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Life Arts    H4'ed 12/24/16

Who Founded Christianity? Some Say Jesus; Some Say Paul. What If Neither Did? The Answer Will Surprise You

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The issue of declaring a new religion comes up again for Paul, when doing so would have saved his life. That he didn't declare a new religion at that time poses a formidable challenge to those who say "if Jesus didn't officially launch Christianity then Paul certainly did." But did he?

On that third visit to Jerusalem Paul was arrested after creating a disturbance at the Jerusalem Temple, where he incited a group of Asian Jews who attacked him for blasphemy (Acts 21:27-31). When he was brought before the Roman Governor, it was determined that the matter of blasphemy was strictly a Jewish affair and therefore should be adjudicated before the Sanhedrin. Fearful of his fate if he were judged by the Sanhedrin, Paul invoked his status as a Roman citizen and demanded that his case be heard before the emperor in Rome. His demand was granted (Acts 25:10-12), verifying the power and respect for Roman citizenship.

But if Paul believed that he had departed from Judaism and had launched the new religion of Christianity why didn't he say so, with his life at stake? Why didn't he say "I'm a Christian, not a Jew. I believe in Jesus Christ, who the Sanhedrin has rejected. As a Christian they have no Jurisdiction over me. You must release me."

And surely, given his status as a Roman citizen, he would have been released. But he didn't use that obvious defense. Only one explanation can account for Paul's puzzling behavior: he believed he was a Jew proposing a valid revision that embraced Jesus as fulfilling the Jewish Messiah prophesy. In a sense he may have even felt more Jewish than the Sanhedrin in embracing the Messiah Jesus.

So, instead of freedom, Paul squanders five years, at the peak of his ministry, which included imprisonment in Caesarea, a lengthy treacherous journey to Rome, and then house arrest in Rome

Punctuating Paul's persistent dedication to Judaism and his Jewish identity, when arriving in Rome he summons the Jewish leadership (Acts28:17-20). He bitterly complains to them that the Romans have no argument with him but that the Sanhedrin has charged him with blasphemy, when he has committed none--still believing that his form of Judaism was the right one. He was clinging to his Jewish identity. Note too that there is no mention in the New Testament narrative of any consideration of the argument (that would have given Paul his freedom) "I'm not a Jew any longer, I'm a Christian." Paul goes to his death as a Jew.

At that point in the development of Jewish Christianity, the converts were predominantly Gentiles. With Paul gone and Gentile conversions accelerating, many different sects sprang up. Irenaeus, an early Church leader, counted twenty forms of Christianity. And these Gentile/pagan dominant sects became increasingly distant from Judaism, taking on an independent Christian identity. Paul Flesher, University of Wyoming Professor of Religious Studies names numerous sects that the fledgling Christianity generated: Donatists, Gnostics, Arians, Adoptionists, Modalists, Manicheans, Montanists, Marcionites, Ebionites, Nestorians, Meletians, among others. These disparate sects, says Flesher, had disagreements about fundamental theological doctrines, choice of scriptures, and religious practices.

By the fourth century competing sects still flourished. That's why the Emperor Constantine initiated the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE, to sanction a unified Christian Church.

This broad-stroke sweeping history sketch documents how Christianity "just happened." But the newly established unified Catholic Church was still uncomfortable that its authenticity was tied to Jewish lineage and Jewish messianic prophecy. Thus, the church sought to sever the Christian/Jewish connection by stepping up vilification of Jews and Judaism. In this campaign the most devastating blow was the charge of "Christ Killers," with its lethal consequences for Jews. The fatal distancing of Christians and Jews that followed has only recently begun the process of reconciliation and healing, strengthened by Pope Francis' bold statement: "Inside every Christian is a Jew."

In 2016, in a rare occurrence, the first night of Hanukkah and Christmas Eve fall on the same date , December 24th. Since 1900 that convergence has happened only three times (1902, 1940, and 1978). 2016 is the fourth time.

Perhaps this rare event signals a prophetic time for Christians and Jews to celebrate the common foundation of the two faiths.

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Bernard Starr, PhD, is a psychologist and Professor Emeritus at CUNY, Brooklyn College. He is a past president of The Brooklyn Psychological Association and past president of The Association for Spirituality and Psychotherapy. At Brooklyn (more...)
 

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