The Anger of Paul
By: Robert D. Brinsmead
As Berstein points out, one of the 4 foundational conditions to advance as prosperous societies is to ditch mythology for rationalism. The contest is between what is called “the Word of God” and human reason.
There is lots and lots of God’s anger breathing through Paul’s teaching. It is quite amazing and revealing. I think, Wendell, you should develop this insight a bit more by showing how all this anger was part of parcel of all the religions of earth from the beginning. Even a Psalm says that God is angry with wicked every day. It is wonder this God does not suffer from blood pressure or something in view of all this pent up anger as if were like some immense subterranean seething volcano about to burst out upon the earth.
It must have been quite astonishing and scandalous to see and hear this historical Jesus talk of his benevolent Abba Father as one sends his rain and sunshine on the good and bad alike. Or hearing him tell sinners that they were forgiven even before they even asked for forgiveness. Here is a poor sinful wretch lying on his mat, so convinced of God’s disapproval of him as a wretched sinner who can’t keep Torah because of his circumstances, so overwhelmed by his sheer hopeless state that he can’t even get up from his mat. He lies in a kind of foetal position waiting for God’s wrath to strike what little spark of life remains in him. Jesus simply declares that his sins are forgiven (no asking here!) and the guy’s blood races through his veins in the sheer joy and wonder of it that he even forgets he is sick and gets up and walks…he probably leaps and runs like a calf let out of a dark stall into the Spring sunshine.
Here we might focus again on the stark contrast between the Christian gospel (Paul) and the historical Jesus. Paul tells us how his second Adam endures and absorbs into himself all of this wrath against our sinfulness to effect the bridging of this infinite gulf between a holy God and a sinful race, thus reconciling us to God by the blood of his cross.
Jesus simply proclaims that all these human religions have got it wrong. There is no gulf. God never left. No atonement is needed. The outcasts are invited into the kingdom as they are, not needing to be washed from their dirt and flees and rags before they can respond to this invitation. They can join the great party of the unconditionally forgiven. It’s all thoroughly scandalous, certainly irreligious. Really exhilarating…ah…life changing, morally transforming stuff!
Paul’s message was wrapped in a grand narrative for the whole human race. It was a narrative of the two Adams. The first Adam was not a Jew. He was the representative of generic humanity. So here is a story of the human race and for the human race. The second Adam redeems what the first Adam lost and so on.(Romans 5) So Paul had a vision that could appeal to all of mankind.
Of course, being a Jew himself, Paul had a vision of this Christ also fulfilling all that was promised to the Jewish fathers (so Acts 13). But if he was to unite Jew and Gentile in the one universal faith, he had to break down religious hostility between Jew and Gentile, a hostility grounded in the law or mid-wall of partition that divided the two. The key to understanding Romans is chapter 14 – there were Jewish and Gentile factions at loggerheads with each other in Rome. We know the contention was so bad that it was later reported to Caesar who used this as a pretext to drive them out of Rome. Anyway, Paul’s gospel of JBF was to show on what basis the two factions within the Jesus movement could accept each other. It was more about “how can I find a gracious Christian neighbour” than “how can I find a gracious God.” (see Stendahl, Paul Among Jew and Gentile).
We know from history that Paul’s efforts to unite the two factions utterly failed. Eventually Jewish Christians rejected Paul altogether, but his work was the foundation of the great Gentile Church from which Jewish Christians were excluded as heretics. When the Jewish Christians from Jerusalem ( the Bible says they were “from James” meaning they were sent by James) came to the Galatian Gentile Christians, they urged them to accept the Jewish Torah (which in the broad sense was the entire OT) as the rule of life by which they were to live. So Paul’s vision for the world meant that he must have a strong rationale to reject the law as a binding rule of life in the new age of the Messiah. He declared to the Galatians that to be under the law(nomos) or Scripture (graphe) as a rule of life was to be under a curse, to be in jail, to live like children who have not come of age and to be in bondage, etc. These were hard sayings to the Jewish Christians. When Paul returned to Jerusalem for the last time, some of them (it has been argued they were Jewish Christians and not ordinary Jews) had made a vow to kill Paul.
The gospel of Paul which became Gentile Christianity had not significant penetration into Semitic people, meaning it did not appeal to either Jews or Arabs. Theirs was not the cultural soil suitable for such a religion. I remember reading a statement from Rosemary Reuther saying that Christianity (meaning the Gentile religion which sprang from Paul) was suited to Greco-Roman civilization and was adaptable only to that civilization. Thus the Greco-Roman world became virtually the same thing as the Christian world.
