Being True To Christ But Rejecting Christianity

Essay by EbonyJanice Moore on 18 July 2019 21 Comments

A shift in my geographical location was the catalyst for a life-altering shift in my theological truth system. I was in Kenya, East Africa for 10 weeks in the summer of 2013 on a missions/educational trip when I began to ask myself about the introduction of Christianity to African people, most specifically to black people, whom slavery had brought to America. This was the first time I had ever asked myself why do I believe what I say I believe. I was unable to get to a pure response that had nothing to do with the generations before me who told me of the God that I had grown up loving, and I was unable to filter through the fact that I was born in the United States of America. So the highest probability for my religious upbringing was that I would be Christian or Christian adjacent – it blew my mind.

Why had I never interrogated my faith in this way? I could tell you “what” I believed but I had never asked myself the “why” of my faith. Suddenly, I was having the most traumatic, existential crisis of my life. I didn’t know who I was without Jesus at the center of my existence because my entire identity was rooted in Jesus being everything. And if I was not a Christian then who the heck was I? I was having a spiritual and emotional breakdown, and on top of all of that, I was forced to go through it all in private because I was still preaching and teaching from the pulpit at the time. Who would be able to handle my faith shift and still take me seriously as a preacher or a spiritual leader?

My faith crisis went something like this:

“Jesus isn’t real at all. This whole story was made up.”

“Jesus, who the hell are you really?”

“Ok. Jesus might be real, but the version of him that I know isn’t accurate.”

Then I started sounding like the intro on “1000 Deaths” from R&B legend, D’Angelo’s “Black Messiah” album:

“When I say Jesus, I’m not talking about some blond-haired,
blue-eyed, pale-skinned, buttermilk complexioned cracker Christ.
I’m talking about the Jesus of the Bible, with hair like lamb’s wool.
I’m talking about that good hair. I’m talking about that nappy hair.
Scripture says that his body would be like beryl. Another scripture
said his body would be like jasper. Another scripture said his body
would be like fine brass, as though it had been burned in an oven.
Jesus: the Lord, the Savior, the Master, the Redeemer. Jesus, the
Black revolutionary Messiah.”

This is still my default position on Jesus. My favorite Jesus is a brown skinned Jesus, who was a revolutionary, anti-capitalist, counter cultural activist, and spiritual leader that lived his life with an emphasis on love and undoing corruption in the church. I prefer that Jesus above all because that Jesus makes sense. I could see myself in that Christ. To not worship the European Brad Pitt Jesus as my God made a world of difference for my understanding of what it looked like to be whole and holy in this black body. While I would consider myself a student of that nappy headed Jesus’ living example, and I would honor and acknowledge that He was MY way to God – I do not have a truth system that allows me to affirm that way is the ONLY way to God, as Christian Theology suggests. I have trouble with this part of my former belief system because I know if I were born elsewhere in the world, let’s say Mombasa, Kenya for example, I would likely be Muslim, because that is the dominant religion of that geographical location. Or, if I were born in India, I would likely be Hindu, because that is the dominant religion in that geographical location. Therefore, I am unable to reconcile that my birthplace was some magical glitch in the Salvific Algorithm of Heaven. Or, that I somehow won the salvation lottery, ensuring I was “saved” by proximity to America, while others were assured an eternal hell – because “Oops! Sorry you weren’t born where Jesus is the dominant truth system. Too bad!”

Since my theological shift does not exclude the Bible as my sacred text, nor Christ as my guiding teacher, I generally say, “From a Christian perspective” as a way to indicate that I am clear that this is merely A perspective and not the ONLY perspective. Recently someone asked me to explain why I confessed Christ as my way to God but still decided to explicitly separate myself from Christianity. The best way I could explain why I chose to totally strip myself from that title is to explain why I don’t put my hand over my heart during the Pledge of Allegiance or the National Anthem, and haven’t since elementary school.

