32 Comments

Did Peter Get Demoted? Was James the Real Leader of Early Christianity?

I just finished the book Saint Peter: A Biography by Michael Grant.  I think it is misnamed.  I don’t feel like I know Peter any better, but it is a good book for learning about early Christianity.  The author describes how tough it is to really understand Peter both at the beginning, as well as the end.  From the Epilogue, pages 175-6,

Saint Peter still seems enigmatic.  There is a great deal in his career that appears evanescent and obscure, and it was this that tempted me to the subject.  I can only hope that I have helped to clean some of the mysteries up, or at least to present them in the terms that they deserve.

Let me say that I enjoyed the historical parts of the book, but Peter still seems enigmatic to me.  At times, Grant talked more of Jesus and Paul than Peter.  While these two people are important to discuss when talking about Peter, it just seems to 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 says

Peter was significant for two reasons, both of which I have discussed in some detail, and both of which remain firmly fixed in the historical picture.  In the first place Jesus chose him as his principal helper; the man who was assigned that remarkable honour and responsibility must have been very far from negligible.  Second, after the appalling event of Jesus’ Crucifixion, it was Peter who collected his disheartened followers together and formed them into a Christian community.  This was a tremendously difficult task, and the person who was able to do it must have exercised an extraordinary influence.  Moreover, unless Peter had done this, Jesus’s endeavors would never have survived.  Paul could not have achieved this without Peter’s work immediately after the Crucifixion; and so, without Peter, there would have been no Christian Church either in the subsequent centuries to today.

I’ve heard a few scholars make the case that James, Jesus brother was the leader of the early Christian church rather than Peter, but I didn’t understand the reasoning behind that.  Grant seems to believe that Peter got demoted following his well-known conflict with Paul regarding whether Gentiles would be circumcised.  Grant says that James came out of Peter and Paul’s dispute the winner.

Before I get into this triangle between Peter, Paul, and James, let me first discuss Grant’s point of view.  Grant died in 2004.  During his life, he was a professor of Humanity at Edinburgh University, and was vice-chancellor at Queen’s University in Belfast and the University of Khartoum.  As a historian, he “must” discount all miracles in the Bible.  On pages 4-5 he discusses miracles as says that,

most students of history, therefore, are not able to take these miraculous happenings into consideration.  They can believe in such stories, if they wish, but they do so as a matter of faith and not as historians.  Or they can disbelieve them, if they prefer.  In either case, it is their duty to attempt to find out what happened, within the realms of historical fact and possibility.  (italics in original)

Biographers of Jesus have sometimes excised this miraculous material from their narrative, in order to make it sound more credible to modern ears.  But any such attempts conflict strongly with the ancient accounts that have come down to us.  In the four Gospels, no fewer than 232 miracles are reported.  Take Mark, for example.  Out of that Gospel’s 661 verses, as many as 209 deal with miraculous doings.  And Matthew and Luke carry the same tendency still further.  Matthew, in particular, emphasizes the theme to an extraordinary extent.  ‘It is hard to find a non-maraculous kernel of the Gospel.’4 And that is why Peter, too, was credited with miracles after Jesus’s death.  He was believed to have been following his great predecessor’s tradition.

So, as a believer and not a historian, it took me a bit of getting used to completely discounting all these miracles.  Chapter 10 is titled “The Clash with Paul.”  Grant talked about problems in chronology, and questions if an Apostolic Council in Jerusalem even occurred.  In Paul’s letter to the Galations, Paul dates this visit to 3 years after his conversion, so some scholars date the event to 35-37 AD (depending on the date of Jesus’ death.)  However, Acts 15 seems to place the event in 48 AD at Passover.  Grant says that “Acts 15 paints a picture of single-minded unanimity (homothumadon)3 — an idealized and inaccurate picture as most now believe.  Admittedly there was quite a long debate.4″ From page 132,

But what actually happened at the Apostolic Council?  We shall assume for a moment that there was one, ignoring, however, the unsatisfactory nature of such a name, which is likely to produce anachronistic ideas.10 The Council has been the subject of a host of varying modern interpretations.  Probably the predominant view, for which there is a lot to be said–and it leaves open, perhaps uncomfortably open, the question of whether the council actually took place–is that Acts created the story from two fundamental traditions or memories which had been handed down to its writer.  The first tradition was that at Jerusalem the Christian leadership, including Paul, Peter, and James the brother of Jesus, came to an agreement that, although Pharisee missionaries to the Gentiles would argue to the contrary, Gentiles could be accepted into the ranks of Christians without having been circumcised.  This was a tradition that seems to be confirmed by Paul.  The second tradition was that nevertheless, in certain communities where Jewish and Gentile Christians were mixed, Gentiles were obliged, in order to maintain this association, to fall with certain other Jewish regulations regarding impurity, and rules relating to food.

