There’s no excuse any longer for people of faith to accept the Church’s interpretation of the Bible.
For almost 2,000 years, the orthodox Western Church has successfully hoodwinked people into believing that Paul was an apostle of the man named Jesus of Nazareth. If the New Testament can be said to be a “testament” at all, it should be understood as a testament to the determination and marketing genius of certain men and women who wanted the kind of power that only comes through a theocracy.
I can certainly understand how regular people would fail to understand the implications of what Paul and Mark wrote. Even though I had two university degrees before embarking on a Master’s degree in theology, I had no understanding until the age of 49 that the Church had been lying to me all my life. I naively assumed until then that the Church was telling me the truth about Jesus, and that the Church was wanting to tell me the truth about Jesus.
Then I went back to university. There, using the research tools my professors taught me, it soon became clear to me that the pages of the New Testament don’t say what they’re “supposed” to say if you’re a good, pious, orthodox Christian. Instead, the pages tell a story about a family ripped apart, a man who longed to know God, a death that didn’t come to pass, and the frantic attempts of other people to hide the truth about this man, this man’s family, and this man’s “non-death.”
What surprised me even more than what I saw in the pages of the New Testament was the reaction of my professors and classmates to what’s written there. They did NOT want anyone to point out that Paul’s theology is completely different from Jesus’ theology as presented in Mark. They wanted to keep the myth that Paul was chosen by God to preach the “good news.” They seemed content to ignore the avalanche of research material that now makes it impossible for a person of academic integrity to deny that Paul and Mark were not even “in the same book,” let alone “on the same page.” The proof is right there in black and white for anyone who wants to take the time to examine it objectively.
So different are Paul and Mark’s theologies, in fact, that I contend here that Mark wrote his narrative biography about Jesus as a direct written rebuttal of the letters written by Paul in the short collection we now call First Corinthians.
The vast majority of Christians have no idea (and why should they?) that the Gospel of Mark was written several years after the letters of Paul. Christians assume (and why shouldn’t they?) that the books of the New Testament are arranged in the order in which they were written. So they read Matthew’s Gospel, with its detailed Nativity story, and they conclude the Bible is reciting Jesus’ story to them from the beginning (which only makes sense). But, as most biblical scholars will tell you, the Gospel of Matthew was written after the Gospel of Mark, not before. And Mark, in turn, was written several years after the uncontested letters of Paul.*
The books of the New Testament would look a whole lot different if they were printed in the order in which they were written. If they were printed in this order — first the Letter of James, then the Q Source, then parts of the Gospel of John, then Paul’s 7 letters in the order mentioned in the footnote below, then Mark, then Matthew, then Luke and Acts back to back (because Luke and Acts were written as a two-part story by the same author), then the rest of John’s writings (which grew increasingly erratic, paranoid, and apocalyptic over time) — you’d be able to see without too much trouble what was actually going on during the time of Jesus and his immediate successors.
To make the differences between Jesus and Paul even easier to see, all you have to do is find an internet site that offers the complete text of a solid Biblical translation such as the RSV, the NIV, or the NRSV, then cut and paste the text of First Corinthians into a word-processor chart beside the text of Mark’s Gospel (minus Mark 16:9-20, verses which scholars generally agree were tacked on by a later scribe). Now you have your very own free Biblical Synopis chart like a biblical scholar with a Ph.D.!
You’ll probably find the hardest part of this exercise is the mental effort to ignore what Matthew and Luke say. Pretend Matthew, Luke, and Acts don’t exist (because they didn’t exist when Mark was written). Focus only on what Paul says and what Mark says a few years afterward. Focus on what Paul doesn’t say about Jesus. Then notice what Mark does say about Jesus. Don’t you think it’s strange that the later source — Mark — refuses to agree with Paul about who Jesus was and what Jesus taught? Don’t you think it’s strange that Mark makes no mention of grace? Or “foolishness” in Christ? Or Spirit’s gifts of prophesy and tongues? Or the moveable Temple that is Spirit dwelling in your body? Don’t you think it’s strange that Mark makes no mention of the chosen prophet Paul (an historical figure by the time Mark wrote), nor of “our Lord Jesus Christ” (supposedly also a famous historical figure by the time Mark wrote)?
Are where, for that matter, can we find Mark’s themes of forgiveness, courage, and healing miracles in Paul?
We can’t. Because they’re not in Paul. Paul wasn’t interested in the theme of forgiveness. That’s because forgiveness and grace are antithetical to each other. Paul chose grace. Jesus chose forgiveness.
Choose one. Because you can’t have both.
If you prefer Paul’s theology, that’s fine, but at least have the decency to be honest about it. Don’t pretend you’re following in the footsteps of Jesus when you’re not. Have the courage to stand up and be counted as a follower of Paul. Then let the followers of Jesus’ teachings go their own separate way, as they’ve been trying to do for almost 2,000 years.
Can you tell I’m tired of the bullshit?
* Biblical scholars have used a variety of tools to establish that some of the canonical books traditionally attributed to Paul were almost certainly written by other authors, and not by Paul himself. There are 7 books that are generally agreed upon as authentic to Paul himself. These books are First Thessalonians; Galatians; First Corinthians; Second Corinthians; Philippians; Philemon; and Romans. There is no general agreement on the order in which these 7 books were written. I place Romans last, though others think Philippians was written last. Second Corinthians is also problematic because the letter as we know today it is actually a compilation of at least three different letters written at different times.