In the modern era, Paul is one of the most misunderstood of the apostles. The New Testament informs us that Paul, known as Saul before his conversion to Christianity, was a “zealous” Pharisee who intensely persecuted any followers of Jesus. Acts 3:3–9 tells us his “come to Jesus moment” occurred while traveling to Damascus under a persecution order from the high priest, when he was blinded by light and asked by Jesus, “Saul, Saul why do you persecute me?” Paul was a Jewish-Roman, but also one of the most important leaders of the new religion known as Christianity.
Those against Paul claim that his writings undermined the authority of Torah Law in order to allow for easier gentile conversions to Christianity. Even modern philosophers have questioned Paul’s motives. Friedrich Nietzsche wrote in The Antichrist,
The fate of the Gospels was decided by death—it hung on the “cross.” . . . It was only death, that unexpected and shameful death; it was only the cross, which was usually reserved for the canaille (masses) only—it was only this appalling paradox which brought the disciples face to face with the real riddle: “Who was it? what was it?”—Here everything must be accounted for as necessary; everything must have a meaning, a reason, the highest sort of reason; the love of a disciple excludes all chance. Only then did the chasm of doubt yawn: “Who put him to death? who was his natural enemy?”—this question flashed like a lightning-stroke. Answer: dominant Judaism, its ruling class. From that moment, one found one’s self in revolt against the established order, and began to understand Jesus as in revolt against the established order.
Nietzsche, no friend of Judaism either, set out to demonstrate that Western Civilization had lost faith in God. When he said, “God is dead,” he did not mean in a literal sense that God had died. It was more of a reflection of Enlightenment thinking, after centuries of being ruled by governments that controlled populations through religion and an aristocratic social order. Nietzsche was saying that God was no longer required, and faith useless. This included the Pharisees. Nietzsche believed it was their goal to create a ruling class first and to bring spiritual well-being to the Jews afterward. Likewise, the apostles sought to undermine the established authority of Pharisees by replacing the old order with the new order, Christianity. Nietzsche suggests that the apostles were passionate enough to even become martyrs to accomplish their overall goal. Paul becomes the main leader in his view of the conspiracy to establish the new order. Nietzsche even suggests that the Pauline Community had a problem not only with the Pharisees but with other strands of Christianity. One school, in particular, was the school of Alexandria. Again, in The Antichrist, he writes:
The God that Paul invented for himself, a God who “reduced to absurdity” “the wisdom of this world” (especially the two great enemies of superstition, philology and medicine), is in truth only an indication of Paul’s resolute determination to accomplish that very thing himself: to give one’s own will the name of God, thora—that is essentially Jewish. Paul wants to dispose of the “wisdom of this world”: his enemies are the good philologians and physicians of the Alexandrine school—on them he makes his war.
Throughout the Antichrist, Nietzsche blames Paul for everything from the battle between science and religion, in order to control ideology, to the battle of whether or not to allow the use of philosophy within religious interpretations of Jesus. However, in recent years Paul’s commitment to Judaism is gaining popularity. John Gager writes in his book Reinventing Paul, that Paul was not completely unaware of some of the charges against him. He states,
What is more, I believe that Paul was painfully aware of this accusation against him and sought to refute it in his letter to the Romans: “Do we overthrow the law through faith? By no means! On the contrary we uphold the law.” (3.31) “Is the law sin? By no means!” (7.7) “Has God rejected his people? By no means! (11.1)
Therefore, Paul did not call for a complete separation between the Gentiles and Jews, only for Jews to see their error in denying Jesus as the Son of God. If there existed a competition between different ideologies within the Christian community, which is what Nietzsche suggests, then many years later, the followers of the Alexandrian school would have been disappointed, as many of their saints were latter stripped of their designations during the Middle Ages. He was right on the 2nd century rift in Church doctrine. However, Nietzsche was wrong for suggesting that Paul's doctrine was against the Alexadrain school, and that Paul was against knowledge. Clement of Alexandria, one of the schools most important leaders said of Paul in Chapter 11 of The Paedagogus (Book I),
For Paul says that it was given to be a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. Galatians 3:24 So that from this it is clear, that one alone, true, good, just, in the image and likeness of the Father, His Son Jesus, the Word of God, is our Instructor; to whom God has entrusted us, as an affectionate father commits his children to a worthy tutor, expressly charging us, This is my beloved Son: hear Him. Matthew 17:5 The divine Instructor is trustworthy, adorned as He is with three of the fairest ornament — knowledge, benevolence, and authority of utterance — with knowledge, for He is the paternal wisdom: All Wisdom is from the Lord, and with Him for evermore;— with authority of utterance, for He is God and Creator: For all things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made; John 1:3 — and with benevolence, for He alone gave Himself a sacrifice or us: For the good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep; John 10:11 and He has so given it. Now, benevolence is nothing but wishing to do good to one's neighbor for his sake.
Unlike some of the 2nd and 3rd century Church Fathers, Paul was not against the Jews or their "Law." In fact he embraced it, and know it well being a former Pharisee. I hope you enjoyed this blog, and can learn from it. Jesus was Jewish, Paul was Jewish, and the first Christians were Jewish. Jesus loved the Temple! It is up to Christians to keep these values alive, and end Antisemitism wherever it is. Util next post, GO WITH GOD!
1 F. W. Nietzsche, The Antichrist (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.,1924), 115.
2 Ibid, 136.
3 John G. Gager, Reinventing Paul (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 53.
15 years ago I became interested in the date that Jesus was born. This led to several years of research, I quickly realized that there was no valid information that provided any real answers to this question. Since this website is getting some interest, I will post from time to time some of the information I learned during this quest.