There is a growing movement afoot outside of mainstream, and especially evangelical, Christianity to argue that it was not Jesus who established what is today called Christianity but that scoundrel and malevolent Paul.
Thomas Jefferson (yes, the 3rd president of the USA and the writer of the Declaration of Independence) once declared that Paul was the “first corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus.” However, Jefferson himself, who was a product of the Enlightenment, did not like the idea of Jesus performing miracles and the concept of Jesus rising from the dead and so he cut and pasted the New Testament to form the Jefferson Bible so he could “found” and/or develop his own view of Jesus — a view of Jesus that was in Jefferson’s image and not the one that we find in Scripture.
The 20th century atheistic playwright George Bernard Shaw determined on his own that “it would have been better for the world if Paul had never been born.” I suppose this actually is appropriate since it has been rumored that Shaw was also an advocate of eugenics … but that is another issue for another day.
However, the 20th century Israeli Jewish philosopher Samuel Hugo Bergmann (pictured here) once wrote –
“Not the living but the dead and risen Jesus is the founder of Christianity.”
So … who is right? Did Jesus intend to “found” a new religion or was it Paul who founded Christianity? Actually, I would argue neither Jesus nor Paul founded the misnomer “Christianity” and it was never their intention to do found Christianity.
What Jesus came to earth to establish was not a new religion but a relationship for Jewish people and all peoples of the world to God the Father that can be traced back to Jeremiah 31.
And what Paul sought to do with his letters and writings was establish the theological groundwork for this Jeremiah 31 relationship. Therefore, while there is absolutely nothing wrong with the word Christian (Acts 11:26) and I proudly call myself one and/or a believer in Jesus the Messiah for Jewish people and all the world, the word “Christianity” is a branding concept that needs some explanation and some sharpening to be redefined and re-branded for a 21st century world. But before we can re-brand and re-define Christianity, we need to develop a fuller and better understanding of a very Jewish word … Covenant.
The Jeremiah 31 Covenant Question…?
Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. Thus saith the Lord, which giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, which divideth the sea when the waves thereof roar; The Lord of hosts is his name: If those ordinances depart from before me, saith the Lord, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me for ever. Thus saith the Lord; If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, saith the Lord. – Jeremiah 31:31-37 (King James Version – Public Domain)
The word “Covenant” … whether you are talking about the ones found in the Hebrew Scriptures that God made with Abraham, Moses or David are very Jewish-minded are they not? Every nice Jewish boy experienced his first reality with covenant/bris when he was eight-days old … OUCH! Honestly, glad I am female!
However, you don’t often hear about the “New” Covenant found in Jeremiah I would imagine. FYI – Jeremiah 31 is rarely if ever found in the Haftarah cycle. Why is that I wonder — especially since Jeremiah is one of the key Jewish prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures? Could it be that he was promising something “new” and better?
When we define the idea of a covenant in Scripture, we should realize what the word portends…
E. J. Young defines the word very well when he wrote – an agreement “which God has made with man for man’s salvation .”
However … Bernhard Anderson does an even better job when he wrote – “The covenants between God and the people are all covenants of divine favor or grace. They express God’s gracious commitment and faithfulness and thus establish a continuing relationship.”
So … if these are two men are right (and I think they are if one looks at Scripture objectively), it is God who initiates the act of covenant with people, does the work of covenant fulfillment and can determine if it is time for a “new” and better covenant for the good of the people. Right?
But what about the Mosaic Covenant is probably running through some people’s minds right about now who are reading this page? And that brings us back to Jeremiah 31:31-37 … finally and the truth of covenants.
For there are two types of covenants in the Hebrew Scriptures that we believe also hold true for those of us who believe in Messiah Jesus – conditional and unconditional.
The conditional type of covenant is one with filled with blessings and condemnations if the people do not live up to the expectations that God has placed upon them – see the latter of Deuteronomy to see why the Mosaic Covenant is a conditional covenant.
An unconditional covenant places no sort of conditions upon the people (i.e., the real Noahic of Genesis 9, the Abrahamic of Genesis 12, 15, 17, even the Davidic Covenant of 2 Samuel 7). The New Covenant of Jeremiah 31 is not only unconditional but also tells us it is better than the broken Mosaic Covenant (v. 32) and will be one of the heart and will last forever (v. 33, 36-37).
Please don’t read this wrong … It is not that the Mosaic Covenant was replaced or thrown away by Christianity and/or Jesus. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus himself said that he did not come to abolish the Torah but to fulfill it in Matthew 5:17-20 and I would encourage you to read the rest of the Sermon on the Mount as well to see how Jewish it is. He lived out the Mosaic Covenant completely for us because we had and have broken it beyond repair. The New Covenant that today goes by the terminology of Christianity is in essence an extension and fulfillment of Biblical Judaism.
