Sha’ul’s Gospel can really only be understood against the background of a worldview based on mysticism, magic, miracles, prophecy, and the non-material manifestations of the spirit world for both good and evil. These views are at odds with the hard materialism paradigm of the modern scientific worldview. This is not to say that Sha’ul’s views are not based on “reality and Truth”, just that they are in conflict with the currently accepted materialistic worldview. The scientific method is not a required component of the assumptions used for hard materialism, and indeed, that paradigm may be in the process of changing to a more subjective, consciousness based, scientific worldview. This change is being driven by new discoveries from “the queen of all sciences”, physics, and best expressed by current Quantum Field Theory. QFT easily accommodates the subjective mysticism and spirituality inherent in “The Perennial Philosophy” of most of the world’s great religions. The QFT reality that “fields” are primary and “matter” is a secondary consequence of an excited quantum field defines what Einstein called “spooky action at a distance” (i.e. the spiritual).
Yeshua will always be the center of Christianity, but the “Yeshua” who most influenced history was the “Jesus Christ” of Paul and not the historical figure of Yeshua and the Jerusalem “church”, headed by Ya’akov (James). The bulk of the New Testament is dominated by Sha’ul’s theological visions. The original apostolic Christianity that came before Sha’ul, and developed independently of him, by those who had known and spent time with Yeshua, was in sharp contrast to Sha’ul’s version of his new Gospel. The original apostles and followers of Yeshua, led by Ya’akov and assisted by Kefa (Peter) and Yochanan (John), continued to live as Jews, observing the Torah and worshiping in the Temple at Jerusalem, or in their local synagogues. They remembered and honored Yesuua as their martyred Rabbi and Messiah. They neither worshiped nor elevated Yeshua to a status coequal with God. They practiced no ritual of baptism into Christ, but they did participate in Essene ritual bathing for forgiveness of sins. As Essenes, they did celebrate a sacred daily meal of bread and water, however it was not equated with “eating the body and drinking the blood” of the Messiah in order to form a mystical remembrance of him.
The Jerusalem church was wholly focused around their expectations that the kingdom of God had drawn near, as proclaimed by Yochanan the Baptizer and Yeshua the Messiah. They believed that at some point God would intervene in human history to bring about his righteous rule of peace and justice among all nations. A common thread that Sha’ul and the Jerusalem Yeshua Movement did agree on was that God would intervene in human history to establish his Kingdom of God. In the meantime, both Jews and non-Jews were urged to reject their worldly ways, turn to God, and live righteously before him in expectation of his kingdom.
Yeshua’s brother Ya’akov was leader of the Jerusalem church, but he also served in the Temple as the chief rabbi for the opposition against the Sadducees. Well known for his knowledge and piety, he acquired the title of Ya’akov the Righteous. As a chief rabbi Ya’akov taught frequently in the Temple and scribes would have written down his lessons. All but one of those “lessons” appear to have been lost except for the Book of James which survived to be included in the New Testament of the Bible. The Book of James is a teaching commentary on chapters 18 and 19 of Leviticus which detail how to live a Torah observant life. Christianity has largely minimized the Book of James, especially Martin Luther, because of its emphasis on practicing a Torah observant lifestyle.
Unfortunately, like his brother Yeshua, Ya’akov also annoyed the Sadducees to the point that they had him executed for blasphemy. Unlike Yeshua, they did not defer to the Romans, but instead had Ya’akov thrown from the Temple wall and then stoned for good measure. This occurred in 60 CE and is well documented historically.
So………. getting back to Sha’ul’s Gospel
Sha’ul’s ideas on who Yeshua was and the message of the Gospel were uniquely his own. Sha’ul never saw or knew the teachings of the living Yeshua. He makes this very clear in his authentic letters, where he is unconcerned about the teachings of Yeshua or the continuation of those teachings by Ya’akov and the Apostles. Sha’ul’s Gospel is solely focused on information revealed to him by Yeshua through mystical, post resurrection, ecstatic visions. In addition, Sha’ul’s teachings were often in opposition to the message of Yeshua, the Apostles, and, Ya’akov.
