Paul figures so prominently in the New Testament and his writings occupy so much of it that he has often been described as the real founder of Christianity. There is considerable justification for this view, for the Christian Faith as we know it would not have existed if it had not been for his contribution to its development.
The Christian movement was in its infancy when this powerful personality dramatically became one of its adherents, a circumstance which was as unexpected as it was disturbing to the initial body of believers. Not only had he been persecuting them unmercifully as an agent of the hostile hierarchy which had condemned the Messiah but he was of such a different type and caliber that his association was an acute embarrassment. It was at first considered by some that his profession of faith was a trick to disrupt and destroy the movement, and he started his discipleship under a cloud of suspicion which only deepened as a result of his subsequent activities. There could not have been a more inauspicious beginning of a career marked by the highest courage and devotion.
Paul, whose Jewish name was Saul, was a native of the important city of Tarsus in Cilicia, where Hellenic culture had been superimposed on an oriental one going back to the ancient Hittites. It is this pagan and heathen background which will subtly be immersed along with the Jewish teachings of Paul in the New Testament. More on that later. It has been suggested by some that his family adhered to the doctrine of the Pharisees, which meant that he had been brought up very strictly in his religion; but he also inherited the privilege of Roman citizenship. This is puzzling to some as this make difficult the understanding that he was in the employ of the Chief Priest, a Sadducee, carrying arrest warrants for members of the Jewish Messianic Sect of the Yeshua Movement. In order to do this Paul was aligned with the Sadducees and not the Pharisees at least for a while in his life. We are told that as a youth he was sent to Jerusalem to study under the Jewish sage Gamaliel, grandson of the great Hillel. In his autobiographical references he reveals himself as an eager scholar, but one who like his royal namesake suffered from moods of resentment and depression. You may think this charge foolish but in Titus 3:3 Paul states of himself: "I myself was once lacking in sense, ungovernable, erratic, a slave to various passions and pleasures, spending my time in resentment and jealousy, gloomy, hating others". He was afflicted by some physical disability of an unpleasant nature which at times overcame him, and it has been suggested that in common with other men of genius, including Julius Caesar, he was a victim of the falling sickness, an epileptic. This epileptic condition of Paul would be consistent with his character, abilities and mysticism. It is clear that he had grandiose ideas related to the conviction that he had been chosen of God for an exalted mission, and anxious to establish his worthiness he plunged in excess into spiritual studies outstripping many of his contemporaries. These intensified his asceticism and gave him an almost morbid and fanatical sense of sin.
One thing is certain. Paul had a violent and berserk antagonism to the followers of Jesus. The Acts of the Apostles fails to clarify the reason for his frenzied opposition, but the cause of it comes out once we know that Paul was originally a Sadducee and the Sadducees had not faith in a Messiah or a Messianic Movement. In fact it was a serious threat as they were under the charge of Rome to maintain the peace and control these religious people. Messianism meant revolt and upheaval which is unavoidable in ushering in the Kingdom of Heaven. Thus the reason for Paul, first of all a Sadducee, to persecute the Yeshua Movement.
After Paul's psychic experience, perhaps due to an epileptic seizure, as a result of which he gave allegiance to Yeshua as the Messiah, instead of returning to Jerusalem and making amends with the Yeshua Movement, he went into retreat in northern Arabia to wrestle with his problems and there he had 'an excess of revelations'. J. Klausner, From Yeshua To Paul' pp. 324-330, describes Paul's experience as holly consistent with an epileptic attack.
He had not been wrong in his youthful belief that he was a chosen vessel to bring the knowledge of God to the Gentiles. The voice that had spoken to him had confirmed what was in his heart. But he could see now where he stood: he was appointed of God as the personal agent and deputy of the exalted Messiah, to carry out his mighty work in the world until Yeshua should return in glory to inaugurate the reign of righteousness on earth. Henceforth he would live and move and speak at the bidding of the heavenly Messiah who was his master. He thought of his status as that of a trusted slave, so intimate with his owner, so fully in his confidence, as to be in effect his alter ego. Paul believed that he was the eikon (image) of Messiah, as Messiah was the eikon of God. He was convinced that in the mercy of God he had been judged and sentenced to assume a new identity as the reflection of Christ's presence. As he expressed it: 'In law I have died in the legal sense. I have shared Christ's crucifixion. I am alive, it is true, but strictly speaking it is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me .From now on let no one deal me any more blows, for I carry the scars of Yeshua on my body' (Gal. 2:19-20, 6:17).
