JESUS and PAUL -- One or Two Gospels ?
Friday 27th May 2016
SUMMARY OF MEETING 8th MAY '2016
JESUS AND PAUL -- ONE GOSPEL OR TWO ?
David Simcock, Anglican lay reader and a regular attender at our meetings, led us by speaking about three themes that are common to Paul and the teachings of Jesus.
The first theme he called TABLE FELLOWSHIP. It should be remembered that in New Testament times, sharing a meal with someone carried the strong message that you were accepting that person. In addition, the term 'sinners' was applied by the Pharisees not only to badly behaved people and gentiles but to those Jews who did not try to live by the full Torah as described by them. The acceptance of various kinds of people was a major part of Jesus' actions and message.
Paul took up this theme and applied it especially to gentiles. He shows from the first letter to Corinthians that the church there must have comprised slaves and citizens, traders and migrant workers, men and women. All met together, worshipped together and ate together. (See also Galatians 2, v.11 - 14 and Galatians 3, v. 27 - 29).
Thus, Jesus ate with 'sinners' to break down religious barriers within Israel between Jew and Jew. Paul ate with gentiles to break down the barrier around Israel that excluded gentiles.
The second theme is COMPASSION ABOVE PURITY, together with a reassessment of the LAW. In the social system of that time, people, animals, places and times all occupied a place on a 'purity spectrum'. People were positioned according to birth, occupation and choice of behaviour. At the impure end of the spectrum you were a sinner. Jesus commanded people to "Be merciful as your Father is merciful" (Luke 6, v.36) and this challenged the whole system. He denounced religion that separated, condemned and rejected people.
On the Law, Jesus' attitude was nuanced, presenting it as a window through which to see God's will, not an end in itself. Most significantly, he elevated the command "You shall love your neighbour as yourself" in a way that was new and challenging. This together with loving God was made the overriding element of the Law. Paul was explicit saying "For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, 'you shall love your neighbour as yourself' (Galatians 5, v.14); likewise in Romans ch.13. Paul's detailed teaching about law is very complex, but like Jesus he believed that trust and reliance on God and his love for all people was more important than the law.
The third theme was POLITICS. Luke tends to present us with a Paul who is proud of his Roman citizenship with a naive confidence in Roman justice. Yet Paul emphasised phrases that were a direct challenge to Roman ideas. We often forget that the Emperor was known as Son of God, God Incarnate, and The Lord; so for example, see 2 Corinthians 1, v.2&3. Paul countered the imperial message of peace through war and victory, with the gospel of peace through nonviolence and justice. The word 'justice' here means distributive justice. This was in line with Jesus' teaching which emphasised a new kingdom called the Kingdom of God. Jesus enacted justice, the distributive justice of giving every individual an equal dignity as a child of God. This was a political statement in a society that allocated to everyone a status and a varying degree of worth. Jesus rode into Jerusalem as a King, of a different sort to that normally revered.
Another theme touched on was the often stated view that Jesus was gentle and accepting, while Paul was harsh and judgmental. David instructed us to read the letter to Philemon to see that this is not the case.
He quoted Rowan Williams (Meeting God in Paul, SPCK 2015) which summarises the relationship between Paul and Jesus.
"Did Paul transform Christianity ? Yes, of course. He took a bundle of traditions and practices generated by mysterious events around and after Jesus' death and struggled to see the patterns that held them together. But the more you read him, the more you see how he is labouring to do justice to something that is already there confronting him in these stories and practices--not improvising a new religious system."
In the subsequent discussion, the points were made of course about certain of Paul's teachings, particularly his so-called atonement theories and his acceptance of society's role for women and slaves.
It proved impossible to cover everything on this subject in one meeting, but we can conclude that though we can disagree with Paul on certain matters, Paul does present big themes that are in line with Jesus' life and teaching.
(Nigel Jones, May'16)