I am aware that there has been much discussion in the past on the alleged contrasting visions of Jesus in the gospels (especially Matthew, Mark, and Luke-Acts) and the message in the Paul’s letters. There is something to the charge I think (not that I have studied this in great detail); I have on a couple of occasions tried to get into Ludemann’s examination of the issue in Paul: The Founder of Christianity but have never really got past the first chapter, perhaps I’ll try again in due course….
[W]e would be hard put to recreate anything of the gospels’ description of Jesus in the letters of Paul. Indeed, it is fascinating to ask whether any details of Jesus’ life and ministry, any of his words or deeds, play any role at all in Pauline letters or theology. Jesus’ life is for the most part irrelevant to Paul; his death functions as the means to his resurrection and the salvation of humankind.
The words above are from a fellow blogger who is likely much more versed in theology than I am. His are words that I have been thinking about but have not had the courage to vocalize. In studying the letters of Paul I have been constantly struck by the feeling that they have nothing to do with Jesus or his life’s lessons. Paul seems to simply use Jesus as a receptacle for his version of Christianity. This seems especially true for the Protestant brothers among us.
As I have mentioned before I spent the first twenty-five years of my life in one degree on another as a Catholic. I was an altar boy who responded in Latin to what the priest declared during the mass. As I remember, and I my memory may be incomplete, most of my lessons in Catholic grade school came from the Gospels and the Book of Acts. But in reality the Bible itself was seldom used as a source for my Christian upbringing. Instead it was literature and books published by Catholic publishing houses that referenced the Bible itself. We seldom picked up the actual Bible itself. Paul was not absent from my teachings but he was by no means the center of my Catholic instructions.
That changed dramatically when, after a fifteen year hiatus from everything religious, I approached a Lutheran version of faith. During those years I found Paul to be the primary emphasis of what it meant to be a Christian. It was strange to my Catholic upbringing that almost all of the so-called foundational issues with most Protestant denominations centers primarily on the letters of Paul. Almost all of their doctrine and dogma are from him.
The more deeply I entrenched myself in this new version of Christianity the more it was obvious to me that Paul knew very little if anything about Jesus other than he was raised from the dead. For the most part it seems that there are two completely different belief systems within the same context. Yes, to me it almost seems like Paul is indeed the usurper of Christianity. Me, I choose to follow Jesus. Paul not so much. Jesus gave us the reasons for his church; Paul gave us all the rules and beliefs that we are supposed to follow.
I am still working through these feelings. More on this in future posts….