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Paul: Follower of Jesus or Founder of Christianity? Paperback – 1 Apr 1995
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About the Author
David Wenham is Dean of Wycliffe Hall, Oxford and one of the foremost British Evangelical New Testament Scholars.
Top customer reviews
In painstaking detail, Wenham demonstrates that Paul actually knew and drew from much of the tradition captured in the Gospels, in contrast to the liberal scholarship view.
Wenham constructs a challenge to those critics who too lightly dismiss the connections between Jesus and Paul. There are some points, though, where he is forced to admit that the connections are tenuous.
It's a good study for someone seriously interested in the subject, but too detailed for a casual reader. Anyone who has been persuaded by more radical Pauline scholarship (such as Hyam Maccoby's "Mythmaker") should give Wenham a fair chance to present another perspective.
Paul's contributions to the development of Christian thinking and church life were undoubtedly massive. With God's direct inspiration, working through his own personality, Paul worked out an interpretation that was accepted by Jesus' other disciples as faithful both to Jesus Himself and to the social context in which he was working.
Therefore, despite the significance of his conclusions, Paul himself would have been horrified at the suggestion that was the founder of "Christianity". For him the fountain of all theology was none other than Jesus Himself. Therefore, although Paul's theological thought and teaching was of the highest importance, it was not original to himself, but in essence actually a transmission of Jesus' own thought and teaching. Wenham shows this by means of detailed comparisons between Jesus' teaching and that of Paul.
Paul was always aware that the Jesus whom he encountered on the Damascus road and the Jesus of Christian tradition were one and the same Person. Indeed, Paul saw himself as the "slave of Jesus Christ", not as the founder of "Christianity". And Wenham's book demonstrates in the clearest terms that Paul was accurate in seeing himself in that way.
This has the further implication for theologians that, instead of trying to read Paul's Letters in isolation from the Four Gospels, his Letters should actually be read in the light of these Gospels.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Jesus introduced the message of the Kingdom of God as a new rule or a new way of life, not as a physical Kingdom, though Paul later understood the Kingdom as something present and yet with the promise of a futuristic physical establishment of such Kingdom. Jesus' message was accompanied by works of miracle, healing, and spiritual restoration. He spoke in parables that many could not understand and left people in amazement in the way He taught and lived. Paul on the other hand, presented the Gospel in terms of preaching and teaching of this new life rather than through healings and miracle works, though God used Paul on both. For Paul, Jesus was the Old Testament Promised Messiah and King though Jesus never explicitly use those terms for Himself.
The book is filled with possibilities and probabilities whether Paul knew the Jesus' traditions. He is, as much as possible, trying to present and defend Paul as a true follower of Jesus Christ and not as the founder of Christianity. The issue whether Paul was a follower of Jesus or the founder of Christianity has as a foundation/origin on the fact that Paul did not refer much to the Jesus' traditions as most Christians knew them then and even today. What needs to be understood on the issue is that Jesus, in the Gospels, was inaugurating a new era before the crucifixion while Paul is writing post Jesus' crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, which implies an understanding for Paul of Jesus as the Son of God. So Paul sees Jesus, not from a historical point of view but from an eschatological point of view.
When Paul's works are read, they must be read in light of the Gospel narratives and not as if he is coming with a new message apart from the Gospel of Jesus. Even many of Paul's contemporaries question Paul's apostleship in contrast with Peter and other apostles because the message Paul presented seemed to them as different from the one Jesus handed down. In his book, Mr. Wenham is trying to present evidence that Paul was in fact following in Jesus' steps though the evidence presented was not enough to bet the farm on it, except for the fact that Paul was a well educated individual who, in contrast with other people of his time, knew how to read and write. He was well educated in Judaism, so he knew the Scriptures very well though at pre-conversion he did not have the revelation of Jesus Christ. When Jesus encountered Paul on his way to Damascus, Paul was then in a great advantage over others by knowing the OT Scriptures and having that knowledge coupled with the revelation of Jesus Christ. What Paul is, at the end, is a follower of Jesus.
What he in essence did was to take the whole oracle of God though Christ Jesus and present it in relation to his present historical, social, and spiritual surroundings. For Paul, there was no necessity to retell the story of Jesus to his hearers because some of them, as implied by the author, knew the story well. Other hearers, while ignorant of the Jesus' traditions, were not in disadvantage because Paul knew the story of Jesus, whether handed down from Christ Himself or His disciples, and he shared the message in a manner that fit the circumstances while maintaining the message intact and complete in every teaching of Jesus on the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. Paul was not trying to establish a new religion but present the Gospel of Christ as he understood it though he barely or rarely quoted Jesus or referred directly to Jesus' life or traditions.
That said, many of his arguments just seem tenuous and unpersuasive. He finds supposed allusions to Jesus in Paul's letters that are too creative for my taste.
Of course Paul knew some of the Jesus stories and traditions - it would be almost inconceivable to me that he wouldn't know anything of Jesus considering his wide travels and discussions with fellow Christians. The question is how much meaningful knowlege and congruence was there?
Here is where I find the principal weakness. In order for Wenham to find the maximum number of congruences, he fequently abstracts concrete statements and terminology to a higher interpretive level. For example, the Kingdom of God concept was very important to Jesus but relatively minor to Paul - unless you start theorizing what the Kingdom of God MIGHT mean and then show that some of Paul's teachings MIGHT mean the same thing.
Wenham also tries to explain some discrepancies between Paul and Jesus based on historical context. Supposedly, some of Paul's ideas were just specific to churches he is addressing, for example, and that causes him to sound different than Jesus. On occasion, Wenham suggests, Paul (or gospel writer) avoids certain language that might be used by their enemies.
While theorizing on Paul's knowledge (or ignorance) about Jesus and his teachings has some interest, the broader question of whether Christianity is Jesus-based or Pauline in character is more critical. I came in thinking that Christianity is more Pauline oriented and I wanted to give Wenham a fair chance to unconvince me. He did not. And that's the bottom line to me. I found his opinion that Paul basically continued & expanded the ideas of Jesus - rather than radically re-directed some important areas of dogma - to be less based on evidence than his personal conviction.