Christianity’s founder: Paul or Jesus? (2 Corinthians 7)

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In modern times it has been popular among some groups to argue that Paul took the simple message of Jesus and created from it something totally different: “Christianity”. This argument is flawed. While there are certainly different emphases in the teaching of Jesus and Paul, these are largely due to their unique ministry environments. Jesus operated within Palestinian Judaism, where the Law of Moses was widely taught, while Paul functioned mainly among pagans, who were powerfully influenced by the surrounding Greco-Roman cultures. In any vent, the points of convergence between the two vastly outweigh the differences.

The most crucial point of agreement is Jesus’ identity as the Messiah. Today many argue that Jesus and the primitive church held to a “low Christology” that regarded the Messiah as little more than a great man, whereas Paul and other second century Hellenistic Christians developed a “high Christology”, in which Jesus is declared to be a divine figure. It is true that Jesus Himself kept His Messianic identity quiet throughout much of His ministry, but this was not because of any self-doubt regarding His identity or mission. Rather, He realized that people would fundamentally misunderstand the true calling of the Messiah. The events surrounding the last week of His life (the triumphal entry, the action in the temple, the Last Supper etc.) demonstrate that He understood Himself to be the Messiah. Furthermore, Jesus frequently and without hesitation claimed for Himself divine prerogatives, such as the right to dictate the Law, as God had done at Sinai (Matthew 7:24-29) and to forgive sin (Matthew 9:2). Also, the ex-pharisee Paul could hardly use the title Christos (Greek for “Messiah”) outside of a Jewish pattern of thinking.

Equally important is the convergence between Paul and Jesus in terms of characteristics of kingdom life. Where did Paul learn the absolute centrality of the love commandment (1 Corinthians 13, Galatians 5:6, 14)? Where did he learn that Christians are to love even their enemies (Romans 12:14-21)? Where indeed did he learn to overthrow the traditional values of society and joyfully take on the role of a servant (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)? Where, in short, did he learn that the cross was God’s paradoxical path to victory (1 Corinthians 1:23, Galatians 6:14, Philippians 2:5-11), the means by which God would bring new life to the world? The obvious answer to all these questions: from the teachings of Jesus, the Author of our faith.


 

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