Paul's Christology brought him an inward peace and a tremendous joy. He was released from a guilt-laden conscience, able to throw himself energetically and enthusiastically into the work which he believed had been entrusted to him as envoy to the nations. He could brave all dangers and hardships. Yet for Paul to effectively manifest a Yeshua as the Christ who was no longer on earth created fresh problems. Paul dramatizes his Christ-concept through Pantheistic concepts (request our article on the Pantheism of Paul). He is acting, not always successfully, the part of Yeshua as he proclaims him, perpetually endeavoring to transform himself into a likeness which is alien to his true self.
He sees himself in a special sense as the one who makes Yeshua visible in the flesh. In his battered and uncomely body the marks and signs of the Crucified are paraded and displayed through the cities of Asia and Europe. But though the effort is genuine and Paul labors and sweats to make the identification as consistent as he can, the performance frequently does not come up to standard or is overdone. He had been denied personal experience of the human Yeshua and could not therefore hope to reflect the man Yeshua had been. Yeshua 'according to the flesh' had consequently to be left out of account, and Yeshua 'according to the spirit' or a cosmic Yeshua substituted, so that the nature and mind of the Messiah as revealed to Paul could be communicated to believers and transplanted into their hearts. He is very conscious of the difficulty of representing in any way adequately such an idealized figure, of his own unperfected character and traits breaking through. In vain he declares that he is nothing, for plainly he is something in his own right he will not boast, but he does boast.
It was not only the teaching and activities of Paul which made him obnoxious to the Christian leaders in Jerusalem like James, Peter, John, and others; but their awareness that Paul set his personal revelations above their authority and claimed an intimacy with the mind of Yeshua greater than that of those who had accompanied with him on earth and had been chosen by him. To them he was a presumptuous upstart. Paul and his theology was an abomination to the original Apostles, especially as his ideas were so contrary to what they knew of Yeshua, that he should pose as the embodiment of Messiah's will and dare to instruct them as if he were Yeshua himself. They may not have guessed Paul's Messianic aim, but they did realize that he held himself to be uniquely and independently inspired. Physically insignificant, unlike King Saul of old, he yetas that monarch had done in stature stood head and shoulders above his fellows. It became imperative to cut him down to size.
The Saul of today, who used the Roman name of Paul, was seen as the demon-driven enemy of the new David. When eventually Paul became a prisoner of the Romans the Christians neither of Jerusalem nor Rome lifted a finger to aid him.
Answer for yourself: Does this not seem rather strange to you?
There is a reason for this because they understood that in reality Paul was preaching a different Yeshua other than the one send by God (request our article on Changing The Message Of Yeshua). When Paul was a prisoner at Caesarea there is no mention in the Acts any Christian defending him or testifying in his favor (Acts 24-26). Regarding the Christians at Rome Paul wrote, 'At the first hearing of my defense no one supported me: everyone deserted me. May it not be counted against them' (II. Tim. 4:6). I find this rather surprising if he was considered "one of them" and they would know best. Because today we have a New Testament which is believed unquestioningly and a widespread ignorance of the Old Testament, the casual reader will read Paul without grasping that much of what is written under his name contradicts Yeshua's teaching as well as Moses and the Prophets. What escapes us today because of lack of familiarity of the Old Testament due to the over-emphasis of the New Testament to the almost exclusion of the Old Testament, was not a problem for the first century believer and he could spot "another Gospel" a lot more easily than we today! The simple reason for this is that the vast majority of our lives we have heard only Paul's account to the neglect of Yeshua' true message.
The allure of money is a strong influence. Regardless, none of Paul's efforts, including raising funds for the poor saints of Judea, had mitigated opposition to him. For the more intolerant of the legitimate Church Paul was a dangerous and disruptive influence, bent on enlisting a large following from among the Gentiles in order to provide himself with a numerical superiority with the support of which he could set at defiance the Elders at Jerusalem (Peter, James, and John). Surely this would exhibit to all who questioned his authority the genuineness of the call of God on his live, or so he thought. Paul had been the enemy from the beginning, and because he had failed in his former open hostility toward the Messianic Faith he had craftily woven himself into the fold to destroy it from within.