As to circumcision, even Acts, determined though its writer is to record harmony, admits that there had been ‘fierce dissension’ on the subject,11 which it probably does not differentiate sufficiently from the food problems.  The book does record what looks like a compromise between Paul and Barnabus, on the one hand, who were against imposing Jewish restrictions on Gentile converts, and Christians such as James who espoused orthodox Jewish practices.  In due course this decision was incorporated, we are told, in what is known as the Apostolic Decree, issued allegedly to ‘our brothers of Gentile origin’ in Antioch, the rest of Syria, and Cilicia.12

…page 134

Others try to get away from the problem by suggesting that Acts 15 is a conflation of two Jerusalem meetings.  The first of these peacefully aligned Peter with Paul, whose insistence on the Gentiles’ freedom from circumcision prevailed, whereas the second confirmed the Four Regulations (which may be fictitious) in the absence of Paul.  According to this second hypothesis, Paul never enforced the Decree, either because he did not know about it or because the churches in the other provinces were, or could be assumed as being, outside the area to which the Decree was meant to apply.  That is possible.  But in any case, even if the Apostolic Council did take place, which is more than doubtful, its decisions failed to have any effect, as will shortly become clear.

Grant discusses further details on whether the meeting may have occurred (and concludes it either didn’t occur, or was a small, private meeting between Peter, Paul, and James).  He then notes something of a schism.  From pages 136-7,

Two separate Christian missionary areas were now in existence (although Acts does not seem willing to accept the division), one for Jews and one for Christians.  The former was in the hands of Peter, which again casts doubt on his alleged activity among the Gentiles.  But this division, and the agreement to maintain it, was not likely to be workable in practice because of the inevitable clash of personalities, and, in addition because in most places the population was mixed, consisting of both Jews and of Gentiles, so that any clear-cut division into two  missionary areas was unattainable.

Furthermore, on page 140, Grant says that “there were at least two rival groups, or possibly four”.29 He references Paul’s letter,

I have been told, my brothers, by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you.  What I mean is this: each of you is saying, “I am Paul’s man,’ or “I am for Apollos’; ‘I follow Cephas [Peter],’ or ‘I am Christ’s.’

Surely Christ has not been divided among you!

Grant discusses Paul chastising Peter in Antioch in Galations, attributing the event to 49 AD.  On page 138,

It is manifest that the period immediately after the Crucifixion of Jesus did not witness the harmony among his followers in which Acts has tried to induce us to believe, but was instead characterized by sharp rivalry between two mutually hostile groups.  One of the groups was that of James the brother of Jesus and his fellow-Jews born in Palestine, who believed in Jesus but were also convinced that this belief entailed all the maintenance of traditional Jewish institutions such as circumcision.  The other group was led by Paul, and consisted of men whose education had been partly Greek and who were of Gentile origin.  They, too, believed in Jesus, and although they may well have respected confirmity with many aspects of Jewish Law, they were certain this this faith in him, with all its power and intensity, completely superseded some of the other old regulations of Judaism.

There us little doubt about what happened.  James, leader of the faction which believed that Gentile Christians must obey Jewish customs, had not, after all, been prepared to abide by the Jerusalem agreement–if there was one–and had sent men, or a man, to persuade or compel Peter to cease from having meals with Gentile Christians.  Peter might have felt relatively liberal about this before–although, as we have seen, his actual conversion of Gentiles is doubtful–but now he gave in to James because, Paul said, he was ‘afraid’.  This is perhaps an unduly harsh condemnation of the dilemma in which Peter found himself, since what he was really trying to do was to mediate between two extreme positions.  And so he paid the penalty which flexible, diplomatic, careful, moderate mediators, compromisers and bridge-men pay.  He was said to be frightened (perhaps for the future of his own mission, but not, surely, of freedom fighters, as has been suggested.)25 Can he be accused of wavering?  Yes, he certainly abandoned a position he believed in, but no doubt because he hoped to bridge the gap which had widened between James and Paul.

And one thing is clear.  First we had heard of Peter as the Christian leader.  Then we heard of a joint leadership of Peter, James, and John.  Now we learn that Peter has bowed to the wished of James.  The man who will henceforward take the lead among Jewish Christians of Jerusalem is not Peter; it is James.  The leadership of Christianity in its central Palestinian city has passed back to the family of Jesus himself, with whom it will remain for a  good many years.  That is another penalty that mediators and compromisers pay.  They do not manage to retain leadership.

There are several James’s mentioned in the New Testament, and James “the brother of Jesus” is not one of the original 12 Apostles.  There is James the Just, James the Great, and James the Less.  Grant describes these 3 James’s on page 150.

Although inadequately described in the New Testament, and accorded especially little justice in Acts, James is of importance in this story, because it was he who supplanted Peter as the leader of the Christians after the Crucifixion of Jesus.

