Paul – The first theologian?

The Gnostic Paul?

 A Diluted Gnosticism at the heart of Orthodoxy

Jesus Never Existed –  Paul the Apostle

email the author –
Kenneth Humphreys


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Last Supper? No mention

last supper

The author of the pseudo-Pauline epistle to the Hebrews makes no mention of the Last Supper, even when quoting the blood covenant of Moses.

The same letter says that the Lord takes the role of high priest in the heavenly sanctuary (the real thing) and even implies that Christ had never been on earth!

"Now, if He had been on earth ... "
– Hebrews 8.4.

The almost canonical 1 Clement urges observance of a Eucharist but does so without mentioning its institution by Jesus.

Since both documents are "early" and fail to mention the involvement of Jesus in the sacramental meal, Paul's graphic "Lord's Supper" must be "late"!





Last Supper? Pagan precedents

The Great Court of Jupiter, Baalbek (Heliopolis, ancient Syria).

The structure was vandalized by the intrusion of a Christian basilica in the 4th century. Two hundred years later the temple was robbed of its gigantic columns by the emperor Justinian.

On three sides of the Great Court are a dozen ornate rectangular and semicircular recesses. Painted inscriptions reveal that these exedras were used by cult fraternities for sacred meals.

The initiates sat on stone benches, watched over by images of their gods.

Eucharist-type meals were commonplace and very ancient. Livy relates that in Rome a sacred meal – the lectisternium – was shared with the gods as early as the 4th century BC.

Church father Firmicus Maternus (On The Error of Profane Religions, 6.2) even relates that devotees of the Roman fertility god Liber (later assimilated into Dionysus) symbolically ate their deity at a biennially banquet.

The Pauline Eucharist removed the element of actual supper but retained the ritual and godly presence.








A mouthful of Jesus

"Is anybody so mad as to believe that the food he eats is actually a god?"

– Cicero, The Nature of the Gods, 3.201.











"The basic theme in the Pauline myth can be summed up in one phrase: the descent of the divine saviour."

– Hyam Maccoby, The Mythmaker, p184.












Not a serious matter

Slavery – "That's nothing"

Contention and factionalism get Paul hot under the collar but slavery was of "no consequence". According to the apostle slavery had no bearing on spiritual salvation. Well, that's ok then.

"Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called. Are you called being a slave? Care not for it."

– 1 Corinthians 7.20,21.






A serious matter

The Holy Spirit: from the Father - or from Father and Son?

It probably won't keep anyone awake at night in the 21st century but whether the Holy Spirit "proceeds" from the Father alone or from the Father and the Son was a cause of schism and warfare in the 9th-11th centuries.

The latter formulation (ex Patre Filioque procedit) was pronounced a heresy by the Patriarch of Constantinople, Photios I in 879.

Centuries earlier, in reaction to Arianism, the verbal novelty had been added to the Nicene creed by the church in Rome to emphasize the elevation of Jesus to equal divinity with God.













Trinitarian Paul?

Was Paul a Trinitarian? Those who wish to think so can draw comfort from 2 Corinthians:

"The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen." – 2 Corinthians 13.14.

Unlike the Son, the Spirit is not "begotten" but "proceeds" into existence.

For some scribes the Holy Spirit is the active element – as the "adoptionist" author of Mark maintains: the Spirit descending on Jesus at his baptism, sent by the Father.

At other times the spirit "proceeds from the Father and the Son" (ex Patre Filioque procedit), as the Latin schismatics of the 9th century argued, emphasizing the elevation of Jesus to an equal divinity with God.

The one certainty in all this excruciating twaddle is that the doctrine of the Trinity provided employment for leisured theologians for centuries.












First witness – Gnostic

"It is interesting that the first Christian commentary on any text of scripture that we know about came from a so-called heretic, a second-century Gnostic named Heracleon, who wrote a commentary on the Gospel of John."

– Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus, p28.











Paul: Mythmaker – or Myth?