Paul Called by God Alone
All scripture cited, both Old and New Testaments, is from “The Complete Jewish Bible”, by Messianic Jewish Publishers
Gal 1:11-17, Furthermore, let me make clear to you, brothers, that the Good News as I proclaim it is not a human product; because neither did I receive it from someone else nor was I taught it, it came through a direct revelation from Yeshua the Messiah. For you have heard about my former way of life in traditional Judaism, how I did my best to persecute God’s Messianic Community and destroy it; and how, since I was more of a zealot for the traditions handed down by my forefathers than most Jews my age, I advanced in traditional Judaism more rapidly than they did. But when God, who picked me out before I was born and called me by his grace, chose to reveal his Son to me, so that I might announce him to the Gentiles, I did not consult anyone; and I did not go up to Yerushalayim to see those who were emissaries before me. Instead, I immediately went off to Arabia and afterwards returned to Dammesek.
Sha’ul’s Gospel has several major points that are found throughout all his authentic letters.
1) A New Spiritual Body:
Sha’ul understood Yeshua’s resurrection as the transformation, or to use his words “the metamorphosis,” of a flesh and blood human being into what he calls a “life-giving spirit”. Yeshua was so transformed by the resurrection that he becomes the first “Adam” of a new genus of Spirit beings called the “Children of God”, of which many others were to follow. As far as Sha’ul is concerned, Yeshua was just a mortal man who died on the cross; however, when God performs the Resurrection, he is transformed into a new spiritual being.
1 Corinthians 15:45-49, In fact, the Tanakh says so: Adam, the first man, became a living human being; but the last “Adam” has become a life-giving Spirit. Note, however, that the body from the Spirit did not come first, but the ordinary human one; the one from the Spirit comes afterwards. The first man is from the earth, made of dust; the second man is from heaven. People born of dust are like the man of dust, and people born from heaven are like the man from heaven; and just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, so also we will bear the image of the man from heaven.
1 Corinthians 15:3-9, For among the first things I passed on to you was what I also received, namely this: the Messiah died for our sins, in accordance with what the Tanakh says; and he was buried; and he was raised on the third day, in accordance with what the Tanakh says; and he was seen by Kefa (Peter), then by the Twelve; and afterwards he was seen by more than five hundred brothers at one time, the majority of whom are still alive, though some have died. Later he was seen by Ya‘akov (James), then by all the emissaries; and last of all he was seen by me, even though I was born at the wrong time. For I am the least of all the emissaries, unfit to be called an emissary, because I persecuted the Messianic Community of God.
2) A Cosmic Family and a Heavenly Kingdom:
God, as Creator, was going to inaugurate a process through which he would be reproducing himself, literally bringing to birth a “God Family”. The destiny of this cosmic heavenly family is to rule over the entire universe. Sha’ul understood the coming kingdom as a cosmic takeover of the entire universe by the newly born heavenly family, consisting of the many glorified children of God with Christ, as firstborn, at their head. This group of divine, glorified Spirit-beings would then participate corporately with Christ in the judgment of the world, even ruling over the angels.
Romans 8: 29-30, …because those whom he knew in advance, he also determined in advance would be conformed to the pattern of his Son, so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers; and those whom he thus determined in advance, he also called; and those whom he called, he also caused to be considered righteous; and those whom he caused to be considered righteous he also glorified!
1 Corinthians 6:2-3, Don’t you know that God’s people are going to judge the universe? If you are going to judge the universe, are you incompetent to judge these minor matters? Don’t you know that we will judge angels, not to mention affairs of everyday life?