Answer for yourself: How so you ask?
This he was doing by setting aside the sacred Torah and recruiting anyone willing to join him on the merest profession of belief. He should never have been received; but there were those who were so innocent and unsuspicious that they had not realized what he was up to. That is the same fate of Christianity through the centuries as well as today. And we easily can see today to what a state of affairs their misplaced confidence had led today. The whole Nazorean cause, the cause of Messiah himself, was in jeopardy of being utterly discredited in Israel. Because Paul seemed to be one of its chief spokesmen and was announcing that the Torah was invalid as a means of salvation. It was Paul's theology that the Torah, be believed by pious Jews and the followers of Yeshua, were the worst kind of renegades.
Since it is the Pauline viewpoint which is given in the New Testament for the most part and not the viewpoint of Yeshua or the Jerusalem Church, we are obliged to search out and put forward how the situation appeared to those who have been scorned as "Judaizers". There was much more to their attitude than is generally realized. Naturally it was the principal plank in Paul's platform which was attacked because here his position was most vulnerable. But it was his pretensions which upset others most.
Two rival authorities among the Nazoreans, two presentations of Yeshua as the Messiah, two inspirations, two gospels, could not be tolerated. It stood to reason that no revelation which was of God could possibly contradict that which had been given by God to Israel through Moses and the Prophets, and what was so well known by Yeshua which had the same doctrine. The very novelty of Paul's teaching, therefore, condemned his revelations as fraudulent. The Jews have always known this because they are fully aware of what their Jewish Scriptures teach. It is we non-Jewish believes who are unschooled in Old Testament studies that fall prey to such Pauline deceptions in the New Testament.
It was at Antioch in Syria, which Paul had made the base for his missionary operations and where for some time he had been a teacher of a Christian community numbering many converts from the Gentiles, that matters came to a head. Unfortunately within the Bible we only have one side of the story in two versions, a compromising account in the Acts and an uncompromising one in Paul's letter to the Galatians. We have to do the best we can to overcome both the bias and the discrepancies. Fortunately this can be done today by the student who will examine the legacy of history and the writings that survived the Catholic Church and their destruction of millions of documents which threatened their theology. I have done such a study and that is why I have adopted the position advocated in this article.
According to Paul's account Peter had come to Antioch and had made no difficulty about accepting the converts from the Gentiles as brethren. 'Before certain persons came from James he had eaten with Gentiles. But after their arrival he drew back and separated himself out of fear of those of the Circumcision. The other Jews played up to him, so that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.' Paul says that he publicly challenged Peter: 'If you a born Jew live like a Gentile, why do you force the Gentiles to keep Jewish ways?' The Acts omits this episode and makes no reference to the presence of Peter at Antioch. It simply declares that 'certain persons came down from Judea and instructed the brothers, "Unless you are circumcised in accordance with the Mosaic ordinance you cannot be saved."
An important point in Paul's statement, much older than the Acts, is that the visitors from Jerusalem represented an official delegation from the Christian government whose president was the brother of Yeshua.
Now listen up! This suggests that information about Paul's first missionary journey, perhaps communicated by Mark, and the terms on which he was admitting Gentiles to membership, had got back to Jerusalem and had caused considerable alarm and dismay among Yeshua's church in Jerusalem.
The Commission, as we may judge, did not question the right of Gentiles to be admitted into the family of Israel of which the Messiah was the head; but it pointed out that this involved implicit obedience to the covenant made by God with Israel. The people of Israel stood in a different relationship than did other nations, since they were sanctified to God by Commandments, so that they might be qualified to carry out His will in the world. Yeshua the true Israelite was himself obedient to the covenant and upheld the Law by his teaching and example. It was incumbent, therefore, on all those wishing to ye joined with him and who aimed at likeness to him to follow in his steps and to exhibit, by circumcision and the practice of God's precepts and commandments, the outward signs of the inward grace.
The decision was taken, not at all to the liking of Paul, to refer the issue back to the Apostles and Elders at Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas were summoned to appear before the highest Christian court, and had no option but to obey. Paul naturally does not admit this in his letter to the Galatians.
