Skip to content

Salvation according to Jesus vs. Apostle Paul

May 8, 2014

PaulWhile Jesus is undoubtedly the central figure of Christianity (and indeed is adored, worshiped and prayed to as a deity), it is doubtful that Jesus, the monotheistic Jew who emphasized the Shema, ever intended to create what has eventually become known as Christianity, a religion based on worship of himself, a human being. That job fell to Paul, the self-declared “Apostle to the gentiles”. It is Paul and not Jesus who is often credited with the creation of the new religion and certainly its propagation within the Greco-Roman world. As the earliest and most important theologian of the Church, Paul  remains the go-to-source for most Christian doctrinal matters to this very day. What Paul taught in his letters to his churches has left an indelible imprint on Christianity as we know it today.

Do Paul’s teachings actually reflect the teachings of his declared master, Jesus, as he was recorded in the gospels? Most Christians would answer in the affirmative. For any objective reader of the New Testament, however, picking up the Christian Bible for the very first time, one thing soon becomes quite apparent – Jesus’ and Paul’s teachings diverged in many crucial areas. While Paul proclaimed to the former pagans he converted his “gospel” of a detached glorified heavenly Christ triumphantly ruling from Heaven, he remained virtually silent on Jesus’ earthly life and teachings. It has been said that if Paul’s writings were all that was passed down to us, we would know virtually nothing about Jesus the man. Why was Paul silent on what Jesus actually taught to his close circle of disciples while still on earth? Was he ignorant of Jesus’ teachings and only interested in what Jesus had become after his death and resurrection?

We know that Paul has never met Jesus in person, claiming to have experienced a mystical vision of the risen Christ, receiving instructions for his mission directly from Heaven. The fact that Paul has only met Jesus through his vision appears to have left him with a distinct feeling of inferiority, which sometimes came out in less than dignified outbursts of irritation. Paul appeared to have harbored somewhat of a resentment against those earliest disciples of Jesus who did know Jesus-the-human being intimately, who were personally present when Jesus taught, who walked, talked and ate with him. He is sarcastic and dismissive of the actual disciples of Jesus, contemptuously referring to them as the “so-called super apostles” (2 Corinthians 11), claiming that “they added nothing to my message”.

This claim, that the apostles whom Jesus personally taught added nothing to Paul’s message, may be one clue that can help answer our question of why Paul never quotes Jesus nor speaks of his life. We learn that Paul, as told by a much later authored book of Acts written by a third party (and which offers contradicting details of Paul’s life) and his own account as found in his letters, has met with Jesus’ disciples only twice and briefly, in meetings separated by some fourteen years. Paul appeared to have no need for Jesus’ earthy teachings, eschewing them for the mystical revelation he claimed to have received. Can this fact explain the stark differences in teachings between Jesus and Paul, and the resulting confusion that has subsequently clouded the growing church?

Historically speaking, unlike most other religions around it (e.g. the Egyptians among whom Israelites have sojourned), Judaism has shown little concern for the afterlife. Jews, as their books reflect so well, knew full well that no human being is perfect, leaving their final fate up to G-d who is both merciful and the Perfect Judge. Indeed, the “salvation from sin” (as opposed to a physical rescue from oppressors) is not a concept one ever encounters in Judaism. If a Jew desires to turn away from sin what he needs is complete repentance not a heavenly savior or a sacrifice (themselves only prescribed for unintentional sins and even then, only when the Temple was standing). Obedience of Torah, for a Jew, is not out of reach or too difficult (Deuteronomy 30:11). For Christianity, however, spiritual salvation from sin and from the resulting eternal damnation is the most important of doctrines, terrifying countless generations of Christians. Man is considered incapable of obedience. It is here where Jesus’ and Paul’s respective understandings of eternal life and salvation comes into their greatest conflict. Jesus’ opinion on the matter was mostly ignored or explained away by the Church (e.g. relegated to the “Old Covenant” mode of attainment of eternal life). Jesus, however, expresses a perfectly Jewish take on eternal life, that if you live a life of obedience and love, you will have a share in the Life to Come. For Paul, on the other hand, believing in Jesus and confessing him is the key to salvation and eternal life. Let us compare:

Salvation according to Jesus (as expressed in the synoptic gospels, which are considered more historical than John’s “spiritual gospel”):

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.” “Which ones?” he inquired. Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’” “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:16-21, NIV)

Jesus’ salvation formula is quite simple. Obey G-d (Gentiles, Jews always believed, can also obey G-d by following commandments applicable to them), live righteously (many people were called “righteous” in the “Old Testament”), and you don’t have to worry about eternal life. Also, something becomes quite apparent in Jesus’ words above – he corrected the young man when the former called him “good”, saying that only the “One” (that is G-d), is good. When Jesus became deified closer to the end of the first century, gentile Christians took those words of correction as Jesus being suggestive that in fact, he is the “One”, or G-d. I don’t think that the young Jewish ruler would have taken it that way at all. It would have been blasphemy of the highest order.

Salvation according to Paul:

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. (Rom 10:9-10, NIV)

No obedience to G-d is mentioned, no righteous living is expressly required, and while some would argue that those are implied, the differences with Jesus’ own formula are already stark. For Paul, the key to salvation and eternal life is having faith in quasi-divine Jesus, as expressed in Paul’s own unique salvific formula of believing in Jesus in your heart and confessing him with your mouth. Of course, Paul does talk of living righteously elsewhere in his letters, but the quintessential Jewish understanding of “salvation” (as expressed by Jesus in the synoptic gospels), that is one resulting from obedience to G-d’s commandments (which naturally includes both the love for G-d and those made in His image) which lead to eternal life, is not part of his salvation formula – only belief in Jesus is. Such a concept is foreign to the Jewish scriptures. As some later Christian theologians would put it, “the proclaimer became the proclaimed”. These irreconcilable differences between Judaism and its daughter religion, the nascent Christianity, with latter’s exaltation of a man to deity with a status of “L-rd and Savior” who grants eternal life and forgives all sins, resulted in non-amicable separation and a nasty divorce. And as often happens in divorces, it’s the children who bear the brunt of the suffering.

Advertisements
15 Comments leave one →
  1. Concerned Reader permalink
    May 15, 2014 8:52 pm

    Romans 10:9-10 should be understood not by itself as protestants read it, but in the totality of Paul’s usage. Paul says that faith comes from hearing, and that not the hearers, but the doers of the work are declared righteous.(Romans 2:13) He says of faith The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: what is this message? It is Paul’s paraphrase of Deuteronomy 30:11-14. Paul’s theological opponents were only advocating membership in the Church for gentiles, if they underwent full proselyte conversion. Not even the Torah requires this. Paul taught gentiles laws for proselytes common in the second temple period. We have ample evidence of this, as early manuals of Christian discipline (including the Church fathers) mention abstaining from idolatrous food, sexual immorality, consumption of blood, the ten commandments, etc.

    (Below is an excerpt from Seder Olam Rabba Vezuta from Rabbi Jacob Emden who wrote against Shabbatai Tzvi)

    For it is recognized that also the Nazarene and his disciples, especially Paul, warned concerning the Torah of the Israelites, to which all the circumcised are tied. And if they are truly Christians, they will observe their faith with truth, and not allow within their boundary this new unfit Messiah Shabbetai Zevi* who came to destroy the earth.

    *(Shabbetai Zevi, a seventeenth-century mystic [d. 1676], represented himself as the Messiah, and many Jews initially believed his claim. When the Turks threatened him with death unless he converted to Islam, he meekly acquiesced, expiring in ignominy. However, secret cells of believers still followed his teachings and hoped for new leadership.)

