Paul vs. Jesus -- disagreement and contradictions between the Christian founders

Paul vs. Jesus

by Davis D. Danizier

Copyright (c) 1998, 2006 Davis D. Danizier / Word Wizards communications -- all rights reserved

Paul (originally as Saul of Tarsus) was an admitted persecutor of Christians who might have found a more effective way to undermine the followers of Jesus. Perhaps he infiltrated their ranks and taught a doctrine that opposed teachings attributed to Jesus on several fronts, replacing Jesus' alleged teaching of universal, compassionate, selfless action with a selfish teaching of desire to gain a "free gift" of salvation based only on faith and completely devoid of any behavioral requirement or obedience to law, and distracting us from the selfless teachings attributed to Jesus. (It must be noted that Jesus never wrote anything, and his reported teachings are based on accounts whose authorship cannot be verified with certainty, but we can still cite the body of teachings attributed to Jesus as the Jesus doctrine since that is what has been handed down to us as being his teachings.)

Despite the widespread, uncritical adulation of Paul by those who listen to others instead of thinking for themselves, independent-minded analysts of Jesus' teachings have often found great cause to find fault with Paul.  One of the most famous critcisms comes from Thomas Jefferson, who wrote in a letter to James Smith, that "Paul was ... the first corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus." (Works, 1829 edition, vol. 4, p. 327.) George Bernard Shaw, the English playwright, is widely quoted as having said that: " would have been a better world if Paul had never been born."

Jesus reportedly teaches that BEHAVIORAL requirements (works/deeds), rooted in an internal change of spiritual growth within the person (not external or apart from the person, though the gift of teaching and techniques to achieve this personal change are a gift of grace not earned or deserved by us, but requiring ACTIONS [deeds] to implement), are integral to salvation. While perhaps it is not possible for us to "earn" the "free gift" that Jesus reportedly provides -- a teaching of the universal compassionate love by which the evil within us CAN be transformed into a more holy kindness of love -- the Jesus account clearly includes a behavioral component to his requirements for "salvation." While he does not say that this satisfies any "debt," he still requires it; perhaps he is demanding merely a small partial "payment" as a gesture of "good faith." (In fact, James suggests this by his comments in James 2:26, that we demonstrate our faith -- if it is genuine -- BY our works or deeds.)

Some will say that puny mortals can never perform enough good behavior to "earn" or "merit" salvation based on the value of their deeds -- that the attempts at human righteousness is as "filthy rags."

Aside from the fact that this simply contradicts Jesus, the point is not whether or not our puny mortal attempts at righteousness have sufficient intrinsic value. Jesus never says that compassionate deeds "earn" salvation, or that any of us could ever "merit" the very gift of our existence. He merely sets that as the standard for compliance. Just as a child may offer its parents or grandparents an awkwardly-drawn piece of art, which likely holds little real artistic merit (perhaps in terms of art critics it might be as "filthy rags"), still the parents sincerely and genuinely cherish such efforts. It may not "merit" winning an art contest and may be able to "earn" very little, but loving parents find it good enough to represent the qualities THEY deem of real and lasting value. The point is that Paul sets the standard for salvation as faith or belief in accepting Jesus (see below) while Jesus explicitly rejects this standard (see Matt 7:21-27) and sets the standard at universal compassionate love expressed in actions, as noted in greater detail in the next few paragraphs.

Why would a loving god, as spiritual father on a more perfect scale, for those who believe him to be that, not be able to give even greater acceptance, even of "filthy rags," if sincerely offered as the best effort ... ESPECIALLY if he has said that he would do so?

To argue against that is to join Paul in contradicting the teachings of Jesus.

In the Sermon on the Mount, near the beginning of his ministry, Jesus is shown as introducing a bold new concept, not only that we should love friends and neighbors, but our enemies as well.

When asked by a lawyer what the most important commandment in the LAW was, Jesus reportedly answered (as reported in Matt 22:36-40 and Luke 10:25-37) with references from the Old Testament, that the GREATEST law was to love god (see Deut 6:5) and the second was to love your neighbor as yourself (see Lev 18:19). In the Luke text, the lawyer specifically asks what is necessary for eternal life (verse 25) and after Jesus references the two GREAT commandments, he says "This DO and you will live" (verse 28) -- showing clearly that salvation is related to works/deeds/actions, however important faith might be to motivating such behavior. Note further, that in the Luke version, this was illustrated by an example, the parable of the Good Samaritan, which was used to define "neighbor" very broadly, to include enemies. The Samaritan (the lowest of the outcasts) is the one who exemplifies this broad definition, and who provides the example of one who is saved by their compassionate actions toward their enemy. Yet the Samaritan is not even a believer, not one having "faith" and not one who has accepted Jesus as savior, yet this is who Jesus chooses as the example of one who gains eternal life, which is what the lawyer specifically asked.

