No Mormon Love for Paul?

There is an aversion to Paul in Mormon thought and culture. A recent comment by Julie Smith at T&S gives some of the reasons for this phenomenon. I must insist, however, that we are completely missing out. For starters, Paul is hot right now. Yeah, he had some bad times at the hands of feminists in previous decades, but he is back with a vengeance now. Jewish scholars like Daniel Boyarin have embraced Paul. Not to mention some of the most cutting edge contemporary atheist philosophers like Zizek, Badiou, Agamben, and Taubes have all published books on Paul’s contributions to and resources for contemporary philosophical problems. If Jews and atheists can embrace and praise Paul, why can’t we Mormons get it together?

I suspect that one of the reasons that we have ignored Paul is because we are so caught up in a provincial debate with Evangelicals about whether we are saved by grace or saved by works. Neither we nor Evangelicals seem to be aware of recent developments in Pauline scholarship that more or less resolve this quesiton. Well, to be more accurate, recent scholars have shown that this question is not what Paul is answering. He is not dealing with the Grace vs. Works as two polar opposites. Rather, he is dealing with a specific set of “works of the Law”, namely, circumcision, food laws, and Sabbath observance. In my view, this “New Perspective,” as it is called, opens up a great deal of space for Mormon thinking with Paul.

Unfortunately, the results of our discomfort with Paul is that we literally ignored him. Even though his writings (or those attributed to him) make up 1/2 of the books of the New Testament, we devote hardly any time to him in the Sunday School curriculum. As a culture, we simply have not paid any attention to him, hoping in vain that the problems we thought he created for us will dissappear. We can no longer continue to do this.

I suspect that one of the other difficulties that we have with Paul is that we try to read him in the KJV, with the odd page layout of the Standard Works. I admit that I never really understood Paul until I read him in modern translation. The particular translation that we have in the KJV is rooted in a Protestant reading of him, which contributes to the misunderstanding and discomfort we have.

So, what can Paul do for us? We can start with the problems that he is dealing with himself. He is deeply concerned about the problems of universalism and particularism. How can God and Truth be universal, yet have a particular relationship with a particular people? We can also think about how he deals with immanent eschatology and time, which we share with him. We can also pinpoint areas where we might disagree, perhaps on questions of gender. Finally, we can look at how he is dealing with diversity and difference within the church, the kind of ethics between the “strong” and the “weak,” as well as ethnic differences between Jew and Gentile. All of these are analogous problems that we are dealing with in LDS thought as well. Paul can help!

16 Replies to “No Mormon Love for Paul?”

  1. Interesting post. I agree with you about the issue of the KJV.However, I think for Mormons the issue goes a much deeper than the grace v. works issue. I think there are two main reasons why Mormons ignore Paul–and I think they are right to do it.(1) Paul writes letters–the ancient equivalent of a First Presidency letter. (Except he isn’t even the equivalent of a 1P member, but more on that below.) These are important, but very, very limited in scope. They really aren’t meant to be read forever in the first place.(2) Paul is a minor player. Where is he in the restoration of the priesthood? Where is he in the temple ceremony? etc.To sum: I don’t hate Paul. I’m not saying he’s all bad. I don’t disagree with the presence of his letters in the canon. But I do hold that neither the message nor the messenger deserves a larger role in LDS study and thought than he currently enjoys.Julie M. Smith

  2. “I don’t hate Paul. I’m not saying he’s all bad. I don’t disagree with the presence of his letters in the canon. But I do hold that neither the message nor the messenger deserves a larger role in LDS study and thought than he currently enjoys.”It’s funny how quick people are to ascribe to the Gospels more credence than the epistles of Paul. By all indications, Paul wrote quite a bit earlier than the Gospel authors, and none of the Gospels were actually written by who they are named after.So what differance does it make that Paul isn’t in the temple ceremony or restoration? Neither are the writers of the Gospels, in fact they weren’t even apostles.