    But truly even according to the writers of the Gospels, a Jew is not permitted to leave his Torah, for Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians (Gal. 5) “I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, the Messiah will do you no good at all. You can take it from me that every man who receives circumcision is under obligation to keep the entire Torah.” Again because of this he admonished in a letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 7) that the circumcised should not remove the marks of circumcision, nor should the uncircumcised circumcise themselves.

    Many have asked that Paul appears to contradict himself here. In the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 16), it is mentioned that Paul circumcised his disciple Timothy. And they found this very puzzling, for this act seems to contradict the later text which seems to indicate that he considered circumcision a temporary commandment until the Messiahs arrival; but this took place after the time of the Nazarene! Therefore you must realize–and accept the truth from him who speaks it– that we see clearly here that the Nazarene and his Apostles did not wish to destroy the Torah from Israel, God forbid; for it is written so in Matthew (Mt. 5), the Nazarene having said, “Do not suppose that I have come to abolish the Torah. I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. I tell you this: So long as heaven and earth endure, not a letter, not a stroke, will disappear from the Torah until it is achieved. If any man therefore sets aside even the least of the Torahs demands, and teaches others to do the same, he will have the lowest place in the Kingdom of Heaven, whereas anyone who keeps the Torah, and teaches others so, will stand high in the Kingdom of Heaven.” This is also recorded in Luke (Lk. 16). It is therefore exceedingly clear that the Nazarene never dreamed of destroying the Torah.

    We similarly find Paul, his disciple, in a letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 5), accusing them of fornication, and condemning one who had lived with his fathers wife. You may therefore understand that Paul doesnt contradict himself because of his circumcision of Timothy, for the latter was the son of a Jewish mother and a Gentile father (Acts 16), and Paul was a scholar, an attendant of Rabban Gamaliel the Elder, well-versed in the laws of the Torah. He knew that the child of a Jewish mother is considered a full Jew, even if the father should be a Gentile, as is written in the Talmud and Codes. He therefore acted entirely in accordance with the Halakha by circumcising Timothy. This would be in line with his position that all should remain within their own faith (1 Cor. 7). Timothy, born of a Jewish mother, had the law of a Jew, and had to be circumcised, just as he was enjoined to observe all commandments of the Torah (Pauls condemnation of the man who lived with his stepmother is similarly understandable, as such an act is also forbidden to Noahides), for all who are circumcised are bound by all the commandments. This provides a satisfactory reply to the question.

    This will also solve the apparent contradictions in the Nazarenes own statements. Christian scholars have assumed from certain passages in the Gospels that he wished to give a new Torah to take the place of the Torah of Moses. How could he then have said explicitly that he comes only to fulfill it? But it is as I have said earlier–that the writers of the Gospels never meant to say that the Nazarene came to abolish Judaism, but only that he came to establish a religion for the Gentiles from that time onward. Nor was it new, but actually ancient; they being the Seven Commandments of the Sons of Noah, which were forgotten. The Apostles of the Nazarene then established them anew. However, those born as Jews, or circumcised as converts to Judaism (Ex. 12:49; one law shall be to him that is home-born, and unto the stranger) are obligated to observe all commandments of the Torah without exception.

    But for the Gentiles he reserved the Seven Commandments which they have always been obligated to fulfill. It is for that reason that they were forbidden pollutions of idols, fornication, blood, and things strangled (Acts 15). They also forbade them circumcision and the Sabbath…(This is confirmed in other later church manuals also) All of this was in accord with the law and custom of our Torah, as expounded by our Sages, the true transmitters from Moses at Sinai.

    Why would Paul say that Christ would be of no value to the Circumcised, if his sole desire was to preach that the only atonement, and salvation came through conversion to Jesus? Paul knew that the only antidote for Sin was repentance, which was the message of Jesus. Jesus’ death, just like the sacrifices only work if you respond to them. The thing sacrificed is not as important as the response to that act. Cain and Abel’s sacrifices illustrated this. Paul’s critique is of “works of law,” not the law as a whole. We see even today, that people are marginalized for not being observant enough, even if they are orthodox. The second temple period was full of these kinds of accusations amongst the various sects. Arguments and violence resulted over discussions of who had the correct halacha for shabbat, sacrifices, etc. We see the sharp dualism, and us VS them syndrome created by these arguments in both the NT and Dead Sea Scrolls. Its no secret that Christians have been the Emily Litella of hermeneutics, but we can finally start to see what Paul and others were really trying to accomplish.