1 Cor 15:50-53, Let me say this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot share in the Kingdom of God, nor can something that decays share in what does not decay. Look, I will tell you a secret, not all of us will die! But we will all be changed! It will take but a moment, the blink of an eye, at the final shofar. For the shofar will sound, and the dead will be raised to live forever, and we too will be changed. For this material which can decay must be clothed with imperishability, this which is mortal must be clothed with immortality.
3) A Mystical Union With Christ Through the Rites of the Eucharist and Baptism:
Sha’ul’s use of baptism moved beyond a practice for the forgiveness of sins. Unlike Yochanan’s baptism of repentance, derived from Essene ritual bathing to obtain purity before God, Sha’ul’s Baptism brought about a mystical union with what he called the “spiritual body of Christ”, and was the act through which one received the impregnating Holy Spirit.
For the Sacred Meal Sha’ul elevates the Essene communal meal of bread and water into a mystic ritual where a person was thereby eating and drinking the body and blood of Christ in the form of bread and wine. Sha’ul’s Eucharist or Love Feast has no parallels in any Jewish sources from this period. This meal connected those who eat and drink through the Spirit with the embryonic nurturing life they needed as developing offspring of God. Sha’ul’s Jewish contemporaries would have found this utterly reprehensible, akin to magic or ritual cannibalism.
1 Corinthians 10:16-17, I speak to you as sensible people; judge for yourselves what I am saying. The “cup of blessing” over which we make the b’rakhah (praise) , isn’t it a sharing in the bloody sacrificial death of the Messiah? The bread we break, isn’t it a sharing in the body of the Messiah? Because there is one loaf of bread, we who are many constitute one body, since we all partake of the one loaf of bread.
There is considerable evidence that Sha’ul created a different type of baptism than that practiced by Yochanan the Baptist and other Essenes. The passage from Acts below indicates that Apollos from Alexandria knew only of Yochanan the Baptist’s Essene baptism rites, and was unfamiliar with Sha’ul’s new type of baptism. Sha’ul’s companions Priscilla and Aquila apparently go on to teach Sha’ul’s new type of baptism to Apollos.
Acts 1:24 -28, Meanwhile, a Jewish man named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent speaker with a thorough knowledge of the Tanakh. This man had been informed about the Way of the Lord, and with great spiritual fervor he spoke and taught accurately the facts about Yeshua, but he knew only the immersion of Yochanan. He began to speak out boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the Way of God in fuller detail. When he made plans to cross over into Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote the talmidim (Torah scholars) there to welcome him. On arrival, he greatly helped those who through grace had come to trust; for he powerfully and conclusively refuted the unbelieving Jews in public, demonstrating by the Tanakh that Yeshua is the Messiah.
When Sha’ul finally meets up with Apollos, he goes on to explain that his baptism is very different than the baptism of Yochanan’s, which was for repentance and forgiveness of sins. Sha’ul’s baptism has become a mystical initiation ritual involving the passing on of the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit). There are non-canonical accounts of Sha’ul’s baptism where the initiates remove their old clothes, enter the water, and emerge to put on new clothes to indicate their passing into Yeshua’s Kingdom of God.
Acts 18:1 – 6, While Apollos was in Corinth, Sha’ul completed his travels through the inland country and arrived at Ephesus, where he found a few talmidim. He asked them, “Did you receive the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) when you came to trust?” “No,” they said to him, “we have never even heard that there is such a thing as the Ruach HaKodesh.” “In that case,” he said, “into what were you immersed?” “The immersion of Yochanan,” they answered. Sha’ul said, “Yochanan practiced an immersion in connection with turning from sin to God; but he told the people to put their trust in the one who would come after him, that is, in Yeshua.” On hearing this, they were immersed into the name of the Lord Yeshua; and when Sha’ul placed his hands on them, the Ruach HaKodesh came upon them; so that they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.