When I think about singing the National Anthem, putting my hand over my heart, and saluting a flag, it has always seemed very “Anti-Christ.” It felt like the graven image spoken of in the Bible. This country has valued the flag over human life and dignity more times than I can count. I could never reconcile honoring an object. I should put my hand over my heart for a flag? Further, I should put my hand over my heart for a flag that hasn’t historically represented myself or my people? Somehow, Elementary School EbonyJanice knew this was wrong: it wasn’t in alignment with my personal theology nor the ethics of my youth. Yes, I had ethics as a youth.

I use that example to say that is what calling myself a Christian feels like. It feels like I have been putting my hand over my heart and saying, “I support this flag”, when in fact, I do not support this flag. This flag doesn’t allow me to be a whole person. It does not represent me, and it certainly has not historically represented all people who look like me. I do not pledge allegiance to this flag.

Finally, I decided that stripping myself of the title of Christian would give me an opportunity to divest from a theology that always has us waiting to be saved from feeling filthy, unworthy, raggedy, or has us struggling for and towards being “appropriate.” I needed to live into a theology that allowed me to believe that the work of Christ was complete in me, so that I could celebrate myself as worthy and credible today, instead of always being in the “process” of being considered worthy by Christ – which much of the tradition of preachment in my childhood had taught me. The theology that I needed to invest in believes in genuinely loving people. This kind of love for people causes us to interrogate our Life Theology and Love Philosophy before we move any further. This Life Theology and Love Philosophy that we can reimagine, outside of contemporary Christian and Church Culture, makes room for us to “allow”, instead of always trying to “save” or “fix” or “change” people. I realized that the Theology I had lived and known most intimately had always asked me to fix, change, or break myself apart, and it never gave me permission to linger in the areas where I could celebrate myself as “Good.” Always unworthy. Always filthy. Always broken. Always needing “saving.”

I decided to lean into celebrating a Theology and a Philosophy where the work is finished! It exists. I suspect we are just so used to the fixing and judging of ourselves – the ways we tug at our dresses to make them cover our imaginations, or stare in every mirror waiting to be blemish free before we grin – that we can’t fathom what it would look like for us to no longer be holding our breath waiting for God. This constant conversion and re-evangelizing of ourselves is addictive, and healing it would require some real Soul Therapy. But in order for us to be available for that therapy we would have to be willing to lay some of our religious traditions on the altar and acknowledge that salvation is complete. Now is the time for us to trust in the good and perfect that is ourselves, as much as we have trusted in the religion of our elders, our pastors, and the Brad Pitt Jesus that’s never coming to save us.

~ EbonyJanice Moore

 

Question

Would an all loving God lead us into temptation? If not, why does the Lord’s Prayer ask our Heavenly Father not to lead us into temptation?

Answer

Dear John,

My answer to this is quite simple. The answer is “No, a loving God would not lead us into temptation.” Temptation, in my vernacular, as the urge to do something that would bring harm to ourselves or others, or at the very least, pull us off of the path towards wholeness. The New Testament is pretty clear on this theology. James 1:3 explicitly states “And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else.” This was a question for early Christians that the author of the Epistle of James felt the need to address clearly.

Throughout much of Christian history, there has been debate around what Jesus meant when he prayed “lead us not into temptation.” In recent history, Pope Francis even declared that this was a faulty translation of the Lord’s Prayer, suggesting that the correct verbiage would be more like “do not let us fall into temptation.” While this is a stretch when we examine the Greek, we must remember that Jesus first spoke the words of the Lord’s prayer in Aramaic, and the Greek is but a secondhand translation of that. So it is likely that the phrase “lead us not into temptation” that we have come to know as the Lord’s Prayer is a faulty translation.

