Pauline Christianity

Pauline Christianity

Pauline Christianity is a term used to refer to a branch of Early Christianity associated with the beliefs and doctrines espoused by Paul the Apostle through his writings. Most of orthodox Christianity relies heavily on these teachings and considers them to be amplifications and explanations of the teachings of Jesus. Others perceive in Paul's writings teachings that are radically different from the original teachings of Jesus documented in the canonical gospels, early Acts and the rest of the New Testament, such as the Epistle of James. The term is generally considered a pejorative by traditionalist Christians as it carries the assumption that Christianity as it is known is a corruption of the original teachings of Jesus.

Proponents of the perceived Pauline distinctive include Marcion of Sinope, the 2nd century theologian who asserted that Paul was the only apostle who had rightly understood the new message of salvation as delivered by Christ. Opponents of the same era include the Ebionites and Nazarenes, Jewish Christians who rejected Paul for straying from "normative" Judaism, see also List of events in early Christianity.

Pauline Christianity, as an expression, first came into use in the twentieth century amongst those scholars who proposed different strands of thought within Early Christianity, wherein Paul was a powerful influence. [ Lietzmann, Hans "History of the Early Church" Vol 1 p.206 ] It has come into widespread use amongst non-Christian scholars and depends on the claim, advanced in different ages, that the form of the faith found in the writings of Paul is radically different from that found elsewhere in the New Testament, but also that his influence came to predominate. Reference is also made to the large number of non-canonical texts, [ M.R. James "The Apocryphal New Testament (1924) See also the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi documents ] some of which have been discovered during the last hundred years, and which show the many movements and strands of thought emanating from Jesus's life and teaching or which may be contemporary with them, some of which can be contrasted with Paul's thought. Of the more significant are Ebionism and Gnosticism (see below). However, there is no universal agreement as to Gnosticism's relationship either to Christianity in general or the writings of Paul in particular. The expression is also used by modern Christian scholars, such as Ziesler [ Ziesler John, "Pauline Christianity" (OUP 2001) Zielsler comments "Pauline Christianity is the earliest for which we have direct documentary evidence..." ] and Mount, whose interest is in the recovery of Christian origins and the contribution made by Paul to Christian doctrine. The critical use of the expression relies in part upon a thesis that Paul's supporters, as a distinct group, had an undue influence on the formation of the canon of scripture, and also that certain bishops, especially the Bishop of Rome, influenced the debates by which the dogmatic formulations known as the Creeds came to be produced, thus ensuring a Pauline interpretation of the gospel. The thesis is founded on the differences between the views of Paul and the Church in Jerusalem revealed in his letters, [ see especially the letter to the Galatians ] and also between the picture of Paul in the Acts of the Apostles and his own writings, such that the essential Jewish or Old Testament character of the faith is said to have been lost, see also Jewish Christianity. It has arguably been given impetus by the growth in importance of Evangelical Christianity, most especially in the United States, which rely very much on certain of Paul's writings, in particular the Epistle to the Romans.

Characteristics of 'Pauline Christianity'

The characteristics of the critical use of the term take a number of forms. They are partly political and partly theological.


From a political perspective, Robert Eisenman sees Pauline Christianity as a method of taming a dangerous sect among radical Jews and making it palatable to Roman authorities. Pauline Christianity was essentially based on Rome and made use of the administrative skills which Rome had honed. Its system of organization with a single bishop for each town was, on this view, the means by which it obtained its hegemony. [ Ehrmann,Bart: "Lost Christianities" (OUP) p 175 ] .


The theological aspect is the claim that Paul transmuted Jesus the Jewish Messiah into the universal (in a wider meaning "catholic") Saviour.