Now watch the deception at work. Paul would have us believe that he went up to Jerusalem not because he was commanded to appear but that the Spirit led him. Come on now Paul be truthful. He makes a virtue of necessity. 'I went up to Jerusalem by a revelation and reported to them the terms of the gospel I preach to the Gentiles. This was privately to those of repute, in case I should strive or had been striving to no purpose. But there was no forcing of Titus, who accompanied me, to be circumcised, Greek though he was, despite the infiltrated false brothers who had crept in to spy out the liberty we enjoyed in Christ Yeshua in order to enslave us. Not for an instant did we strike our colors, so that the true character of the gospel might be preserved to you.'
Paul could see very well that appearing before the Christian leaders would put him at a double disadvantage
Answer for yourself: Do you know how?
First, Paul would seem to be subservient to the authority of the Jerusalem Apostles and James, whereas he claimed a superior and independent status. Next, his very small minority could easily be overruled and outvoted. If he failed to make good his case he would be completely discredited. His work and influence would be destroyed, and he could no longer claim to speak in the name of the Messianic Community which had in reality rejected and cast him off. The split would be irrevocable, and what then became of his mission? Paul was no schismatic: he could not conceive of a Church which was not an integral part of the Nazorean body politic, and which did not look to Jerusalem as its organic spiritual center. At least this was his view at the time. The risk of an adverse decision was for him, therefore, very grave.
Paul's astute mind conceived a plan for extricating himself. He would not wait for the session of the Nazorean Council, but first tackle the leaders privately, submitting his cause in suitable terms and emphasizing the nature, scope and success of his mission, with Titus as living confirmation. The leaders could not deny the operation of the Holy Spirit, and would then be bound to support him in the assembly. As a helpful gesture he consented to the circumcision of Titus.
We receive the impression from Paul's record of the event that the plan worked reasonably well. The issue was really settled out of court. The subsequent meeting of the assembly was fully under control. The Book of Acts understandably makes no reference to the private meeting, and proceeds with what followed. After an initial period permitted for the indictment of Paul, the moderate Peter took over. Paul and Barnabas then recited their experiences, and James the president summed up and gave his ruling. His findings were adopted and the meeting was over. Paul does not mention the proceedings of the assembly as Acts records it or its conclusions, since these did not bear out that he had scored a complete victory. He only gives in a breezy and offhanded manner his version of what took place at the private session with the leaders: "As for those of repute whatever they were makes no difference to me: God takes no one at face value they imposed on me nothing additional".
Answer for yourself: Does Paul's response to the Jerusalem Church's authority seem a little sarcastic to you or is it just me?
But things are not always as they first appear, but often quite the contrary. Let us examine Pauls viewpoint first. When they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel for the Uncircumcised, as Peter for the Circumcised . . . and when they realized the privilege that had been granted me, then James, Cephas (Peter) and John, the reputed "Pillars of the Faith", extended to myself and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship. We were to go to the Gentiles, they to the Circumcised. Oh yes, they did add one more thing, we were to remember the poor, which personally I was only to ready to do.
We must understand that in Acts what Paul says here is no more than a half-truth. The outcome was not as he represents it. A Compromise solution had been found, but this did impose on Paul and his supporters certain conditions. There was no agreement at all about separate spheres of influence, and the Nazorean leaders did not relinquish their right to make converts among the Gentiles. We know this historically from the facts concerning the documentation of the conversion of Gentiles to Judaism up till 70 A.D. and the destruction of the Temple.
What we have been misled to believe is that Paul was converting Gentiles to Christianity when nothing could be farther from the truth since Christianity did not exist at that time, and conversion was always to Judaism with Yeshua recognized as its Messiah.
What they consented to do was simply reinterpret the position of those Gentile converts who did not become full Jews but chose to remain as God-Fearers (request our articles on the God-Fearers for further background).
Paul's concern was to secure that his converts from the Gentiles should be recognized as part of Israel. If he had been promoting a new religion this would not have been vital to him. It is those who have taken the teachings of Paul that lay outside of Judaism which have been successful in creating a new religion in Paul's name. Actually, Paul, for the most part, was doing nothing of the kind: he was building upon the foundation of the Prophets and Apostles, proclaiming only what was predicted by the Scriptures, extending Israelite citizenship to believing non-Jews. All who believed in Yeshua should therefore be acknowledged as rightfully belonging to Israel. In other words they were being grafted into Israel.