At the end of the day, it is important for us to acknowledge that human beings have been given freedom of will, and that we have choices over what we do with our lives. Our choices have consequences for good and bad, and we alone are responsible for the results of our actions. Far too often, religious individuals have sought to justify their wicked behavior by declaring that it was God who led them to do whatever it is they’ve done. And just as often, when negative consequences result of immoral actions, people are prone to shake their fists at the sky in anger. Both postures represent an immature, and I believe, unhealthy spirituality.

We are responsible for our actions and the consequences thereof. When we pray the words that we’ve come to know as the Lord’s Prayer, perhaps it would be more helpful for us to think of them as an internal affirmation of our resolve to resist doing evil, rather than a plea for God to somehow constrain our will to keep us from doing wrong.

“May I keep myself from temptation, and be delivered from evil.”

This wording seems to more accurately reflect a mature, responsible Christian spirituality.

~ Rev. Brandan Robertson

 

Comments

 

21 thoughts on “Being True To Christ But Rejecting Christianity

  1. I accept the premise that Jesus is not a white guy, but I do not accept him as a person of any other color either. If it helps a person to envision him so, that is good, but it seems making race or ethnicity important introduces problems. My grandmother taught me to see Jesus in everyone regardless of who they were. The race idea was not introduced until adulthood.

  2. Dear EbonyJanice: I can empathize with your faith crisis at such an adult life as a “Christian” preacher: “Jesus isn’t real at all. This whole story was made up.”【This got started after the killings and persecutions of Jesus, his apostles, thousands of his disciples during the first 350 years in the Roman Empire; and when the number of Christians actually increased from one million to six million, the Roman Empire wanted to find a better way to control them. So Augustine who did not know Hebrew or Latin, and did not know the Jewish life and customs at all, just combined the old and the new testaments in Greek into what he regarded as being written by a Theistic God. And it became the Bible. No wonder you realized that the Jesus who was described in the Gospel of Matthew 60 years after Jesus was killed, and in the Gospel of Luke in another 10 to 20 years later were not historical at all.】
    “Jesus, who the hell are you really?”【The Romanized Christianity was all wrong; but the story of Jesus was messed up by their erroneous assumptions from the writings of people who had never met Jesus, and from their liturgical memorials of him.】
    I was lucky that I sat in the Presbyterian churches throughout my life, and my faith was changed slowly over many years including becoming an elder. It was less dramatic when I was already 60 years old when Bishop John Spong came to our church in San Jose, CA in 2001. Then I read his old book《Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism: A Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture》By Bishop John Shelby Spong
    Harper San Francisco (Apr 10, 1992)- Paperback. Jack allowed me to translate his book into Chinese which took me many years until 2016.
    Then in 2018 I was permitted to represent ProgressiveChristianity.org in China where I now life. Thank you for sharing us your story.
    Eugene, from Suzhou, China

  3. I was born into a loving Hindu family. Many years ago, when I faced many issues, I somehow found myself in an Episcopal Church and in time, I got baptized as a Christian. Being an adult and somewhat well read about all the atrocities committed in the name of Jesus and the West colonizing and exploiting Asian, African, Middle East, etc countries, it was obvious that the “whiteness” of Jesus was used to subjugate the uneducated people.

    I learnt to distinguish between Jesus who I believe is white and Christ. The spirit of Christ exists in all religions and this understanding made me feel comfortable joining Christianity. I remember a well educated white Christian telling me at the church that he thought I would feel whole joining Buddhism!

    Given the many ugly experiences I had dealing with both white and black Christians at work & outside work, I sometime remember what the well educated white gentleman told me at the church.