The James (Jacob) to whom reference is made, neither the son of Zebedee (James ‘the Great’, executed by King Agrippa I) nor the son of Alphaeus (James ‘the Less’), was ‘the Lord’s brother’ according to Paul in his Letter to the Galatians.12 The Gospels record brothers of Jesus, including James, and the contexts seem to show that these writers have a blood relationship between Jesus and his brothers in mind.  Tertullian (c.AD 160-240) and Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-211/216), too, confirm that this was what was believed in the first two centuries AD.  Origen (c. 184/6-254/5) and others, however, bearing in mind that ‘brother’ (adelphos) can cover a wider range of meanings, suggested that James was a stepbrother of Jesus: in other words, that Joseph had been married to another wife before he was married to Mary.  A rival theory, sponsored by Jerome (c. 348-420), held that Jesus and James were really cousins.14 These views, contradicting the simple brotherly relationship, came into being because it was increasingly stressed, from the second century onwards, that Mary, the wife of Joseph, was not only a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus, but remained a virgin all her life.

James, it appears, was not very keen on the preaching of Jesus, and may indeed have been positively opposed to it, as long as Jesus was alive.15 After the Crucifixion, however, he became converted.  This according to Paul, was because he was vouchsafed an Appearance of the risen Christ.16 Probably this Appearance was needed, and invented, by the tradition, because James’s kinship with Jesus (accompanied, as it had been, but a measure of scepticism) was not help to be sufficient to justify the prominent position which James now came to occupy.

For within a short time after Paul’s conversion James was a significant leader in the Christian Church, and he became even more important after Agrippa I had the apostle James ‘the Great’ (the son of Zebedee) executed in AD 44 and Peter fled from Jerusalem.  It was then that James ‘the brother of Jesus’ came to power in Peter’s place.  He had not been one of the original Twelve, but Paul seems to have regarded him as an apostle all the same.17

Although Acts does not, on the whole, do justice to James, the book does make him the chief spokesman for the Jerusalem church at the probably non-existent Apostolic Council, in which he was alleged to have intervened in favour of a measure of Jewish orthodoxy, indicating that Gentile converts should comply with the Four Regulations.18

Later tradition maintained that James was called ‘the Just’ (Zaddik, like the Qumran Teacher of Righteousness), and was noted for his pious fulfillment of Jewish Law.  He may have possessed priestly privileges, and it was perhaps because of his influence that he Pharisee Gamaliel urged leniency to Peter and the Christians.19

Grant says there are many mysteries surrounding James.  From page 153,

why are we given so little information about him?  Why has he been pushed into the position of a shadowy, background figure?21 The answer seems to be this.  Whether he was Jesus brother or not, James had known him personally, and had been close to him, in a way with which Paul could not hope to compete.  This meant that James was nearer to the source of the faith than Paul could ever expect to be.  Moreover, James’s aims and interests were by no means those of Paul.  On occasion, indeed, they held exactly opposite views.

For Paul, then, James must have been a continual source of disapproval and irritation.  And with the subsequent triumph of Pauline Christianity, his significance, even if it could not be expunged from the record completely, was at any rate retroactively lessened.  This made James an ambiguous figure, about whom Acts, in consequence, is curiously reticent.  In fact, however, James had been someone who could even overrule Peter.  Some have gone further still and have asserted that, despite the popular position that Peter was the first head of the Church, the neglected James had really been its first leader.  This seems to go too far.  Peter was the first leader of the Christians after Jesus’s death.  But the fact that he was later superseded by James is indicative of the significant setback his career had suffered.

So, what do you think about Peter, Paul, and James as “the” early leader of Christianity?

32 comments on “Did Peter Get Demoted? Was James the Real Leader of Early Christianity?

  1. “Bishop Rick previously made the claim that Paul founded Christianity. Michael Grant seems to dispute that notion quite clearly.”

    I disagree. After reading this post and all the exerts attributed to Grant, it would appear that he supports my position.

    For clarity, my position is that the early church (pre-Paul) was a Jewish Sect known as Christians. It was Paul that changed all of that, expanding the church beyond Judaism and in effect separating it from Judaism, thus creating a new religion known today as Christianity.

    I can’t see anything that Grant says that disputes that.

  2. This is an interesting post about a subject that is dear to my own heart. In fact, I recently published a novel entitled, “A Wretched Man, a novel of Paul the apostle” (click on my name for more info). The plotline of the novel is the running conflict between Paul and James with Peter caught in the middle. The clear scholarly consensus agrees that James became the leader of the Jerusalem based Jewish followers of Jesus–the only question is how soon after the death of Jesus? Was it within a few years of Jesus’ death in 30-33 CE? By the time of the reign of King Herod Agrippa and the imprisonment of Peter around 39-40? Certainly, by the time of the so-called apostolic assembly of 46-48 CE when Acts suggests that James made the final decision, or a year or two later when Peter showed up in Antioch, Paul’s bailiwick, to be wined and dined by the local Jesus’ followers, including Gentiles, only to be upbraided by men sent by James, which caused Peter to withdraw from table fellowship with the Antiochenes and to be blasted by Paul for doing so.

