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(3) The Paul Paradox

Peripatwmen kata taV entolaV autou! (II-Jn 6)


         Those who study the New Testament may well note the fact that popular 'red-letter' editions of the text, with Christ's words thus highlighted, contain virtually no such rubrics thruout the Epistles of Paul. With the sole exception of the eucharistic formula at I-Cor 11:24-25, he does not quote any sayings of the historical Yeshúa/Jesus. Indeed furthermore, he never even once alludes to the detailed biographical panorama, from the Nativity up to the Passion, which fills the pages of the canonical Gospels. This is, on the face of it, a most puzzling omission.
          Beyond this remarkable lack of historical concern, however, there is an even more enigmatic aspect of Paul's record in the New Testament. For an objective, philosophical reading of the documents would seem to reveal a number of logical contradictions, both within his biography and also between his theology and that of the Evangelists. It must be emphasized that these anomalies are conceptual rather than empirical in nature. For although they of course occur in interwoven historical, theological and normative contexts within the NT, they nevertheless present themselves as a priori problems of analytical consistency between various texts--regardless of the truth or falsity of any factual claims being made or presumed by those texts. Furthermore, these discrepancies must be similarly distinguished from logically posterior issues concerning the ancient composition, editing, redactions or dating of the New Testament writings, all of which are factual/historical topics.
          In sum, and stated more formally: the Pauline antinomies are logical contradictions and therefore cannot in principle be resolved by means of either historical investigation or textual criticism, both of which are empirical methodologies.
          Neither is this the place to provide a retrospective survey of the many past commentaries on these complex questions. I shall only append a series of quotations from a number of eminent figures--starting with Thomas Aquinas (citing Jerome and Augustine), Teresa of Avila, and John Locke--who are in general agreement that Paul's doctrines appear to be seriously at odds with the Gospel message. These excerpts suffice to show that what might be called 'the Paul paradox' has been recognized by a remarkably wide spectrum of prominent individuals across the centuries.


          Here then is the matrix of antinomies, along with a brief statement of the apparent logical contradiction in each case (the original Greek should always be checked, at least via Adolph Knoch's superlative interlinear [Biblio.#16], as modern translations often blur these very discrepancies):

