“Jesus is Christianity’s founder,” writes Chilton, “but Paul is its maker.”
No news there: the Pauline contribution to Christianity has been well documented. But Chilton (Religion/Bard College; Rabbi Jesus, 2000) capably complicates the story, teasing out the elements of Paul’s making as they grew from his knowledge of many religious and philosophical practices. Peter and James and other of the disciples saw their faith as an extension of Judaism, so that “non-Jews who wished to be baptized in Jesus’ name . . . had to submit to the Torah as God-fearers—remaining Gentiles but acknowledging the Law of Moses.” But Paul—a native of Tarsus, that center of Greco-Roman stoic philosophy, and early inclined against mysticism by virtue of his training as a Pharisee and in all events a onetime persecutor of Christians—conceived of a universal church that would allow Gentiles to “inherit the sonship that was Israel’s gift to the world without accepting the Law.” That view bordered on heretical, and Paul “managed to scandalize both Jews and Gentiles with exactly the same message.” Other Pauline messages continue to cause controversy; notes Chilton, “He wrote that women in Corinth should shut up in church,” and “he despised homosexuality.” For all those “parochial prejudices,” Chilton observes, many of the ideas that make Paul “the apostle . . . many contemporary Christians—and non-Christians—love to hate,” are post-Pauline, even if Paul may well have endorsed them. Paul’s triumph, Chilton suggests, and the summation of his intellectual quest was the discovery of spirit, the notion that the truer self lay beyond the material and the physical; in doing so, he shifted the emphasis of Christianity from the realization of the kingdom of God on earth to the discovery of “the Christ within one’s being.”
Though speculative at turns, followers of Pauline will find this account illuminating.