anyone actually saw a resurrected Jesus.

Acts has Paul on many occasions assert that he considers himself a Jew, at one point noting, "I have done nothing wrong against the law of the Jews or against the temple..." (Acts 25:8). In his own letters, however, Paul frequently denies the significance of Jewish law. In one instance he admits he does not have "a righteousness of [his] own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ" (Philippians 3:9).

By the varied speeches attributed to Paul in Acts, he is portrayed as a great orator. However, Paul himself notes the accusation by some that "in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing" (2 Corinthians 10:10).

[edit] Historical snarl: Aretas and Damascus

One problem with Paul is his claim in 2 Corinthians 11:32 that "In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me"[7] based on other sources has some interesting historical issues.

To understand them a little history lesson is in order

In 64 BC, the Roman general Pompey annexed the western part of Syria and Damascus was into the league of ten cities known as the Decapolis which in turn were incorporated into the province of Syria and granted autonomy[8][9]

In 23 BE Herod the Great was gifted lands controlled by Zenodorus son of Lysanias by Caesar Augustus which may or may not have included Damascus as well[10] Most maps show Damascus as NOT being part of Herod the Great's empire. In the sources that say Herod the Great gained control of Damascus that control is either given back to Syria upon his death or is part of the Herod Philip got (it is admittedly muddled here)

In 6 CE the control of Herod Archelaus' lands is given to Syria[11]

Before Herod Philip's death his wife and Herod Antipas agreed to divorce their spouses and marry each other. This marriage may have happened as early as 24 CE[12]

After Herod Philip's (no later then 34 CE) death his lands are given to Syria which are controlled by Lucius Vitellius the Elder (he supported and was good friends with Caligula)

So we are left with six possibilities:

1) Aretas controlled Damascus after the war with Antipas ie 37-40: extremely unlikely based on social-political factors. Caligula wouldn't have given a willful barbarian lands controlled by one of his friends and supporters.[13]

2) Aretas controlled Damascus during the the war with Antipas ie 36: again extremely unlikely as Lucius Vitellius the Elder controlled those lands and would not have left a garrison of men where it could outflank his armies or ravage his lands.

3) Aretas controlled Damascus before the war with Antipas but after Philip died ie 33/34 -36: again extremely unlikely as Lucius Vitellius the Elder had been given the lands of Philip.

4) Aretas controlled Damascus before the war with Antipas when Philip was alive ie between 28-33 CE: Philip did have his wife "stolen" from him by Antipas who daughter had been "abandoned" by Antipas so an alliance between Phillip and Aretas is possible. Also some sources claim that Damascus had been given to Herod the Great meaning it would have been part of the portion of the kingdom Phillip gained (other sources say it wasn't but we go with those that say it was for the sake of the argument). A flanking maneuver to surround Antipas lands would militarily make sense. If Paul's story is true this seems to be the most likely time it could have occurred...except it creates a greater likelihood of conflict with when Jesus ministry was; a 34-36 Jesus ministry would created a real mess regarding Paul's vision.

5) Paul is misremembering/exaggerating events and Aretas never controlled Damascus

6) The 2 Cor. 11:32-33 passage is "a marginal "gloss" copied into the text, or even a later insertion ie it was NEVER written by Paul.

In truth, "neither from archeological evidence, secular-historical sources, nor New Testament texts can Nabartean sovereignty over Damascus in the first century AD be proven."[14]

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

[edit] References

  1. Lee Strobel claims to have been a staunch and sinful atheist, despite giving a rather incoherent description of these supposed beliefs. Compare with several of the Satanic Panic frauds, such as Mike Warnke or John Todd and their bullshit autobiographies.
  2. What did St Paul say about women?
  3. Note that it is not certain that Peter and Cephas are the same person, but the general consensus seems to be that they are.
  4. As no further detail is given, we can't know which John is being referred to, but John son of Zebedee is one likely candidate
  5. Mainly Jewish dietary customs and circumcision.
  6. A struggle in which the Pauline view eventually won out, hence why, for instance, Christians don't have to be circumcised and can have all the shrimp cocktails and pork sandwiches they like.
  7. 2 Corinthians 11:32 KJV
  8. Warwick Ball (2002). Rome in the East: The Transformation of an Empire. p. 181.
  9. Skolnik, Fred; Michael Berenbaum ( 2007) Encyclopaedia Judaica Volume 5 Granite Hill Publishers pg 527
  10. Burns, Ross (2007) Damascus: A History Routledge pg 52
  11. Samuel Rocca (2005) The Army of Herod the Great
  12. Christiane Saulnier in G. J. Goldberg's John the Baptist and Josephus
  13. Riesner, Rainer (1998) Paul's Early Period: Chronology, Mission Strategy, Theology Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing pg 73-89
  14. Riesner, Rainer (1998) Paul's Early Period: Chronology, Mission Strategy, Theology Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing pg 83-84, 89
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