13 Comments

Did Paul Found Christianity?

Bishop Rick has mentioned a few times that he believes the apostle Paul invented Christianity, so I thought I’d create a post to address this specific issue.  In my previous post on the Strangite Church, he said in a few comments,

I believe Paul invented Christianity, not Jesus. There are only a couple of last minute, thrown-in scriptures that Christians use to claim Jesus intended to start a new church, but the overwhelming evidence points to Jesus merely trying to reform Judaism.

He went on to say,

Paul is definitely the one that changed Christianity into what it is even today. It was Paul that actually brought the Gentiles into the fold without the need for circumcision. It was Paul that stated Jesus fulfilled Mosaic Law including the law of tithing, on and on. The movement that Paul inherited was not a unique religion but was a Jewish sect. Paul made it a unique religion. In fact, if there actually was a falling away, Paul is the one that initiated it.

In a previous post on the Apostle Paul’s Remains, Bishop Rick said,

There are many who believe that without Paul, there would be no Christian faith…that it is him that kept it from going the way of all the cults of the time. It was Paul that took Christianity beyond Judaism. Until then, it was really just another Jewish sect.

As I mentioned there, and I will mention again, I disagree with Bishop Rick.  Here in America, we tend to think the Catholic Church claims to be founded from Peter, and then Martin Luther started the Reformation.  Mormons believe Joseph Smith started the restoration.  However, such a  picture is highly simplistic, and not entirely accurate.

At the death of Christ, there was a large movement known as Gnosticism.  This dates right to the time of Christ.  Christian gnostics believed that Christ was not actually human, that he was not born, and that he came supernaturally to the earth.  They don’t believe in Mary, Joseph, the star, and all that is associated in the Biblical story.  The Gospel of Thomas is a gnostic gospel.  It is not a narrative, like the 4 gospels are, but rather just a group of sayings of Jesus.  Gnostics valued intellectual/spiritual knowledge above all.  One could say they were the first group to espouse “intellectualism.”  Gnosticism is kind of an umbrella term, like Protestantism.  Just as not all Protestants believe exactly the same things, there are different flavors of Gnosticism.  Gnostic groups rivaled Orthodox Christianity in size until about the 7th or 8th centuries.  Constantine persecuted the Gnostics in favor of Orthodox Christianity.  I did another post discussing the varying beliefs of Gnostics.

About 2 years ago, I did a post on Montanism which dates to about 170 AD.  Briefly Montanus was a Christian prophet from Turkey, and I discussed interesting similarites between him and Joseph Smith.  I also did a post on Marcionism.   Marcion lived 110 – 160 AD in Sinope, Turkey.  He is probably the first person who tried to establish a Christian canon.  His New Testament was much smaller than ours today.  It included an edited version of the Gospel of Luke, and 10 of Paul’s letters.  He was the son of a bishop, and originally embraced by the orthdox church, but due to his embracing of Gnostic doctrines, he was excommunicated.  However, his movement became so large that it rivaled the orthodox church in size for about a century.

I also know about Ariunism, but have yet to post on the topic.  Arius was an early Christian leader that rejected the doctrine of the Trinity.  Now his idea of God isn’t the same as the Mormon conceptualization either, but he does show some diversity of thought as well.

The Catholic church wasn’t really distinct from the Orthodox Church officially until about 1000 AD.  A case can be made that there was some schismatic activity as early as about 700 AD, but prior to 1000, there really was no Catholic church–it was known as the Orthodox Church.  I previously discussed the idea of theosis in the Eastern Orthodox Church, and its similarities to Mormon Exaltation.

So, suffice it to say, I think there is a lot more diversity of Christianity than simply Paul.  Certainly Paul was a great missionary, and affected Western Christianity significantly.  However, Gnosticism was well established at the time of Paul, and certainly other movements like Marcionism, Ariunism, and Montanism (to name a few) spread Christianity as well.  I think it is a stretch to call Paul the author of Christianity.

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13 comments on “Did Paul Found Christianity?

  1. I would also point out the contributions of Roman military and political history here. Constantine embraced the form of Christianity that existed where he grew up. He grew up in the Western-most part of the Empire, because his father was assigned by Caesar as the MILITARY commander and gevernor there. His rivals for political and military power in the civil war in which he prevailed, therefore drew their power from the Eastern parts of the empire. Guess which version of Christianity suppressed the others when Constantine needed political and religious unity. We can say which side God wanted to win with Constantine’s conversion vision, or we can be cynical and say where Paul’s teaching were spread mattered as much as what they contained. Either way, it is the West’s belief system, not the East’s that forms the essential template.