  3. Bishop Rick, your original quote was

    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.

    I absolutely agree with you that Paul expanded the church to Gentiles, and the growth of the church is due to gentile converts. But Paul did not invent Christianity, and Grant clearly doesn’t believe that Paul invented Christianity. Perhaps your previous comment was a bit of hyperbole?

    Obie, I checked out your website. Your book sounds very interesting. Perhaps I could review it one day, but my book list is already huge! I see you have training in history, theology, and law–you’re a triple combination!

    Do you have any idea why James is such a minor character in the New Testament and in Christianity?

  4. Upon reflection, perhaps “Invented Christianity” was not the correct premise.
    What I stated above is what my stance has been all along.
    Sometimes what I write is not exactly what I meant.
    Gets me into trouble at times.

    What I have been TRYING to say all along is that before Paul, Christianity was not a religion separate from Judaism. (This is where “invented” came from, but I see now that was not the best term.) Paul did much more than just expand the Gospel to the Gentiles, he is responsible for its separation from Judaism.

    I still stand by my statement that Jesus was reforming Judaism, not starting a new religion. It makes no sense for Jesus to throw away everything before and start something completely new – going in a totally different direction. Nothing he said or did supports that.

    I also stand by my earlier statement that if there was an actual apostasy, it very well could have started with Paul.

  5. And for the new readers, I will restate that Joseph Smith didn’t restore Christianity, he restored Reformed Judaism. When you take into account Tithing, Law of Consecration, etc. these fit more naturally into Reformed Judaism than Christianity.

  6. I’m reading a new book by Richard Brown ( http://www.isaacspress.com ) on the New Perspective on Paul that suggests Paul wasn’t creting a new religion either. He felt his prophetic calling was to bring the Gentiles into the existing — Judaic — family of God. The view we have of Paul today comes largely from Reformation theology. So maybe BR isn’t going far enough toward the Christianity is meant to be Reformed Judaism.

  7. Bishop Rick, I like your revised statement in #4 much better. As for this whole “reformed” vs “start a new religion” idea, I think most people think of themselves as reformers, rather than starting a new religion: Luther, Calvin, Jesus, Joseph Smith, Moses, Abraham. I don’t think any of them really set out to start a new religion (perhaps Adam did.)

    As for Joseph restoring Reformed Judaism/Christianity, well I don’t know what to think about that. Bushman says that Joseph really wanted to integrate the Old and New Testaments. Certainly, polygamy, tithing, and the 10 Tribes seems more like Old Testament ideas, yet the Sacrament, Sunday worship, and Jesus as Messiah are more New Testament ideas. It does seem that Joseph tried to integrate the testaments quite a bit, but I don’t know that I agree that he was creating a Reformed Judaism–it seems like more of a Reformed Christianity to me.

  8. Looking at #4 again, I wonder if what happened wasn’t more that the believers under James couldn’t find a way to let the new gentile believers inside without forcing them into the old mold.

    Reminds me of a couple of congregations I used to help pastor…

  9. MH,

    This time I actually said what I meant. I didn’t say JS created reformed Judaism.
    I said, he would have restored reformed Judaism.

    If Jesus reformed Judaism and JS restored the church of Jesus, then it would have been reformed Judaism that JS restored.

    FT,

    I would be interested in hearing what that book says about Paul’s influence in separating the Christian sect from the mother Religion (Judaism), because that is what I believe took place. If this is in fact the case, then this is where the apostasy could have started.

    This all makes sense to me, but it would also mean that JS didn’t complete the restoration. We have always been taught that when the original 12 apostles died, that the authority vanished from the earth and that this is when the apostasy began.
    (Talking about the Old World here.)

    There are a lot of aspects of the Christian sect that are not part of the LDS church. Circumcision being an obvious example. Even after Paul’s influence, circumcision was still required of Jewish-Christians. Sabbath being on 7th day of the week being another obvious example. Both of these practices were still in place when the original 12 Apostles died.

    Something to think about.

  10. I got it Bishop Rick, but our church in 1830 or 2010 seems to be a far cry from all forms of Judaism I am aware of. The official break between Judaism and Christianity occurred as early as Nero’s persecution of Christians about 60 AD, or as late as the Bar Kochba revolt ~ 110 AD. I don’t see Joseph doing anything that takes Mormonism back to that form of Judaism. I also don’t see Joseph taking Mormonism close to any form of Judaism between Moses to 1830. I’m definitely not seeing the connections you seem to be seeing. Certainly we haven’t started practicing Hanukkah or Yom Kippur or anything like that.

