Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Teachings of Paul

Why are none of the letters of Paul in this version of the bible? Perhaps it is because of the difficulty I face with Paul and his message.

It is clear to me that a key message of Jesus is to be humble. This message shows up time and time again. Jesus washes the feet. Jesus teaches us that whoever is first will be last. Jesus takes the role as a helper. If this is a key message of Jesus, I would expect his followers to try to exemplify the teachings of Jesus.

Yet, when I read Paul’s letters, it seems to me that Paul never got the message.  Not surprisingly. Paul never lived with Jesus nor saw Jesus in day-to-day behaviors. Paul only knows Jesus from one short vision Paul had on the road. The rest of what Paul knows about Jesus is what others told him. It appears that Paul’s vision changed Paul from being a hunter of Christians to presenting himself with the label of Christian. Paul’s ego, however, never wavered.

Consider the following examples. Paul writes “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1) He doesn’t tell people to be imitators of Jesus. No, he has to pull the focus to himself. Does he understand Jesus’ message of humility? Nope, he goes all in: (Galatians 2:20) “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” Paul draws the focus to himself in the guise of telling others that when you see him (Paul), you are seeing Jesus. This is a level of ego mania I don’t see in Jesus.

I suppose I would be fine looking past the ego of the individual if the message was compatible. Jesus taught his followers and disciples to comply with what is commanded from the scribes and Pharisees who sit in the chair of Moses. However, Jesus went further to say “Do as they say, not as they do.” Jesus described the leaders as preaching what they themselves do not practice. Jesus taught his followers to treat one another as equals, with nobody better, higher, or more authoritative. “But as for you, do not be called Teacher; for only God is your Teacher, and you are all brothers and sisters.” (Matthew 23:8). How does Paul handle this topic? Well, if you believe Paul wrote first Timothy, “I was appointed as a preacher and an apostle -I am telling the truth, I am not lying-, as a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.” (1 Timothy 2:7) This would mean that Paul is claiming to be God. So much for humility…again.

Love unconditionally. That is a foundational message of Jesus. Turn the other cheek. Love your enemy. Help those who oppose you. On and on, Jesus tells us to not be judgmental. Yes, Paul writes that if someone says anything that does not agree with Paul’s words, Paul invokes God that they be under God’s curse. (Galacians 1:8)

Love unconditionally includes not being racist or sexist. Jesus never taught sexism. While the gospels seem to be thin on Jesus’ interactions with women, every story shows Jesus treating them equally. Jesus talks about his “brothers and sisters” not just his brothers. Paul is not so considerate. 1 Timothy 2:8-15 is pretty harsh with many “I want…” and “I do not allow…”. Paul demands women be seen and not heard… with entire submissiveness.

Then there is the discrepancy between who goes to heaven. Jesus says only the people who do the will of God will enter heaven. (Matthew 7:21) Paul pronounces that faith alone will save you. (see Romans 10:13, Ephesians 2:8)

God’s mercy? Jesus tells us God will judge us on how we judge others. How we treat others is how God will treat us. “Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy. (Matthew 5:7) Paul, on the other hand, teaches that God will do as God pleases, and mercy, from the perspective of a human is at best random.

What I conclude from my side-by-side comparison of Jesus and Paul, they are not the same. Jesus, for the most part, practices what he preaches. Paul contradicts Jesus and tries to draw focus on Paul himself.  Why are none of the letters of Paul in this version of the bible? Perhaps it is because of the difficulty I face with Paul and his message.

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