Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Jesus vs Paul, Round One.

“Both Jesus and Paul taught salvation by faith, leading to spiritual rebirth and alliance with God’s purposes. But while these were, for Jesus, freely available from the God who knows how to give his children what they need (matt 5:6; 7:7-11), with Paul, salvation had to be arranged: there was a mechanism of salvation. Christ had to be made sin, had to be handed over for our transgressions. For Jesus, faith is primarily trust. This is present in Paul, but what dominates is an intellectual component, namely belief – assenting to certain soteriological facts: “Believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead” (Rom 10:9); “become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted” (Rom 6:17).

…”For Paul, Christ is a mediator, not a proclaimer, of salvation. Jesus’ own emphatically stated parables about faith, honesty, and growth may be fine wisdom teaching, but they are hardly the essence of salvation for Paul, which is “Christ, and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). A proclaimer of salvation is an apostle, and he never calls Jesus an apostle. For Paul, one dies to the Law not through the teachings but through the body of Christ (Rom 7:4). And so Jesus the teacher becomes Jesus the type, and a type needs to be interpreted.

“Paul never says “your faith has saved you,” as Jesus did, since he is sure it was the Messiah’s ultra-significant death that actually saves; rather, faith means accepting this teaching … Paul could never say “blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matt 5:8), for there are not pure in heart in Paul’s view. There is no immediate and free access to God by the meek or the pure. Access to God required an intervening transaction on behalf of wretched humanity: “Christ died for our sins (1 Cor 15:3). Faith needs to believe that.

“Jesus was willing to use the innocence of children as a sign of the kingdom. For Paul, there is none innocent, and trust itself is not to be trusted since “the evil I do not want is what I do” (Rom 7:19). Paul’s is a religion of catastrophic conversion; Jesus’ healthy-minded religion is not understood. For Paul, there are only extremes: profound enslavement or unexpected redemption, being lost in sin or being dramatically rescued.

“…. We are dealing with two entirely different instincts about God and access to God. Jesus, with fully adult know-how and lack of illusions, is able to say that a sincere and childlike faith opens the portals of heaven. There really are some truth-hungering, merciful, and “utterly sincere” people, who “will be filled … will receive mercy … will see God” (Matt 5:6-8)

“We have reached a state in theological development when we need to acknowledge that the Bible is full of diverse viewpoints and admit that it is not likely to be a transcript straight from the mind of God, though it may indeed be the heavily filtered human reflection of the mind of God, a record of the gradual and partial human reception of God’s initiatives.”

Problems with Atonement, Stephen Finlan.

The first time I ever read the Synoptic Gospels straight through, I was surprised at what was in them -- because most of it didn't seem to be taught in traditional Christianity. Faith in Jesus isn't the overriding factor, and they are heavily work-based. I found this startling, considering the actual words of Jesus were in these three Gospels. But when you look at "what we believe" statements from churches, do the majority of the quotes pull from the Synoptics? Or do they pull from Paul and Company, with a smattering of the Gospel of John?

Then I got to John, and pieces came together. Then I read Paul, and it all clicked. Much of traditional Christianity does seem to be pulled straight from Paul, and anything in the Synoptics that disagrees with this is re-interpreted so that everything fits in one neat pile. For instance, the Sermon on the Mount, where it says "blessed are the peacemakers, for they are called the children of God." To me, that seems clear-cut. Peacemakers = children of God. I would think the crowds listening would understand it as such. Or telling people, in the present tense, that they *are* the light of the world, or the salt of the Earth. Again, clear-cut.

I read somewhere that the Sermon actually applies to Christians almost "after the fact." It would apply to them after they accepted Jesus as their Savior, and could say how one should live after receiving salvation.

Okay, if we're going with the timeline of Jesus preaching for three years, and this is placed relatively early in Matthew ... even if it takes place during the last year, what are the odds that the crowd understood it to apply at a later date? Does anything in the Sermon itself even hint at that? Wouldn't the crowd have rather gone home, and raved about what the man teaching with authority said, and what it said about their relationship to God?