    FireTag, that book sounds interesting. You’ll have to let us know more.

  11. Many Christians continued to worship in the Temple right up to its destruction in 70 AD, and they continued after that to worship in synagogues for hundreds of years after that. Ignatius is the first person to pen the term Christianity around the same time as the Bar Kochba revolt, so that is the first historical document that differentiates between the two groups, and he was preaching that it was time for Jews and Christians to separate. Even with that, many historians think the official break didn’t occur until Constantinople declared Christianity as the official Roman religion in the 4th century.

    None of that matters though. What matters is when the apostasy took place.
    Did it begin with Paul and his radical ideas that opposed Peter and James?
    Did it begin right after the original Apostles deaths?

    The restoration would have to include all things prior to the Apostasy in order to be a full restoration wouldn’t it? Makes sense to me.

    I don’t see Joseph doing anything that takes Mormonism back to that form of Judaism.

    If you really feel that way, then you must believe that Joseph did not restore the church, but rather started a new religion.

    I mean, either JS restored the church or he in fact started a new one.

  12. Bishop Rick, I think we’ve discussed this before. I don’t believe the Apostasy is an event, I think it is a process.

    The whole difference between Christianity and Judaism is whether or not Jesus is the Messiah. Ancient Romans viewed Christianity as a superstition rather than a religion. Pliny was executing Christians for not paying tribute to gods, yet Jews were excepted. Certainly early Romans (after the Bar Kochba revolt ~110 AD) recognized Christianity as different than Judaism.

    I guess I can follow your reasoning that Jesus was a reformer, but at some point there was a break. Jesus called Apostles; Jews have no apostles. Jesus was baptized; Jews aren’t. Jesus instituted the sacrament; no sacrament among Jews. Christians celebrate Easter; Jews celebrate Passover. At some point Christianity became another religion separate from Judiasm. Sure there was some overlap in the 1st century, but by the 2nd century, there were enough differences to call them different. Don’t you agree?

  13. If we have discussed this before, I don’t remember.
    I’m not sure that, which religious holidays are supported, means much. Christians celebrated Passover too.

    Its true that Jews don’t have Apostles, but at the time, an Apostle was just an evangelist. Nothing doctrinal there. (not to mention that the Commission is disputed.)

    Baptism wasn’t solely a Christian practice. Jews had a submersion practice meant as an act of cleansing too. (I think we have discussed that). Was this the predecessor to Baptism?

    I don’t think the apostasy was an event either, but at some point, no apostasy had occurred yet. That would be the point where the church was in its purest form and should have been what was restored.

    MH, I’m just bringing up valid points. I don’t think its absurd to think that Paul could have initiated the apostasy. He certainly initiated great changes, and he was not an original Apostle, nor was he called to replace Judas. He was a self-appointed Apostle (evangelist).

    So, in my mind, JS should have restored the reformed jewish sect known as Christians, and this he did not do. Therefore I have to conclude that he started a new religion.

  14. I will certainly be talking about Paul more as I get through the book, although I’ve invited Rich Brown to drop by here and speak for himself. But, I’m not sure that the question here is apostacy versus restoration.

    I’m more and more inclined to a view of Restoration as movement toward what we are intended to BECOME than toward some imagined perfect past that NEVER EXISTED ON EARTH. In turn, I see as apostacy those things that mutate us toward something we were never supposed to be (or, perhaps more clearly stated as something less than the church might be).

    God’s creativity is always operative, and the church is always transforming, which involves both cretion and destruction.

  15. Perhaps I discussed apostasy on another blog–sorry about that, I thought we had discussed it here.

    I don’t think the apostasy was an event either, but at some point, no apostasy had occurred yet. That would be the point where the church was in its purest form and should have been what was restored.

    Well, you and I know the LDS position here. While Christ was alive, Christianity was in the purest form. It continued while the apostles were alive. From an LDS point of view, the apostasy became fully complete when the last apostle died (or in the case of John, was taken from the earth.) Coincidentally, I believe John’s translation/death was about the same time as the Bar Kochba revolt ~ 110 AD.

    I don’t think its absurd to think that Paul could have initiated the apostasy. He certainly initiated great changes,

    Well that certainly is a novel position. I don’t know any Christian that supports that viewpoint. Certainly you have a valid point, but Paul is thought so highly in all of Christendom, I can’t think of anyone that agrees with you. I mean I get what you’re saying. Certainly Paul was the “apostle of the Gentiles”, and his position on circumcision certainly opened the floodgates to the growth of the church among gentiles. So, I guess I can consider the idea that Paul could have been an apostate. But I think you’d probably have to conclude that Paul’s vision of Christ was problematic. Secondly, Peter’s vision of clean/unclean would also have to be described as apostate, so Peter would have instituted the apostasy as well. I just don’t see very many people buying that argument, as it seems to call all of Christianity in apostasy pretty much at the time of Christ’s death.

    and he was not an original Apostle, nor was he called to replace Judas. He was a self-appointed Apostle (evangelist). Was he really self-appointed, or did Christ appoint him?

