Misgoded reading continued
Paul’s amendment to the teaching of Moses and Jesus reads, “And by him [Jesus
Christ] everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be
justified by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:39). A more permissive blanket statement would
be hard to conceive. We can easily imagine the voice of the collective public screaming,
“Please, let’s have more of that!” And here it is: “But now we have been delivered from
the law, having died [i.e., suffered] to what we were held by, so that we should serve in
the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter” (Romans 7:6). Or, if I may
freely paraphrase: “But now I tell you to forget this old law, the inconveniences of which
we have lived with for too long, and live by the religion of our desires, rather than by the
old, uncomfortable mandates of revelation.” According to Paul, God’s law was
apparently good enough for Moses and Jesus, but not for the rest of mankind.
There should be little wonder that a person who considered himself qualified to
negate the law of the prophets also considered himself to be all things to all people, as he
so clearly stated:
For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a
slave to all, so that I might win more of them;
To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews.
To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I
myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law.
To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I
am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win
those outside the law.
To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak.
I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means
save some (NRSV; 1 Corinthians 9:1923).
And what’s wrong with trying to be all things to all people? What’s wrong is that
those who try to be all things to all people fail to be the most important thing to the most
important person—they fail to be true to themselves. This scenario is a surefire gambit in
politics, where the most successful politicians are the ones who sell themselves to the
largest number of interest groups, some of them conflicting. The problem is that
politicians typically sell not only the truth, but their souls in the process.
So in one corner we have the true prophets, Jesus Christ included, teaching
salvation through adhering to God’s laws, as conveyed through revelation—that is,
salvation through faith and works. In the other corner we have the challenger, Paul,
promising an effortless salvation following a life unrestricted by commandments—in
other words, salvation through faith alone. No wonder Paul gained a following!
James taught that faith alone was not sufficient for salvation. In the passage
sometimes titled “Faith Without Works is Dead” (James 2:20), the author sarcastically
condemns those who rely solely upon faith for salvation: “You believe that there is one
God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” (James 2:19). A modern
paraphrase might read more like, “You believe in God? So what? So does Satan. How are
you different from him?” James clarifies that “a man is justified by works, and not by
faith only” (James 2:24). Why? Because, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so
faith without works is dead also” (James 2:26).
Jesus Christ didn’t compromise his values to appeal to the masses. He taught
simplicity and good sense, such as, “As the Father gave me commandment, so I do …”
(John 14:31) and, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I
have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in His love” (John 15:10). To repeat: “If
you keep my commandments …” (italics mine). Yet, nowhere did Jesus command belief
in divine sonship, the Trinity, the crucifixion, resurrection, atonement, and other tenets of
Trinitarian dogma. If anything, in fact, he taught the exact opposite.
Furthermore, in stark contrast to Paul, Jesus didn’t try to be all things to all
people. He appears to have been one thing to all people—a prophet bearing the truth of
God. He wasn’t afraid to voice the harsh truth, to speak his mind, or to convey revelation
without putting a more appealing spin on it. In the short passage of Matthew 23:1333,
Jesus labeled the Pharisees “hypocrites” no less than eight times, “blind” five times,
“fools” twice, topped off with “serpents” and “brood of vipers.” Strong words? Maybe
not in Western nations, but try those insults in the Palestine that was Jesus’ homeland and
see what happens, even in the present day.
Now that is the forthright example of a true prophet. And yet, there are those who
view Paul as the main voice of revelation, despite the clear warning, “A disciple is not
above his teacher, nor a servant above his master” (Matthew 10:24).
So why does Trinitarian Christianity assign priority to the teachings of Paul, who
wasn’t a disciple or a servant, and for that matter never even met Jesus—over those of
“the teacher,” despite the Bible warning us against such inverted priorities? And what
does Paul propose with regard to the doctrine of atonement? Not just an amendment to
Jesus’ teachings. No, it’s a whole new religion, and a whole new law—or lack thereof!
It’s so easy and alluring, a person wants to believe it. And given the bloody history of
Roman Catholic intolerance, for fifteen hundred years a person had to believe it, or else!
Consequently, the church appears to have succeeded in mixing a seemingly innocent
hardener of satisfying falsehoods into the resinous minds of the receptive masses,
cementing convictions upon an unsupported creed—a creed far from Jesus’ teaching,
“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in me, the works that I do he will do
also …” (John 14:12)? One wonders, did Jesus really mean things like living according to
revealed law, keeping the commandments, praying directly to God—things like that?
What can we imagine Jesus will say, upon his return, when he finds a group of his
“followers” preferring Pauline theology to his own? Perhaps he will quote Jeremiah
23:32—“’Behold, I am against those who prophesy false dreams,’ says the Lord, ‘and tell
them, and cause My people to err by their lies and by their recklessness. Yet I did not
send them or command them; therefore they shall not profit this people at all,’ says the
Whenever Jesus does return, we can safely assume that whatever else he says will
catch a lot of people by surprise.
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