Another idea I've heard is that the Sermon is designed to show one how sinful they are. But again, that's almost reading Pauline theology back into the Sermon. Yes, it makes mention of you kill someone by hating them, and looking at another person lustfully is committing adultery. But to me, that's not showing how hopeless one's situation is, it's showing that it's not enough to just act right. Good actions start from good motivations. You want to stop lusting after the opposite sex while married? It takes more than just making sure you don't look at someone, it requires eliminating the lust at the source -- at the inside. Any murderous act starts in the heart. If you hate someone, you are, in a way, mentally stripping them of their humanity. It's easier to kill what you hate, because you're already killing them inside your heart.

Besides, the Pharisees as interpreted in the Gospels were already going around condemning anyone who wasn't like them left and right, and Jesus had quite a few words for that. Why then would people find Jesus so riveting if he were doing the same thing?

I originally read the book to get a better grasp on all the atonement theories -- and I recommend it for that alone. It also helps show how influential Paul's letters were in designing atonement theories, and how the later Christians tended to stick with just one metaphor, whereas Paul used a combination.


HeIsSailing said...

Heather, a great topic as always. My old church (Calvary Chapel, numerous baptist churches) went with your second option on the sermon on the mount. It was designed to show us all how far we are from God's ideal, or as Jesus said in the Sermon, "Therefore, be ye perfect".

I have to say Heather, that does make some sense to me. I do think that the Sermon on the Mount is a collection of sayings from Jesus, and the mount, (or valley if you read Luke) is just a fictional backdrop. Now Jesus can tell the crowds that they are the light of the world, which is great. But later in the same sermon, he calls them evil (eg Matt 7:11), presumably in comarison against a perfectly good God. How can the common folks be the light of the world, salt of the earth, and yet evil at the same time?

SocietyVs said...

I think your take on the gospels is eerily similar to mine - I get that same information from just a basic read of it (when all denominational doctrine is set aside). I agree with you on this view of the gospels.

Where I tend to disagree is with how Paul is seen in all this. Actually I think Paul seen the same thing in Jesus also. If Paul mentions Jesus - he could very well be meaning the same thing the gospels do also - 'follow Jesus - that same path' - so when he says things like Christ crucified matters a lot - it makes sense. This was not a path Jesus himself did not forsee - it was a teaching of his - 'take up the cross'. To me Paul is not very troubling at all - I read the gospels and him - I see calls to action in both (about guarding your character).

But to be honest, I see Paul as a letter writer to the Gentiles - trying to explain to them their acceptance into the faith in Jesus. I think Paul does get into the atonement idea like no one else - but even this I am willing to re-check into.

But again, it's something I haven't read a lot into - maybe they were a little diverse (Jesus and Paul) - but wouldn't the gospels be the 'sticking point' and Paul a letter-writer (breaking down more about the faith to a new crowd?)? I guess that's how I see it - so I have to give the weight to a book like Matthew - more than a Romans (which basically is all about inclusion about the Gentiles). I find people take pieces of Paul to write doctrine - but not in the fuller context they are trying to relate - since Paul, unlike Jesus, isn't about a wide range of teachings - but focuses on one mainly (inclusion - and addresses problems in those communities).

Heather said...


I don't think the sermons were delivered in a straight-shot, either. There's too much of a mixture, as you say, with the light of the world, and then calling people bad. I do find that particular line interesting, given that "bad" people do good things by feeding their children bread instead of stones ... I often wonder if Jesus was using that allegorically, in a way. It's just the basic tone of the Sermon, when read in all the chapters, doesn't come across as telling people how inerently bad they are, but rather show people the final picture of God, the piece they were missing. That God was bigger than they ever imagined, and in turn, they had more potential than they could dream of.

