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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Paul and Jesus Agree

Clearly, Paul agrees with Jesus in seeing Jesus as the Messiah of Israel. Paul's calling is to announce the following:

When the fulness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, "Abba, Father!" Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son, then an heir of God through Christ." (Gal. 4:4-7, NKJV).

This is an expansion of Jesus' own teaching that his arrival meant that the Kingdom of God was at hand (Mark 1:14-15). The Gospels expand this theme, and show Jesus preaching, working miracles, and ultimately redeeming His people. The contrast between Paul and Jesus, proclaimed by so many in modern times, has no support in Jesus' status as Messiah.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Messiah in Paul and Jesus

Jesus as Messiah of Israel is the first clear link between the minds of Paul and Jesus himself. Considering that the Greek Christos (“Christ”) is simply a translation of the Hebrew M’shiach (“Messiah”), the importance of this bond between the minds of Jesus and Paul cannot be underestimated.

The term “Messiah” is applied to the three offices of prophet (I Kgs. 19:16), priest (Lev. 8), and king (I Sam. 16:3) in the Old Testament, and this Old Testament background is fundamental for understanding how both Paul and Jesus understood the term. In later prophecy, the Messiah is seen as the one who defends and protects Israel against its enemies and delivers Israel from them. This is the picture offered in Psalm 2, where the anointed of the LORD stands on Zion against conspiring foreign rulers who would resist the divine purpose of subjecting them to the King of Israel.

Both this Psalm and the covenant God made with David in II Samuel 7 also speak of the anointed king as God’s son. Admittedly, how this was understood by the people of Israel and Judah in the 10th century B.C. is open to question and debate. But with both Jesus and Paul—the whole of the New Testament for that matter—the sonship of the Messiah is an exalted position indeed. But the ways Jesus saw his own person and his mission and how Paul saw it arise from this common source, and both speak of this “sonship” in exalted terms.

Paul speaks of his Gospel in the following terms:

"...the Gospel of God, which he promised afore through his prophets in the holy scriptures, concerning his Son, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, who declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead: even Jesus Christ our Lord..." (Romans 1:1- 4).

Paul's Jesus is thus the following:

1. Giver of the Gospel of God.

2. Promised in the Old Testament.

3. A Son of God from the seed of David.

4. Testified to by the Holy Spirit.

5. Demonstrator of his own power through the resurrection from the dead.

Certainly the Evangelists—the writers of the Gospels, through whom we all come to know Jesus—contradicted none of this. Jesus himself announced the “good news”, or Gospel:

“And this Gospel of the Kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations…” (Mt. 24:14).

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe the Gospel.” (Mk. 1:14).

“But whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mk. 8:35).

Jesus also clearly presented himself as the one in whom the promises of the Old Testament were fulfilled:

He entered, as his custom was, into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Isaiah. And he opened the book, and found the place where it was written,

The Spirit of the LORD is upon me,
Because he anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor:
He hath sent me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovering of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty them that are bruised,
To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.

And he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant…And he began to say unto them, Today hath this scripture been fulfilled in your ears (Luke 4:16-21).

Jesus’ most common self-designation, the Son of Man, also comes from the Messianic prophecies of Daniel 7. He further accepts being called “son of David” (Mark 10:47), a reference to the greatest of the kings of Israel and Judah, from whose line the Messiah would come.

The Gospels further testify to the Holy Spirit alighting on Jesus at his baptism, and Jesus as the one who would baptize others with the Holy Spirit, and focus heavily on the week of his crucifixion and resurrection.

Hence, the Jesus who is simply a wise teacher, a first century Jewish Confucius, or giver of pithy aphorisms is the creature of modern writers, not a recovery of a figure whom Paul has obscured. More will be said on this topic later.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Are Paul and Jesus Antithetical? Introduction

Albert Schweitzer once said that Paul told us virtually nothing about Jesus. Walter Kaufmann once called fundamentalism the triumph of Paul over Christ. These are only two of myriad modern voices that see a fundamental antagonism between the religion of Jesus and the religion of Paul. Perhaps, to Americans, Thomas Jefferson, with his truncated "Bible" made up of various ethical maxims of Jesus, is the most famous of the "Paul against Jesus" school.

Are Paul and Jesus in fact antithetical? Certainly the major media (Peter Jennings' recent broadcast and the editors of major news magazines come to mind)leave the impression that the Jesus whom Christians have worshiped and studied for two millennia is a falsehood unmasked by our knowing, "scientific" age. Yet, could it not be that such a view is credible only to an era which has lost a basic familiarity with the New Testament?

To return to Albert Schweitzer, he also commented that the various 18th, 19th, and early 20th century scholars who sought to create a "historical" Jesus stripped of miraculous and theological trappings only looked down the well shaft of 20 centuries to see their own faces reflected in the bottom. Schweitzer, in his _Quest for the Historical Jesus_ challenged the humanitarian and humane Jesus of his theologically liberal colleagues by seeing in Jesus a frustrated apocalyptic prophet of doom, thereby focusing on an aspect of Jesus' life and teaching ignored by the academic biblical scholarship of his day, and shocking his academic colleagues. The current essay sees in Schweitzer's caveat concerning the scholarly consensus at the beginning of the 20th century an important warning which has too often gone unheeded.