"Paul did not invent any of the elements that went to make his mythology; what he did invent was the way in which all the elements were combined to make a new and powerful myth."

– Hyam Maccoby, The Mythmaker, p195.


"It would also be entirely conceivable that the author of the Pauline letters did not begin at all with a historical figure ... but with a legend ... as the great hero of the faith in the past, powerful in words and deeds."
– Hermann Detering, Falsified Paul, 133/4.










"Born of a woman" ... an event in heaven!

The Revelation of John makes clear that early Christians did NOT regard the phrase "born of a woman" as indicative of human birth.

The rambling gore-fest of the End Time makes clear that the Christ is born in heaven to a pregnant, celestial female:

"A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.

She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth ...

She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. The woman fled into the desert to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days."

– Revelation 12.1-6.

The other reeds of straw are: "from the seed of David"; "Brother of the Lord"; and "in the likeness of flesh." If intended to be understood literally they are a triumph of imprecision!

























"Then spoke the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not your peace, for I am with you, and no man shall set on you to hurt you: for I have many people in this city."

Acts 18.9,10.






Did Paul ever visit Corinth? On the basis of the available evidence, that is doubtful. Paul's supposed conversions in the Greek city are spectacular and rapid – and he even receives an encouraging visitation from the Lord himself, assuring the apostle that He already had "many people in this city" (Acts 18.9-10*). Who on earth converted them?

And yet Paul's own converts fall away just as rapidly as they are made. Despite his unspecified "mighty deeds" and the heavenly support, Paul, the "wise masterbuilder" (1 Corinthians 3.10), has only limited success in Corinth. If we are to believe his Corinthian letters, he had a surprisingly fraught and strained relationship with "his" church. The epistles make clear that opponents and rivals had a following even within the miniscule Christian community and apparently, the "whole church" of Corinth could meet in the house of Gaius (Romans 16.23), which far from suggests serried ranks of believers.

Something is not quite right here and the existence of the Corinthian epistles – amounting to more than one-third of the entire Pauline corpus – should not blind us to an alternative, and more probable, explanation for both their origin and purpose.


A Christian Theology – from Jesus, Paul or "the Church"?

Paul, tireless founder of churches and evangelist extraordinaire, is also the first – and most influential – theologian of the Church. The seeds of predestination, original sin, the trinity, salvation and judgement theology are all to be found within his so-called letters. No other writings in the New Testament even come close to such a powerful and unique statement of religious thought as is to be found in the epistles of Paul.

How extraordinary that orthodoxy was defined so comprehensively at such an early date, forgotten for a century, and re-emerged to battle triumphantly with a hundred shades of heresy in the second half of the 2nd century!

All that Paul says is orthodox – a remarkable achievement considering how many heretics the 2nd century produced. Indeed, for the next few centuries nearly every writer who wrote under the banner of Christianity, to a greater or lesser extent, strayed into heresy. But not Paul. He is the gold standard of orthodoxy. He provides the "proof text" of the resurrection, defines the sacrament of the Eucharist and determines the rules for Christian conduct. He remains a hero equally to the Orthodox, Catholic, Evangelical and liberal churches.

He is also too good to be true.


A planted "proof text"

The most celebrated passage of the Corinthian letters is the "creed" of 1 Corinthians 15, verses 3-8, claimed for a remarkably early date by Christian apologists and much used as "evidence of the Resurrection". The so-called creed is purportedly a ubiquitous aide memoire of the first Christians – lest they forgot precisely who saw the risen Christ!

"For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:
And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve:
After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep.
After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles.
And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time."

Yet this "creed", far from being common currency in early Christian writings, is found only in this one exemplar. In fact, not one of the four gospels even agrees the list or the sequence of resurrection appearances. Mark and John credit the first witness to Mary Magdalene (yet the creed has no women witnesses); Luke credits "Cleopas and another" on the road to Emmaus (an accreditation omitted from the creed); and Matthew cites the "two Marys". The gospellers say nothing of any appearance to James, to the "500" or to Paul, and they refer at this point to eleven not twelve disciples (Judas being dead and Matthias not yet elected).

The "creed" gives Cephas (aka Peter, Simon) primacy as witness to the resurrection, an unlikely citation from Paul who had apparently "opposed him to his face" in Antioch (Galatians 2.11) and had been vexed by a "Cephas faction" in Corinth. Repeatedly, Paul stresses the independence of his gospel from any man. How improbable that the recipient of a unique revelation should appeal to a third-hand list of other witnesses, many of whom he had never met!

The primary placement of Cephas/Peter betrays the true origin of the so-called creed. It is more correctly understood as a less than perfect 2nd century Catholic harmonization of diverse apparition stories, with the Prince of the Apostles moved to pole position. The late editing also explains the awkward wording of Luke 24.34, where a 450-word story of the encounter "on the road to Emmaus" is oddly eclipsed at its climax. The two witnesses have rushed back to Jerusalem but their own "good news" is upstaged by a blunt intrusion of "The Lord has appeared to Simon," without a word of further explanation.

1 Corinthians 15 is late and fake and casts a shadow over the authenticity of the Corinthian epistles. Indeed, what becomes clear is that the two so-called letters to Corinth have a number of curious "re-starts" and are in all probability composites of several original documents melded together for didactic and proselytizing purposes.

But just why is there all this cut and paste with the Corinthian material? Who gains?


Rich Man, Poor Man and the rite of Eucharist

"What? Have you not houses to eat and to drink in? ... If any man hunger, let him eat at home."

1 Corinthians 11.22,34.

It was not Jesus who instituted the Eucharist but Paul – or perhaps more accurately, those who wrote in his name. Did the godman not say, time was short, the "Kingdom was at hand" (Matthew 4.17)? Why institute a commemorative feast at all – unless, that is, we have long passed any 1st century expectation of the second coming and are instituting the sacraments of a church for the long-haul and are well into the 2nd century!

Unlike the Gospel writers (two of whom were supposedly actual attendees of the "last supper"!), Paul has rather a lot to say about the sacramental feast. Mark (although not himself a witness), reports the Last Supper in a brief, formulaic manner:

"And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, 'Take; this is my body.' And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, 'This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.' "

– Mark 14.22-25.

Although the word "covenant" is used (but unexplained) notice that there is no reference here to the famous "Do this in remembrance of me," crucial to the institution of what will be known as the Eucharist. In fact, what we have here is Jesus making a solemn vow, nothing more.

Nor is the injunction of remembrance to be found in the gospel of Matthew, although that author, a "witness" who, strangely, copies Mark's words, adds an explanation for the shedding of Jesus' blood: it is for "the remission of sins" (26.28).

The gospel of Luke (another non-witness), does include "Do this in remembrance of me" (22.19) but restricts JC'c blood sacrifice to his immediate audience ("shed for you") rather than the "many" cited by Matthew. But is "Dr" Luke's account a reliable report from history? This biographer of Paul (viz. Acts of the Apostles) should have been aware that the most comprehensive (and earliest) account of the Last Supper, which included the imperative, "Do this in remembrance of me", was to be found in 1 Corinthians, where Paul says his knowledge of the event comes from the Lord himself, not disciples.

Strikingly, Jesus' vow to temperance ("not until I drink in my Father's kingdom") is entirely absent in this first rendering of the story. In the Corinthian letter the author makes very clear that a ritual was to be instituted:

"For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me.

In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.' For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes."

– 1 Corinthians 11.23-26.

Paul actually gives this "new" ritual an ancient pedigree by retrofitting the idea of consuming Christ as "spiritual food" into the ancient wanderings of the Jews!

"Our forefathers ... ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ ...

Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf."

– 1 Corinthians 10.1-17.