  2. May 16, 2014 9:57 am

    “Paul taught gentiles laws for proselytes common in the second temple period. ”

    How can this be, when Paul vehemently fought against circumcision AND against Shabbat observance for the Gentiles “proselytes”, whom he clearly didn’t intend to convert to Judaism but to a new faith centered on Jesus Spirit? Perhaps by “proselytes” you mean G-d-fearers?

    But we know that Paul was making “proselytes” to the faith he believed to have received from Jesus himself in a mystical vision. In effect, however, Paul was creating “non-standard” proselytes using methods that he himself invented and proselytes he knew full well would never be accepted in the Jewish community in the way true converts to Judaism or even G-d-fearers were. Indeed, Paul was very angry if Gentiles who believed in Jesus chose to pursue full conversion to Judaism instead of continuing in the Jesus-religion Paul created for them.

    History shows that Paul’s words, methods and goals turned out to be destructive as Christianity came to draw almost exclusively on his teachings. His preaching of Christ’s immanent return necessitated an apocalyptic level of commitment from his converts to spread the gospel, a level for which even marriage and children – considered a sacred commandment of G-d in Judaism – would be a distraction, have also proven itself to be both futile and damaging.

  3. Concerned Reader permalink
    May 16, 2014 11:08 am

    yes, gene, I meant G-d fearing gentiles. As you have noted elsewhere even the Essenes practiced celibacy. Not that I’m advocating everything Paul wrote, but the point is, in the second temple period, there were many diverse methods, and approaches to “conversion” and different opinions regarding gentiles and their commitments to Jewish law. Off course Paul’s teaching was apocalyptic, and will not fit exactly with a rabbinic approach, or even most christian approaches. We often judge the development of both Judaism and Christianity by standards set down in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th centuries, when in truth we don’t actually know the extent of diversity in those times. My main point above was to show the fundamental error of the faith alone approach taught by protestants that seems to be the biggest roadblock in getting to what Paul was really on about. It seems to me that yes, Paul was teaching faith in Jesus, but the Qumran sect did the same with its teacher (not to the point of calling him divine, but close.) Take the communal meal at Qumran. You had to be a member of the sect, you had to be at a high level of purity, and if you lapsed, you ran the risk of being put out of the community. The scrolls speak about other Jews outside of the sect as being “of the lot of Belial,” “violators of the covenant,” etc. What you ask, does this have to do with Paul? It shows that his vitriolic language, his unique approach, etc. had antecedents amongst other Jews. Sure, today its Minut, but in an age where Judaism had at least 3 very different sectarian factions, we cannot expect uniformity of belief or practice, or degrees of antagonism. In a lot of ways, I have the same issues with Paul that you do. He doesn’t have to be as against proselyte conversion as he is, but I think his point was, that when Moshiach comes, not every person will become Jewish, and the existing approaches to G-d fearing gentiles, are not sufficient for nations to exist independently of the Jewish community. For example, noachide halacha of today, is a very specialized area, with not many rabbis teaching on it. That’s problematic because of how necessary rabbinic oversight is to to proper noachide practice and faith. By that I mean, these communities lack autonomy in the sense of making big legal decisions on practices, most lack a deep sense of community (internally speaking, not to say anything bad about how the rabbis are teaching.) Most noachides I’ve spoken with, have converted for this very reason. There just isn’t the community, meaning, and spiritual autonomy that one has as a Jew. This isn’t hard to understand, as the laws concerning the Ger, were meant to make proselytes, not other G-d fearing moniotheistic nations. I think this is why rabbeinu Tam classified Christianity and Islam under a completely different catagory, “those constrained by the matters of religion.” because up until the time of Christianity, there just wasn’t anything monotheistic among gentiles on that scale. The truth is, Paul did innovate, others have tried since, and failed. And most who innovate, are immediately labeled as heretics. Such is life. One thing I found interesting, was a lecture (which I can’t find, otherwise I would post it here) by the late great rabbi Schochet, on heresy and Judaism. In it, as I recall, he says these categories of heresy were brought in later. Its in the nature of Judaism as I’ve studied it, not to be afraid of several diverse, and even contradictory voices. The issue with the Christians became their dogmatic approach.