There is a need to major on the good news of the historical Jesus. If there was a copyright law in his day, he would have had the right to copyright the very marketable term “Gospel.” The term means an announcement that one relates as news that is both joyous and exciting. Jesus announced it as something to be celebrated with eating and drinking. His followers screwed it all up when they put the whole thing into an apocalyptic wineskin and interpreted Jesus apocalyptically. That was quite a stunning shift to turn a core message of non-violence and non-retaliation into apocalyptic which is all about violence and retaliation. The Jews and Romans were accused by the Christians of crucifying Jesus, but when they pointed this accusatory finger at others for doing this , three fingers were pointing back at themselves for crucifying his gospel. We may ask, which was the greater evil? His message of repentance was all about changing your mind (the literal meaning of repent) – changing the false religious images of God. In his teaching, God is with us, not absent “in heaven” and not somewhere else more than God is here. There is no gulf to bridge between God and man, heaven and earth because God never left. God can only be found in humanity – in loving and serving humanity, nowhere else. The good news is all about an awakening to what it means to be human and the human potential of being the only image of God that other humans will see. The error of an apocalyptic “gospel” can be seen all the more clearly when it is contrasted with the gospel of Jesus originally preached by Jesus.
The Sinai covenant has a cartload of curses attached to it, to be heaped on anyone who fails to do all that is written in the book of the law. Everyone is put under a curse by it, as Paul rightly points out, it “works wrath.”
The violence of the tribal god Yahweh is breathtaking – what sort of person would kill all the firstborn of an entire nation? This is all just a myth created by the Yahwist’s religious imagination. But then this God gets real angry and starts killing Israelites by the thousands. The early Israelites in Canaan were as bad as ISIS in the Middle East, killing everyone who stood in their path. Yahweh says, kill the women; kill the childre; kill the cattle, kill everything that moves. Kill the parties to a mixed (inter-racial marriage) – which of course is exactly what Boaz did when he was seduced to have a sexual romp in the hay with Ruth, and after that married her. Ruth is an interesting story of a Moabite woman. Back in Moses’ day Phineas was blessed by Yahweh because he ran a spear through the couple who did exactly what Boaz did. Ruth is one of those protest books like Job and Jonah, making fun of the orthodox cult.
It took the scholars of this world a long time to work out that the apocalyptic books spawned in the second century BCE were a bunch of religious frauds, and that includes the book of Daniel. The authors of all these apocalyptic books attached names of legendary wise men such as Enoch, Daniel, Baruch and Ezdra, to make it appear that these books were written long before their time. It fooled the Jews. It fooled the NT church. It fooled the Christian Church for 1800 years until some scholars were able to spell out the real nature of the literary genre which we call apocalyptic. It is clear that the NT quotes from the book of Enoch as if “the seventh from Adam” did indeed write it. (It ain’t necessarily so just because it is in the Bible,) Writers who did literary tricks like this today would be ridden out of town as literary frauds. The entire history of some religions was based on the apocalyptic book of Daniel, which though pretending to be prophecy (in the sense of prediction) only writes up current history after the event, but pretending such happenings were prophesied by some holy man centuries before it happened. The clearest demo of what I am talking about is the early part of Daniel 11 when it goes into the details of the daughter of the king of the north coming to marry the king of the south, and a lot of detail about a well-known historical event that was played out in the second century – but then the sneaky author, in order to create credulity of everything else he had to say, pretended these very mundane events were predicted hundreds of years before. It is a religious fraud, and it only becomes worse when this sort of literary trickery is whitewashed.