  4. Dear EbonyJanice: Unfortunately, Jesus had never written anything for his disciples. Paul, who was Saul, had never met Jesus in real life; his teacher was a Jewish Rabbi who had not been taught by Jesus either. But the current material being taught or preached by the leaders of the Christian church was heavily influenced by Paul’s letters to various churches in the Mediterranean area.
    As Jack Spong wrote in Chapter 19 of his newer book 《Biblical Literalism: A Gentile Heresy》(2016) Jack has entitled it: “The Curse of Atonement Theology” which could be attributed to both Paul and to Matthew’s Gospel.
    (Matthew did not write it prior to 60-70 years after the death of Jesus with about half of his Gospel simply plagiarized from Mark who had never met Jesus himself.
    So our question is, what did Jesus really teach or said?
    We may be certain that he was tried by the Jewish leaders as being blasphemous against the Jewish Law. And later on one of his disciples (only a lowly Deacon) named Stephen was tried by the same Jewish leaders for his teaching in the Synagogues. Those two items Steven was tried for being blasphemous included 1. Sabbath was not determined by God; and 2. God does not live in the buildings, certainly not in the Temple of Jerusalem. (Book of Acts)
    Another thing we may be sure is that Jesus did not teach his disciples to fight and to kill; on the contrary, he was willing to be crucified even by a Kangaroo court. And everyone of his Apostles were willed and were happy to be crucified, with several of them be crucified upside-down. But the best and perhaps the most effective teaching by Jesus was in the change of a Jewish warrior in Simon the Zealot (But he was captured by the Pharisees in Persia and was either nailed to the cross or was severed in twp-halves by a long saw. The date was in 74 CE.)
    Thus, we know for sure that Jesus had taught his disciples to question the Law, especially the stories of a God who would use killing to solve his problems.
    Eugene, from Suzhou, China

  5. Would an all loving God lead us into temptation? If not, why does the Lord’s Prayer ask our Heavenly Father not to lead us into temptation?

    There is a simpler way of looking at the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus was using the words of the Prayer to describe the specific spiritual nature of “God”as “Father” (Abba). The Prayer is structured in a way that the “You” is implied rather than spoken.

    Consider the words at they appear in the NRSV.
    Matthew 6:9-13 (NRSV):
    9 Our Father (You are) in heaven, hallowed be “your” name.
    10 “Your” kingdom come. “Your” will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
    11 (You) Give us this day our daily bread.
    12 And (You) forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
    13 And (You) do not bring us to the time of trial, but (You) rescue us from the evil one.

    This interpretation of the Spirit within the Word is consistent with the message of scripture found in
    James 1:13 (NRSV)
    “No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one.”

    John Crag

  6. “Being True To Christ But Rejecting Christianity”

    I like the title that EbonyJanice Moore used for her article. I agree with what she is saying about the need to reject a false image of “Christ”. A “true” spiritual follower of Jesus would have to reject the “theological image” of “Christ”. The “theological image” of Christ was religiously convenient for a Caesar named Constantine. Anything that has been religiously “rendered unto Caesar” would have been the opposite of what the historically real Jesus would have been guiding people to understand about “God”.

    If the religious error is to project “the image” of Christ into a “physical form” that seems most suitable for an individual’s needs, then correcting that mistake by making the same mistake in a more convenient physical form may not be the solution to the real problem.

    As a white American male Protestant living in the South, I know the historically real Jesus was a 1st Century Jew living in Palestine who spoke a language that I wouldn’t understand. In other words, the historically real Jesus, as a fully human Jew, was nothing like me. I will never be anything like him.

    The fact that I share nothing physically, politically, or religiously in common with the historically real Jesus does not prevent me from being spiritually guided in the Way that transcends my purely physical (worldly) nature. Constantine wanted the world to see Jesus as “the image” of a “crucified” Christ. Caesar is NOT my “God”. I choose to believe in the God who resurrected Jesus. The Resurrection is the reason why I believe that a real “God” still wants people to seek and search for the Way to follow Jesus.

    I do not need to create or un-create “the image” of a “blonde haired, blue-eyed” Jesus because neither “blonde hair” nor “blue eyes” guide my understanding of God as the Spirit of Wisdom and Compassion.