  3. Julie,I didn’t mean to imply that you hate Paul! But I do think that you have, along with most other members, undervalued what he has to offer. “(1) Paul writes letters–the ancient equivalent of a First Presidency letter. (Except he isn’t even the equivalent of a 1P member, but more on that below.) These are important, but very, very limited in scope. They really aren’t meant to be read forever in the first place.”This is true of every single text in the NT. No one thought that they would be writing for ever. Yes, Paul’s letters are “occasional,” but this is part of their appeal. As for not being a member of the 1P, I am not really sure what difference this makes. He was called of God to be an apostle, clearly the early church thought he was important, and his version of Christianity is what we have today, not Peter’s or James’s. “(2) Paul is a minor player. Where is he in the restoration of the priesthood? Where is he in the temple ceremony? etc.”Relative to who? Where is Nephi in the priesthood or the temple? Where is any of the BoM for that matter? I fail to see how this diminishes their authority. Besides, the restorers of the priesthood don’t have any authentic writings in the NT, and John the Baptist doesn’t have anything! I am not sure that the temple ceremony and the restoration of the priesthood are what makes certain writings more authoritative than others.

  4. I have resolved to give Paul a massive noogie when I get to heaven. “I forbid a woman to teach,” indeed. The man’s a pig who horned in on the Gospel and perverted it.At least, that’s the way it seems to me. I’ve also seen things that indicate that some of the things that upset me most about his writings were things put in later by other writers, so it’s possible to convince me to rescind that noogie.

  5. I guess my comment wasn’t very clear: I am definitely NOT making the claim that the gospels are more authoritative because they were written by people with higher church callings than Paul. Let me try again:At their best, Paul’s letters reflect the (inspired) thought of someone who is some sort of ‘apostle,’ but not the leader of the church. The letters are not meant to be systematic theological statements but rather letters–responses to specific, historical, occasional situations.At their best, the gospels (regardless of whether they were written by apostles or chipmunks) reflect the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. Their form (and I realize there is some debate about precisely which subgenre each gospels is) suggests that, generally speaking, they are presenting the life and teachings of Jesus Christ and are NOT responses to specific, historical, occasional sitations. (Which doesn’t mean that there isn’t a smidge of response to current events in the gospels–but just a smidge.)Simply put, I think there is more value in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ (which I believe to be [mostly] faithfully reflected in the gospels) than in the life and teachings of Paul (which I believe to be [mostly] faithfully reflected in the epistles). Date and authorship issues don’t strike me as particularly relevant here. Hence, I don’t see a problem with the current ‘neglect’ of Paul. Most seminary and institute and sunday school classes are going to spend something like 50% of class time on the gospels and 25% on Paul, and that seems more than generous to me.Julie M. Smith

  6. “Which doesn’t mean that there isn’t a smidge of response to current events in the gospels–but just a smidge.”I nominate this as the understatement of the year, do I hear a second?

  7. Oh, and the site is coming along quite nicely. The recent comments and ‘Read More!’ tags are nice. 🙂

  8. Julie,Thanks for clarifying your points, but I am still not convinced. The sum of your argument is that Paul isn’t really all that important and so we can safely ignore him. But this doesn’t seem to get at my poin that what Paul has to say is supremely relevant to Mormons for all of the reasons that I mentinoed in my post. It is to our detriment that we ignore him. If this is the case, it doesn’t matter how unimportant he was in the year 50.But even still, I am not sure that I agree with your estimation of his unimportance. “At their best, Paul’s letters reflect the (inspired) thought of someone who is some sort of ‘apostle,’ but not the leader of the church.”Fine, but who cares? Since we don’t have any writings from any leaders of the church, this doesn’t really tell us that we should value him less that someone else. But who? He is certainly the highest ranking member that we have. Besides, I am not sure that you aren’t imposing an anachronistic view of the church hierarchy. Paul uses “pillars,” not “leaders,” to speak about Peter, James, and John. In this view, they don’t derive their authority from title, but from influence. This term suggests a completely different org chart in the early church, and one that to some extent is more like the overlapping levels of authority in early Mormonism. Even in our own history the primacy of the 12 is a development primarily under BY. Besides, if Paul is to be beleived, he and Peter are the two leaders of the church. Peter (and the Jerusalem church) is the Apostle to the Jews, while Paul is the Apostle to the Gentiles. This seems to be the result of Acts 15 (cf. Gal 2), which makes Paul and Peter share separate, but equal authority. This high level of authority seems to have been taken quite seriously by the early church, which makes 1/2 of the NT “Pauline.” “The letters are not meant to be systematic theological statements but rather letters–responses to specific, historical, occasional situations.”First of all, I don’t think that there is anything which is not a product of “specific, hitorical, occasional situations.” I agree with jared e. that your view of the gospels as less influenced by thier historical moment of production is not exactly correct. The fundamental impact of formgeschichte taught us as much. Besides, the occasional nature of the epistles isn’t really all that different from 95% of the D&C. This doesn’t seem to be something which disqualifies certain texts as authoritative. Consider King Follet, Isaiah, Revelation, Captain Moroni’s epistle to Pahoran, etc. All valuable, all occasional.”Simply put, I think there is more value in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ…than in the life and teachings of Paul…”I have not said that Paul is more important than Jesus! Besides, I think that this is a false dichotomy. The gospels are a particular kind of representation of Jesus (Q+miracle catenae+PN, etc). Paul is his own particular representation. Why do we have to prioritize? Is there some fundamental conflict? All that I am arguing for is that we pay attention to an underutilized resource. There is no need to hide from Paul and I beleive that the arguments which are used to lesson his importance are an attempt to justify ignoring him because he is a perceived problem. Instead, we have a lot to learn from him!