Ultimately, though, I think both explanations traditionally provided give a simplistic view of the Sermons. There's a lot of complexity there, especially with Jesus saying those who act on his words are the smart ones. And the fact that Jesus calls people evil/bad in one area seems to get used to interpret the other statements, rather than letting the other statements interpret the bad/evil. Or just let them stand on their own.


**Actually I think Paul seen the same thing in Jesus also.** Quiet all right. :)

The complication I would see in Paul says just have faith is that Paul gives a specific guideline: faith in the resurrection, the crucifixion, dying for one's sins.

There is much of Paul I like -- but I can also see the extremity that the author references in the passages I quoted, because there are sections in the letters that come across that way (to me). In a lot of ways, I get the impression from the letters that anything Jesus said leading up to the crucifixion was of secondary importance to Paul -- that it's not important what Jesus said or did. The salvation occured through the cross and the resurrection, and for the Synoptic Gospels, people's faith saved them before there even was a cross.

Then again, I somewhat find Paul all over the map, in a way.

Mike L. said...

The difference between the two could even be greater than it appears. One thing to remember is that the Gospels writers had likely read pauls letters BEFORE creating their narratives. That means that the gospels are often attempts to bring Pauls ideas to light. My guess is that Paul developed some metaphorical themes about Jesus: bringing life through his death, being a sacrifice, setting Jesus' events in light of the Jewish calendar, being the messiah, etc. Then the Gospel writers come along and put flesh on the bone by crafting stories to make Paul's ideas come to life.

Pastor Bob said...


First I agree with you. I think of the various descriptions of the reason for and the effect of Jesus' death as metaphors and that none of them are sufficient to describe the fully picture.

But also I think that Matthew and the other gospel writers had their own purposes in writing. Matthew in the Sermon on the Mount I think is making Jesus the new law giver. I suspect that the gospel writers had the same issue that Paul had: they wrote to deal with problems in their communities.

Heather said...


**That means that the gospels are often attempts to bring Pauls ideas to light.**

I've also heard some put forth the arguments that the gospels were meant to refute some of Paul's teachings. I don't hold with either view, really, although I'm sure the writers of the gospels were aware of Paul and his influences. It is interesting, though, because Paul doesn't really seem to care about Jesus' life, and yet clearly the gospel writers felt Jesus' actual sayings and actions were important enough to preserve -- and not just in the Bible, but in stuff such as the gospel of Thomas. Think of how different things would be if we didn't have the gospels.
Pastor Bob,

**I think of the various descriptions of the reason for and the effect of Jesus' death as metaphors and that none of them are sufficient to describe the fully picture. **

Oh, bless you. That's one of the frustrating things about the atonement theories, because to say that one alone is the only theory really simplifies the Bible. And the Bible is an incredibly complex work. Which is also why the four spiritual laws frustrate me, because it's like "Christianity for an infant."

**Matthew in the Sermon on the Mount I think is making Jesus the new law giver.** Are you saying this in the sense that the people understood it to be the new law at that moment, or it was understood to be the new law after the ascension?

I would agree with you in terms of the "new law" in the sense that it compacts the 613 laws into two very simple commandments: love God, love neighbor as self. But Jesus was also presenting a clearer picture of God, making God more universal, in that you don't just love those who love you, you eliminate the sin at the source, not just by controlling actions. Because it would be a lot easier to not lust after people/things if the lust wasn't internal.

Jon F said...

Although I no longer read or participate in many christian blogs, you are one I keep coming back to becuase of your good old fashioned common sense.
Here is a question I posted quite a few months back that I never got a straight answer to, but seems very relevant to your post here:

"Ask most Christians what the central element or theme of their religion is and they will probably say ‘The Cross’.

Where does forgiveness come from? - the cross
Where does healing come from? - the cross

Listen to the songs and prayers on an average Sunday morning service - by far the majority will have as their central theme the cross.