 1.  Ac 9:7 || Ac 22:9
          In the propositional calculus of modern logic, 'p & not-q' is the truth-functional negation of 'q & not-p'. Thus 'they heard but did not see' directly contradicts 'they saw but did not hear'. Yet this famous event on the Damascus road was the sole original justification for Paul's supposed commission in independence of Peter/Kefa and the other Apostles.
 2.  Ac 9:26-29 || Gal 1:17-2:1
          Did Paul then travel immediately--or seventeen years later!--from Damascus to Jerusalem in order to meet with the entire Apostolic circle?
 3.  Mt 22:41-45 || Rom 1:3
          Paul asserts that Christ is descended from David, which the Gospels explicitly deny.
 4.  Lk 2:49, 19:45-46 || Ac 17:24
          The Gospels endorse the OT designation of the Temple in Jerusalem as the very House of the LORD. Paul nevertheless proclaims to the Athenians that God inhabits no sanctuary made by human hands.
 5.  Ac 1:15 || I-Cor 15:6
          How can Christ have appeared to over 500 Brothers at a time (prior to the ascension) when the entire Discipleship numbered only 120?
 6.  Mt 10:2&40, 16:15-19 || Gal 2:11-13
          The explicit designation of Shimon Petros as the foremost Apostle, with all the delegated authority of the Lord himself, logically precludes any other Disciple or Apostle opposing him 'to his face' and calling him a hypocrite.
 7.  Mt 28:16-20, Ac 10:1-11:18 || Gal 2:6-9
          The Gospel doctrine is clearly that, after the resurrection, the remaining eleven Apostles were sent forth to proclaim the good news to the whole world. Paul nevertheless claims to be the one and only Apostle to the gentiles ('the' Apostle as he is often called), while Peter and the others according to this view were to be restricted to evangelizing among the Jews.
 8.  Mt 5:48, Lk 1:6, Jn 1:14, 6:53-56 || Rom 8:8
          The incarnation of the Logos, and also the injunction to be perfect, entail that those who are in the flesh can indeed please God.
 9.  Lk 24:36-43, Jn 11:43-44, 20:27, Ac 1:9-11, Ph 25 || I-Cor 15:50
          The evangelists proclaim an incarnate resurrection and parousia (second coming), whereas Paul on the contrary takes an anti-corporeal, gnostic position.
 10.  Lk 4:5-8, Jn 18:36, 19:18, Ac 4:26 (Ps 2:2) || Rom 13:1-5
          The celestial kingdom is described in the Gospels as of another order from the entire realm of the nations, which are ruled by Satan and whereby Christ was crucified. On the other hand, the secular authorities with all their weaponry (including Mk 15:16 ff.??) are stated by Paul to be God's own army.
 11.  Mt 22:21 || Ac 25:11
          Christ cedes taxes to Caesar, Paul cedes his personal security to him (Nero, no less!).
 12.  Dt 23:15-16, Mt 23:10-12, Jn 8:31-36 || Col 4:1, I-Tim 6:1-2, Philem 10-19
          The re-conceptualization in the Gospels promises to emancipate the believers from oppressive relationships, while Paul literally endorses slavery within the Discipleship.
 13.  Mt 12:46-50, 23:8-9, Lk 14:25-26, Jn 1:12-13, 3:1-8, 11:52 || Col 3:18-21, I-Tim 5:8
          Christ teaches that family ties are to be renounced in favor of--that is, replaced by--the Father/Motherhood of God together with the Brother/Sisterhood of their incarnate Sons and Daughters, whereas Paul adamantly defends the traditional family structure.
 14.  Mt 19:10-12, Lk 14:20-26, 18:28-30, 20:34-36 || I-Cor 7:2-16 & 9:5 (?!), Eph 5:22-24, I-Tim 3:1-4:3
          The Gospels stipulate that those worthy of salvation must transcend matrimony (note that Lk 18:28-30 occurs after Lk 4:38-39). Paul notwithstanding permits a continuation of marriage among the Disciples.
 15.  Num 6:5, Lev 19:27, Mt 2:23 (Jud 13:5), Tr 21 || I-Cor 11:14
          The Hebrew tradition was that long hair on male or female is a sign of holiness and special devotion to God. Indeed the word at Mt 2:23 is NAZWRAIOS (the LXX or Septuagint term for Nazirite), not NAZARHNOS (i.e. someone from Nazareth). Were not John the Baptist and Christ both thus consecrated from birth?
 16.  Mt 6:24-34, 10:8, Mk 10:13-31, Lk 14:28-33, Ac 4:32-36 || I-Cor 11:34, II-Thes 3:6-12
          Christ decrees a cessation of working for mammon, donating all private possessions to the poor, and living thereafter communally--childlike and without anxiety day-to-day like the birds and the flowers, with all shared possessions being distributed equitably among those who have need--thus lifting the curse of toil from mankind (Gen 3:17-19). Paul's advice, on the contrary, is to 'eat at home' and avoid idlers, who must either work or go hungry.
 17.  Mk 7:14-23, Lk 7:34 || Rom 14:21, I-Cor 8:13
          Either we ought, or we ought not, to maintain some particular diet for religious reasons. Yet Paul agrees with neither the OT's dietary rules (kashrut) nor the Savior's remarkable midrash (commentary) thereupon.
 18.  Mt 12:19 (Isa 42:2), Lk 10:7 || Ac 17:16-34, 20:20
          Paul preaches house-to-house, as well as in the streets and squares--contrary to Christ's paradigm.
 19.  Mt 6:5-6 || I-Tim 2:8
          Paul demands the very same outspoken prayer which Christ condemns as exhibitionist; the Savior states that one should only pray in solitude and in secret, never openly.
 20.  Mt 18:1-4, Mk 9:33-35, Lk 14:7-11 || II-Cor 11:5-12:13
          Paul's recounting of his travels is insubordinately boastful and rivalrous--rather than humble, respectful and obedient--toward those who preceded him in the Discipleship.
 21.  Mt 5:43-48, 7:1-5, 9:10-13, 18:21-35, Jn 8:2-11 || I-Cor 5, Gal 5:12, Tit 3:10-11
          The Gospel attitude toward wrongdoers is merciful, yet Paul's is frankly inquisitional. Is 'turning someone over to Satan for the extermination of the flesh' intended to mean delivering him to the secular authorities for execution (as in Jn 19:17-18)? Are we to love our enemies or excoriate them?
 22.  Mt 23:8-12 || Ac 20:28, I-Cor 4:15, I-Tim 3:1-13
          Paul introduces the terms 'father' and 'deacon' and 'bishop' to designate religious leaders--the very sort of title (along with 'pastor', 'minister', etc.) which Christ had explicitly prohibited. Indeed, the passage in Matthew would seem to preclude any kind of hierarchy in the Discipleship other than simple seniority (thus PRESBUTEROS, 'elder', in Ac 21:18, Jas 5:14, I-Pet 5:1, II-Jn 1--by which criterion Paul was obliged to submit to the original Apostles, quite contrary to II-Cor 11:5 & Gal 2:6).
 23.  Gen 17:10, Lk 2:21 || Ac 16:3 (?!), Gal 5:2, Phlp 3:2, Tit 1:10-11
          Saying that it is necessary 'to gag (EPISTOMIZEIN) circumcisionist dogs' is completely out of place in an Apostolic context. In any event, even if Christ referred to that custom parabolically--as in Th 53--he certainly did not forbid its physical practice.
 24.  Lk 11:27-28, Jn 4:1-30, 11:20-35, 20:11-18, Th 21 || I-Cor 14:33-35, I-Tim 2:11-15
          Various women speak up boldly to the Savior. Later, Mariam Magdalene as first witness (!) of the resurrection is sent by Christ to relate (AGGELLW: p66* À* A B) his rising to the Apostles themselves. This is not a teaching of mere female submissiveness or keeping quiet in the Convocation!
 25.  Lk 7:36-8:3, 10:38-42, 23:55-24:11, Jn 12:1-3, Th 61b, 114, Ph 59 || I-Cor 7:1-2, Eph 5:22-24
          The Gospels represent women as an intimate part of Christ's entourage--thus rescinding the punishment of husband-domination in Gen 3:16. Paul emphatically opposes any liberated role for females.
 26.  Mt 5:17-19, 19:16-19, Lk 16:29-31, Ac 21:17-24! || Rom 7:6, Gal 3:10, 5:18
          If the entire Torah--the decalogue in particular, but also the remaining mitzvot (moral rules) such as Lev 19:18 et passim--is in effect until the sky and earth pass away, then the Mosaic Law is not an obsolete curse from which believers are absolved. This was the very topic at issue when, after Paul had completed his three missionary journeys, 'all of the Elders' (!) in Jerusalem required him to take the Nazirite vow--to prove his continuing adherence to the Torah.
 27.  Mt 7:21, 19:16-19, 25:31-46, Jn 13:34!, 14:21, 15:10, Jas 2:14-26 || Rom 3:28, 10:9, I-Cor 15:35-44
          Christ says that one's calling him 'Lord' is not enough, but rather that the Disciple's total obedience is demanded; both the OT and the Gospels require obedience to a plenitude of divine commandments, with resultant fruitful deeds. Paul on the other hand states that a simple confession of faith, along with a belief in Christ's (merely spiritual, not corporeal) resurrection, suffices--a thoroughly antinomian doctrine. (This subject must be carefully distinguished from that of forgiveness--both among humans and between God and humankind--as a pre-eminently innovative tenet in the Gospels. For of course absolution logically presupposes a transgression of the rules, not their abrogation; compare e.g. Ezek 18 with Mt 6:14-15--forgiveness cancels karma!)
 28.  Gen 49, Jud 2:16 ff., Mt 19:28, Ac 1:13-26, Rev/Ap 2:2, 21:14 || I-Cor 9:1-2, II-Cor 11:5-13
          Finally, we must observe the fact that the permanent tally of the Apostles was established by the Savior at exactly twelve (for obvious reasons of historical symbolism--note the symmetry at Rev/Ap 21:12-14), and moreover that Paul was never numbered in that circle.