    So, in my mind, JS should have restored the reformed jewish sect known as Christians, and this he did not do.

    Well, are you throwing out all of the New Testament after the 4 gospels?

    Therefore I have to conclude that he started a new religion.

    Well, you’ve got good company. Terryl Givens believes Joseph started a new religion, but for very different reasons. (The Subtitle of his book “By the Hand of Mormon” is “The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion”.) Givens believes Christianity is an evolution of Judaism, while Mormonism is an evolution of Christianity. Just as Christianity is a new religion separate from its Judaic roots, Mormonism is a new religion separate from its Christian roots.

  16. FireTag, I look forward to hearing more about that book. And I have to agree with you: “I’m more and more inclined to a view of Restoration as movement toward what we are intended to BECOME than toward some imagined perfect past that NEVER EXISTED ON EARTH.”

    I think Bishop Rick is trying to get back to the Christianity of Jesus prior to his crucifixion, but I’m not sure that is what Christianity is supposed to look like.

  17. Hmmm. I THINK Bishop Rick is pointing out the internal inconsistencies in the traditional Restoration view of itself as a snapshot of “pure Christianity” as it once was. The original disciples didn’t get Jesus unfiltered from their own human limitations; Judeo-Christianity was always a thing in motion.

    In fact, I just read a sermon that the whole subtext of Mark about the disciples is that “if these clowns could be the most faithful to Jesus, you can, too.”

    So all three of us may actually be on the same page on the point about BECOMING.

  18. MH, are you looking for people that just fall in line or are you looking for independent thought?
    I actually know the answer already.

    FT is onto something. I think there is more agreement than disagreement.

    Well, are you throwing out all of the New Testament after the 4 gospels?

    No, just Paul’s epistles. He didn’t write the entire NT past the Gospels, and Yes, I do find Paul’s solitary vision of Christ problematic. I know there are many in that same vein.

    Secondly, Peter’s vision of clean/unclean would also have to be described as apostate, so Peter would have instituted the apostasy as well. I just don’t see very many people buying that argument, as it seems to call all of Christianity in apostasy pretty much at the time of Christ’s death.

    Actually, Peter’s clean/unclean vision is right in line with earlier Christ teachings, so I don’t agree with that statement.

    Well, you’ve got good company. Terryl Givens believes Joseph started a new religion, but for very different reasons.

    On this point I don’t think we are on the same page. You are making assumptions about my reasons. In reality, I never said that where JS started his “restoration” was a bad place, I just don’t think it was a true restoration. I actually think Givens sums it up quite well.

    I’ve made it known on many occasions that I don’t believe JS was visited by God the Father and Jesus Christ. I think JS either made that up or suffered from delusions and was convinced it happened when it in fact didn’t. I also believe that JS put together a church (quite remarkably I must say) from his own mind, studies and influence. I think this is where your assumptions stem from, and that’s fair. But believe it or not, that has nothing to do with my thought process here.

    I think Bishop Rick is trying to get back to the Christianity of Jesus prior to his crucifixion, but I’m not sure that is what Christianity is supposed to look like.

    I think you have moved the needle back a little farther than what I was thinking. I’m more in line with – Between Paul and Bar Kochba.

    That said, would pre-crucifiction Christianity be such a bad place to start from?

  19. Bishop Rick, you’re starting to sound like someone from the Jesus Seminar, and a bit of a heretic as well. 😉

    So let me try to understand your position better. (Sorry I have a bunch of questions.) What should pure Christianity between Paul and Bar Kochba look like? How is it different from the LDS position of “pure” Christianity?

    What do you make of Paul’s vision on the road to Damascus? Did he make it up or suffer delusions as you attribute to Joseph Smith?

    If you’re going to throw out the letters of Paul, besides circumcision, what else do you think are Paul’s apostate teachings in the Bible? (Or is circumcision not a pure teaching?)

    Regarding Peter’s clean/unclean vision, how does that reconcile with Christ’s earlier teachings? In Matthew 15, Christ says he is only sent to the House of Israel.

    Mat 15:22 And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.

    Mat 15:23 But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us.

    Mat 15:24 But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

    Mat 15:25 Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me.

    Mat 15:26 But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.

    I know he healed her daughter and (and there are some other exceptions), but he purposely pitched his message to Jews only, and tried to avoid gentiles during his lifetime. If gentiles sought him out, he only reluctantly helped them, and that was only after they persisted past his initial dismissal.