  4. May 16, 2014 11:37 am

    Concerned reader, I like your opened minded, non-dogmatic approach. I certainly don’t think that Christianity, or Islam for that matter, while disastrous and bloody in many respects and distortions of the truth of G-d and His Torah as revealed to Israel, were a complete waste for humanity. In His mysterious ways, G-d has allowed those religions to spring up in the building up for the crescendo when the whole world will be bathed in the knowledge of the G-d of Israel, this time in the ways that He wants to be known. I have written about it recently.

  5. May 23, 2014 10:39 pm

    Shalom Gene, here I am again as a burr under your saddle…LOL!

    Before I will get to the details let me start with generalities.

    It is true that when it comes to Torah Christians run to Paul and not Yeshua. For them Paul is the Apostle who led the followers of Yeshua from the confines of the Torah to “freedom in Christ.” And you my friend are falling for their distorted teachings. So instead of all the polemics why don’t you try to read the Scriptures with an open mind. You gave concerned reader some compliments, why don’t you heed them for yourself?

    Could Paul consistently claim to be “the Apostle of Yeshua the Messiah” in almost each one of his epistles and then teach contrary to his Master? Do you think that Paul, knowing the teachings of Yeshua would teach in purpose contrary to the message Yeshua gave him?

    so, there are only 2 options: Either Paul intended his message and teaching to be according to Messiah’s teachings and he in no way contradicted Yeshua’s teachings, or he invented his own theology in opposition to what Yeshua taught.

    Now, think, To say that Paul taught contradictory to Yeshua is not only bad scholarship, but it is also illogical. Do you think that Paul’s converts among the pagans who identified themselves with the risen Messiah would receive Paul’s contradictory message? does not make sense.

  6. May 23, 2014 10:56 pm

    ” Why was Paul silent on what Jesus actually taught to his close circle of disciples while still on earth? Was he ignorant of Jesus’ teachings and only interested in what Jesus had become after his death and resurrection?”

    Since Yeshua came to die and shed his blood so we can gain eternal life, it is only logical that Paul would concentrate on His Death and resurrection and what it means to us. You have no point here.

    More to come….

  7. May 24, 2014 9:53 pm

    “For them Paul is the Apostle who led the followers of Yeshua from the confines of the Torah to “freedom in Christ.” And you my friend are falling for their distorted teachings.”

    For someone who literately called his old way of life in Judaism sh*t (Philippians 3:8), I don’t think that Christians had to work too hard to “distort” Paul.

    “he invented his own theology in opposition to what Yeshua taught.”

    He certainly did – Christianity revolves around what Paul taught. He certainly discouraged his disciples from being observant of Torah. He quoted nothing of Jesus’ teachings, never referring to them (except supposedly for one instance which is not the gospels).

    “Since Yeshua came to die and shed his blood so we can gain eternal life, ”

    Where is this in the Torah or the prophets that a Messiah is supposed to die to give us “eternal life”, that a human sacrifice can give us eternal life, that G-d himself is to die for us?

    How unfortunate that you are still clinging to this idolatrous religion, worship a man-god! What is really the difference between you and non-Jewish Christians? That you give lip service to Torah observance? I hope that Hashem will lead you to teshuvah as He did me.