Yet despite Schweitzer's putting a period on the "old quest for the historical Jesus", newer "quests" emerged. Academic German theology of the interwar period found in Jesus an "Aryan" rebel against Judaism, and while extolling Luther's _On the Jews and their Lies_, blamed Rabbi Paul for "Judaizing" the original Gospel promulgated by an "Aryan" Galilaean; despite the same Paul being the fountainhead of so much of the historical Luther's theology. Nor did this so-called Positive Christianity die with the Third Reich, the execution of Vidkun Quisling (one of its prominent advocates), and the chastised admission of guilt for the Holocaust offered by the German Protestant churches in the postwar era. Instead, it took on a new life with the New Left of the 1960's and '70's, which sought to portray Jesus as a fellow "revolutionary", a Jewish guerrilla fighter against the Romans, an impulse that continued down through the late Yasser Arafat's assertion that Jesus was the first "Palestinian freedom fighter" (and Arafat's amnesia about Jesus being a Jew).

The attempt to find a "merely" human Jesus continues today in the media embrace of Jesus as the tortured neurotic displayed in Scorcese's _Last Temptation of Christ_ (based on Nikos Kazantzakis' novel of the same title) and the Jesus Seminar, in which nothing challenging to the mix of worldly-wise cynicism and New Age credulity of the post-modern era is allowed to stand as "authentic".

In all of these efforts there to divorce the "Jesus of history" from the "Christ of faith", there seems to be a common attempt to divorce Jesus from Paul. Jesus, it is argued, presented a "simple" and "practical" faith of love and good works, the definitions of which are invariably compatible with our own era's notions of right and wrong, while Paul somehow turned Jesus' "simple" teachings into something spooky, priestly, and other-worldly. And, it is argued, the Christianity of following ages following ages opted for Paul over its nominal savior. Paul (plus the much later Augustine of Hippo) is blamed for everything from medieval persecutions to modern fundamentalism's stubborn unwillingness to "get with" the sexual revolution.

These originally Christian crises of faith have further been taken over by Islamic polemicists, who gleefully report that "Christian" experts have come around to the Islamic position that Jesus was only a human prophet; and perhaps hope that a generation of confused Christians will buy into such medieval forgeries as the supposed "Gospel of Barnabas" (apparently the work of a 12th century Italian or Spanish convert to Islam) and become Muslims.

But is this "simple human Jesus" at all credible? The standpoint of this series is that such a creature is only the creation of modern prejudice, ignorance, and credulity. Indeed, the older quest for the historical Jesus was cowed by the insistence of the 19th century Treitschkes and Bauers that nothing supernatural could be "historical". The more recent quest seems animated by a nagging doubt that liberal religion receives no aid or comfort from anything in the canonical New Testament; hent the Jesus' Seminar's frantic clutching at straws like the historically late Coptic Gospel of Thomas, and finding in it teachings sympathetic to modern feminism, despite its position that Mary must become male to enter the Kingdom!

The time has come to admit that Jesus is known to us chiefly from the New Testament as a whole; that other sources, whether Gnostic, Rabbinic, or pagan Graeco-Roman, are at best secondary. Hence, a new look at the connections between Jesus and Paul (such as that undertaken by F.F. Bruce in the 1970's) rather than their antitheses is in order. For those who accept the Gospels as creations of the late first century, Paul is actually the earliest witness to the person and work of Jesus the Messiah. While there are weighty and compelling reasons for dating the Gospels far earlier than the 70's-90's of the first century, this by no means reduces Paul's status as an important witness to who Jesus was and is.

To understand the connections between Paul and the Jesus he worshiped, several important New Testament themes will be explored:

1. Jesus as Messiah of Israel

2. Apocalypse in both Jesus and Paul

3. The Divinity of Jesus

4.Jesus as savior of the elect

5. Emphases of the Gospels and of Paul

6. Structure of the Gospel narratives

7. Ethical emphases of Paul

8. How credible are late "Gospels"?

It should be noticed that several topics involve matters disturbing to the modern reader. This, however, is done to remind both believing and unbelieving readers that Jesus was not a man of the 20th or 21st century (nor of the 18th or 19th, for that matter), but one born in the days of Caesar Augustus of Rome and Herod the Great of Judaea. While Paul's seeing that time as "the fulness of time" (Gal. 4:4) may make the unbelieving reader feel insulted while making the believing reader feel humbled, no understanding of Jesus and the community whose members saw him as important is possible unless the time and place, with its hopes and fears, is taken into consideration.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Should Rush Apologize?

Yes, Rush Limbaugh should apologize for calling the young lady who defended Obama's cotraceptive policy a "slut". It was rude, crude, and ungentlemanly.

However, he should wait until Bill Maher publicly apologizes for the various things he called Sarah Palin--although Palin is probably tougher, more thick-skinned, and more mature about being in the public eye than the tender young liberal Georgetown law student.

What gives the political Left the idea that it's verbal mud-slinging, ad hominem attacks, vicious rumor-mongering, borderline slanders, shouting down of opponents, and similar routine disregard for the free speech of opponents is acceptable and normal? Well, maybe such "normalcy" is one reason why the Left needs to be kicked off the public stage and why its media needs to go into bankruptcy as soon as possible.