Way back in my youth, I tried coming to terms with Jesus. I was subject to the argument from authority: how could so many people be so wrong? So, I started studying the history of Christianity and Jesus himself. I came into contact with the gnostics. Perhaps it was my iconoclastic tendency to side with the underdog, but I found the gnostic interpretation of the Jesus story much more appealing than the Catholic or Protestant interpretations.
I liked the notion of Jesus representing an invisible god coming into the physical world to save us from its temporal lures. Ephemeral love against physical lust. Charity vs greed. Justice vs revenge. These things appealed to me and, for a while, I identified myself as a "gnostic christian." I didn’t actually believe in the mystical claims of the gnostics, but I found the lessons they taught more beneficial than the lessons I learned in Catholic school.
Around that time, I also learned about St. Paul. As I read more about him, I realized that much of what Christianity is today comes not from Jesus but from Paul’s interpretations of Jesus’ teachings. I also learned that Paul lived his entire life before the first gospel (Mark) was even written. Paul was probably converted between 31 – 36 AD and probably died in 67 AD. The Gospel of Mark was probably written right about that time or right after it. Most Bible scholars (serious Bible scholars) place the writing of Mark around 70 AD. There are arguments for Mark showing up as early as 65 or 67 AD but because it mentions the fall of the Temple in the year 70 AD, most scholars place it after that date.
What that told me was strange. Paul was writing about Jesus before the writing of the earliest gospel. How could that be? I took a deeper look and found that much of what Paul was preaching in his letters had nothing at all to do with what Jesus was preaching.
Meanwhile, I also started getting interested in American history. I read Common Sense and The Federalist Papers. And then I discovered that Thomas Jefferson had his own version of the Gospels. I got hold of that and discovered that Jefferson had taken out all the miracles. I later read that he called St. Paul, "the first corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus." That threw me for a loop. It also put me back to studying Christian history to understand what Jefferson meant.
What I found kicked my ass.
Paul blatantly contradicts nearly everything Jesus preached. Not only that, but Paul seems completely ignorant of Jesus altogether.
Paul never mentions any of Jesus’ miracles. He never mentions the birth story. He never mentions his parents finding him in the temple instructing the rabbis. He never mentions John the Baptist. He never talks about the forty days of temptation in the desert. He never talks about turning water into wine or healing the sick and blind. He never mentions the "He who is without sin" story. (Admittedly, that one was added a few centuries later, but that’s another essay.) He doesn’t talk about Jesus walking on water.
Other than Peter and James (Jesus’ brother), he never mentions any of the other disciples. Not even Judas.
He never mentions Jesus entering Jerusalem on an ass (a HUGE prophecy from the Torah). He never mentions anything other than the scourging, torture and eventual murder of Jesus. Until the Romans actually hang him, to Paul, the Jesus you and I know never gets mentioned by Paul at all.
But the most important (and damning) piece of evidence for me was this: Paul never quotes from, addresses or otherwise draws attention to the Sermon on the Mount.
Now, when I bring this up, most Christians have no idea what I’m talking about. They read every book in the New Testament as something Jesus said. A few Christians are a bit up on this and make equivocations about the mixed messages. They go scouring through Paul’s letters looking for things that look like or sound like something Jesus said and they link them together.
This kind of activity always reminds me of Nostradamians trying to fit cryptic prophecies with modern events.
(Why is the Bible is like four or five jigsaw puzzles that someone threw together on the floor? Sure, some of the pieces fit, but they don’t all fit together and it looks very sad when people try to fit a piece from one puzzle together with the piece from another.)
This is called interpolation: inserting meaning into a text that was not in the original text.
Tolkien scholars are much the same way. They read all kinds of shit in the Rings Trilogy that just isn’t there. Hell, it happens in roleplaying games.
Hell, it happens in my roleplaying games. People telling me how I’m misinterpreting things I meant in the rules that I wrote.
It’s a basic human activity. We like to make meaning. We are pattern-seeking storytellers.
So, when we find a discrepancy in the Bible, we naturally go looking for the solution to fix it. Got a problem with a passage in one book? That’s okay! A passage from another book will fix it!
(This is also what makes me so mad when religious folks tell me I’m "taking the book out of context." I’m taking the book out of context? When you tell me that to understand a cryptic phrase in Acts, I have to go back and read a quote from Elijah that has nothing at all to do with the messiah? Yeah. I’m the one taking the book out of context.)
But too many Christians also speak in general terms. They never give specific examples. I aim to do the opposite. Here are some real examples of Paul completely contradicting what Jesus taught.
Jesus never says one word about homosexuality. Not one word. In fact, I’d like someone to demonstrate to me any kind of passage in the Bible that shows that Jesus was celibate. Show me where Mary Magdeline made an oath to chastity. And please show me why when Jesus calls John, "the beloved disciple," please show me how that does not mean what it sounds like.
(And don’t go quoting other people’s interpretations of the text. Let the Bible justify itself. This is the word of god, after all. It doesn’t need external justification. It justifies itself.)
Meanwhile, Paul makes it quite clear that his god does indeed hate fags.
In Romans, he calls for the murder of gays, saying that homosexuals are "worthy of death."
In Corinthians, he makes a list of ten things that will keep you out of heaven. One of them is "acting effeminate."
In 1 Timothy, he calls them unholy and profane.
In 2 Timothy, he notes that the end times (he’s always talking about the end times), that people will become obsessed with unnatural affection.
Of course, he doesn’t just hate fags. He hates women, too. While Jesus took a scorned and shamed woman to his bosum, Paul would prefer if they just stayed out of his way, kept their mouths shut and knew their place.
1 Timothy is the best place to find Paul’s attitude toward women. He says that they should cover their faces "with shamefacedness." That they should learn in silence and subjugation and never be allowed to teach men. He says that women are inferior to men and, in a screed of unparalleled hatred, goes on to say that we should feel no pity for widows because they are just victims of god’s wrath and that we should ignore them and let them die.
Later, in 1 Peter, as the definitive authority on everything that god wants, he orders that women should be obedient to their husbands. When they speak, they should do so with "chaste conversation, coupled with fear."
And this isn’t even all of it. I could go on and on and on.
How does any of this fit with the teachings of Jesus? What would Jesus say about all of this?
Let me ask that question again…
If Jesus heard you talking to a woman this way, instructing her as Paul did, what do you think Jesus would say about it? Would he pat you on the back and say, "Good boy. Go teach more!" Or, would he shake his head and tell some kind of parable about the wicked man with the just wife. You can decide that one for yourself.
Needless to say, I found a lot I didn’t like about Paul. There’s some bits that Jesus said that make me scratch my head (and some I’m convinced he didn’t say at all) but for Paul… nah.
I like the scene near the end of The Last Temptation of Christ when Jesus actually meets Paul. Jesus confronts him and says, "I never said any of that!" Paul doubts that Jesus is who he says he is and after some conversation, Paul comes to a conclusion…