    I believe the historically real Jesus was guiding people towards an understanding of God as “Abba”. I believe Jesus reflected the loving Spirit of a Father/God, as Abba, who loves ALL His children. This Spirit of Love exists regardless of a person’s Race, Color, Creed, Religion, or any other “label” that “the world” has attached to a person’s physical existence.

    That being said, I can only agree in part with the final comment made by EbonyJanice Moore:

    “Now is the time for us to trust in the good and perfect that is ourselves, as much as we have trusted in the religion of our elders, our pastors, and the Brad Pitt Jesus that’s never coming to save us.”

    It is both easy and convenient to say that “Now is the time for us to trust in the good and perfect that is ourselves…” It is tempting to turn away from the Roman worship of Caesar “as God on earth” and replace that foolish thinking with a desire to worship ourselves as being “as good as God on earth”. Is this really a spiritual solution or simply a modern makeover of the same ancient Roman religious problem?

    I enjoy seeing the Moonlight on a dark night. Even though I refer to it as “Moon” light, I know the difference between the Moon and the Sun. I know Moonlight does not come from the Moon.

    I also know that the “good” that is reflected in me does not come from me, even though I can reflect that Spirit of goodness through my acts of unselfish love and compassion towards all other people.

    Because I know Jesus was raised to believe in God as a Jew, I can believe two things about Jesus.
    1) I can believe the real Jesus knew the Spirit of the real God.
    2) I can believe that Jesus knew (as a Jew) that a human spirit created by God cannot become God.

    If we choose to embrace “the image” of Christ as a religiously made “god/man” substitute for the fully spiritual God of Jesus then we are rejecting “the Way” that was revealed by the historically real Jesus. We are following an ancient Roman religious tradition that worshipped “the Divine image” of a god/man. That Roman tradition came from an Empire that believed a “Divine title” turns a man into “God on earth”.

    Do we want to use the religious beliefs that were made for an Empire that worshipped Caesar “as God” as our religious excuse to crucify the truth about what the real Jesus would have believed as a Jew?

    That is the question.

    John Crag
    Durham, NC

  7. Eugene, you seem to dislike or at least not value Paul.

    Historically, it seems that Paul went after the Jewish followers of Jesus as early as 32 CE (assuming Jesus was crucified in 30 CE: cf Ehrman’s blog), because of their specific preachings/beliefs about Jesus. The original disciples looked to their Jewish scriptures to make sense of and to understand why their Jesus suffered such an ‘ignoble’ death and the idea of his death as a sacrifice originated with these earliest Jewish followers and were later taken up by Paul.

    Paul said he received his understanding from Jesus himself – so we can either accept this rather theistic, special revelation explanation or acknowledge what Ehrman wrote: “the terminology of “received” and “delivered,” as often noted by scholars, is the kind of language commonly used in Jewish circles to refer to traditions that are handed on from one teacher to the next.”

    There was already a tradition about Jesus, about the meaning of Jesus (as Messiah) and about the meaning of the death of Jesus (sacrifice) which Paul obviously learned about…….from the original disciples he met. Who else was there?

    I disagree with this idea of sacrifice and atonement but it seems unfair and historically inaccurate to lay it all at the feet of Paul. It appears though, at least from our perspective, that the disciples and early Christianity (including the earliest believers in Jesus as the Christ) were wrong.

    I have no problem critiquing the Church but we should keep in mind that Paul did not ‘receive or deliver’ in a vacuum and that some writings attributed to him were not written by him. Actually, I’m reading a book by Larry Hurtado (a prominent New Testament scholar) and he actually goes further. While some scholars have placed the worship of Jesus in the later part of the 1st C CE, Hurtado shows that it was part of the devotional claims and practices of the earliest Jewish followers of Jesus – which incensed Saul of Tarsus and which he shortly thereafter accepted (early to mid 30s CE). Hurtado also notes that “….Paul never indicated the devotional claims and practices that he affirms and reflects in his letters represent anything innovative from him. Instead, he insists that in these matters he and other Jewish Christians of the Jerusalem church share a common faith and devotional pattern. So there is really no basis for thinking either that Paul was particularly responsible for inventing the view that Jesus is to be reverenced as divine, or that this view of Jesus distinguished the churches that he established.”

