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 faithâ€¦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 â€“ 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.