Another time during his ministry, Jesus taught that the people who would go to heaven (be saved) must be as little children (Matt. 18:4-5; 19:14; Mark 9:36-37; 10:14-15; Luke 18:15-17), while Paul wrote that maturity demands us to forsake the things of childhood (I Cor 13:11).

Thus, Jesus teaches us that the kingdom of heaven will be filled with those who lived their lives in active compassion and childlike innocence, while Paul envisions a heaven of crusty, serious "mature" grouches who merely have to profess "acceptance of" or "belief in" Jesus without ever actually performing a single kind, compassionate, cheerful or childishly playful deed.

In his last teaching before going to the upper room for the Last Supper and the "beginning of the end," Jesus described in Matt. 25:31-45 the final judgment as being based solely and entirely on behavioral responses to internalized compassion. And Jesus makes it very clear that those who DO express universal compassion in behavioral action WILL BE SAVED, and those who do not will NOT be saved. Period. There is no other qualification.

Mother Teresa juxtaposed these two messages (the "great commandments" and that what we DO to "the least of these" is done to God) to postulate that our actions toward "the least of these" are actually done unto god, which she took very literally, and asserted that we fulfill the first commandment by obedience to the second -- which motivated her to give up a well-to-do life in Albania, and search to find whoever was the ultimate "least of these" in the world, which she found first on the streets of Calcutta, India, and later in missions throughout the world.

Dr. Viktor Frankl, a German Jew who survived the Nazi concentration camps during the Holocaust, wrote in his book Man's Search for Meaning of rare but remarkable examples of men who dying of hunger, yet still gave comfort, along with their last crusts of bread, to their fellow sufferers to alleviate their suffering. Even torture and extreme deprivation could not cause them to abandon their deeply-felt compassion. But those prisoners described by Frankl were Jewish. They haven't confessed Jesus as their savior. I'm sure Paul would consign them to hell, while Jesus would embrace them and count them among His sheep.

Another issue must be considered when contemplating a theology of salvation based solely on belief and nothing else. Belief requires exposure. One cannot have belief in something that one has never been exposed to. So what about those who were supposedly created by a God who is both just and merciful, but lived in a time or place when there would be absolutely no possible chance of ever being exposed to Jesus? Imagine an innocent child born in India, China or Africa 800 years before Jesus was born (or even 800 years afterward, for that matter). There would be absolutely no chance this child could ever be exposed to the opportunity of believing in Jesus or accepting him as personal savior. Again, Paul's theology consigns such innocent children to hell, while (as noted previously) Jesus taught that of such is the kingdom of heaven (Matt 18:4-5; 19:14; Mark 9:36-37; 10:14-15; Luke 18:15-17). Is Paul's doctrine of salvation only by faith, and consigning all others to eternal damnation, from the God of justice or mercy?

Even in John 3, the discourse to Nicodemus on salvation as a gift of grace, Jesus includes specific behavioral requirements (John 3:19-21). In any case, while some writings (other than Paul) may occasionally discuss faith as a separate topic (as with honesty, courage, etc.), no one (except Paul) EVER states that salvation can occur with any of these virtues APART FROM works/deeds actions. This does not mean that, in TEACHING us the BEHAVIOR of salvation that Jesus did not thus give us a free gift far beyond what we could ever earn, a gift of grace, but it does not mean that it was given entirely apart from specified behavioral conditions, as Paul says.

All of the gospels are replete with statements of behavioral obligation, and NEVER once make any statement remotely similar to Paul that the faith and grace that engender salvation occur "apart from" obedience, works or deeds. There are certainly passages that cite the importance, even the need, for faith or belief, and in some of these the idea of actions or "works" might go unmentioned. It is common for a passage to deal with a single subject only. But even in such passages, no one other than Paul ever comes out and specifically states that works or good behavior are NOT essential to salvation or justification. Paul is the only one to do this.

There is some disagreement among Christian denominations on the extent to which one's actions or deeds are important to the process of being "saved." Conservative (Evangelical, Fundamentalist or Calvinistic) Protestants take a hard-line view based on Paul's teaching, and teach that salvation is only by faith and not by works or deeds. Catholics, Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses acknowledge the importance of faith, but follow the teachings of Jesus that one's actions or deeds also play an important role. In what might be seen as the ultimate religious irony, the conservative Protestants, who follow Paul in his contradictions against Jesus and are the ones who are undermining "Christian" teachings as taught by Jesus himself, often accuse the Catholics, Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses (whose position is based on what Jesus said, not Paul) of not being legitimate "Christians"!

Faith/Works | Law of Moses | Other Problems | Adam
Paul vs. James
Paul teaches that the gift of salvation through grace occurs APART FROM any behavioral requirement:

Romans 3:28 : "Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith WITHOUT THE DEEDS OF THE LAW."

Paul reiterates this position in: Romans 4:6; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-9; II Timothy 1:9; Titus 3:5 -- yet no other Bible writer ever makes this point of stating that salvation occurs apart from or separate from works or deeds, which Paul not only states, but reiterates so emphatically.

Paul is specifically rebutted by the later writing of James (brother of Jesus) who offers one of the most striking and dramatic direct contradictions in James 2:24. Here he chooses language and syntactical structures which specifically contradicts Paul's wording in Romans 3:28 in both content and construction:

Here are the two passages, shown in various translations:

Romans 3:28 (Paul)
KJV: a man is JUSTIFIED by FAITH apart from WORKS of the law.
RSV: a man is JUSTIFIED by FAITH without the DEEDS of the law.
Today's English Version: a person is PUT RIGHT WITH GOD only through FAITH, and not by DOING what the Law commands.

James 2:24 (James' rebuttal)
KJV: by WORKS a man is JUSTIFIED, and not by FAITH only.
RSV: a man is JUSTIFIED by WORKS and not by FAITH alone.
Today's English Version: it is by his ACTIONS that a person is PUT RIGHT WITH GOD, and not by his FAITH alone.
NIV: a person is JUSTIFIED by what he DOES and not by FAITH alone.

We could put these statements into a formula:

J = Justification.
F = Faith (whatever it is; however you define it)
W = Works

Paul's formula: J = F - W
James' formula: J = F + W

"J" cannot equal both "F - W" and "F + W" thus a clear and direct contradiction.

Clearly, James seems to be saying exactly the opposite of what Paul says. The key words here, in both passages, are JUSTIFIED (or, in Today's English, "put right with God"), WORKS/DEEDS/ACTIONS (or, in NIV, "observing the law"), and FAITH (same in all versions of both passages). Not only does James echo the same words, in the same parallel structure, but he even cites exactly the same example! The passage from Paul comes near the end of the third chapter of Romans; immediately after that, opening up the fourth chapter, Paul cites the example of Abraham and says it was his faith, not his works, that justified him (Romans 4:1-3). In James 2:21-24 (the same passage noted above), Paul's very example is used against him, but with the opposite (and contradictory) conclusion, that Abraham was justified by the combination of faith with works. Not only does James use exactly the same example, but to remove any doubt that they are referring to Abraham in exactly the same context, both Paul (Romans 4:3) and James (James 2:23) refer to exactly the same scriptural reference to Abraham, in which the Old Testament scriptures say that Abraham's belief was counted to him for righteousness (see Genesis 15:6). James' use of the same examples (right down to the identical scriptural reference), same words, and parallel structure clearly suggest that this was an intentional reply/rebuttal to Paul.

If anyone wants to suggest that, perhaps, the two passages have different root words in the original texts that just happened to pick up similar English equivalents by all these translators, then maybe we should look at the Greek source texts.

The same Greek word DIKAIOO is used by BOTH Paul AND James for the term justification (or "put right with God") in BOTH passages. While the Today's English Version does use a different term in their English translation, at least they apply it consistently in both Romans and James.

The same Greek word ERGON is used by BOTH Paul AND James for the term variously translated as works, deeds, actions, doing, or observing. While the English translators couldn't agree on the best term, both Paul and James were talking about the same thing. And, with the exception of the NIV, the translators of each version at least are consistent in their own usages between Paul and James. I wonder, however, about the objectivity of the NIV -- one of the most popular texts among conservative Christians -- in choosing to change the wording used between Paul and James in a way that subtly changes the connotation of Paul to be less in contradiction to James.

The same Greek word PISTIS is used by both Paul AND James for the word that all versions of both passages translated as "faith."

Some have tried to explain these differences by saying that Paul and James had different meanings for their words "justification," "faith" and "works/deeds." Yet the simple fact remains they used the same words, in the same order and same context, even illustrated with the same example of Abraham and Isaac.

But on several occasions, attention has been called to one difference in the wording of Paul and James. While they use the same words, in the same context and the same order, when talking about the "works/deeds" Paul adds the phrase "of the law" while James does not. Some have argued that this means Paul is talking about something different. Not so.

Paul's use of that phrase is a restrictive modifying clause, limiting the scope of what he is talking about. By leaving it out, James is at the very least accepting everything in Paul's more restrictive context and broadening to include additional contexts. But more to the point is that earlier in the same chapter (James chapter two) James, just before the verse in question and his reference to Paul's example of Abraham and Isaac, in verses 8-13 James discusses behavior very specific in terms of the Law, and the deeds of the Law. Aside from the possibility of simply broadening the more narrow focus of Paul, what seems more likely IN CONTEXT is that James does not need to say "of the law" since he has already made it clear a few verses before that he is talking about "deeds of the law."

In fact, the only credible scenario is that James is clearly rebutting Paul's scandalous undermining of Jesus' teachings.

Paul is not only rebutted by James in the examples above, but also admits having some problems getting along with Peter, admitting in Galatians 2:11: "But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed."

In stark contrast to Paul's teaching of salvation by faith APART FROM behavioral manifestations, Jesus (in Matt. 7:21-27), state unequivocally that the mere profession of accepting him is not enough, but that such a profession MUST BE backed up by deeds. Jesus teaches a salvation of universal compassionate love expressed in ACTION. It is the centerpiece of everything he taught. And Jesus himself consistently expressed love and closeness to sinners, lepers, tax collectors and other outcasts, while saving his rare words of harshness and anger for the Pharisees and Saducees -- the pompous, self-righteous administrators of the established religious orthodoxy.

Faith/Works | Paul vs. James | Other Problems | Adam
The Law of Moses
Jesus is described in the gospels as a Jewish rabbi who always upheld the Law of Moses. In his first public teaching, the Sermon on the Mount, he made it very clear in Matt. 5:18-19: "For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach [them], the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven." ("jot or tittle" in modern translations is "not one iota nor one dot".) Have heaven and earth passed away? Have ALL the prophecies, including those of the last days, been fulfilled? While Jesus ADDS TO the Law of Moses, he never detracts from it or undermines it.

Even some of the occasions when Jesus seems to add to the Law or teach in new and different ways, he goes to great lengths to show that it is based on the Law. For example, when this rabbi asked by a "lawyer" (one versed in the Law of Moses) what was the greatest commandment in the Law, Jesus turns the question back to him and asks what is in the Law, and from that extrapolates his great commandments to Love God (from Deut 6:5) and Love Neighbor as Self (from Lev. 19:18) which was clearly the centerpiece of his ministry and his doctrine of ACTIVE love and compassion for all.

Paul, on the other hand, wants to throw out the Law of Moses!

Romans 10:4: "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness for every one who believes."

Many try to reconcile this direct contradiction by saying that Jesus' death, atonement and resurrection "fulfilled" and thus "completed" the Law of Moses, bringing it to an end. But to fulfill a law or command is to comply with it fully. Jesus specifically stated in Matt 5:17 that he came to fulfill the Law of Moses, not destroy it. He came to ensure full compliance. And then he sets the time frame for that compliance, in the next verse (Matt 5:18 cited above): until ALL (this means everything!) has been fulfilled, and to make it even more unambiguous, he states that this will be until heaven and earth have passed away, that not one dot or iota in the Law will be affected.

Additionally, when Paul denounces the need for works/deeds of which Jesus and others spoke so much, in Romans 3:27-28 and Galatians 2:16, he also specifically mentions which works: that obedience to the Law is what is not required, contrary to Jesus' statements.

Faith/Works | Paul vs. James | Law of Moses | Adam
Other Problems with Paul
Manner of Worship: Jesus and Paul left contradictory legacies as to the manner in which worship should be conducted. Jesus preached as an itinerant wanderer, informally to locals he encountered in his travels. Usually these were small groups, though he did encounter the occasional large crowd. Jesus always prayed privately, and taught his followers to do the same. In fact, he specifically prohibited public prayer and public displays of worship (Matt. 6:1-18). The fact that he belabored this point so thoroughly in his Sermon on the Mount, his first and greatest public teaching, almost suggest a premonition that others would follow to undermine and contradict him. Jesus did not organize any great church. He led a small, itinerant band of traveling wanderers from town to town. The closest he came to establishing any kind of authority was in Matt. 16:18, when he designated an itinerant fisherman named Simon to become "Peter" the "rock" upon which his church would be founded. Paul, in contrast, organized a great system of churches. The story of Acts is the story of Paul traveling throughout the known world, establishing great churches. His epistles, which comprise the greatest single portion of the New Testament, about a third of it, were written to maintain administrative control of this great ecclesiastical network and to standardize its doctrines, not based on the teachings of Jesus, but on his own contradictory theology.