  9. PDoE,You may give Paul a noogie if you want, but you might have to ask him what he really thinks first. This has been one of the major topics for debate over the last 30 years. Your suspicions are correct. Many scholars argue that the worst of Paul’s sayings about women are inauthentic, including the 1 Cor 11 passages. I am not sure that I agree with that they are all inauthentic, but there are plenty of authentic pro-women passages in Paul as well!

  10. “The sum of your argument is that Paul isn’t really all that important and so we can safely ignore him.”It’s hard for me to see this as anything but a caricature of my argument when I said that the current 25% of time devoted to Paul in an NT course is appropriate (if generous).I get that, AoF 6 notwithstanding, the organization of the primitive church isn’t identical to the organization today, but that really isn’t relevant to my point. My point is that time spent on Paul doesn’t come out of thin air: it comes from time that would otherwise be spent on the gospels. Church classes should heavily favor the gospels. You ask why we have to prioritize: because the SS/institute/seminary teacher only has so much time! “Besides, the occasional nature of the epistles isn’t really all that different from 95% of the D&C.”Perhaps you won’t be surprised to find that I’m not a huge fan of the D & C, either. :)Julie M. Smith

  11. Julie,Maybe it is just a matter of taste that I find Paul much more relevant, interesting, and important than the boring, old gospels. However, I have also put forth arguments about why I think Paul is useful. I have argued that he is relevant for today’s theological problems in ways that the gospels are not. This is where I think we should focus our discussion.

  12. I’d just like to pipe in and say that in my mind this whole argument is irreverent, because as Mormons we barely pay attention to the New Testament at all. It as a whole is so ridiculously under valued that I’d be happy if we started really paying attention to any of it.

  13. Sexist comments aside, I’ve always really liked Paul. I think his teachings on grace are some of the most liberating and faith-promoting in all of scripture. I lament that grace isn’t given more attention in the Church (when it is, it’s inevitably followed by “after all that we can do,” which I think is an out-of-context reading of the 2 Nephi scripture).

  14. Although his writings are often “hard to be understood” [1], I should say there was no prophetic writer greater than Paul between Isaiah and Joseph Smith (that we know of anyway). He is the canonical source on numerous difficult aspects of the doctrine of Christ that hardly figure in the Book of Mormon – probably the best source on the sort of things Jesus revealed during his forty day ministry (even though he apparently had them second hand).In other words, I think the writings of Paul have hardly begun to be appreciated. Isaiah also – they wrote about different aspects of the same thing – the doctrine of Christ, Isaiah focusing on the temporal aspect, and Paul on the eternal aspect.[1] 2 Pet 3:16