    Paul, historically, is not the villain you think he is.

    Much of what I have found on the deaths of the apostles is legend and myth. What is your source(s)?

  8. Jay,

    Were the ugly experiences you had in dealing with both white and black Christians the same kinds of experiences or how did they differ?

    • With whites in graduate school was more of the type that a group of people did not like colored people including Blacks. One place at work (in an engineering firm), it was the same story. Another place of work, it was fear of losing the job to me.
      With Blacks…worked as a teacher for a while. Asking American Black students to do their homework or not disturb the class or be attentive was tantamount of being a racist. On the other hand, African Black immigrants were disciplined and hard working. In time I found that there was a small group of Black leaders who despised Indians possibly because of our achievements. I later worked for a Black manager, one of the worst man I could have worked for. The company did something which really amounted to nothing much.
      Accidentally I came across the book, “The End of Racism” by Dinesh D’Souza and realized that history taught in schools are definitely white washed and fabricated. I now neither feel sorry for Blacks or consider Whites morally superior to Blacks. There are good and bad in all the communities.
      The incidents I experienced were a bit severe to impact both my personal and professional life, and hence the “bitterness.”

      – Joe

  9. Thanks, I thought it was tied to Christianity but it seems any of these people could have been seculars or atheists, agnostics and acted the same way.

    • I agree. But I suppose the Christian background of people involved and their active participation in Christianity makes such people perhaps a bit more blameworthy.

  10. Perhaps for some but one could also argue that, living in the 21st C, where we supposedly are more enlightened, all who engage are (more) blameworthy.

    • I guess it is the blameworthy game that enables the aggrieved to seek redress for the wrongs committed to their community. Should Blacks be financially compensated for slavery? After all, Jews & Japanese have been able to get some financial compensation. Even though we are supposedly more enlightened, some sort of redress helps to heal the psychological wound.

      I found consolation through my belief in karma and reincarnation. A friend once said – if you were responsible then you deserved the “ugly” experiences, if not your life will eventually turn around for better.

  11. Dear John (Crag): Please refer to Bishop John Spong’s book 《Biblical Literalism: A Gentile Heresy》(2016) Chapters 12 “Jesus’ Return to the Symbolic Sinai” and to Chapter 13 “The Lord’s Prayer: Taught by Jesus or Composed by the Church?”In these two chapters Jack Spong has outlined his analysis to Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount as well as to Matthew’s writing of The Lord’s Prayer.
    Eugene, from Suzhou, China

  12. Thomas: Saul and Paul and his Worst Damages.
    Saul was born in AD 3, and died in AD 67
    Saul was one of the Benjamin tribe, and was circumcised on the 8th day (Phil.3:5); he was a natural born Pharisees from his parents (Acts 23:6); he was born and raised in Tarsus, Greece(Acts 21:3); but he was a Jewish immigrant outside of Israel. As Tarsus was still part of the Roman Empire, Saul was still a Roman citizen (His father paid the taxes) (Acts 22:25-28). He was taught by a famous Pharisees teacher named Gamaliel and was very studious and well-learned. Saul was an excellent Pharisees (Acts 26:5), and had become well-known (Gal.1:14)
    Why did Saul Persecute the Christians?
    The reasons he wanted to Persecute the Christians:
    1. Saul was feverish in serving “God”(Jewish);
    2. Saul believed that he was a good Pharisees(Gal.1:14).
    3. Saul believed that Jesus and all his disciples were Blasphemous against the Jewish Law and “God”.
    How did Saul Persecute the Christians?
    (1) Saul was happy when Steven was persecuted, tried, and was stoned to death; Saul was there to hold the robes of those noble and powerful priests and Sanhedrin. (Acts 7:57-60) .
    (2) Saul threatened to kill the Christians (Acts 9:1)
    (3) Saul dragged some Christians to Jail (Acts 8:3)
    (4) Saul whipped some Christians (Acts 22:19)
    (5) Punishing the Christians in all the Synagogues into forcing then to Blaspheme (Acts 26:11)
    (6) Saul was zealous for God in putting men and women into prison; he went to Damascus in order to pursue Christians and bring them back to Jerusalem to prisons.
    It was on his way to Damascus when he claimed that Jesus appeared to him in a white light…and he was converted to become zealous for Christ.. Then Saul became Paul in his name. I believe that Saul was a self-appointed Apostle who was never taught by Jesus himself.
    Later when Saul (Paul) traveled some where in the Mediterranean he wrote chapter 5 of the book of Romans.
    Most scholars attribute Saul/Paul as the very first to use the sin of Adam and Eve from Genesis 1 and to correlate the death of Jesus as the Lamb of God who died once and for all under the anger of God who put his only son to death. Since Matthew did not write his chapter 12 until many years later, I believe Matthew did copy from Paul.
    That’s where we’ve come to the book by Bishop John Song 《Biblical Literalism: A Gentile Heresy》(2016) chapters 18 and 19 “The Curse of Atonement Theology” and the damages were done. Jack Spong asked: “How can a loving God want to put his own son on the cross to die?”It is still a barbaric way only people in ancient and uncivilized countries used to do.
    Eugene from Suzhou, China

  13. Eugene,

    I will trust you on the offenses Saul committed and, of course, it is interesting to note that Paul ‘confesses’ to his actions after his conversion.

    It is also important to note that Larry Hurtado digs even deeper and adds to your reasons for Paul’s pre-conversion actions.

    It is obvious that no one but the original Jewish followers and former disciples of Jesus were directly taught by Jesus; thereafter, part of their role was to ‘deliver’ what they ‘received’ and this is how Paul learned and is in such agreement with their beliefs and devotional practices post conversion.

    Could you present some of the scholars who make those attributions of Paul? And do you have sources for Matthew copying Paul? I agree with Spong’s question and his concerns with atonement theology.

    Did you have a chance to consider that the idea of Jesus’ death as a sacrifice originated with the earliest Jewish followers and were later taken up by Paul?

  14. Thomas:In the old book by Bishop John Spong 《Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism》Jack has spent chapters 7 and 8 on Saul/Paul with great detail as you ought to know.
    Deeply behind the reasons, however, Saul went on that trip to Damascus primarily because, as people have said, Saul was already a pre-member of the Sanhedrin, on his way to earn more points in order to become fully qualified as a highly regarded Jewish “Congressional” member which required 2/3 of the votes in the Sanhedrin proper. It was the power and the recognition that Saul was after. And since Saul had personally put many Christians in jail, I don’t believe any Christian disciples of Jesus would have cared to mingle with, let alone to teach him what they had learned from Jesus. Although his own conversion was real, and since he was as zealous about Jesus and had been well versed on the Hebrew story of Genesis plus the Annual Jewish day of repentance in Yom Kippur, Saul simply combined those two together to make the “Atonement Theology” a good conjecture on his way back to Rome. I believe that in Saul’s mind, an angry God could have put Jesus to death on the cross in order to become the “Lamb of God” who takes away the sins of the world.
    Eugene, from Suzhou, China

  15. Thomas: I have been thinking about the time difference between Saul and Matthew because Matt did not write until 50-60 years after Jesus had been crucified. And by that time Saul/Paul had also died in the prison in Rome. But looking at the location where Matthew could have copied from Saul/Paul I find in chapter 5 of Bishop John Spong’s newer book 《Biblical Literalism: A Gentile Heresy》where Jack says,“Matthew was more traditionally Jewish than Mark and his changes were normally to cover things of great importance to the people in Matthew’s synagogue, which many, but not all, believe to have been located in Antioch.”
    Saul/Paul had proclaimed that he was not taught by any human being. “Paul writes in Galatians 1:11-12 that “the Gospel preached by me is not of human origin. For I did not receive it from a human being, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” Following his healing by Ananias, Saul first preached in Damascus, proclaiming in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God (Acts 9:20) and that he is the Christ (Acts 9:22). He then traveled to Arabia, and then returned to Damascus, where he remained for three years (Galatians 1:17-18).”
    There is a St. Matthew Orthodox Christian Church in Los Angeles where they stated: “Our parish is part of the ancient Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch where St. Luke in the Book of Acts tells us the believers were first called “Christians” (Acts 11:26).”
    Then Saul/Paul wrote: “Galatians 2:11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.”
    Therefore, I believe that Mathew who had gone to Antioch following Saul/Paul had been there much before him, could very well have copied the material in Matt chapter 12 from Saul/Paul about “The Curse of Atonement Theology” as written by Bishop John Spong from chapter 17 to 18 and 19 in his newer book 《Biblical Literalism: A Gentile Heresy》 (2016).
    Eugene from Suzhou, China

  16. I get that Eugene but it is your speculation on Matthew, correct? Other than Spong, do you have others who agree with your speculation?

    As for Paul’s statement, I refer you to Ehrman on this specific point of ‘received and delivered’ (above and on his blog). And, of course we don’t accept Paul’s claim of a direct revelation from Jesus for this would presupposed a theistic understanding, correct?

    Also, a final note: aren’t Paul’s own writings and Acts sometimes in conflict?

  17. Thomas: Thank you for agreeing with me that “of course we don’t accept Paul’s claim of a direct revelation from Jesus…” Let us resume that we were there in Damascus when we witnessed Saul/Paul suddenly ran into the synagogue, ranting and raving, shouting that Jesus was the son of God, and that Jesus himself had just revealed to him about his being the Lamb of God, being crucified on the cross in order to save all people from their sins dating back to Adam and Eve, etc., etc.
    What would you have said about this man named Saul?
    Description of Saul by Jack Spong, using his own words, “My standing style is very weak; my speech is usually ignored by people”(2nd Corinthians 10:11); but in his own words again, “Even if my speaking is poor, I know that I am full of knowledge.”(2nd Corinthians 11:6). Adolph Harnack (19th century) said that the conversion of Saul into Paul might be between one and six years after the crucifixion of Jesus. There was no proof any where that Saul/Paul had ever really met Jesus at all. This “Saint Paul” of the Catholicism after AD 400 was constantly troubled internally by his apparently sexual needs as Saul/Paul describes himself, “I continuously hit myself with my own fists in order to abstain my (sexual) desire”
    (Romans 7:25),(1st Corinthians 6:13; 6:18; 9:27).
    Eugene from Suzhou, China

  18. There is no problem in agreeing on the point about ‘revelation’ but do you recognize Ehrman’s point that Paul ‘delivered what he received’ from the original Jewish followers of Jesus?

    Did Paul say all this, at the same time when he ‘ran’ into the synagogue and when did he say it? Hard to respond because I could have been a Jew, a Jew who had heard good things and was curious about this Jesus or a gentile ‘believer’ favorable to Judism. And if one of the two last groups, it is possible I heard some, much of this from other Jewish followers of Jesus, correct?

    No argument that Paul never met Jesus. One to six years after the crucifixion matches and includes the timeframe that Ehrman presents, so again no argument. We all know people who are bad public speakers, bad on their feet (so to speak), but brilliant and knowledgeable, so that Paul sees himself this way is fine but gets us nowhere. And, as you say, there was a spin on Paul centuries later.

    But the point remains that Paul was in line with the teachings and beliefs of the Jewish followers of Jesus .

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