In another graphic metaphor Paul speaks of "Christ, our Passover lamb" (1 Corinthians 5.7) and he piles in references to yeast, bread, dough and anything else he can think of to give his ritual fulsome Jewish antecedents. This last meal of the soon-to-die god with his closest followers would become the kernel about which literalists would build their entire gospel tale. But in any event, a celebratory meal held by communicants for their god was of great antiquity – among pagans.


A Paradigm of the Mysteries

"Behold, I tell you a mystery." – 1 Corinthians 15.51.

"Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God." – I Corinthians 4.1.

"We speak wisdom among them that are perfect, yet not the wisdom of this world ... We speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory." – 1 Corinthians 2.6-7.

"To me ... was given, that I should preach ... Christ and make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God." – Ephesians 3.8-9.

The ingestion of a god does, indeed, have an ancient pedigree; it was a common element of the Mysteries and perhaps is traceable to the dawn of civilization: a reading of the Egyptian Book of the Dead suggests the deceased are portrayed as eating the gods and so imbuing their powers. Certainly, one of the earliest witnesses to organized Christianity, 2nd century Justin Martyr, complained:

"For the Gospels have thus delivered to us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, "This do ye in remembrance of Me, this is My body;" and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, "This is My blood;" and gave it to them alone. Which the wicked devils have imitated in the mysteries of Mithras, commanding the same thing to be done. For, that bread and a cup of water are placed with certain incantations in the mystic rites of one who is being initiated, you either know or can learn."

– First Apology, 66.

Paul himself is obliged to acknowledge the pagan precedents:

"For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols?" – 1 Corinthians 8.10.

"You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord's table and the table of demons." – 1 Corinthians 10.21.

Paul goes to some lengths to stress that the re-enactment of his godman's last meal has an exclusively sacred character, and would not mirror the indulgence of a pagan celebration (hence his concern that "weak" brethren might waver in their faith). He issues a dire warning that any of the partakers who prove "unworthy" risked blood-guilt, damnation, sickness and death:

"He who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself ... For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep." – 1 Corinthians 11.29,30.

What becomes clear is that for all the cant spouted about "loving one another" the meetings of the early church – held in rich members' houses – put a considerable strain on the "fellowship" of the first Christians. Much to the chagrin of the wealthy hosts, poorer members quite understandably took the opportunity to fill their stomachs.

The tensions within the brotherhood drew Paul's authoritative ruling. The church was certainly to be no soup kitchen for the poor:

"When you come together therefore into one place, this is NOT to eat the Lord's supper. For in eating every one should take before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken. What? Have you not houses to eat and to drink in? ... ... If any man hunger, let him eat at home." 1 Corinthians 11.20-34.

The "supper" aspect of the Lord's supper was to be purely symbolic. The brethren were to gather in solemn sobriety and be hungry if need be. Only spiritual food would be served. That surely reassured hospitable Roman matrons who found themselves drawn towards this Jewish cult but felt a tad put upon by the plebs!

It's worth comparing the successful Pauline ritual with the one that failed. The author of John – a "witness" of that famous last meal, seated next to JC himself! – wrote a unique and extended version of the "Holy Communion". That writer not only omitted any Jesus' vow to abstinence; he also wrote not a word about ritualistic cannibalism. Instead, he had the godman issue a very different injunction – feet washing!

"You call me teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you." – John 13.13-14.

The text makes clear that JC's ablutions have nothing to do with hygiene or hospitality because the foot-washing occurs after, not before, the meal. The Lord's servile behaviour was purely an act of humility.

No wonder this mandate didn't catch on with the self-aggrandizing hierarchs of the church!


Imbibing the new god

"I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me."

– Galatians 2.20.

Unlike either Judaism or Gnosticism, the mystery cults allowed their adepts to become "as one" with their gods. An outward sign of this osmosis was the High Priest taking the name of the god – as indeed did many west Asian kings take the name Mithridates, or the exotic future emperor Elagabalus take the name of the Emesene sun-god.