The Nazorean leaders had their own problem. They could not repudiate that the Holy Spirit had come on Gentiles as well as Jews. On the other hand, if no distinction was made between Israel and the Gentiles, so that non-Jewish believers were not required to surrender their Gentile state, then the revealed will of God would be nullified.
There was this common ground. Both parties agreed that the Israel of God, the Messianic Community as it then existed, was only a fraction of the whole. Part of the literal Israel had temporarily been split because of unbelief. The envoys of the Messiah were entrusted with the responsibility of giving opportunityby allegiance to himfor these lost sheep to be brought again within the fold. But the ideal number of the people of God would be made up by the inclusion of multitudes not of Jewish origin. The ideal number is symbolically given by the seer of the Revelation as consisting of twelve thousand of each of the twelve tribes plus ten thousand times ten thousand from all nations, tribes, peoples and tongues.
Prophetic Judaism brought the doctrine of the Faithful Remnant strongly to the fore, and this was bound to raise the question of how the prediction to Abraham would be fulfilled, when he was told (Gen. 15:6), 'Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and God said unto him, So shall thy seed be. And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.' A late Nazorean source, the Clementine Recognitions, explains: 'Inasmuch as it was necessary that Gentiles should be called into the room of those who remained unbelieving, so that the number might be filled up which had been shown by God to Abraham, the preaching of the blessed Kingdom of God is sent into all the world.' Dealing with the same question in Romans, Paul quotes Hosea to the effect that God would call those his people, who previously were not his people, and Isaiah that 'though the number of the children of Israel is as the sand of the sea, only a remnant will be saved. For the Lord will make a full and summary settlement on earth.' Paul argued that the promise to Abraham had stated that in him and his seed should all nations be blessed. The word seed is singular, implying the Messiah descended from Abraham. 'Those have been identified with Christ by baptism have assumed Christ's personality. It is impossible for there to be Jew or Greek, slave or freeman, male or female, for in Yeshua Christ ye are all one and the same person. If you are in Christ you are the Seed of Abraham", heirs in accordance with the promise.' The nations are to be blessed in the Christians, of whatever origin, since by faith these are now Israelites.
Answer for yourself: But on what basis were the believing Gentiles to be included in the people of God?
Paul said, by faith in Yeshua as the Christ alone. If Abraham was accounted righteous because he believed God, in that case it was his faith which was rewarded and not his deeds; and the Law had not yet been given. If then faith alone was sufficient for Abraham our father, why should more be required of those who had never been under the Law, and who also believed God? What was more, was the promise made to Abraham when he was circumcised, or while he was still uncircumcised? Undoubtedly, before he was circumcised. Therefore the promise had nothing to do with circumcision, and believers from the Gentiles could share in it without circumcision or observing the Law.
'Can you not realize, you dunce, that faith without deeds is unproductive? Was not our father Abraham was vindicated by his deeds when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? Can you not see how faith assisted his deeds, and by his deeds his faith was perfected? And so the Scripture was fulfilled which states, Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as rectitude, and he was called the friend of God. You see, then, that a man is vindicated by his deeds, and not simply by faith. The whole history of the choice of Israel was against the opinion that obedience to God's commandments was superfluous.
The decision taken at Jerusalem was that so far as the Jewish followers of Yeshua were concerned there could be no doubt about their obligation to keep the commandments of God. But let the Gentile believers be granted a status equal to that which Abraham had before he entered into the covenant by circumcision. These Gentile believers must still demonstrate their belief by obeying the Primeval Laws applicable to all the sons of Noah from whom the nations derived. The court would not go beyond the regulations laid down for Gentile God-Fearers attaching themselves to Jewish communities throughout the Dispersion. Those who formally renounced idolatry and took upon themselves the Primeval Laws were to be regarded not as members of the house of Israel, but as equal participants in the blessings of the World to Come.
The brother of Yeshua as president announced the findings to be in accordance with Scripture. He chose the Prophet Amos as offering the necessary guidance.