  8. May 24, 2014 10:51 pm

    “For someone who literately called his old way of life in Judaism sh*t (Philippians 3:8), I don’t think that Christians had to work too hard to “distort” Paul.”

    again you bend the meaning of Scriptures. In Phill. 3:8 Paul refers to his ethnicity not to his way of life. How do i know? Read Acts 24:14 and 25:8. There he spoke of his way of life.

    “He certainly did – Christianity revolves around what Paul taught. He certainly discouraged his disciples from being observant of Torah. He quoted nothing of Jesus’ teachings, never referring to them (except supposedly for one instance which is not the gospels).”

    this is also inaccurate. Christianity revolve around it wrong and ignorant interpretation of what Paul taught. He did not discourage his disciples to abandon Written Torah, only the Oral Torah.

    Paul does in fact, echos and alludes to the teaching of Yeshua and very extensively. In any cases he expect the allusion to be recognized. Paul presupposed people knowledge of Yashua’s teachings. There is evidence that the stories and sayings of Yeshua were taught in the Churches. he does not need to quote directly or exclusively from what is common knowledge.

    “Where is this in the Torah or the prophets that a Messiah is supposed to die to give us “eternal life”, that a human sacrifice can give us eternal life, that G-d himself is to die for us?”

    Isaiah 53 of course. (please let’s not get into this….)

    “How unfortunate that you are still clinging to this idolatrous religion, worship a man-god! What is really the difference between you and non-Jewish Christians? That you give lip service to Torah observance? I hope that Hashem will lead you to teshuvah as He did me.”

    How about you leave these kind of comments to your morning prayers and just display your scholarship here, if you have any….

  9. May 24, 2014 11:00 pm

    ” Can this fact explain the stark differences in teachings between Jesus and Paul, and the resulting confusion that has subsequently clouded the growing church?”

    Common Gene, at least try to be fair…There is no confusion in Judaism? maybe you should ask your Orthodox Rabbi how much he likes the Reform Rabbi next door?

  10. May 24, 2014 11:08 pm

    “escue from oppressors) is not a concept one ever encounters in Judaism. If a Jew desires to turn away from sin what he needs is complete repentance not a heavenly savior or a sacrifice (themselves only prescribed for unintentional sins and even then, only when the Temple was standing). Obedience of Torah, for a Jew, is not out of reach or too difficult (Deuteronomy 30:11). ”

    WHAT? Where did you get this? FYI the sacrifices on Yom Kippur were for unintentional AND intentional sins. If you want I can provide you with Scriptural and Talmudic support. you need to retract this statement.

  11. May 24, 2014 11:16 pm

    “Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.” “Which ones?” he inquired. Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’” “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:16-21, NIV)”

    Do you think that Jesus jetisonned the blood sacrifice and taught only repentance and obedience counts? If you do then, you relegate Him to the level of Paul (since you say he taught against Torah?) and that, my friend dertroyes you beautiful house of cards….No?

  12. May 24, 2014 11:26 pm

    Blood sacrifice for forgiveness – you mean human (Jesus’) blood qualifies?

  13. May 24, 2014 11:51 pm

    No, I mean Animal blood, smart alec…You know, like they did in the Temple?

  14. May 25, 2014 2:31 am

    “In Phill. 3:8 Paul refers to his ethnicity not to his way of life.”

    So, for Paul it’s being a Jew in his pre-Jesus days was “sh*t” to quote you and him? No wonder, with attitude like that, you have cut your self off from your people and don’t want anything to do with a synagogue because “they reject Yeshua”, as you once told me.

  15. May 25, 2014 12:15 pm

    ” So, for Paul it’s being a Jew in his pre-Jesus days was “sh*t” to quote you and him? No wonder, with attitude like that, you have cut your self off from your people and don’t want anything to do with a synagogue because “they reject Yeshua”, as you once told me.”

    So, you admit you were wrong, good for you. What are you trying to do, drag me into a food fight? so you can ban me and therefore you would not have to paint yourself into a corner all the time? I thought we are having a nice discussion devoid of personal attacks?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: