Paul vs. the Apostles

Church Versions of the Relationship Between Peter and Paul

The Orthodox Version

Paul and Peter
Loving Each Other


The Catholic Version

Peter and Paul
Cooperating in Promoting
the "One, Holy, Catholic,
and Apostolic Church"

The Protestant Version

Paul Giving Instruction
to Peter

How Accurate Are These Pictures?

I. THE PROBLEM:

The Earliest sources of Information on the Jesus Movement are NOT the Gospels, but

    1. the Seven Letters of Paul Generally Considered to be Genuine

1 Thessalonians, Galatians, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Romans, Philippians, Philemon

    2. Parts of the Acts of the Apostles

Note: The NT Gospels represent a Later Stage of Christian Tradition and reflect Later Interpretations of Jesus and his message by the Church at the end of the first century CE.

The earliest sources preserve memories of a conflict between Paul and the Apostles Peter and John, and James the Just, the brother of Jesus, who, as Paul himself witnessed, were the "pillars" of the earliest Jerusalem-based Jesus Movement.

II. THE COMBATANTS:

In one Corner:  

The Historical Disciples of Jesus of Nazareth, 
Peter, John, and James the Just (one of Jesus' four brothers),
the "Pillars of the Church" and leaders of the earliest Jesus Movement.

In the other Corner: 

Paul, a.k.a. Saul, Self-appointed Apostle
who began as a persecutor of Jesus' genuine Apostles 
then is said to have had some kind of a "conversion" experience
and became (in his own eyes at least) a specially appointed Apostle of Jesus.

III. THE SCENARIO:

Paul may have obtained some information about Jesus from the Apostles but never knew Jesus personally. Later Paul claimed to be receiving special revelations from Jesus and the Spirit, argued against the historical disciples of Jesus, challenged their authority, and questioned the correctness of their teaching about Jesus and the "Gospel."

Paul seems to have lost his power struggle with the Apostles, then broke with them and went out on his own preaching his own version of Jesus as Lord, his own law-free gospel, and his own innovative concept of the "church." In his last epistle, Romans, Paul seems to have given up on the East and is informing the Roman Christians that he plans to come to them on his way to Spain to spread his gospel in the West. But first he plans to make a final trip to Jerusalem which turns out to be his undoing. There he is arrested and eventually sent as a prisoner to Rome where he is executed.

Paul seems to be in continuous conflict with the Jewish communities of the Diaspora and with agents of the Apostles and the Jerusalem authorities sent to the Diaspora to oppose him. The execution of James by the High Priest in 62 CE and the execution of both Peter and Paul by Nero in the mid-60's CE, followed by the Roman destruction of Judea in 70 CE terminate both Jewish and Apostolic activity. What remains after the "holocaust" of 70 are the "churches" established by Paul and other Apostles throughout the empire. These "churches" continue independently of official Judaism which regroups under the Pharisaic Rabbi's in the Synagogues. Thus, it is Paul's version of the "Lord" Jesus, the "Gospel," and the "Church" that prevailed in the ancient Church and survives to this day.

IV. THE ISSUES:

    A. Apostolic Authority vs. Paul's personal experience.       

Could the Apostles have misunderstood or distorted the message of Jesus?

    Paul Struggles to Legitimize his Apostleship vis-a-vis the Real Apostles

        Did Paul have a special revelation, or was he characteristically an extremist?

    Who or what was the "Angel of Satan" that was tormenting Paul?

    B. Paul Did Not Know the Historical Jesus

    Paul's scanty information on Jesus

    C. Paul's "Gospel" vs. the Gospel of the Historical Apostles.

        Who were Paul's Enemies who were Proclaiming "Another Gospel" and "Another Jesus"?

        Modern Jewish-Christians:  The Jewish Christian Webring Homepage

    D. Christianity or "Paulianity" - Did Paul Create "Christianity?"

        Did Paul Invent the "Lordship" of Jesus? and the "Church"?

Did Paul Create the Doctrine of "Justification by Faith" in the Heat of an Argument?

"We Lutherans have gathered like eagles around the carcass of cheap grace, and there we have drunk of the poison which has killed the life of following Christ. The word of cheap grace has been the ruin of more Christians than any commandment of works." (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, p. 44)

V. THE EVIDENCE: 

    A. The Sources

        1.    The NT Book of the Acts of the Apostles

            The Acts of the Apostles was the first history of Christianity,
            supposedly written by Paul's associate Luke, a Greek physician.

        2.    Paul's Epistle to the Galatians

            Galatians was one of Paul's seven surviving genuine epistles,
            an angry letter to a Christian community that had deserted Paul.

    B. Conflict in the earliest Jesus Movement

        1. Hellenists vs. Judaizers - Stephen the Deacon Martyred at Saul's hands (Acts 6:1-8:4)

2. Saul the Persecutor becomes Paul, "The Apostle" (Galatians 1:13-2:2 cf. 1Cor 15:1-11)
      Compare to Luke's versions of Paul's "Conversion"

        3. Trouble Breaks Out among the Apostles
            Paul's Attitude towards Peter and James Changes, becomes Adversarial

            Compare these Incidents to Luke's (whitewashed?) version of the story in Acts 15

            Why All this Controversy Over Who You Can Have Lunch With?

Reader's Guide to Meals, Food and Table Fellowship in the New Testament

4. That James was, in fact, the Leader of the Jerusalem Jesus Movement
    is testified also by the Gospel of Thomas - Saying 12:
        "The disciples said to Jesus, 'We know that you are going to leave us.
        Who will be our leader?' Jesus said to them, 'No matter where you are,
       
you are to go to James the Just . . .'"

5. Where did Paul get his "Gospel"? Paul himself gives two accounts:

Originally Paul seems to have been Content to Claim that he had received
the "tradition" that he Preached from Apostolic Circles (1 Corinthians 15:1-11)

But once the Controversy began, Paul Disassociated himself from the Apostles,
Claimed his "Gospel" was a Revelation of Jesus and not from any Human Source;
Denied even going to Jerusalem until Three Years after his "Conversion" and
Stated that he Interacted only Briefly with Peter and James (Galatians 1:1-24)

But Luke Narrates a Different Version of Paul's Activity after his "Conversion";
Luke Tells a Story of Close Collaboration between Paul and the Jerusalem Community,
Apparently beginning Shortly after Paul's "Conversion" in Damascus (Acts 8:3-9:31)

    C. The Conflict Continues and Becomes even More Severe:

1. Corinth - The Dissension in Corinth continues, becomes even more severe

Paul exchanges a series of letters with the Corinthians, some of which are lost,
and speaks of unrecorded visits to Corinth to deal with the dissension

Cf. 1 Cor 4:18-21; 16:5-8; 2 Cor 1:15-16, 2:1, 5-10; 7:8, 12 (lost harsh letter)

2 Corinthians seems to be a composite of three originally separate elements:

1-7 Concerned with Dissensions in Corinth, Paul speaks of Reconciliation
8-9 Paul Abruptly begins speaking of his Collection of Money
10-13 Paul Suddenly is Angry again and airs his Grievances

Is 2 Cor 10-13:

a) A later separate letter reflecting a second subsequent deterioration of relations between Paul and the Corinthians?

b) Part of the earlier Lost Harsh Letter referred in 2 Cor 7:8, 12?

Paul is Under Intense Psychological Pressure, Rails against the "Super-Apostles"

        2. Philippi - Paul Raves against "Dogs" and "Evil-Workers" (Philippians 3:1-21)

        3. Rome - Paul Expresses his Desire to Evangelize the West (Romans 15:25-33)

                        After traveling first to Jerusalem to Deliver the Money he had Collected

                        Has Paul Lost? Has he given up on the East? What happened to the Money?

        4. Jerusalem - The Grand Finale: Arrest, Trial, eventual Execution Acts 21

Even after the deaths of Paul and the Apostles - The Struggle continues

Primary Sources on James the Just - - - Hanan ben Avraham's Version