Paul: Hero or Heretic?
If there is a villain in Why the Jews Rejected Jesus, it’s not Jesus himself, but Rabbi Shaul, also known as the Apostle Paul. Klinghoffer writes of Paul: He presented himself as an exponent of, and an expert in, [Jewish] faith, but what he really sought to do was undermine it from within.” Is Paul to blame for centuries of distortion concerning the teachings of Jesus?
Paul is often accused of refashioning the Jewish teachings of Jesus into a pagan religion completely cut off from its Middle Eastern origins. Were it not for Paul, some speculate, Christianity would have either continued to flourish as a sect within Judaism, or it would have met a natural death within the embrace of the culture that had first given it life.
There are two problems with this line of reasoning. On the one hand, it presumes a discrepancy between the teachings of Jesus and the teachings of Paul, but an honest investigation of the documents indicates that no discrepancies are to be found. Instead, we discover a development of thought, beginning with the teachings of Jesus and faithfully disseminated by his follower, the rabbi from Tarsus, to the gentile world at large.
Concerning the purpose of the Law, Jesus taught “These are the Scriptures that testify about me…” (John 5:39). Paul reaffirmed this position in his letter to the Galatians where he wrote, “So the law was put in charge to lead us to Messiah that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24).
As for the Law’s duration, Paul continued, “Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law” (Galatians 3:25). Here again, he merely echoed the teachings of Jesus: “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached…” (Luke 16:16).
If we accept the Jewishness of Jesus’ teachings and most Jewish scholars do, then we must accept the Jewishness of the teachings of his disciple. The Jewish scholar Joseph Klausner writes, “There is nothing in the teaching of Paul not even the most mystical elements in it that did not come to him from authentic Judaism.”1
The second problem to be addressed is historical. The breach between Judaism and the Messianic movement had already take place prior to Paul’s new commitment of faith. Tensions with the local religious authorities had even culminated in the death of a Jewish believer in Jesus named Stephen.
Paul is implicated in the aftermath of the matter, but not as a disciple whose teachings fomented strife. Rather, he is depicted as the Messianic sect’s most ardent adversary. (Galatians 1:13).
To blame the schism on the teachings of Paul is to overlook the fact that the schism had already occurred. The actual reason for the schism did not center around any pagan innovations introduced by Paul, nor did it center around a lack of harmony between the teachings of the Nazarene and his apostle. The conflict centered around who Jesus claimed to be.
He claimed to be the Messiah.
Are the teachings of Jesus and those of Paul in harmony with one another? We believe they are. Are these teachings inconsistent with the teachings of the Hebrew Scriptures? We believe they are not.
Is Jesus the Messiah? We believe he is. We invite you to consider the matter for yourself by examining the New Testament, which records his teachings, his assertions and the prophecies in the Tanach upon which he based his claims (see the chart at the top of next page).
Many scholars acknowledge that the teachings of Jesus are distinctly Jewish. But what about Paul? We believe that a comparison of Tanach, the sayings of Jesus and the letters of Paul reveal a distinct harmony. Consider what Paul, Jesus and the Hebrew Scriptures have to say about the law, the law’s purpose and the law’s duration.
- Klausner, Joseph, From Jesus to Paul, Boston: Beacon Press, 1961, p. 466.