I was reading Mathew 8 and 9, and these bits struck me:

Math 8:16-17, Jesus healed many demon-possessed and sick people, and Mathew remarks that “this was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah “He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases”"
Math 9:2, Jesus healed a paralytic man, then said to him “take heart, son; your sins are forgiven”
Now my question, having read this, is why has the church always taught that in order for God to be able to offer us both healing and forgiveness, it was necessary for Jesus to die on the cross (to pay for our sins, etc). BUT, in the above account we see Jesus quite happily did both of these things before the cross! He didn’t say to these people ‘look, I’d love to forgive your sins but just wait 2 or 3 years until I’ve died on cross, and then I’ll forgive you’. No … He just went right ahead and said ‘Your sins are forgiven!’ He even offered eternal salvation to the dying thief who hung on a cross beside him, telling him ‘today you will be in paradise’ BEFORE He had died!

Can anyone shed some light on this for me?


Heather said...

Hi, Jon F.

I appreciate the compliment. :)

**is why has the church always taught that in order for God to be able to offer us both healing and forgiveness, it was necessary for Jesus to die on the cross (to pay for our sins, etc). **

Here's another one for your list: if Jesus' death was necessary for forgiveness and healing, then doesn't that contradict the parable of the Prodigal Son? After all, when that son returned, no one had to die, or be punished in the son's place. The father just forgave immediatly, and celebrated.

I don't have any light to offer for this. But the book I posted does mention that, in that the gospels show Jesus telling people that their faith saved them, and he doesn't mention that it can only save them after he dies and resurrects. Their faith saved them in that moment.

Yael said...

I have a similar question I wrote about on my blog, perhaps you would like to read and give you view. What was the point of God blessing Ishmael if Ishmael and his descendants were destined to hell?

Just like us, they have no belief in Jesus. Now many Christians write us Jews out of the picture saying they have taken over our blessing, but how to explain Ishmael's blessing?

I'm curious what you think.

Heather said...


I posted an answer on your blog. :)

Jon F said...

"I don't have any light to offer for this"
Heather, I am astonished that you should reply in this way!!! This seems (to me anyway) to be such a central key foundational part of the whole christian teaching, and indeed go to any average church on any average sunday and they seem to talk and sing and pray an awful lot about the cross.
Am I missing something here?

Heather said...


I think much of why I have no light to offer is because many of my views on Christianity would be considered "heretical" by orthodox Christians. To many, I wouldn't even be considered a Christian.

The other reason is that I see the Bible as more of a collection of viewpoints that don't always agree -- so for me, to try and get those examples you pointed out to mesh with Paul's focus on the cross would be ridiculous, because they don't. I'll end up doing what I hate seeing, which is "These don't mean what they actually say, they mean [convuluted answer]." Paul and the Gospel writers had different focuses, different ideas of Jesus' message. Maybe the cross and the resurrection were enough for Paul, and the gospel writers needed more.

On a side note, the focus on the cross has always bothered me. It is an important aspect of the NT theology, but it's also the dominating sybmol. The resurrection sometimes seems to get thrown in as an afterthought, even though that almost seems to be more important -- without the resurrection, there's no Christian faith. Without the resurrection, there's no defeat, there's no new life and so forth. Then again, how does one create a symbol of a resurrection? :)

Jon F said...

"The other reason is that I see the Bible as more of a collection of viewpoints that don't always agree "
OK, your earlier reply makes a lot more sense to me now, and I can see how such a view would very quickly land you in the heretics sin-bin. However - if it is any comfort to you - I had independently arrived at this very same conclusion a few months back. It is amazing how much your view of the bible determines/influences what "type" of christian you will be.

Heather said...


**the heretics sin-bin. **

Sin-bin. I love it. :)

Fortunatly, I only get thrown in there in online discussions. I don't actually go to church, because I don't "connect" to a sense of the divine, and they often seem to aim for the lowest common denominator. Not in a bad way, but in the sense that you can't get really technical in discussions if odds are good that 70% of the audience isn't familiar with biblical scholarship.

Plus, I'm a heretic. It's hard to focus if I'm mentally arguing/commenting on half the doctrinal statements.