Every now and then someone renews an old concern: Who is most responsible for the Christian faith? is the question and the two answers are Jesus or Paul. One of the most prolific NT scholars today is my own professor, J.D.G. (Jimmy) Dunn, and his newest book, Jesus, Paul, and the Gospels, jumps into the question above. This book, as we’ve said here a few times, is a great introduction to Jimmy’s major ideas.
Do you think Christianity is Pauline or Jesus-ian? Where was the gravity of Paul’s own identity?
There are some who think this question has been asked, and it has been answered, and it’s time to move on. Some think Jesus was the founder; others blame Paul. And yet this isn’t a small issue even today. Some groups in the Church are more Jesus-ian than they are Pauline, while others are more Pauline than they are Jesus-ian.
One way of entering into this issue, and it is complex, is to ask the question that Jimmy Dunn asks in chp 6: “Who did Paul think he was?” Did he see himself as a Jew? as part of Judaism? Or did he see himself as an ecumenical Christian? These questions actually lead us into the questions above.
To examine this, Jimmy proposes four ideas that help form the identity of Paul. Before we get there we have to see his big point: at the hand of Paul (not Peter, not James), a messianic sect was transformed into a Christian, and global, religion. The converts of Paul were not led by him into the traditional forms of Judaism. He then lists the major identity passages: Rom 11:1, 13; 15:16; 1 Cor 9:1-2, 20-21; 15:9-10; 2 Cor 11:22-23; Gal 1:13-14; 2:19-20; Phil 3:5-8. Four ideas now:
1. Paul was no longer “in Judaism” (Gal 1:13-14), but here “Judaism” means Pharisaism and a zealot-shaped view of Judaism.
2. But Paul was still a Jew (Rom 2:17-24, 28–29; 3:1-2). But “Jew” is no longer an ethnic identifier; its distinctiveness over against Gentiles was not his point: it was about relationship to God. And 1 Cor 9:20-21 shows Paul saw “Jew” as something he could be or not be — it was a role for him. But he was not willing to abandon “Jew.”
3. Paul was an “Israelite” and this term spoke of God’s election or call. But this term, too, transcends the ethnic marker.
4. Paul’s fundamental identity marker is “in Christ.” Gal 2:19-20; Phil 3:5-8. Paul’s self-identity shifted from “in Judaism” (Pharisaism, zealotic) to being “in Christ” and this was his primary marker: it transcends the ethnic and the social.
Jimmy doesn’t tie back to our opening questions, but if “in Christ” identifies Paul then Paul can’t be seen as the originator of the Christian religion; Jesus is, but Paul can be credited with the move from restrictions to Jews and of Jews to a more global and inclusive faith. I would also want to contend that Jesus set the stage here and that Paul enacted it.
While some today are blaming Paul for Christianity’s origins, I’m more concerned with those who dismiss Paul and want to have a Jesus-only kind of Christianity — the irony is that this the heart cry of too many Gentile Christians and too many who more and more want the very contributions — inclusivism, expansiveness, etc — that was most developed by the one they want to avoid — namely, Paul. Some don’t like Paul’s soteriology, but the irony there is that Paul’s soteriology was for all! Paul is the model for how to take Jesus from the Land of Israel into the Roman empire.