4) Already, but Not Yet:
Sha’ul was quite sure that he and his followers would live to see the return of Christ from heaven. He tried to inspire his followers to live as if the new spiritual transformation had already arrived, all the time knowing that its full realization was not yet. According to Sha’ul the universe was “pregnant” and ready to give “birth” to this new cosmic spiritual family of God. So much so that Sha’ul actually advised people to abstain from marriage because the Kingdom was so close.
1 Corinthians 7:8-9: To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am. But if they are not practicing self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.
5) Under the Torah of Christ:
Sha’ul maintained that the Torah had now been added to, not abolished, through the new Torah of Christ for the Gentiles. For Sha’ul there was a new union between what the Torah of Moses promised to the nation of Israel and the new Torah of Christ. The Torah of Moses claimed physical blessings of prosperity, well-being, and peace for those who observed the Law. The Torah of Christ had incomparable spiritual glory now promised to those destined to be part of the new cosmic heavenly family of glorified children of God.
Galatians 3: 23-26, Now before the time for this trusting faithfulness came, we were imprisoned in subjection to the system which results from perverting the Torah into legalism, kept under guard until this yet-to-come trusting faithfulness would be revealed. Accordingly, the Torah functioned as a custodian until the Messiah came, so that we might be declared righteous on the ground of trusting and being faithful. But now that the time for this trusting faithfulness has come, we are no longer under a custodian. For in union with the Messiah, you are all children of God through this trusting faithfulness.
2 Corinthians 3:7-9, Now if that which worked death, by means of a written text engraved on stone tablets, came with glory, such glory that the people of Isra’el could not stand to look at Moshe’s face because of its brightness, even though that brightness was already fading away, won’t the working of the Spirit be accompanied by even greater glory? For if there was glory in what worked to declare people guilty, how much more must the glory abound in what works to declare people innocent!
6) Sha’ul Defended His Gospel and Position as the 13th Apostle:
As Sha’ul puts it: God chose to “reveal his Son to me” (Galatians 1:16). This places him in a rather extraordinary position with reference to the original apostles, since he understood that his singular position as the “Thirteenth Apostle” was to take the message about Christ to the non-Jewish world. This special mission, he believed, was essential for him to complete before the end of the age and The Kingdom of God could arrive. Christ came to Sha’ul as a heavenly revelation and was not in any way derived from consulting with, or receiving authority from, the original Jerusalem Apostles (Galatians 1:16–18). Paul spoke of the Jerusalem leadership sarcastically, referring to Ya’akov, Kefa, and Yochanan as the “so-called pillars,” and “those reputed to be somebody,” but adds, “what they are means nothing to me”. Sometime in the mid to late 50’s CE, Sha’ul made a clear and decisive break with Ya’akov’s Jerusalem establishment. In one of his last writings, an embedded fragment of a letter now found in 2 Corinthians, he declares “I am not the least inferior to these super-apostles,” and ends up calling them “false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.
What Sha’ul expected to happen never came about and his grand vision of the imminent transformation of the world into a ruling spiritual, cosmic family with Yeshua as the “Firstborn” new Adam utterly failed to happen. And yet. Sha’ul’s ideas lived on to heavily influence the four Gospel writers and all of emerging Christianity. Today Sha’ul’s gospel has been massaged, transformed, and cherry picked into any number of “Christian” theologies that no longer reflect the totally Jewish nature of his Gospel.
As a final irony, the Jerusalem church, once led by Ya’akov and later by a succession of Yeshua’s brothers and other relatives, fled to Pela where they languished in obscurity after the total destruction of Jerusalem by Rome in 70 CE. After Constantine’s conversion to Christianity in the 4th century CE, the surviving members of Yeshua’s original church traveled to Constantinople where they petitioned the first “Christian” emperor to be reinstated as the original church. Their claim was that they had faithfully preserved the message of Yeshua and his Apostles. In Constantine’s ignorance, because they were all Jews and Yeshua was obviously a Christian, he refused to see them and had them branded and killed as heretics of the new official gentile state Christian religion.
Ignorance of how and where your beliefs originate can be a very dangerous thing.