The "indwelling presence of God", sacrilege to the Jews and abhorrent to the Gnostics, was common to the mysteries. For Paul, the redemption, paid for by the "atoning death" of Christ, was, in practical terms, actually achieved by an "inpouring" of the divine being, a oneness also on offer in the mysteries, although without the morbidity of sin. The presence of the indwelling Spirit, says Paul, is a "guarantee" of salvation from God! (2 Corinthians 1.22).

Another borrowing-with-adaptation was baptism, an act of purification among certain Jewish sects, but by Paul given a new, sacramental purpose comparable to the immersions of the Mysteries. Water immersion became initiation into the new cult and an occasion in which the divine personality shared himself. The convert became "in Christ":

"For as many of you as were baptized in Christ have put on Christ." – Galatians 3.27.

This oneness with Paul's Christos was multi-faceted, beginning with a spiritual circumcision and proceeding through death to rebirth.

"In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands." – Colossians 2.11.

Paul himself "experienced" scourging ("I bear branded on my body the marks of Jesus" – Galatians 6.17); he was mocked by a "thorn in the flesh" (2 Corinthians 12.7); ersatz crucifixion, burial and resurrection followed:

"Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." – Romans 6.3.4.

It thus no longer surprises that the supposed churches of Galatia received Paul as an angel of God and even as Christ Jesus!

"My trial which was in my flesh you did not despise or reject, but you received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus." – Galatians 4.14.

At Corinth, Paul is "absent in body" but is with the brethren "in spirit" and his spirit delivers an erring brother to Satan! (1 Corinthians 5.3-5).

As befits saints who have achieved symbioses with their god, Paul and his brothers are already "citizens in heaven" (Philippians 3.20) awaiting bodily transformation from their Lord. In the Pauline cult assimilation into the mores and passion of the god Christ is everything.

Despite desperate claims to the contrary (such as appeals to a phrase such as "born of a woman" ** found in Galatians and the holy banquet discussed above), a human Jesus is nowhere to be found in the epistles of Paul. Far from confirming "incidents" from the gospel yarn the Pauline theology of "Christ", the Divine indwelling Spirit of God, itself influenced and inspired the later gospel writers who gave a literalistic form to a Jesus adventure story on earth.


The Gnostic Paul

"The God of this Age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel."

– 2 Corinthians 4.4.

The deified character called Lord Christ Jesus is a Pauline construct, not a man at all but a spirit Saviour who descends from a realm of light "above" to a world lost in darkness "below", a world ruled by powers and principalities.

"Give thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins." – Colossians 1.12-13.

Paul here offers a diluted Gnostic dualism. The "Gnostic Paul" sets up a paradigm in which the flesh is the enemy of the Spirit and should be mortified. The body is wretched and vile (Romans 7.24; Philippians 3:21), in conflict with the Spirit (1 Corinthians 9.27; Galatians 5.17) and the harbinger of corruption and death (1 Corinthians 15.42; Galatians 6.8). In contrast, the Spirit is holy (Romans 1.4), life (Romans 8.2; 2 Corinthians 3.6)), peace (Romans 8.6), righteousness (Romans 8.10), power (1 Corinthians 2.4; 2 Timothy 1.7), and joy (Romans 14.7, 1 Thessalonians 1.6).

The world itself is base, governed by a spirit of disobedience (Ephesians 2.2), its wisdom is foolishness (1 Corinthians 3.19), and it is "passing away" (1 Corinthians 7.31). Because of the sins of man (Romans 3.23-26) malevolent "powers of the aeon" now rule the world:

"For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places." – Ephesians 6.12.

In an invisible realm in an indeterminate past the dark powers crucified "the Lord of glory" because they did not know God's "secret wisdom ... hidden from before time began" (1 Corinthians 2.7). The descending Saviour does, indeed, bring gnosis (knowledge), but all this gnosis amounts to is a knowledge of the saving power of his own death!