  20. Bishop Rick, you’re starting to sound like someone from the Jesus Seminar, and a bit of a heretic as well.

    I have no idea what someone from the Jesus Seminar sounds like. Also, I would place myself somewhere between agnostic and heretic.

    What do you make of Paul’s vision on the road to Damascus? Did he make it up or suffer delusions as you attribute to Joseph Smith?

    Well, we currently have to take Paul at his word, just like JS.
    Did he see Jesus? Did he make it up? Was he delusional and convinced he saw Jesus, when he didn’t really? Was he simply dreaming?
    Who knows. All are possibilities, but I find it unsettling that Paul can just waltz in, making a claim of a vision, and be accepted into the inner circle without Peter, James or John having any foreknowledge of this.

    What should pure Christianity between Paul and Bar Kochba look like? How is it different from the LDS position of “pure” Christianity?

    I’m not sure. I was trying to start a dialog, but got no takers.

    If you’re going to throw out the letters of Paul, besides circumcision, what else do you think are Paul’s apostate teachings in the Bible?

    I’m not ready to declare Paul an apostate. I’m throwing the concept on the table for discussion. I do think it is a distinct possibility though, if not directly, then certainly indirectly.
    Remember, your the one putting words in my mouth. You had me throwing out the entire NT after the Gospels, not me. I said I would only throw out Paul’s letters (and even this was based on the assumption that he was an apostate.)

    Regarding Peter’s clean/unclean vision, how does that reconcile with Christ’s earlier teachings?

    Well there is the parable of the Good Samaritan, the Lady at the well, the sermon on the mount, healing the Centurian’s servant…

    In Matthew 15, Christ says he is only sent to the House of Israel…Iknow he healed her daughter and (and there are some other exceptions), but he purposely pitched his message to Jews only, and tried to avoid gentiles during his lifetime. If gentiles sought him out, he only reluctantly helped them, and that was only after they persisted past his initial dismissal.

    That is your interpretation. Remember he did this in front of the disciples. Do you think it is possible that he was merely showing them the absurdity of Jewish isolationist practices?

  21. BR:

    Well the last one hadn’t occurred to me. However, they clearly didn’t get the point if that was His intent. And if they didn’t get the intent, it might indeed be necessary to find someone else to become the Apostle to the Gentiles.

    Maybe Saul was delusional, but his delusion was remarkably persistent and meant a lot to world history.

  22. As was Joseph Smith’s

    FT, we are talking about the savior of the world here.
    Please give me one good explanation for the savior of the world to be a bigot.
    He can’t be both.

  23. Bishop Rick, the Jesus Seminar is a group of scholars that try to define the historical Jesus. Many religious groups don’t like them, because they are more of a scholarly group than a religious one. Their website is here. I’ve quoted John Dominic Crossan here before, and I find his views about Jesus really insightful and interesting, but most religious folks find them a bit heretical.

    I don’t know where you stand on Paul. In comment 4, you said that the “apostasy, it very well could have started with Paul”, yet it 20 you are not ready to declare Paul an apostate. You find Paul’s vision problematic and seem to come close to saying it could have been a delusion, and seem to want to discount scriptures from here, but I’m not sure exactly what apostate teaching he introduced. Are you just brainstorming here? Sorry, I’m not trying to put words in your mouth–I’m just trying to understand where you’re coming from.

    Do you think it is possible that he was merely showing them the absurdity of Jewish isolationist practices?

    I’ve always said God works in mysterious ways, but if Jesus was trying to show the absurdity of Jewish isolationist practices, it seems to me he could have been a bit more blunt. Certainly the dispute about circumcision and whether the gospel should have been preached to gentiles left many Jews with questions in their mind about the wisdom of teaching gentiles. Jesus didn’t exactly speak clearly about the matter on the earth, and in each of the examples you cited, Jesus first dismissed the gentiles before helping them. Some scholars from the Jesus Seminar state that Jesus targeted peasant Jewish farmers for his message. He didn’t target gentiles. While he was a bit more inclusionary than some Jews, he was not Martin Luther King regarding slavery or other social issues. For example, he didn’t condemn slavery or other things we would find offensive.

  24. BR:

    “As was Joseph Smith’s”.

    In my dreams, fervently.

    “Please give me one good explanation for the savior of the world to be a bigot.”

    Please clarify. I just said the idea of His using absurdity hadn’t occurred to me before, not that I thought you were wrong. But the 12 did NOT go outside the Jewish faith. Paul saw that as his calling.

  25. MH – More brainstorming than anything. I do think the things I have mentioned on this thread are worthy of discussion. I understand the controversy but I find it very plausible that Paul could have begun an apostasy but I would not say I’m 100% in that boat yet. I’m still trying to figure out if I think the apostasy began from the Jewish Sect or Christianity…but I’m leaning hard in the direction of the Jewish Sect.