        The canon of the New Testament was not ecclesiastically established until the Third Council of Carthage in 397 AD. Precisely what transpired during the preceding four centuries is notoriously obscure, as the original Gospel Messianics were eventually supplanted by the Pauline 'Christians' (Ac 11:25-26); see in this regard Walter Bauer's magisterial study, Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity (Tübingen 1934, Philadelphia 1971).
        The irony of course is that the Gospels themselves, of which tradition Paul was evidently ignorant, were ultimately only preserved by the Pauline Church, which also disseminated the very OT which Paul himself had disdained--thus accomplishing the globalization of the canonical Bible. My purpose here, however, has been merely to format a set of scriptural dichotomies, in order to exhibit the underlying logic of the ancient Messianic/Paulianity schism as essentially a conceptual (and of course personal) rather than a factual issue. This in turn may hopefully serve to stimulate a discussion both of the apostolic status of Saul of Tarsus and thus of his inclusion in the canon. For he seems never to have joined Christ's Discipleship at all (which would have meant accepting Peter's spiritual authority), much less to have become an Apostle.
        These basic questions cannot be papered over, nor can they be settled by institutional fiat. For their illuminating implication is that traditional Christianity--as defined by the classical NT canon including both Gospels and Epistles--is logically self-contradictory and hence inherently unstable. Or, in a contemporary analogy, we might say that Paul's writings are like a computer virus: a 'theological virus' which, downloaded with the Gospels, completely changes the latter program, rendering it not gibberish but rather transmuted into another doctrine altogether. In order to avoid such dilemmas, 'the Discipleship' must be delineated in terms either of the evangelists or of Paul, but not both. The corresponding primal community centering on the historical Yeshúa/Christ and Simon Peter may then for the sake of clarity be distinguished as 'Messianics' or 'Christics' or 'Apostolics'.

Appendix: Quotations regarding Paul
(in chronological order)