And yet by the incarnation of the Son all the pieces of the Divine plan have fallen into place. A cosmic equation has been resolved. By the atoning death of the Saviour Death itself is defeated and we are saved – or at least those of us who are within the communion of the church:

"Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body ... Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish."

– Ephesians 5.23-27.

In the hands of Paul the self-sacrificing divinity usurps the title of "Lord" (kurios), hitherto the exclusive epithet of God. Along with the title goes much of the authority: the "day of the Lord" (Isaiah 2.10-11) becomes the day of "Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 1.8). the Kingdom of God becomes the Kingdom of Christ (Ephesians 5.5.); the Church of God becomes the Church of Christ (Romans 16.16); the spirit of God becomes the spirit of Christ (Romans 8.9). JC is both law-giver (Galatians 6.2) and future judge (Romans 2.16), roles formerly the exclusive remit of Yahweh. It begins to look like duotheism, except that even the "Spirit of God" emerges with its own personality (1 Corinthians 2.10-15), a notion quite alien to Judaism. Such identification paved the way for the infamous 3-in-1 formula, the notion of a trinity.

"For in Christ the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily." – Colossians 2.9.

"Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped." – Philippians 2.5-6.

The Jews were familiar with manifestations of Yahweh's personality. They appear repeatedly throughout Jewish scripture, perhaps most famously as “the Angel of the Lord” in the burning bush episode (Exodus 3.2-6). But in Pauline theology multiple personalities become evident. No wonder the Jews found "Christ crucified" a stumbling block!


Multiplying deities - the Holy Spirit makes an entrance

"Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed ... The one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills."

– 1 Corinthians 12.1-2.

The Holy Spirit takes over where the entity called Christ leaves off. For Paul, the Holy Spirit (aka the 'Paraclete') and the power of Christ have much the same meaning and Paul uses the terms interchangeably:

"Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?" – 1 Corinthians 3.16.

"But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His." – Romans 8.9.

"For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ." – Philippians 1.19.

"And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” – Galatians 4.6.

Establishing any clear distinction between an entity called Christ and an entity called the Holy Spirit is nigh impossible. At one point Paul tells us that Christ is the "wisdom of God" (1 Corinthians 1.24) that gives Grace (1 Corinthians 1.4); elsewhere we are told the Spirit is the "will and the love of God" (1 Corinthians 2.10-16; Romans 5.5) that intercedes with God (Romans 8.27). It seems the Spirit can arrive as water, fire, breath, wind, oil, wine – even in the actions of the apostle himself:

"I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong"

– Romans 1.11.

The theology of the Holy Spirit ("pneumatology") was the last element of the trinitarian nonsense to develop and today's believers have widely differing understandings of the Spirit. The Father is present both in the Son and in the Spirit, the trio of personalities are separate persons but a single essence, always in agreement with themselves. In the rarified babble of Pauline theology obfuscation reigns supreme. In iconography artists usually settle for representing the Holy Spirit as a dove, not a human figure. Well, who can blame them?


Gracious me – Dumping the Law

"I worked harder than all of them ... the Grace of God was with me." – 1 Corinthians 15.10.

To be sure, in the mind of Jews one expectation of the messianic age was the return of the Holy Spirit of God. Yahweh's Will would again be made manifest as an active agent in human history. Paul's "cleverness" was to hook his Lord Christ deity to this active agent and thus provide a mechanism whereby the redemption, paid for by the Saviour's death, can be collected. In this twin-track formulation, God first sends Christ as a sacrifice for the sins of man which demand atonement. God then sends the Holy Spirit to make good on his promise. All this he does out of a perfect love for his creatures. It is God's gift, or as Paul styled it, divine grace.

This simple, albeit quixotic, formulation of the plans and purposes of the Creator – derived from an "abundance of revelations" (2 Corinthians 12.7) conveniently vouchsafed to Paul in visions – had far-reaching implications. The neophyte, through participation in the appropriate sacraments of the church, imbibes the atonement "through the Spirit" and is thus "justified" (made righteous) in the eyes of God.