Likewise the Gospels and indeed most of the NT is written up by anonymous authors. This is the hallmark of apocalyptic literature, and as Kaseman rightly said, “Apocalyptic is the mother of all Christian theology.” But the church, driven by this apocalyptic interpretation of rabbi Jesus, fabricated the myth that Matthew the disciple of Jesus wrote the first Gospel – and then they attached apostolic names and people associated with the apostles to the other books, most of which were written years after the apostles were dead. The church wanted us to believe that the books put into the cannon were chosen because they had apostolic authority, that is to say, they were written by the first eyewitnesses to the historical Jesus. To go on believing this rubbish now is as silly as trying to live in the Flat Earth Society as if the Copernicus revolution never happened. There are no eyewitnesses featured in the NT – that’s why it is very hard to prove that Jesus actually existed. We know today that the apostle Peter never left us any books, and most of the “facts” we have about Peter are very legendary, especially that bit about Peter being the rock on which Jesus would build his church. Jesus was on about the kingdom of God, not the church. He came preaching and celebrating the presence of the Kingdom of God, God with us, but lamentably, all that we get in the Christian Gospels is the arrival of the wretched church, threatening and killing unbelievers and heretics, making up their fantastic stories of virgin birth, sinless man, blood atonement backed up by books written and compiled by the church to which the church attaches phony names. Yes, they crucified the teaching of Jesus alright, but the reality is while you can kill the teacher, you can’t really kill a teaching of such truth and power. That teaching has lived on to leaven Christian people with something other than the violent theology – and all the good that Christianity has ever done, or should I say Christian people have ever done, is that they were moved by the better angels of their nature to be influenced by the spirit mediated in the teaching of Jesus. The resurrected teaching of Jesus will eventually tear down the whole edifice of the Christian religion.
What a ridiculous argument Protestants have used when they attack the doctrine about the infallibility of the Papal teaching! It is true that Protestants can point to the time when there were two rival Popes, or how there were times when the Vatican was turned into a brothel. But what is the consistency of attacking the infallibility of the present Church while upholding the infallibility of the early church? The simple fact is that it was the church which wrote up the books we have in the NT, and it was the church that gathered up its own traditions and put them into a collection of books called the Canon for which the church claimed infallible authority. Sola scriptura? Nonsense. By what sola scriptura can we say that it was right to include the first Gospel (falsely attributed to Matthew) in the Canon? By the authority of the church! That is why it is in the canon. The church produces documents. It canonizes those documents hundreds of years later (at the same time it started to kill dissenters) as infallible documents. So even the acceptance of any book in the NT is an assent to the infallible authority of the church.
The sola scriptura argument (not used by the first Reformers by the way) is the same argument in principle as Papal infallibility or the infallibility of the church. Protestantism hardened its arteries and became the mirror image of Rabbinic Judaism that formed in the post-Second Temple era. Rabbinic Judaism was the first to become “the people of the book.” The fourth Gospel was an attack on Rabbinic Judaism, arguing as it does that the Word of God is not a Book but a Person.
It was said that the churchmen of the Middle Ages used to argue how many teeth a horse had according to Aristotle – regarded as a kind of final authority. No one was irreverent enough to look into a horse’s mouth and count the teeth for himself. The same thing happened with the Bible. That the Gospels bearing the phoney names of Matthew and Luke have two different and mutually exclusive nativity stories and resurrection stories was passed over for 1800 years because it was the work of scholars to harmonize contradictory statements from the two books on the grounds that being infallible it was impossible for them to be contradictory – as for example, Luke placing the birth of Jesus about 10 years later than Matthew—that is only the beginnings of a large collection of radical differences to the two nativity stories. Well, it seems that no one was irreverent enough (including myself) to look into the horse’s mouth and count the teeth for himself — there was this ridiculous myth of scriptural infallibility which is all of one cloth with the religious teaching about the absolute sinlessness of that sexless Galilean.
The Hebrews advance the thought that God acts according to Law rather than capriciously. Moral and ethical principles are the basis of his acts. Out of this it was generally conceived that as Israel obeyed, then Israel would prosper and if Israel did not keep the Law then Israel would be punished. Some OT books present history and a theodicy in this light. The book of Job was protest literature against this interpretation. Even according to the prophets, God sent the Assyrians and the Babylonians to punish a disobedient people- indicating these calamities would not have happened had the people been faithful to the Torah. There is another view of history in the apocalyptic books of the second century BCE – the great powers which subjugated Israel were evil powers oppressing the people of God, but they would be vindicated and the evil powers punished on the coming Day of Judgment (Daniel 7). Thus tribulation and disasters were to be expected in the present evil age. But that is not a satisfactory theodicy either. It is impossible to give a cogent apology for the way God governs the universe.
How could one rationally explain the entire brutal process of the emergence of life on this planet? (I deliberately avoid the word “evolution” because of the way the word gets loaded with all kinds of assumptions).
