It is no coincidence that Christian sermons overwhelmingly rely on the writings of Paul. While Jesus’ teachings were mostly reiterations of Torah principles, it is Paul whom established the clear distinction between Christianity and Judaism. It is not just because his writings make up half of the New Testament, but because his explicit teachings are the foundation of Christian theology.
The Threat Paul Faced
Unrealised to many, various sects of Judaism existed around the time of Paul’s life including the Pharisees, Essenes, Ebionites, Saducees, Herodians, Proselytes ect. They were not necessarily official organisations, however they were de facto denominations differing by their interprations of Torah, and the aspects of Torah which they emphasised, and to what degree. It was not unlike the distinctions of modern day Christian denominations.
Paul was a Pharasaic Jew belonging to a sect that was priomordial to modern Rabbianic Judaism. Distinctively, the Pharisees had a heavily legalistic view of the Mosaic Laws, enforcing a myraid of hair-splitting rules which ensured Jews remained strictly adherant to Torah. It also emphasised the authority of Pharasaic priests and its leaders were often upper-class wealthy aristocrats whom were effectively the Jewish embassadors to the Roman Empire until the The Great Revolt.
Paul was at the height of his priesthood and held great authority and respect amongst his Pharasaic brethren. However, circa 30AD a notable Jewish man named Yeshua (Jesus) had been executed by Roman authorities. Rumours swirled amongst common Jews that he was a prophet, that God had performed miracles through him during his ministry, that he had been raised from the dead. While the Pharasees would have welcomed a prophet, since one had not come for 400 years, this prophet was particularly hostile to the Pharasaic establishment. While his teachings resembled the Essenes, the man was being exclaimed as to be the promised Messiah, despite the fact that the most critical properties of the Messianic age were obviously not upon the Jews. The problem wasn't just heresy, but that the numbers were swelling.
The Yeshua cult grew rapidly amongst the Jewish community and they became knowns as the Nazarenes. Various aspects of the oral law carried by the Pharasees were being challenged by common Jews whom were filling up the synagogues. Paul had trained his entire life to fight such heresy and therefore outlawed Nazarene Judaism and viciously condemned and persecuted Nazarenes.
While the Nazarenes embraced martydom which neutralized the fear of persecution, a much more severe threat was brewing: the potential mass proselytizing of Gentiles into Judaism and carrying with them, the Nazarene beliefs. If such teachings could tap into the Gentiles and inspire their conversion, Israel would become a nation of Nazarenes overwhelmed simply by the sheer numbers of converting Gentiles.
Paul's Possible Solution
Consider that Paul could not simply continue with this strategy. It would require a complete genocide to wipe out every Gentile convert to Nazarene Judaism. The only hope of protecting Israel from being overwhelmed by heretics was to divert the Gentiles from Judaism itself and keeping it a seperate faith. To do this, Paul needed to convince Gentiles that the law was not only burdensome, but unnecessary. It was the only hope of staving off the complete destruction of Pharasaic Judaism.
In order to infiltrate the Nazarene movement, Paul would need to fabricate his divinely ordained authority to speak on behalf of Jesus. So it was claimed by Paul that on the road to Damascus, Jesus supposedly appeared to him in a miraculous vision. Paul's next steps were to convince the apostles that Jesus had spoken to him.
This is the paradox: here was a man whom was actively exterminating the Nazarenes, yet here he was now proclaiming to be converted, that Jesus Christ was the promised Messiah. His conversion would have seemed suspicious, but too suspicious to be fake. His conversion was like making night into day. For Paul to go from killing Nazarenes to calling them brothers? This would have taken a miracle.
With a mixed endorsement from the apostles and new-found authority amongst the Nazarenes, Paul began his mission to flood the churches with his testimony of Jesus and the new revelation by his infamous epistles. It was successful, of course. These letters diverted the Nazarene movement away from the synagogues and away from Israel, away from the Temple, and away from Jerusalem. It formed a new religion of it's own doctrines with it's own God.
The main theme of Paul's writings is that the law is burdonsome, a curse, and that conversion was unprofitable. He wrote that the Gentiles are to remain Gentiles, that all they had to do was believe in Jesus Christ and they would be saved.
To be continued…