As with so many other issues, today's modern evangelical Christians fight for their right to expropriate public facilities for their worship and offer great churches with elaborate public worship rituals, once again coming down on the side of Paul and repudiating the simple teachings of the founder they accept, once again, in name only.

Dealing with sinners: Jesus ministered to the sinners, with no reluctance to engage adulterers, whores, publicans, tax collectors, lepers, or any other "unclean" person (the whole need not a physician; a church is a hospital for sinners rather than a showcase for saints). (This, of course, completely devastates the argument that god cannot be in the presence of sin, unless you do not believe in the notion of Jesus being god.) Paul, contradicts Jesus: 1Cor 5:11 "But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat."

Feeding the poor: Jesus taught in Matt 25:31-46 that our final salvation and judgment would be based in large part on our willingness to feed the poor. Paul contradicts this: 2Thess 3:10 "For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat." Does this mean that if poor people are unemployed, we should turn them away from any charity?

Slavery: When the Southerners in our country sought to defend slavery, they called upon Paul to back them up, citing Ephesians 6:5 and Titus 2:9-10, where he exhorts slaves to obey their masters, and the fact that slavery was widely practiced, but Paul never condemned it once.

Equality for Women: Paul was very anti-woman. He ordered that they not be allowed to speak in the churches (I Cor 14:34-45) and that they stay home and take care of the kids (1Timothy 5:14), and that wives should be submissive to the mastery of their husbands (Ephesians 5:22-24 and Colossians 3:18-19).

Homosexuals: The ONLY passages in the New Testament that are offered as evidence against equal rights for homosexuals are those taught by Paul (various passages have been construed to oppose homosexuality, but the most direct reference is in Romans 1:26-27). Jesus himself never uttered a single word against homosexuals and, given his affinity for sinners, lepers, tax collectors, and other outcasts, it is likely that in our modern times it would be Jesus who would be embracing the homosexuals rejected by those who claim to be his followers. Just as it was Paul's words that were held up in the mid-1800's to justify slavery, so Paul's words today are still used to persecute others.
Ironically, Paul is the one who asserts that the Law of Moses is no longer operational, yet he echoes the Law on homosexuality (see Leviticus 18:22). Ironically, many of the same Christians who eat pork, shrimp or rabbit (forbidden in Leviticus 11) because the Law no longer applies, still also cite Leviticus 18 when they want to oppose homosexuality -- trying to have it both ways.

There has been a popular piece that has been circulated among many Christian churches and publications, giving a description of Paul and his background, and then showing him applying for a position as a pastor. The punch line is that, just knowing Paul's "resume," would YOU hire him as a preacher? The message is supposed to be about judging others but, there is also another message: knowing what we DO know about Paul, MANY Christians are inclined to find him rather unsavory. Those who claim to take upon them the name of JESUS should carefully examine Paul's undermining of Jesus' message and his many contradictions of Jesus and the other apostles, as well as the plain nonsense of his bloody atonement theory of human sacrifice, and then decide if they want to be Christians or Paulians.

Faith/Works | Paul vs. James | Law of Moses | Other Problems
Punishment for Adam's sin
Paul is the one who introduces the concept of original sin and the "inheritance" of sin, in Romans 5:12, "Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned."

Why are we, in any way whatsoever, held "responsible" for the sins of Adam and Eve? How can a person be "guilty" of something they didn't do, which in fact was done thousands of years before they were even conceived? How can there be an "inherited" moral flaw. Morality is "right and wrong," not a physical, tangible object. In any case, how can you be responsible for something you had nothing to do with?

I cannot imagine that a god could be called "just" who allows people to be punished for something they have no control over; for the way they were born; i.e., the way god created them.

If my father and mother do something wrong, why do I get punished for that? What do THEIR wrongs have to do with MY sins. Talk about unfair! The scenario was ridiculous enough when the atonement supposedly paid a physical price (transferable, with no explanation of how) for my OWN sins. Anyone who suggests that the atonement isn't even just for MY sins alone, but also for someone else's, is sliding downhill very fast.

Is sin a moral issue or a birth defect? Should babies born with birth defects be punished? Should we require abortions if the fetus is deformed?

It is interesting to note that while Paul invents a theology of atonement based on the offering of Jesus as a human sacrifice for sin, Jesus explicitly rejects this doctrine. The gospel according to Matthew TWICE, in Matt 9:13 and Matt 12:7, states that Jesus said: "I will have mercy, and not sacrifice" (KJV). More modern translations, such as the RSV and NIV, update the archaic meaning of the word "will" and translate Jesus' statements in both verses as: "I desire mercy and not sacrifice." This could not be a more explicit rejection of Paul's later teaching.


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