As I drove into town yesterday I was listening to this old guy who came to Australia as an orphan from Great Britain, emerged from a fairly brutal system of “care” to become a Christian who spent years ministering to people in jail, with not a lot of success in his reckoning. Then he went on, in answer to questions, to say something very easy to understand yet very profound. He said that after he became a Christian he spent about 40 years of his life searching for God, trying to understand God’s ways and figure God out – then it dawned on him that God was a total mystery and all this religious seeking after God was futile. So he then turned his attention to people – living with them, serving them, being human etc. God then became more real and more present to him than when he sought God for 40 years.
The point of the Jesus insight is that it gets to the very core, the deepest root of what is wrong in life, the very heart of corrective response. This is about things at the core of mind, consciousness, outlook, worldview, and how all that impacts the rest of human life- our emotions, responses and actions. Think of the massive impact over history of the salvation industry and its debilitating impact on human society (up to the anti-development activism of today), all because of a profound error in early human perception- that there was some threat behind all, some punishing force or spirit that had to be appeased with sacrifice. Now we discover that has all been a great fraud and lie. There is no basis for the entire thing.
One is reminded of how deep this sense of being punished is in public consciousness. The singer Toni Braxton was recently quoted in the news as commenting on a miscarriage she suffered years ago. She said that she felt that the miscarriage was a punishment for an abortion she had years before that. Much like the Japanese lady saying after the tsunami, “Are we being punished for enjoying life too much?”
Mary Boyce (Zoroastrians) presents a variety of reasons why the new faith of Zoroaster (this also applies to Christianity, a similar belief system) grew to appeal to many others. In her outline of Zoroaster’s new religion you see clearly the outline of Paul’s thinking and theology. There is the simple dualism between good and evil, the great battle between these and the felt obligation to choose a side. Who would not want to be on the side of good, of ultimate good, the Creator’s side. Contrasted with this…who wants to be on the wrong side and be damned to Hell? This thinking appeals to many impulses- the desire to be an insider, specially favored and blessed. And the blessings include eternal bliss which answers the death fear.
No one wants to be punished with burning fire but prefer to be rewarded and enjoy bliss forever with no more sickness or death or misery. These myths appeal to the most basic human impulses and desires.
So Paul’s Christ myth is summing up and heightening this previous mythology, giving it more intense expression, and as with Zoroaster, Paul does extend his ideas to all mankind. As Boyce notes, Zoroaster’s new faith opened opportunity for all to partake, not just elites. Everyone could choose right and enjoy eternal bliss. It also brought elites down, in that those who chose wrong would suffer hell despite their privileged lives. This was a new democratic element introduced by Zoroaster. So also with Paul.
Boyce notes that Zoroaster held a personal vision of creating a world faith but his invention became more the faith of the Iranian people. That misses the point that Zoroastrianism shaped Jewish religion and Christianity and so it’s core ideas did become worldwide. They even rebirthed in environmentalism and are all over today in apocalyptic mythology. You don’t have to adopt Zoroastrianism to believe in Zoroaster’s ideas.
Boyce does note that Zoroastrianism was successful because of a “common religious heritage…that provided a basis for acceptance of the new faith”. This refers again to those core ideas that have been around since the Sumerian tablets.
There are varied reasons why Zoroaster’s ideas resonated widely as did Paul’s. I outlined a few previously. Another is that the strict payback theology of apocalyptic resonates with a deeply rooted human sense of justice- that wrong will be punished ultimately. You find throughout the history of Zoroastrianism comments like these, “The man who was excellent, him I rewarded well; he who was evil, him I punished well”. Boyce notes this “is the strict equity which is at the heart of Zoroastrianism”. So in Christianity and Paul’s Christ myth.
These things resonate deeply with common humanity because they have been beaten into our consciousness since the beginning. Hardwired if you will. In Zoroastrian there is the belief of a world savior, beating Paul to the punch on this. This Saoshyant would be better than a good man, would lead humanity in the last battle against evil, would be born of a virgin, embody righteousness and so on.
The point of commenting on the “nasty” bits in religion, is to help people see the wonder that is unconditional reality. Unconditional is absolutely the greatest liberation movement ever. It goes to the deepest roots of fear, guilt, shame, anxiety, depression, despair, and all the other things that darken and enslave human consciousness. It brings humanity safety, inclusiveness, ultimate fulfillment, and all the rest that the human spirit seeks.
The violent impulses have always been there (the inherited brain) but they have too long been validated by the sacred, by God and religion. Time for a more thorough countering with the humane ideals.