So What about the Paul Question…?
Tzedakah Ministries and Explore Messiah…? is not avoiding the “Paul Question” but we thought it important to establish our foundation first before we confronted this issue. So now … let’s look at the “Paul Question.”
In 1987, Rabbi Hyam Maccoby wrote a book entitled The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity in which Maccoby argues that Jesus was a good Pharisee who was naturally born to Joseph and Mary and believed himself to be the Messiah but a Messiah of a political nature and not the Son of God. However, it was Paul, a Gentile convert to Judaism turned Sadducee policeman after Jesus’ death and resurrection, that created the whole myth of Christianity because he could not get into the “Pharisee Brotherhood” that we have today.
The overall reviews of Rabbi Maccoby’s book were not kind; however, I will just post a snippet from Hebrew Union College professor Ellis Rivkin’s review for the Judaism in 1989: Were Maccoby’s evidence persuasive, it would be reassuring. No believing Jew need any longer be affrighted that Paul’s fate might be his own. But Maccoby’s evidence is hard to take seriously. It rests on an account of Paul by a fourth century chronicle, Parhanius, who drew his portrait of Paul from a hostile Ebionite source—a source which Maccoby, himself, admits is wholly unreliable. To sweep away Paul’s own impassioned listing of his Pharisaic bona fides in favor of a fourth-century disfigurement is thus to fly in the face of sound critical scholarship and simple common sense.
And, yes, I have read through the book as well and trust me, Rivkin was kind! There is a problem of historicity and religiosity because Maccoby wants to prove something against not only Paul and the Christian faith but also Jesus himself. Maccoby passed away in 2004 and so we cannot and should not analyze in hindsight what that might be; however, we can analyze his work for weaknesses.
FIRST, Maccoby forgets what we have already considered in previous sections and questions — who did Jesus consider himself to be but none other than God himself and the fulfillment of Messianic prophecy (and we will explore this in further detail even more later).
SECOND, Maccoby focuses on the Ebionites (page 17, 172-183) but he displays little real research or consideration of just who were the Ebionites were and were not. I don’t want to bore you with a lot of Early Church History but if you are interested – here are some links that I would encourage you to explore (and a little, in my opinion, objective background about each of the sites:
- https://jamestabor.com/ebionites-nazarenes-tracking-the-original-followers-of-jesus/ (James Tabor is very similar to Bart Ehrman in approach and scholarship in that he is liberal and looks for reasons to downplay evangelical Christianity. I would prefer to give you Ehrman’s site because he is a little more objective but his link is site-protected and Tabor’s is not)
- http://biblehub.com/library/pamphilius/church_history/chapter_xxvii_the_heresy_of_the.htm (This gives you some actual Early Church perspective on the Ebionites written by early church historian Eusebius that is not friendly towards the Ebionites; however, the quality information comes in the footnotes)
- http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/gospelebionites.html (This is the only extant [original] information of Ebionite that we have available today and you might find it interesting.)
- http://www.sacred-texts.com/gno/fff/fff13.htm (This is a text written from a pro-Ebionite source and while you can internet research and find pro-Ebionite sites today they are hard to navigate and understand from my perspective and I truly tried! However, and as you know, we want you to be equipped with all sides so YOU can make the best decision.)
THIRD, Maccoby never truly considers the proposal of Jeremiah 31 that a “New Covenant” for Biblical Judaism was needed because the Mosaic Covenant had been so corrupted and was so unobtainable for the people and Messiah Jesus fulfilled this role as both Messiah and Incarnate Truth. Paul and the writer of Hebrews (who I believe to be Paul as well) also understood this truth in his role as theologian when this reality is revealed in several passages: 2 Corinthians 2:3-7; Hebrews 8:1-13; Hebrews 9:15-22; Hebrews 10:1-22; Matthew 26:26-29; Luke 22:20-21; and again in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
So as you can see what is today called Christianity (and as Jerry Seinfeld might say there is nothing wrong with that word because of Acts 11:26) is actually the Biblical realization of Jeremiah 31:31-37 and the New Covenant. It is not that Christianity was founded but to borrow liberally from Bernard Starr and his December 2016 from the Huffington Post the term “just happened.”
And while I don’t agree with all of Starr’s arguments, I do like one perspective of his premise that truth cannot be founded … it just happens. The rest of the story is baggage that will be discussed (and needs to be discussed) shortly. However, let’s begin with this question and know that we are here for you at the CAFÉ Kehillah Discussion Board. We might not be available immediately but we will be ready to discuss your questions and opinions with you as soon as possible.
While you are waiting, go and read through the other exploratory issues on this “question,” — New Testament & Anti-Semitism as well as the Sad Reality of Church History and Anti-Jewishness. Explore Messiah…? and Tzedakah Ministries is honest even if the topics are uncomfortable.