  15. I have often heard it expressed by both Messianic Jews and Christians that only Paul understood the teachings of Yeshua, and his disciples were too Jewish. Yet, it is correctly pointed out by Prof. Hyam Maccoby in The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity, that: “The Ebionites are thus by no means a negligible or derisory group. Their claim to represent the original teaching of Jesus has to be taken seriously. It is quite wrong, therefore, to dismiss what they had to say about Paul as unworthy of attention.” Prof. Maccoby then writes: “Consequently, if the Gospel of Matthew contains assertions by Jesus about the validity of the Torah, this is strong evidence that Jesus actually made these assertions, for only a persistent and unquenchable tradition that Jesus said these things would have induced the author of the Gospel to include such recalcitrant material, going against the grain of his own narrative and standpoint. If Jesus himself was an adherent of the Torah, there was no need for re-Judaization on the part of the Nazarenes in Jerusalem, who were simply continuing the attitudes of Jesus. But, in any case, several scholars have now come to think that the loyalty of the Jerusalem movement to the Torah is itself strong evidence that Jesus was similarly loyal. It is, after all, implausible, to say the least, that the close followers of Jesus, his companions during his lifetime, led by his brother, should have so misunderstood him that they reversed his views immediately after his death. The ‘stupidity’ motif characterizing the disciples in the Gospels is best understood as a Pauline attempt to explain away the attachment of the ‘Jerusalem Church’ to Judaism, rather than as historical obtuseness.” I had questioned the Patriarch on Saul of Tarsus with the Patriarch relating that Paul was often misunderstood and rather hard to understand himself. He did not like women, and he advocated the slaves be true to their masters. These beliefs polarized him from the followers of Christ. Negative evidence against Paul is overwhelming, but had it not been for Paul there would not have been a Roman Catholic Church, or Christianity. Perhaps with some fabrications and a little help from Eusebieus and other Roman biographers he made the teachings of Christ acceptable to the Roman Empire. A believe in ancient Judaic sacrifice, he made Jesus the sacrificial lamb that died for our sins we still see evidences of Paul; the crosses that adorn most churches and bumper stickers that say “Christ died for your sins”Historic BackgroundLet me begin with a short discussion of the historical beliefs and attitudes that led to the atonement doctrine. The early Hebrews believed that “without the shedding of blood there could be no remission of sin.” (Heb. 9:22) They accepted the primitive idea that God could not be appeased except through blood sacrifice. Moses made a distinct advance in that he forbade human sacrifice and substituted instead the ceremonial sacrifice of animals. This concept of ceremonial sacrifice was preserved, in principle, by the apostle Paul as the doctrine of atonement for sin through the sacrificial death of Jesus. Paul, however, went beyond Moses and the Jewish teachers in that he expounded theories of original sin, hereditary guilt, and innate evil. Paul was responsible for bringing many of Jesus’ teachings to the world. But he also injected a number of his own ideas which were not taught by Jesus, and indeed, were at variance with the teachings of his Master.I emphasize that human teachers such as Paul were not only fallible but made a serious blunder in promoting the atonement doctrine. I believe we need to make a fundamental distinction between the teachings of Jesus and those of the human followers of Jesus. Jesus is the Son of God as well as the Son of Man and his life and teachings are a divine revelation. Therefore, I believe that we should look to Jesus first, and judge all other teachings by their harmony with his life and teachings. A Loving Heavenly FatherAccordingly, the first reason I would cite in defense of my belief that the atonement doctrine is in error is that it is not harmonious with Jesus’ revelation of God as our loving heavenly Father. While the ancient Jews taught the necessity of sacrifice, Jesus, in his life and teachings, revealed a God of love, mercy, and forgiveness. The Old Testament prophets and the New Testament teachers recognized God but not with the insight, clarity, and perfection of Jesus. Although Jesus’ God is just and righteous, it is love — the heavenly Father’s perfect love for his human children — that is the defining characteristic of his teachings. This concept of God as our loving heavenly Father was the only concept, besides acknowledging God as a spiritual being, that Jesus ever taught. He said, “God is love,” and in his teachings God’s love is supreme over justice and all other divine attributes. The ancient Jews had conceived of God as a harsh king-judge. They believed that the only approach to God was through fasting and sacrifice. They felt that racial guilt had separated them from God and that sacrifice was necessary to appease his divine wrath. Paul’s atonement doctrine grew out of these beliefs.This brings me to the second problem I find in the atonement doctrine. It assumes a lower conception of God than is presented by Jesus’ life and teachings. Indeed, the conception of a father who will not forgive his erring children until an entirely innocent elder brother dies as a human sacrifice sounds barbaric. We would expect more even from a human father. This conception is a relic of ancient times and primitive beliefs, ideas, and practices which Jesus came to free us from. He brought a new and higher revelation of God; and in his life he sought to free believers from the Jewish system of ceremony and sacrifice.The last argument I would advance in opposition to the atonement doctrine is that it was not taught by