  2. Yes FireTag, I agree. Constantine doesn’t get nearly enough credit for his influence on Christianity. Yes some people question whether he was truly a Christian (because is seems he did worship the Sun as well, even after his conversion to Christianity), but without his aid of Western Christians and his attempts to let them publish scriptures and build churches, Christianity might look quite different (even polytheistic) if he had embraced Gnostic Christianity instead of Orthodox Christianity.

    These other groups of Christians had an influence on Orthodox Christianity. Missionaries such as Montanus and Arius became missionaries and spread Christianity as far away as China. There was even a Christian Chinese leader (perhaps converted to a form of Ariunism if I remember correctly.) After the emporer died, Christianity in China died as well. I’ll definitely have to listen to that podcast again and post something, because it was truly a fascinating story to hear about ancient Chinese Christianity.

    The Egyptian Coptic Church is very ancient, and followers are known as Monothycites. (I probably butchered the spelling.) Anyway, they have a form of temple worship that BYU professor Wilfred Griggs has studied, and they also don’t believe in the trinity. If memory serves me well, this group believes that Jesus and God the Father are “of similar substance” (homoi-uzious), rather than “of the same substance” (homo-uzious) that Trinitarians believe.

    So, many of these Christian missionaries spread Christianity through Asia, Africa, and even Europe. Following the Ottomon invasion of the eastern part of the Roman Empire, the Muslims suppressed Christian missionary work, keeping the Orthodox Church from growing as fast as the western Catholic Church. In turn, the Catholic Church had a relatively easy time converting some of these Christian heretical congregations of Ariunism and Montanism, since much of the eastern centers were cut off by the Ottomon Empire. So, it can be said that Islam has had a big impact on what forms of Christianity have survived today, and the western form that embraces Paul is what seems to have won out.

  3. MH, You mention that you disagree with me on this topic (understandably) but you don’t mention which part(s). Is my statement that Paul invented Christianity the only part you disagree with, or do you also disagree that Paul allowed gentiles into the fold without circumcision or that Paul stated that Jesus fulfilled Mosaic Law and that tithing was no longer mandated.

    Just curious, because there is scriptural backing for those statements.

  4. All that said, I don’t deny the incredible influence that Constantine had on Christianity surviving. He had nothing to do with its creation, but definitely its survival, and as you put it, Orthodox vs Gnostic. Why he was even the one that moved the Sabbath to Sunday so the pagans and christians would worship on the same day.

    Not really sure when (if ever) that he was converted. He waited til the end of his life to be baptized. Doesn’t sound like true conversion to me.

  5. My main disagreement is the idea that Paul invented Christianity. The Bible is a record of the Orthodox Christians, not the Gnostic Christians (though some believe that the Gospel of John seems to have some Gnostic components.) I think it’s important to look at non-Biblical Christianity when assessing such a statement.

    Regarding your statement that “Paul allowed gentiles into the fold without circumcision”, well I guess that’s a debatable statement. In Acts 9, Paul (known as Saul) has a vision of Christ and is converted. In chapter 10, Peter has the vision that the gospel is to be taken to the “unclean” gentiles. Not only is it a dietary change, but a symbolic representation that the gospel should go to the gentiles.

    Some Jews thought it was so important that Gentiles should be circumcised, while others, such as Paul argued against it. A compromise was reached in 50 AD: “the Jerusalem Church created a double standard: one for Jewish Christians and one for Gentile converts.” Jewish converts to Christianity had to be circumcised, while Greek Gentiles did not. See this Wikipedia link for more details: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circumcision_controversy_in_early_Christianity

    Even following this decree in 50, the Apostle Paul participated in a circumcision in 54 AD. Paul continued to preach that circumcision was unnecessary, but

    Paul, who called himself Apostle to the Gentiles, attacked the practice, though not consistently. In the case of Timothy, whose mother was Jewish Christian but whose father was Greek, he personally circumcised him “because of the Jews” that were in town. He also appeared to praise its value in Romans 3:1-2.

    Furthermore, I haven’t seen any evidence that Gnostic Christians cared one whit about circumcision. Gnosticism was more prevalent among non-Jews (gentiles), and I think gentiles would have been more likely to embrace Gnosticism rather than Orthodox Christianity because of the lack of circumcision as a requirement. (Certainly, that would have appealed to me, if I were an uncircumcised gentile.) So once again, I think it is overstating Paul’s role to make him the founder of Christianity.

    Regarding Constantine, I think his deathbed baptism gives him a bit of a bad rap. I mentioned this previously on my History of Baptism post, but let me repeat it again.

    One of the first questions among earlier followers of Jesus was the question of when to baptize. Now the Emporer Constantine (Appx 350 AD) often gets a bad rap for waiting until his deathbed to get baptized. However, it was a very common practice for early clergy to support this position. So Constantine was actually following the spiritual advice of the clergy of his day.

    Now, while Constantine’s baptism was by no means unusual for the day, the whole topic of when to baptize was by no means uniform. It is unclear when infant baptism was first performed, but it could date to this early church period also.

    There were 2 main thoughts on baptism during this period. One line of reasoning said that it should be put off as long as possible, in order to wash away all sins. Because if one didn’t wait until deathbed, and one later sinned, there could be no forgiveness of sins.

    So using this logic, Constantine’s baptism makes perfect sense. However, it is not always easy to predict when death will occur, so some people erroneously waited too long, which was also a problem.

    Since infant mortality was also a big problem, it made sense to baptize infants. The doctrine of original sin was being developed in this early time period also. Of course, people who subscribed to infant baptism felt that sins could be forgiven as long as they weren’t “major” sins, such as sacrificing to pagan gods, adultery, fornication, or a few other sins.

    Then there were some who said a major sin could be forgiven just once. The dispute on this doctrine became quite contentious.

    I agree that Paul said the Jesus fulfilled the Mosaic Law, but Gnostic Christians wouldn’t have cared nearly as much about Mosaic law as Ancient Jewish Christians. The Gospel of Matthew was written to Jews to convince them of Christianity. The Gospel of Luke was written more to Gentiles, and doesn’t contain nearly the references to Mosaic law as Matthew. Gnostic gospels have some strange beliefs, such as Cain was a good guy to kill Abel because Cain freed Abel from his corruptible earthly body. Gnostics also believed Jehovah was the “bad god”, and anything that he said should be discounted. Mosaic Law just wasn’t important to Gnostics.

    I’m not sure what you’re referring to regarding Paul saying tithing was no longer mandated–could you elaborate?

  6. Ok, let’s start here:

    Gnosticism

    “At the death of Christ, there was a large movement known as Gnosticism. This dates right to the time of Christ.”

    Although the start of Gnosticism is very debatable, I have not been able to find any evidence, historical or scriptural, that supports this statement. Most scholars (limited to my research) seem to hold that Gnosticism did not surface until late 1st century. If this is accurate, the timeline would look like this:

    Jewish Sect (Christianity) – started by Apostles right after death of Jesus
    Orthodox Christianity – started by Paul between 1-2 decades after death of Jesus
    Gnosticism – surfaced as early as just after first Jewish war (70AD) and as late as just after second Jewish war (135AD).

    If this timeline is accurate (and I believe it is) then my statement about Paul being the inventor of Christianity is very plausible.

    Circumcision

    You seem to be agreeing with me here, that it was Paul that allowed gentiles into the christian fold without the need for circumcision. Granted he was not 100 percent consistent. (He seemed to be a true politician, giving the people what they want to hear.) but it was his fight nonetheless, and he won.

    Constantine

    You bring up some very convincing arguments about Constantine’s “conversion”. I have to give you that the practice of being baptized late in life was the norm. In fact, that could even be considered the norm in days of Paul considering the famous LDS quoting of Corinthians about Baptism for the Dead. Main problem here (from LDS standpoint, not yours) is that at the time of Paul, Baptism of the Dead, was just that. The practice of baptizing corpses (people who guessed wrong). It was not the practice of being baptized by a proxy after one’s death…but I digress.

    In summary, there was certainly a lot of diversity within Christianity, but this diversity was arguably initiated by Paul, and it was Paul’s version of Christianity that survived.

    I don’t think my statements about Paul are that farfetched.

    I’ll address the tithing issue in another post.

  7. As I said before, Gnosticism is a very diverse set of beliefs. I agree with you that the start of Gnosticism is difficult to pin down, but the Jewish Encyclopedia states that

    Jewish gnosticism unquestionably antedates Christianity, for Biblical exegesis had already reached an age of five hundred years by the first century C.E. Judaism had been in close contact with Babylonian-Persian ideas for at least that length of time, and for nearly as long a period with Hellenistic ideas. Magic, also, which, as will be shown further on, was a not unimportant part of the doctrines and manifestations of gnosticism, largely occupied Jewish thinkers. There is, in general, no circle of ideas to which elements of gnosticism have been traced, and with which the Jews were not acquainted. It is a noteworthy fact that heads of gnostic schools and founders of gnostic systems are designated as Jews by the Church Fathers. Some derive all heresies, including those of gnosticism, from Judaism (Hegesippus in Eusebius, “Hist. Eccl.” iv. 22; comp. Harnack, “Dogmengesch.” 3d ed. i. 232, note 1). It must furthermore be noted that Hebrew words and names of God provide the skeleton for several gnostic systems. Christians or Jews converted from paganism would have used as the foundation of their systems terms borrowed from the Greek or Syrian translations of the Bible. This fact proves at least that the principal elements of gnosticism were derived from Jewish speculation, while it does not preclude the possibility of new wine having been poured into old bottles.

    ….

    “There is no doubt that a Jewish gnosticism existed before a Christian or a Judæo-Christian gnosticism. As may be seen even in the apocalypses, since the second century B.C. gnostic thought was bound up with Judaism, which had accepted Babylonian and Syrian doctrines; but the relation of this Jewish gnosticism to Christian gnosticism may, perhaps, no longer be explained “(Harnack,” “Geschichte der Altchristlichen Litteratur,” p. 144). The great age of Jewish gnosticism is further indicated by the authentic statement that Johanan b. Zakkai, who was born probably in the century before the common era, and was, according to Sukkah 28a, versed in that science, refers to an interdiction against “discussing the Creation before two pupils and the throne-chariot before one.”

    Read more: http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=280&letter=G&search=gnosticism#ixzz0s7YSrPiH

    As I mentioned earlier, the Gospel of John has gnostic elements. The Gospel of Judas and Gospel of Thomas are well-known gnostic Gospels. The Gospel of Thomas pre-dates all of the biblical gospels, and some scholars have wondered if it is the source Q. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all contain identical Greek translations of Jesus’ sayings, and these sayings bear striking resemblances to Thomas.

    Furthermore, from my readings of Paul, it seems to me that Paul was referring to these “apostate” gnostic teachings. Some examples:

    Galatians 1:8, “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.”

    2 Thess 2:3, “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;”

    This last scripture is a common missionary scripture to describe the apostasy, which we claim had already begun in Paul’s day. He seems to be addressing apostate teachings. Certainly Gnostics would be considered apostate teachings by Paul, especially if Gnosticism pre-dates Christianity. From my understanding of early Christian history, Gnosticism often encompasses beliefs from Jewish, Christian, and pagan religious sources. I don’t know if you remember my post on the Magi, but these Zoroastrians seemed to encompass Jewish messianic beliefs into their religion. It seems that religions often borrowed religious ideas from each other during this time period. (I often wonder if the “families are forever” idea is being incorporated into other Christian belief systems about the next life.)

    If one believes baptizing corpses is an apostate teaching, certainly it is a strange example Paul uses. Could you give me more information on this?

  8. Gnosticism is a very broad term. I’m not sure its fair to group all Gnostic sects into one group. I am talking specifically about the Gnostic Christians which would have surfaced post-Jesus. All the Gnostic writings you mention, including John, would have been written during the time frame I mentioned above (post Paul).

    At least we agree on one thing…the apostasy began in Paul’s day 🙂

  9. For some reason, when I read your response, I only saw part of it. I will address your other questions later. gotta get some shut eye.

  10. Yes, Bishop Rick, I agree that Gnosticism is a broad term like Protestantism. It’s an umbrella term to describe groups with broad similarities in theology. However, as you said, Christianity, Pharisaic Judaism, and Sadducee Judaism were subsets of Judaism. Gnostic Judaism was another form. I have to believe that Christian Gnostics were former Jewish Gnostics, just as early Orthodox Christians were followers of Pharisaic, Sadduceic, and other forms of Judaism.

  11. You guys are talking like Mormons here. These various movements and “isms” prove of course that after Christ Christianity (a tag minted later and now copyrighted in the fourth and fifth centuries for the Catholic/Orothodox schisms, and then later re-tagged by Martin Luther and Jean Calvin and John Wesley some thousand and more years later under “Reformation” and “Protestant” Movements. In terms of American, “Western” or European Christianity, you’re really missing the chain of thought by not looking at the heart of what is now called “Christianity,” and that is “Platonism,” or “Neo-Platonism.”

    In this regard the short answer is: Augustine of Hippo “invented” Christianity, Martin Luther and then Calvin and Wesley picked Augustine out of all the “Latin Fathers” a thousand years and more later as a pattern of the one guy they figured had it all worked out at last. It was the fact that Augustine of Hippo gravitated to the writings of Paul that Paul has any claim to modern “Christian” dogma at all. It wasn’t Paul’s writings in and of themselves, but Augustine’s constant “discoveries” of just how profound Paul’s writings were. Augustine mined justification after justification for his own pet Platonistic theories out of Paul’s musings because they both had serious personal sin issues and were constantly swamped with guilt for past deeds. They were both Greco-Roman products and schooled in the Greek philosophers and thus Augustine found suport easy to find in Paul’s constant allusion to familiar (to Augustine as a former Manichaean and pagan, Greek philosophy master) metaphors, similies, and parallels to the long-decided pagan and Greek world view.

    Mormons waste rather a lot of time desperately clutching around the edges of the early Christian movement for proof that the Gnostics or the Coptics or this or that now-dead branch held similar beliefs to the stuff Joseph Smith was coming out with. Likewise, Mormons probe the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, who knew the original apostles at least, or delve into what we now pretend to be a “universal” Christian canon of scripture hoping to prove by earlier or more reliable translation that the LDS interpretation is at least as valid as any other and with any luck, can be proven through these various sources to have actually been floating around the early Church after the death of Christ

    All of this is a waste of time. The main players in the screwing-up of what we now call “Christianity” are right in front of you if you’re not a Mormon. They are the Apostolic Fathers of the second century so some extent because it is clear in their writings they have already conceded to wholesale heresy in all branches of the Church. And then it becomes just blatantly clear in the writings, the murderings, the excommunicatings, the bickerings, the threatenings, the sometimes outright babblings of the Apologists of the late first and second centuries, and the open Holy Warfare of the now-touted “Latin Fathers” V “Latin Fathers,” or “Latin Fathers V Greek Fathers” who’s pictures and names are openly displayed in every Eastern and Western Christian Church, that show even the most casual investigator that what we now call “Christianity” was determined by those with the most social and political power, and enforce on pain of death and hell.

    It is likewise clear that these Church Fathers made claim to their determinations of correct doctrine entirely upon their own study and “figuring it out.”

    My own blog turned into a mini-book-online trying to get to the clearest view of how this modern “Christian” brand got founded. Weeding through thousands of years of thousands of important “Christian” writers and movements, it comes down to a handful of winners who didn’t “write the book,” but just got to enforce their opinions upon what the “Book” was saying. Pages and pages of their own words condemning themselves merely by reading their own arguments. And they’re right there up front on the back wall of “Christian” sancturaries all over the world.

    http://lrwhitney.wordpress.com/category/7-augustine-of-hippo-saint-or-sinner/

  12. […] me that I still don’t really understand Peter.  Bishop Rick previously made the claim that Paul founded Christianity.  Michael Grant seems to dispute that notion quite clearly.  From the Epilogue, page 176, Grant […]

  13. “I believe Paul invented Christianity, not Jesus.”

    And in turn, Marcion created Paul not Paul. Before Marcion, nobody’s heard of any Paul. Then suddenly there’s a Pauline Corpus running around, but shorter than what we have now. No Romans 9, for instance. Romans 9! You know, the chapter on predestination, the one that twists a bunch of Old Testament passages and contorts them like crazy to teach what is today called Calvinism. Yeah, it wasn’t there in Marcion’s original Pauline Corpus. The Catholics added that in 170 or so when they absorbed the Marcionite canon into the Catholic canon — that is, when they accepted Marcion’s invented apostle “Paul.”

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