It was written that God would destroy 'the sinful kingdom' (currently understood as Rome) from the face of the earth. Israel would be dispersed among the nations. The faithful among them would survive; but the rest would die by the sword. So ran the prophecy (Amos. ix. 8-l0). But it continued, that in those days God would restore the Messianic Community ('re-erect the fallen tent of David') and repair its breaches, and that a remnant of Edom' (Rome) should be saved. Here James exegetically substituted Adam for Edom, as the Greek Septuagint had done, to signify the rest of mankind, all the Gentiles upon whom the name of the Lord would be called.
'My verdict is, therefore,' said James, 'that those of the Gentiles who turn to God be not molested, but that we write to them to abstain from whatever is polluted by idols, from sexual impurity, from eating strangled animals, and from blood.' If they wished to go further the synagogues were there, where the Laws of Moses were read and taught every Sabbath. The verdict was a compromise. It was not to be insisted upon that believing Gentiles should become Jews through full-conversion and circumcision as a condition of recognition as brethren; but neither was Paul's contention allowed that such brethren were to be regarded as Israelites.
The assembly agreed to this ruling and Paul had to bow to it at the time. But he repudiated it later on when relations had worsened.
To prevent any misinterpretation of the decision, it was agreed that it should be delivered in writing to the churches, with two prominent Nazoreans, Judas bar-Sabas and Silas (Silvanus) to confirm and explain it verbally. These men would return with Paul and Barnabas to Antioch.
The text of the letter as given in the Acts reads as follows:
The Apostles and Elders, your brothers, present their compliments to the brothers from the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia.
Since it has come to our attention that some of our number, to whom we gave no such instructions, have been confusing you with their statements, unsettling your minds, it was unanimously resolved to send you special delegates along with our good friends Barnabas and Paul who have so devoted themselves to the cause of our Lord Yeshua Christ. Accordingly, we have commissioned Judas and Silas, who will confirm our decision verbally.
It was resolved by the Holy Spirit and ourselves to impose upon you no greater burden than these essential things, to abstain from what is dedicated to idols, from blood, from eating strangled animals, and from sexual impurity. If you keep strictly to this you will be quite in order. Farewell.
How far this letter is authentic it is now impossible to judge; but it bears many of the marks of genuineness. We should note that the Gentile believers are still considered to be Gentiles though addressed as brethren, and that the name of Barnabas precedes that of Paul as he was one of the Jerusalem Elders. The imposed restrictions, with one exception, represent what the Jews regarded as the minimal requirements for human society under God. The exception is the dietary law concerning animals killed for food by strangulation. This is actually omitted in the Western text of the Acts, but an alternative prohibition of eating flesh out a living animal is found in the rabbinical lists of the so-called Laws of Noah. The other three prohibitions are possibly related to the rabbinical primary crimes of Idolatry, Adultery and Murder. The same three figure in the Sermon on the Mount, Murder (Mt. v. 21), Adultery (27), and Idolatry (33) where the commandment against oaths involves idolatry in speech. Similarly in the Revelation (xxi. 8, xxii.) If 'whoremongers, murderers and idolaters' are grouped together among those who are excluded from the Tree of Life and the City of God, and meet their fate in the lake of fire.
Paul does not make any direct reference to the letter; but he may be referring to it incidentally when he lists among 'deeds of the flesh' these and other sins, and warns the Galatians (v. 19-21) that those who are guilty of them will not inherit the Kingdom of God. On the whole, in obtaining such a document, Paul had come off very well. He had secured official recognition of his work, and his Gentile converts were no longer compelled to become Jews through circumcision as before They were received as brethren but could not be accorded status as Israelites unless they became full-proselytes by obedience to the Law. They had full freedom of choice. Hands were clasped across the wall of partition; but the wall still stood.
The great importance of this first crisis in Christian affairs is that it plainly establishes that the Nazorean Council at Jerusalem, consisting of the Apostles and Elders under the presidency of the brother of Yeshua, was functioning in the character of a Jewish Sanhedrin as the de facto government of Israel loyal to the Messiah and exercising the same kind of powers. Its existence was an open and rebellious repudiation of the authority of the Jewish Sanhedrin now regarded by Jewish Zealots as pro-Roman and apostate.
Such is the account of Paul and the Jerusalem Council. Shalom.