Friday, May 18, 2012

Why Paul Most Likely Started Christianity

History tells us that many people have claimed to have visions and religious experiences--so why was Paul's taken so seriously over those of so many others?  This short excerpt from Chapter 4 might shed some light on the reasons why Paul had such a "vision" which started the religion of Christianity in the first place.

Many mainstream Christians mistakenly believe that Jesus was the founder of their religion, and that he founded it when he told Peter to build his church on "this rock," (Matt. 16:18) but Catholics have admitted this is not the case, as the evidence points away from this belief.1 It was not through Christ that Christianity came into being --it was through St. Paul. Paul is claimed to have come from the Greek city of Tarsus (Acts 21:39), and educated in Jerusalem by a rabbi named Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). Prior to becoming a Christian, Paul was an active Pharisee who was devoted to the law, and was very much opposed to Jesus and his followers.

So why did Paul, who most likely began as a Mithra worshiper, become a Jew, and then ultimately reject Judaism in favor of Christ?--it could be because of a girl. The fourth century writer Epiphanius, makes reference to what the Ebionites thought of Paul, and how he became a Jew and was circumcised in order to marry the daughter of a Jewish priest. When the girl spurned him, he became angry and denounced Judaism and the law--and Christianity was born.2 Paul being spurned could also explain why he spoke so disparagingly against marriage, and told his followers only to marry if they feel they "cannot exercise self control." (1 Cor. 7:8-9)

Christians believe that Paul's "conversion" apparently occurred on the road to Damascus, where he had a vision of Christ,3 but we know that many "con men" make similar type claims in order to woo people into their fold.  This is how a "cult" works, and Christianity can be defined as a cult.  For example, Joseph Smith had a similar type vision to Paul, and Mormonism was born. David Koresh, the leader of the Davidian cult in Waco Texas that saw 76  people die in an FBI firestorm (17 of which, were children), also had a vision that he was a modern day Cyrus.  There is no reason that we should take the vision of Paul any more seriously than the vision of any other person.     

Nevertheless, Paul then went on as a self-proclaimed apostle, spreading the word to all who would listen to his schtick in various locales within the Hellenized world he was familiar with. He gained his converts by convincing them to give up their "dead pagan idols" in favor of the living God, and by preaching an apocalyptic message in which he told them the living God would return to judge them, and those who believed and worshipped the living God would be delivered, while those that did not would face his wrath. The belief that a living God would deliver them was a particularly strong message for those who had led lives of misery and persecution, as it offered them false hope and salvation in the afterlife when none was forthcoming in the lives they led on earth. This view is also the basis for "rapture theology" which many Christian denominations, such as the Pentecostals and Baptists believe in today.

1.Lives of the Popes, Richard McBrien, p. 25
2. Paul: The Mind of the Apostle, A. N. Wilson, p. 34
3.The New Testament-A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, Bart Ehrman, 266; 268


Anonymous said...

Assume the story in Acts is basically true (aside from the vision being real). So there's this religion being preached by Jesus' old 11 apostles plus their new guy Matthias about Jesus being raised from the dead and how you should follow Jesus' teachings from the sermon on the mount or whatever. And they're convincing Jews to leave Judaism with all its silly ceremonies for this simpler religion. Then the High Priest hires a thug named Paul to put an end to Jews converting to this Jesusism. So Paul tries killing and jailing them. That doesn't work. So he figures out he can make a conversion, make up a lie about a vision, become an insider, an 'apostle' himself, and completely screw up their moral religion from the inside. What do you mean you have to treat others the way you want to be treated or you can't be saved? No, justification is by faith alone. Just eat Jesus' flesh and blood and everything will be fine. The Jews are appalled and conversion to this new religion ceases. The Pauline version in Antioch gives it a new name 'Christianity' and persecutes the old Jesusite version out of existence.

A is for Atheist said...

@ anonymous

Thanks..I lol'ed. And yes, what you said is a much more probable explanation that Paul seeing a "risen Christ"--especially when we consider the psychology of it all.

Anonymous said...

Excellent Post. My own thoughts that occurred to me while studying Apologetics at Biola was very similar to your own proposition here except for this.

I think in a way Paul's conversion was genuine even IF it wasn't real. I imagine even for a pious superstitious Jew engaging in the business of helping to kill Christians has to take a toll on one's conscience and in those brief moments of doubt as to (what am I doing here) his subconscious grips him and that experience is translated as supposing he sees Jesus and wham, a genuine conversion even if its self deluded.

Paul then visits Jerusalem in Gal 1 to meet with the first hand witnesses. But these guys are illiterate and uneducated heck they could even barely tell what Jesus was up to when he was alive never mind dead - so they are no intellectual match for Paul who would have seen in Jesus now as fulfilling prophecies (and so created this retrospective Judaic theology) - the original Apostles would be outmatched and probably in awe and so extend the right hand of fellowship and Paul is off to convert the Roman world -- and the likely hood any peasant pagan superstitious Turk would actually bother to question Paul's witnesses to a resurrection would be slim to none but much more probable as the Bible itself says, a culture like this would be very easily swayed to believe any new thing.

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