    The fact that Jesus didn’t speak clearly on the Gentile v Jew topic gives me serious pause.

    The Jesus Seminar seems very interesting. I will definitely check it out.

  26. FT – If Jesus truly is the savior of the world, then he couldn’t act prejudicial, yet it is pretty clear that he followed the Law of Moses which is isolationist. Its one thing if he were only exposed to Hebrews due to geographic limitations, but this was not the case. He had every opportunity to treat all races and creeds equally, but didn’t, if we take the scriptures at their face value.

    He had a habit of using spoken parables in his teachings. I don’t think it that far off to suppose he did the same with his actions. He didn’t write the Gospels. They were written from memory many years after the fact, from the perspective of each respective author…who may or may not have even been an eyewitness. We don’t know what details have been left out that could have detoured from the author’s objective.

    These are the type of things I’m weighing in my mind as I try to figure this stuff out. I’m not convinced Jesus was more than a man, and the scriptures MH cited along with Peter’s vision, make him look even more human, with the same faults we all have.

    So I’m trying to figure out – Is Jesus the Savior of the world, or was he merely a reformer within his born-into religion?

  27. bishop rick, I am willing to entertain this notion that paul started the apostasy. but to this point, you haven’t defined which of paul’s teachings you think are apostate. I think you need to flesh that out before you will convince anyone that paul started an apostasy. (and since paul is so highly thought of in all of christendom, you had better be prepared for an argument-especially from evangelicals that think so highly of paul’s writings.)

  28. BR:

    OK. So what you’re really asking, is what is the mechanism of connection between Jesus and Christ. I’ve been having a lot of discussions this week with my daughter in connection with a Mormon Matters post, but from a framework of duality between the physical and spiritual.

    Within the traditional theological framework (at least as seen by the Jesus Seminar), you might find the writings of Marcus Borg illuminating. Particularly pay attention there to his concept that while Christ might know who was the governor of Oregon, there is nothing to indicate that Jesus’s role would give him a need-to-know at that level.

    Another couple of points to consider: Even if you assume Jesus has full knowledge, He might still consider it strategic to focus His efforts on the Jews because of His other physical limitations. Also, if Paul is messed up, there’s no reason to be troubled by the notion that the writers of the gospels are, too. We NEVER see Jesus in the scriptures. What we always see is some group’s understanding of their experience with Jesus — which is NEVER “translated correctly”.

    Two other points to consider

  29. MH,
    I’m not writing a book or preaching from a pulpit. Outside your blog, I will likely never even mention it, so I’m not too worried about the arguments. I run stuff past this blog kind of as a trial balloon. Depending on what comes to the surface, I either trash the idea, become convinced of it, or simply put it on a shelf for awhile. This stuff is for my benefit alone. Sometimes I get hit with fierce opposition and come away more convinced. Other times I get little to no opposition, even agreement, but a subtle comment is made that makes me go in a completely different direction.

    This is what blogs like MH should be for. To help people that are seeking information, confirmation or answers. Bickering, arguing and mudslinging just gets in the way. When I make a statement that might seem anti or an attempt to pick a fight, its actually just an attempt for dialogue, because either I honestly believe it, or I’m seeking more information. I’m not an anti, by contrast I’m active (yet DAMU) LDS and so is my family (active, not DAMU).

    I realize I need to flesh out the teachings of Paul that could be considered apostate before this topic can go any further. Just wish I had more time for this stuff.

  30. FT,
    I need to get over to the Jesus Seminar, if for no other reason, to see what that community thinks.
    Again, more time would be helpful.

  31. BR:

    I’m getting a little farther into Rich Brown’s book, so I’ll add a couple of things I noted from him there. I’m short on time, too, so I’ll skip particular citations of verses. The seven authentic letters of Paul do not speak of the institutional church as being important. He spends time emphasizing, for example, that he’d spent little time in Jerusalem, and that his apostolic (prophetic?) calling DID NOT COME FROM THE EXISTING APOSTLES. The doubtful epistles that are suspected of being written perhaps a generation later by his followers show movement toward a more established church in which established organization is seen. So if we are moving toward apostacy in time, apostacy might involve the very act of church formation itself. I didn’t see that one coming.

    Another wierd thing was that Paul was really trying to get to Gaul, but never made it past Rome. Although Rich doesn’t draw this conclusion, Paul’s followers apparently kept that target in mind, and that’s important, because it is the extreme West of the Empire where Constantine’s father was assigned as Governor — and it was the brand of Christianity taught THERE that provided Constantine’s Rome with its version of the gospel that came down to us in the modern West.

    So, is it possible that Christ might have been more concerned about WHERE the gospel was to be taught than about fine points of doctrine or organization from the very beginning?

  32. FT,

    That’s really good stuff…especially the part about Gaul. I need to do some research on that one before commenting further.

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