Other Views

The use of the term by Christian scholars, such as John Ziesler, [ Ziesler, John "Pauline Christianity" ] is altogether different. Pauline Christianity is the development of thinking about Jesus in a gentile missionary context; Christopher Rowlands concludes that Paul did not materially alter the teachings of Jesus. Much of this view turns on the significance of the Council of Jerusalem. According to this view, James decreed that Christianity was for the Gentiles and not just for the Jews, and quoted the prophet Amos in support of this position (the "Apostolic Decree" is found in


The pejorative use of the expression "Pauline Christianity" relies in part upon a thesis that Paul's supporters, as a distinct group, had an undue influence on the formation of the canon of scripture, and also that certain bishops, especially the Bishop of Rome, influenced the debates by which the dogmatic formulations known as the Creeds came to be produced, thus ensuring a Pauline interpretation of the gospel. The thesis is founded on differences between the views of Paul and the apostles in Jerusalem, and also between the picture of Paul in the Acts of the Apostles and his own writings, such that it is claimed that the essential Jewish or Old Testament character of the faith was lost, see also Jewish Christianity. The argument made that Christian doctrine (that is, the teachings of Jesus) was subsequently distorted by Paul and the Church of Rome depends, first of all, on a view as to how the canon of Scripture came to be compiled, about which little is known (for details, see Biblical canon). The earliest references to Paul's writing are fragmentary: Clement of Rome, writing about AD 95, quotes from Romans; Ignatius of Antioch (d. AD 115) quotes from 1 Corinthians, Romans, and from 1 Timothy and Titus as if authoritative, not merely as the opinion of one writer. On the other hand, not everyone agreed with the process of reception: according to Irenaeus, bishop of Lyon, writing in the latter half of the second century, the Ebionite Christians rejected Paul as an apostate from the law, using only a version of the Gospel according to St. Matthew, known as the Gospel of the Ebionites. This accords with the views of some Muslims [] who similarly maintain that Paul was an Antichrist corrupting the teachings of the prophet Isa (Jesus).

As to his influence, there are considerable differences of scholarly opinion concerning how far Paul did in fact influence Christian doctrine. Among the most radical is G.A. Wells, a professor of German rather than of theology, whose view is that Jesus was a mythical figure and that Christianity was in good part invented by Paul. More widely influential is the view of the nineteenth century German theologian F.C. Baur, [ "Paulus, der Apostel Jesu Christi" (Eng trans.1873-5) ] founder of the Tübingen school, that Paul was utterly opposed to the disciples, based upon his view that Acts was late and unreliable and who contended that Catholic Christianity was a synthesis of the views of Paul and the Judaising church in Jerusalem. Since Harnack, the Tübingen position has been generally abandoned, [ The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church" ed. F.L. Cross] though the view that Paul took over the faith and transformed the Jewish teacher to the Son of God is still widely canvassed. [ cf James Tabor "The Jesus Dynasty" (Simon & Schuster 2006): Tabor contends that Paul led the church in its decisive break with the Ebionites, whose teaching contained the authentic teachings of Jesus. ] It depends on a comparison between the books of the New Testament which cannot be made here, but see Paul of Tarsus, and the claims of Ultradispensationalists such as E. W. Bullinger who view the distinction abhorred by the Ebionites as positive and essential doctrine [] .

On the other side, are those such as Christopher Rowlands, who contends that: "the extent of his influence on Christian thought has been overestimated". [ Rowlands Christopher, "Christian Origins "(SPCK 1985) p. 194] Thus, though thirteen letters under his name appear in the New Testament, the great controversies of the third and fourth centuries were about the Person of Christ and the nature of God - the so-called Christological and Trinitarian debates -in which St. Paul does not greatly feature; likewise, the Nicene Creed contains no doctrine of atonement. Moreover, while the influence of the Church of Rome was very important in the credal debates, Greek theologians such as Athanasius, the Cappadocian Fathers, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus and Gregory of Nyssa were formidable figures. The resolution of these controversies at the Council of Chalcedon was not dictated by the Bishop of Rome or Latin Christendom, but was made more difficult by the necessary task of translating technical terms between the two languages of Greek and Latin, and not by arguments over Pauline theology.

As for the New Testament itself, there are evident tensions between the Judaizing party and Paul's views, which are made plain by a comparison between Acts and Paul's letters. How far Paul is to be taken as anti-Jewish (pro-Hellenization or Romanization) is a matter of disagreement, but there has been widespread acknowledgement of the view of W.D. Davies that the essential Jewishness of Paul's Christian perspective has been underplayed. [ See also New Perspective on Paul and Ed. Sanders "Paul and Palestinian Judaism"] In Davies' view, Paul replaced the Torah, the Jewish Law or Mosaic Law, with Christ. [ see also Supersessionism] In any case, "the problems with which he wrestles in his letters were probably typical of many which were facing the Christian sect during this period". [ [Rowlands, Christopher, ibid. p.196] Further, by contrast one of the common features of Protestant churches, certainly in English-speaking countries and those influenced by Martin Luther and John Calvin, is their use of formulations other than the ancient Creeds, such as the Westminster Confession, in which Pauline formulations play a much greater part. Ideas such as justification by faith, which, though not absent from Catholic formulations, play a much less important role than in Protestant thinking, in which they are fundamental. [ but see also Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification]

As to the conclusion that Paul distorted rather than spelt out the faith, this depends upon a judgement as to wherein lies the right path. Henry Chadwick, former Oxford don, commented about a later controversy: "It was not that the heretics departed from the road; it was that they took a path along which the road was not subsequently built." Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants contend that Paul's writings were a legitimate interpretation of the Gospel. Those who disagree with them either argue that Paul distorted the original and true faith or claim that Christianity is, largely, his invention. The former include such secular commentators [] as the philosophers Friedrich Nietzsche and Bertrand Russell, whose criticisms, however, are based upon their moral objections to Paul's thought; others, like Slavoj Žižek and Alain Badiou, also agree with this interpretation, but hold a much more positive opinion on Paul's influence.



*Adams, Edward and Horrell, David G. "Christianity at Corinth: The Quest for the Pauline Church" 2004
*Bockmuehl, Markus N.A. "Revelation and Mystery in Ancient Judaism and Pauline Christianity"
*Brown, Raymond E. "An Introduction to the New Testament" 1997 ISBN 0-385-24767-2
*Brown, Raymond E. "Does the NT call Jesus God?" Theological Studies #26, 1965
*Dunn, James D.G. "The Theology of Paul the Apostle" Eerdmans 1997 ISBN 0-8028-3844-8
*Ehrman, Bart D. "Lost Christianities: The Battle for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew" 2003
*Eisenman, Robert. "James the Brother of Jesus : The Key to Unlocking the Secrets of Early Christianity and the Dead Sea Scrolls" 1997 ISBN 0-670-86932-5
*Elsner, Jas. "Imperial Rome and Christian Triumph: Oxford History of Early Non-Pauline Christianity" 1998 ISBN 0-19-284201-3
*Griffith-Jones, Robin. "The Gospel According to Paul" 2004.
*Holland, Tom. "Contours of Pauline Theology: A Radical New Survey on the Influences of Paul's Biblical Writings" 2004 ISBN 1-85792-469-X
*Maccoby, Hyam. "The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity " 1986 ISBN 0-06-015582-5
*MacDonald, Dennis Ronald. "The Legend and the Apostle : The Battle for Paul in Story and Canon" Philadelphia: Westminster Press 1983
*Mount, Christopher N. "Pauline Christianity: Luke-Acts and the Legacy of Paul" 2001
*Pietersen, Lloyd K. "Polemic of the Pastorals: A Sociological Examination of the Development of Pauline Christianity" 2004
* Rowlands, Christopher, "Christian Origins" SPCK 1985
*Sanders, E.P. "Jesus and Judaism" 1987 ISBN 0-8006-2061-5
*Sanders, E.P. "Paul the Law and the Jewish People" 1983
*Sanders, E.P. "Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion" 1977 ISBN 0-8006-1899-8
*Scaugh, T. "Porn in the Flesh: St. Paul Decoded". 2007. ISBN 978-1-84753-245-9.
*Theissen, Gerd. "The Social Setting of Pauline Christianity: Essays on Corinth" 2004
*Westerholm, Stephen. "Perspectives Old and New on Paul: The "Lutheran" Paul and His Critics" 2003 ISBN 0-8028-4809-5
*Wright, N.T. "What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity?" 1997 ISBN 0-8028-4445-6
*Wilson, A.N "Paul: The Mind of the Apostle" 1997
*Ziesler, John A. "Pauline Christianity, Revised" 1990 ISBN 0-19-826459-3

ee also

*Authorship of the Pauline epistles
*Christian anarchism
*Early Christianity
*New Covenant
*New Perspective on Paul
*Paul of Tarsus
*Council of Jerusalem
*Pauline privilege
*The Law of Christ

External links

* [ New Perspective on Paul]
* [ The History of the Origins of Christianity. Saint Paul.]

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