Concomitant with the notion of grace went abrogation of the Jewish Law – a masterstroke from a marketeer who saw limitless opportunities among the goyim. The Torah, said Paul, was given not by God but by angels (Galatians 3.19-25; Hebrews 2.2) and had been a temporary rule book, made obsolete by the arrival of the Saviour. By self-sacrifice, Jesus took away the "burden of the law."

By receiving God's grace the observance of a plethora of rules, obligations and prohibitions that governed a Jew's every moment became irrelevant:

"Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing." – 1 Corinthians 7.19.

"Now we are delivered from the law ... We should serve in newness of Spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter." – Romans 7.6.

One danger of so-called "antinomianism" was that redemption from the "curse of the law" (Galatians 3.13) opened the gates to another possibility – libertinism. As the apostle's own diatribes make clear, many early Christians easily persuaded themselves that, having accepted Christ and Salvation they were at liberty to give up work (2 Thessalonians 3.10-12) and really enjoy themselves. The Pauline corpus will have no truck with this dangerously anarchic idea and much of Paul's legacy is a chastisement of fornication and a call for discipline. Although the Law of the Jews has been jettisoned an even more elaborate and arbitrary body of canon law will take its place.


Destiny not Goodness

Paul's promised life eternal was not the reward of merit or "good works." Even pagans might do "good works" but to reward the humanitarian for his compassion would circumvent God's great plan – salvation by acceptance of the atoning sacrifice paid by Christ for mankind's sin. Salvation outside the embrace of the church is not an option, no matter how "righteous" one might be.

For Paul human effort could achieve nothing by itself. An omniscient God knows all future outcomes and His sovereignty cannot be compromised. There was no "covenant" in which man could make a contract binding upon God. Man was utterly dependent on God's goodwill or "grace".

"So then it is NOT of him who wills, NOR of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy."

– Romans 9.6.

The "grace of God" leads inexorably to the despairing notion of "predestination" – those who will be saved have already been chosen. Anxiety over possible exclusion from the elect could be acute, engendering personality disorders, self-abasement and servility.

Can we ever be humble enough for God? Guilt, self-loathing, hair-shirts and flagellation follow.

The sting in the tail of all this mental and physical anguish is that God's Will is made manifest through the Church. The spirit is dispensed solely by Christ's ministers and their ministration of approved sacraments. Woe betide any poor soul who fails to please his local priest!

It was not Paul's ethereal Lord Jesus who sourced the ethics or theology of the new revelation. Paul – or whoever wrote in that name – combined elements from Judaism, Gnosticism, and the Mystery religions to produce the winning formula. Paul's simple and beguiling idea regarding the Divine Will gave birth to a monstrous ideology that would guide the Church for a millennium. The worst of villains who "accepted Christ" and submitted to the sacraments of the church, might be raised to life eternal; whereas the noblest of humanitarians, who never "accepted Christ" but devoted his life to his fellow man, was condemned to eternal damnation, the fires of Hell and the vicious spite of Holy Mother Church.


J. N. Lightfoot, The Epistles of St Paul (Macmillan, 1900)
Alister McGrath, Christian Theology (Blackwell, 2001)
G. Caird, L. Hurst, New Testament Theology (Clarendon1995)
D. Baillie, The Theology of the Sacraments (Faber & Faber, 1957)
Bart Ehrman, Peter, Paul and Mary Magdalene (OUP, 2006)
P. Themelis, Ancient Corinth (Hannibal, 2004)
E. Spatharis, K Petropoulou, Ancient Corinth (Olympic, 2006)
J. Murphy-O'Connor, Paul, a Critical Life (Clarendon, 1996)
J. Finegan, Light from the Ancient Past (Kessinger, 2007)
A. N. Wilson, Paul - The Mind of the Apostle (Sinclair-Stevenson, 1997)

Paul-Louis Couchoud,  The First Edition of the Paulina (1926)




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