Was Paul the first Christian?
I used to get annoyed by books that called Paul the first Christian (as if Christianity did not originate in Jesus' mission! You got it - I am a traditional kind of guy). Now I also get annoyed for a different reason. Now I get (mildly) annoyed because I don't think that Paul was a Christian at all.
OK - I don't mind calling Paul a Christian if I am allowed to define the term BUT I think that the word is so loaded with associations that we are probably wiser to avoid calling Paul (or any Jesus-believers in the first generation) 'Christians'. Anachronism is almost unavoidable. And the idea of Paul as a convert from Judaism to Christianity bears almost zero relation to how Paul would have conceived of his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus.
So I was thrilled to see a new book by the Jewish NT scholar Pamela Eisenbaum entitled Paul Was Not a Christian. I bought it because the title was so perfect!
Well - I am half way through and so far it is great. I don't agree with all her judgements (e.g. I think that the Paul is Acts is closer to the historical Paul than she suspects [and I think that the Paul of Acts was no Christian convert either]) but I wholeheartedly agree with her basic thesis: Paul did not convert from Judaism to Christianity.
Eisenbaum has a good discussion of how Paul incresingly became understood as a convert to Christianity (indeed as the convert par excellence). Augustine and Luther play key 'baddie' roles here. She also has some excellent material introducing relevant aspects of Second Temple Judaism as the background against which to interpret Paul.
So - I'm looking forward to some Christmas reading. Groovy baby!
You wrote: “historical Paul than she suspects [and I think that the Paul of Acts was no Christian convert either]) but I wholeheartedly agree with her basic thesis: Paul did not convert from Judaism to Christianity.”
I want to examine that statement. Did Paul practise Judaism or not in the later part of his life?
Let’s analyze the doctrine of foregiveness of Paul.
How to live in order to enable the Creator in His loving kindness to provide His foregivness is outlined in Tan’’kh ( the Jewish Bible) ; and was also taught by the first century Ribi Yehoshua from Nazareth (the Mashiakh; the Messiah).
Tan’’kh – for example Yekhëzqeil (Hezekiel) 18 – promises foregivness to those who do their sincerest to keep Torah. The Creator cannot lie and He does not change (Malakhi 3:6)! According to Tehilim (“Psalms”) 103 the Creator gives his foregivness to those who do their sincerest to keep His berit (“covenant”; the pre-conditions to be included in the berit is according to the Jewish Bible to do ones sincerest to keep Torah).
Thus, Pauls view of foregiveness is not accordance with Torah. Thus one cannot say that he practised Judaism in the later part of his life. You will find extensive logical research of Paul and the origins of Christianity in the “History museum” in the below website.
You will find Ribi Yehoshuas teachings here: Netzarim
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I have to say that, in the end, Eisenbaum's case was unpersuasive. I think that she is right to question the view that Paul was a "Christian" (in the full-blown sense that we might use the term) but I found some of her exegesis unpersuasive (esp. as the book went on).
Nevertheless, there is no question about the importance of Jesus for Paul. Paul's theology is very christocentric and his view of salvation is too. For me, that is not really the issue in the debate (see some of my very early posts on Israel and salvation).