Opinion Columns & Blogs

Did St. Paul create Christianity?

Dr. A.N. Wilson wrote a magnificent opus on the life of St. Paul’s called: “Paul, the Mind of the Apostle.” Wilson ends his book by reiterating his central theme. He says: “The Shadow of the Cross and its Glory dominate and animate the pages of all four gospels, revealing them to belong to the world which Paul has imaginatively transformed.” In other words, Paul, who never met Jesus and did not witness his crucifixion, transformed the stories he heard into mythical images which the four evangelists incorporated into the weaving of their gospels. Paul picked up his “Christ stories” not from Jewish communities who had known Jesus in Galilee, but from Greek communities who had already changed him into a god. This is obvious in the beautiful hymn Paul quotes to the Philippians 2:6 which talks of Christ “existing in the form of God.” No Jew could have written this.

Look at the chronology: Jesus died in the year 30. From 30 to 50, two separate “Jesus communities” began to form: a Jewish one in Jerusalem, and a Greek one in the islands. Paul wrote his letters in the 50s to the Greek communities. The Gospels were written from 70 to 110 – mainly for the scattered and fragmented Jewish communities. Remember: no TV, no email, no computers, no telephones. All communication was word of mouth except for the very few (2 percent) who could read and write. Paul could write, or at least dictate to a scribe. And there were a few in each town who could read his letters to the assembled group. So, Paul wrote about the Son of Man he found in the book of Daniel and in the many visions he received from heaven. The four evangelists copied what he wrote and we see the evidence of that when they quote him.

And it is for this reason, Dr. Wilson concludes, that “Paul, and not Jesus, was — if anyone was — the founder of Christianity.” Wilson walks us through Paul’s career as told by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles (incorrectly at times), and by Paul himself, especially in his letters to his converts in Galatia and Corinth. We go from Tarsus to Arabia to Antioch to Europe and then back to Corinth and Ephesus. It’s a trip worth taking with Dr. Wilson. But the original trips resulted in Paul creating Christianity in the Greek Islands while the Jewish communities were being destroyed by the Romans.

This screams at the ears of some Christians in Middle Georgia. I know that. Catholics, for example, have always taught that Jesus established his church on Peter, the first Catholic pope. Five hundred years ago, Protestants — thanks to Martin Luther and others — denied the papal primacy, but they still maintained that the foundation of the church belongs somehow to Jesus. Is this correct?

No, according to Dr. Wilson and many other scripture scholars, it cannot be correct. There is no evidence that Jesus ever established a church outside of Judaism, and we know his Jewish cult, led by his brother, James, was devastated in the year 70. Jesus was a Jew who lived and preached to Jews; why would he want them to leave their religion and all their ancient traditions? He died a rebellious Jew, but still a Jew. And his followers who stayed in Jerusalem with James, the brother of Jesus, remained Jews until the Roman Emperor sent Titus down to kill them all.

Paul, on the other hand, was teaching to Greeks who loved mythology and had no use for the laws and restrictions of Judaism. If Paul wanted them to embrace the Jewish Messiah, Paul had to strip away all those remnants of Judaism, like circumcision, which were so offensive to his converts, and he had to allow myths to flourish. Paul did all this. He created a church for Gentiles, and he called it Christianity.

At least, that’s what Dr. Wilson claims.