Jesus. Isn’t it reasonable to assume that if Jesus’ purpose in living his bestowal life on our world was to die on the cross for our sins, he would have emphasized this doctrine? But Jesus did not teach the necessity of sacrificing himself for man’s sins; instead he consistently focused on the Kingdom of God.There are other problems with the atonement doctrine. In particular, it tends to mask Jesus’ true teachings of the kingdom of heaven. In his message, the gospel of the kingdom, Jesus taught that God is our loving heavenly Father and we are his sons and daughters. We are called to live a life of faith in our Father’s love and over-care, to trust in God as Jesus trusted God, to trust Him as a little child trusts his earthly father.Jesus’ emphasis was always on the kingdom of heaven — the rule of God in the hearts of his sons and daughters. The prayer he taught his apostles reveals this central teaching: “Your kingdom come; your will be done.” He identified the kingdom of God with the will of God and taught that we enter the kingdom by the inner submission of our will to God’s will. It is this teaching that Jesus held supreme; he did not teach the atonement doctrine.The Meaning of the CrossPaul goes even further with suggestions in Romans 5:14 and I Cor 15:22 that many have interpreted to mean that we also have to be redeemed from the transgressions (sins) of Adam and Eve! If my father and mother do something wrong, why should I get punished for that — something that happened before I was even born? What do THEIR wrongs have to do with MY sins. Talk about unfair! The scenario is ridiculous enough if the atonement supposedly pays a physical price (transferable, with no explanation of how) for my OWN sins. When Paul suggests that it isn’t even for MY sins, but for someone else’s, he has really lost any semblance of justice or reason!again, Jesus emphatically rejects Paul’s teaching, referenced in the preceding paragraphs, of a salvation theology based on atonement through a bloody human sacrifice. The gospel according to Matthew TWICE, in
    Matt 9:13 and Matt 12:7, states that Jesus said: “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice” (KJV). More modern translations, such as the RSV and NIV, update the archaic meaning of the word “will” and translate Jesus’ statements in both verses as: “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” This could not be a more explicit rejection of Paul’s later teaching..Rise & Usurpation of Pauline Christianity Paul lacked authority to preach and his own letters make it clear that he did not possess a letter of recommendation from the authorities that Jesus instituted. Jesus did not institute the Twelve Apostles as a means of personal amusement or to fill his idle time; he did so to protect the Church from idle, heretical, or blasphemous doctrines. He did so with the intention of creating an institution that would preserve correct teaching. Paul chose to go outside of this institution, withPaul’s new religion was an amalgamation of the Mysteries in Rome, his own interpretation of Jewish Scriptures, and his own take on the meaning of Christ. His goal was the replacement of the 3 Pillars of Nazoreanism – Peter, James and John, with a fourth pillar – himself. This switch was bolstered up by the Epistles of Paul and Acts wherein Paul is made the champion of the faith and the original disciples are cast in the light of ignorant fisherman filled with doubt, fear and prejudice against outsiders. Almost half of the writings are related to Paul and Luke. Doesn’t it seem a little ironic that the two self appointed Apostles never met Jesus and yet their writings take up so much space in our New Testament. What about James and Peter, the leaders of the Church .Didn’t they have a story to tell.They did, but unfortunately these stories are not included in the New Testament. So it is obvious the Bible would read quiet differently had its pages been filled with the teachings of Christ and not the seemingly, politically motivated Paul… Let’s look at some more of Paul’s accomplishments. Paul made an effort to remodel the old Mosaic system based on Jesus as the sacrificial lamb Paul now made an attempt to resuscitate the Jewish system unite it with stories of Jesus and then combine them into a new religion which might possible be acceptable to both Jew and Gentile. The Jewish scriptures would find their fulfillment and the disappointed followers of Jesus could rally around the new interpretation. And so we see, Paul founded a reconstructed Judaism which went into history as Cristianity.The pure spiritual philosophy of the Nazorenes and twelve Apostles became submerged in a mass of dogmas that was neither Jewish or Christian It was neither Egyptian nor Gnostic Neither was it Platonian nor Pythagorean. It was made up of a little everything that preceded it . We know from the Letter of Peter to James that the Nazorean’s refused to share their scriptures with Paul, forcing his school to create their own made up “New Testament” which came to contain so much of the Hellenistic Jewish worldview.Jesus was opposed to any form of blood sacrifice. And never spoke of the the atonement.This innovation came from Paul of Tarsus. It is to Paul that Christianity should trace its roots. The origins of Christianity as we know it came, not from Jesus, but from Paul.

  16. anon,I am confused about many of the apparent contradictions in your post. How can Jesus be both a follower of the Torah and be opposed to blood sacrifice? What evidence do you offer that he was opposed to sacrifice? Additionally, you quote Hebrews to get at Paul’s position, even though Paul didn’t write Hebrews. You are right that Paul probably taught a substitutionary atonement, but it can hardly be credited to him alone. Mark 10:45 teaches it too as do many other non-Pauline NT texts. Finally, how do you see this relating to Mormonism’s use of Paul?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *