Paul’s influence in how Christianity ultimately developed cannot be denied. As has already been explored, Paul’s writings were complete before the words of the first Gospel were written. It should not surprise anyone that what Paul preached affected the way the Gospels were written. He was the world’s first Evangelical Preacher, with all the foibles to be found among this style of preacher. Charismatic, persuasive, and convincing, Paul’s views of Jesus would be the one that would be remembered for ages to come.
Paul’s vision of what the beliefs of the Netzarim could become most likely began during his days when he was in the employ of the High Priest. Saul, as he was known, could not help but be exposed to the thoughts and beliefs of the people he was trying to bring to “justice”. We can guess that Saul’s trip to Damascus may have been a ruse for Saul to desert from his employ with the High Priest and defect to the Netzarim. At first blush, this may sound a bit farfetched, but it might explain the name change that when he left Damascus, he fled to Arabia for a few years.
The story of Saul’s vision on the road to Damascus could have been a fabrication he dreamt up while he was in exile, hiding from his previous employer, or the revelation actually occurred on the way to Damascus, an epiphany of how to turn the beliefs of the Netzarim into something that would appeal to a larger audience. Either way, this revelation would change his life and the world forever. By the time Saul reappeared as Paul, he had a very good idea what his message to the Gentiles and the World would be.
There existed in the Jewish faith room for some Gentiles known as ‘God-fearers’, or those who believed in the God of Israel but had not made the full commitment of circumcision and complete conversion to the faith which would also mean they took on the nationality as well. It is most likely that Paul’s family were of this group. Paul, having been raised a ‘God-fearer’ knew from his own experience that the Gentiles were ready to embrace a mono-theistic religion, but did not want the encumbrances of the Jewish faith. So, while in exile, Paul began to formulate and transform the Netzarim principles into a mystery religion that the Gentiles would easily accept.
The Netzarim already claimed that their leader, Jesus, had been raised from the dead and had ascended into heaven much like Elijah or Enoch. It was quite easy for Paul to transform this resurrected and ascended Jesus into a deified man whose death was required to redeem the world. This could not have been to much of a stretch for the average non-Jew to embrace as their own religions may have already had a figure that mirrored this concept.
His next acquisitions would change the underlying concepts of some ideas into something that would be alien to those familiar with their origins. The first was to change the meaning of the title the followers of Jesus were using when referring to him; namely Messiah/Christ or ‘Anointed One’. This was one of the many titles they had called their King. Paul made the term synonymous with the terms redeemer and savior. Another term, Paul hijacked from Jesus himself, was ‘The Kingdom of God’. Jesus believed that this would be an earthly kingdom and that he would be regent over this kingdom. Paul transformed this concept and transferred it from the Terrestrial Realm and moved it into the Spiritual. It soon became the ‘World to Come’ in Paul’s new message.
Another concept that Paul would change was the blessing of bread and wine at formal meals. Paul remembered the ceremonies from the city of his youth and the awe and inspiration derived from the worship of the local deity. He knew of the custom of blessing bread and sharing it with all at the table of at the beginning of a formal Jewish meal, he was also aware of the tradition of passing a cup at the end of such a meal under the same auspices of a blessing. Paul took these traditions and converted them into a rite in his mystery religion. The bread, when blessed, became the body of Jesus and the wine would become his blood. The followers of this new religion would ingest these bring the body and blood of their Redeemer into themselves and become closer to their God in this way.
In order to pave the way to allow Gentiles into this new faith without need of them to fully convert to the ways of Judaism, it became necessary to find a way to nullify the Torah’s rules, Paul found a way to do this and to reinforce the concept that Jesus’ death was a sacrifice for the redemption of the World. Since Jesus was the ultimate sacrificial offering for the sins of the world, there was no more need for the temple sacrifices or the ceremonial laws such as circumcision.
Probably the greatest accomplishment by Paul was the linking of Jesus to the prophecies in the Hebrew scriptures and to show that most of the ceremonies in the Torah were foreshadowing of Jesus’ sacrifice and redemption of the world. Paul traced this string all way back to the Garden of Eden and gave credence to the idea of original sin. This was a true stroke of genius, for by linking Jesus all the way back into Hebrew scripture and embracing that body of scripture, he made his new religion more practical.
With these six points, Paul was well on his way of introducing a new faith to the world. The only thing that stood in his way was that he had to answer to the leaders of the Netzarim, namely James the Brother of Jesus and Peter, whom Jesus had made his most trusted adviser. The only way for Paul could do lessen the authority of James was to remove him from the equation, so Jesus became the result of a miraculous conception and birth. Only by removing James’ authority could Paul’s movement succeed. So, how did Paul spread his message right under the nose of the Netzarim? We’ll explore that in the next article.