Is Acts letting us know what motivated Paul of Tarsus?  Revenge?  Survival?

I don’t know.  I think maybe I see the outline of a puzzle.  Maybe piece together some bits of information to get a larger picture?

Acts implies that disciple Paul disobeyed his master (teacher, mentor) named Gamaliel.  Disobedience, especially in a serious matter, would likely not be tolerated.

Was Paul an outcast??

Did Paul manufacture a new religion in order to retaliate and to bring down the Jerusalem Temple establishment?

First, Gamaliel, a Pharisee and teacher of the law, persuades the ruling Sanhedrin to suspend persecution of Jesus-followers (Acts 5:34-40).

Later, Paul (then known as Saul) participates in the destruction of Jesus-followers.  He guards the cloaks of those killing Stephen and approves of this killing (Acts 7:57-60, Acts 22:20).

That is the order of events shown in Acts, but we should not necessarily assume that its author “Luke” wants to be fair to Paul.  (The original Luke had been a follower of Paul.)

In Acts 22:3-5, we find out that Paul studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law, and Paul admits that he persecuted the followers of the Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison.

Did Paul’s apparent disobedience to his master Gamaliel end Paul’s chances for a career?  He had disobeyed on a matter of serious moral importance (killing).  Maybe with no mentor, he lost his chance to be part of the Jerusalem ruling elite – permanently.

Of course, we can’t know for sure if Paul was disobedient; and if he was, how Gamaliel reacted.

Arising out of mind and circumstance

What if??

As an outcast, Paul retaliates in anger?  In his fury at being ostracized, and in his need to survive, he promotes his own particular brand of Christianity, without regard to its authenticity (Galatians 1:11 through 2:6); deliberately creates a schism in the Jesus-community (split occurs over circumcision and inclusion of “unclean” Pagans); large portions of the Jesus-community, particularly those far from Jerusalem are lost to the Sanhedrin control or influence.

Well, it’s just a theory.

I am rather disinclined to put too much emphasis on negative insinuations about Paul by “Luke.”  After all, this is the only writer who makes the Virgin Mary into an unwed mother (Luke 2:5-7), who makes the Magdalene demon-possessed (Luke 8:1-3), and who has people mysteriously dying around Peter (Acts 5:1-11).

Maybe Paul never had a chance to be part of the Jewish elite.  He was a Jew (Acts 22:3), a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee (Acts 23:6), but also “born a Roman” (Acts 22:28).  If he had a Roman mother?? maybe that worked against him in Jewish circles.

But maybe his Roman connections were significant.  How else would the humble tentmaker Paul merit a resource-intensive escort of 470 Roman men of war? (Acts 23:23)

Maybe he didn’t ever really need Gamaliel.

Update March 4, 2012:


There are also demons in Mary Magdalene’s past in the ending to Mark (Mk 16:9-20) which is not in the earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses.


1 Response to PAUL’S PAST

  1. truleeyours says:

    After a few years, a slightly different take on Paul the Apostle:
    First published May 2015
    Have you considered the possibility that a “Jesus of Nazareth” may have actually existed, but as he is portrayed in the Pauline Gospel (and Paul says the Gospel is his and “ours”), Jesus is largely a creature of Paul’s.
    There was a Jewish movement at that time to bring Gentiles into monotheism without forcing them to adhere to the many Jewish rules. Paul preached to these new monotheists with a theology that was a compromise and which included elements of the Pagan tradition of the Lady and her young Lord. No one expected the converts to become Jewish, only monotheists.
    For a thorough explanation of how the first-century non-Jewish monotheists were associated with Jewish synagogues, and Paul preaching to these, see pp. 194-196 of “The Lost Gospel” by Jacobovici and Wilson.
    The Talpiot tomb tells us that the historical Jesus really did exist, as least beyond a reasonable doubt. On the other hand, while Acts has Paul’s vision announce its name as “Jesus” and harm Paul (something Jesus would not do), Paul’s letters are rather vague about what the “revelation” entailed. Also, Paul’s dying and rising young Lord is similar to several other dying and rising young Lords in Pagan tradition. Whether that is Paul’s interpretation of Jesus’ life, simply a hallucination, or a nifty compromise with Judaism to lure in more “Gentiles” so that they would become monotheists, is anybody’s guess.
    I tend to believe that Paul was genuinely interested in the concept of resurrection, but as a Jewish Pharisee, because that is what he was. Perhaps Paul was proselytizing on behalf of some Jewish group that favored building up the numbers of non-Jewish monotheists (named “God-fearers”), and his persecution by Jews may have been by those who agreed that Judaism needed such allies (as major donors and as a buffer against hostile sects), but did not approve of Paul’s compromise religion, which pasted in Pagan themes of a young Lord rising.
    I believe the Gospel was intended to be a spiritual exercise rather than a history — as you read the four books side-by-side and notice the obvious discrepancies, you are pulled into heightened awareness.

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