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Post Was Christ more "Progressive" than Paul?
Created by John Eipper on 04/29/17 4:23 AM

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Was Christ more "Progressive" than Paul? (David Duggan, USA, 04/29/17 4:23 am)

Let me say straight away that I am not a historian, Biblical scholar, etymologist, or examiner of ancient texts. I am a person of faith who can make reasonable inferences from the limited evidence, only some of which would prove either admissible or conclusive in a court of law, which has been my field for most of my life.

There were no ancient copyright laws, and it is not clear that the third-party accounts (i.e, the canonical Gospels) were written by those who actually witnessed the events. The only textual references to someone with what a lawyer would say is "actual knowledge" are 1) the scene in Mark's Gospel (14:51-52) when a "young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was ... seized [and] fled naked, leaving his garment behind," which is generally interpreted to be a reference to the John Mark of Acts 12:25 (Mark's Gospel is the only one which records this incident, unlike the striking of the high priest's servant's ear); and 2) the references in John's Gospel to the "beloved Disciple" (e.g., John 19:26). None of the synoptics so describe John.

But these are only inferences. Nor can Paul's conversion be dated with any accuracy. In the Acts, the author places the event between the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch on the road to Gaza and Peter's healing of Aeneas in Lydda with only the temporal reference "meanwhile" (Acts 9:1). Likewise, Paul's letters bear no date of authorship, and it is more likely than not that their order in the New Testament bears no relationship to the sequence in which they were written.

The point is that the Gospels are not limited to the four canonicals, and there's a body of evidence that both Mark and Matthew drew from the elusive "Quelle," or source, a collection of Jesus' sayings, and the apocryphal gospel of Thomas, also not a narrative, but mostly a collection of sayings. Luke himself writes as his justification that "[m]any have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who were the first eyewitnesses and servants of the word" (1:1-2). But before Paul's conversion there is no account of any written scripture. Paul's chronology of his years before writing to the Galatians is likely the most accurate dating of the events and account for 17 years, three in Arabia before going to Jerusalem, then to Syria and Cilicia, and 14 years later going back to Jerusalem. That would place Galatians as likely written in the 50s CE, allowing for several years between Christ's resurrection and Paul's trip to Damascus. Galatians also tells of Paul's dispute with Peter over the proper "preaching" of the gospel, suggesting that different schools of interpretation had arisen, needing a unified or common text. Even today the post-resurrection account in the last 12 verses of Mark (16:9-20), and John's account of the woman taken in adultery (8:1-11) are disputed.

And, of course, the authenticity of Paul's letter to the Ephesians is disputed, and if not the entire letter at least that part adjuring "wives [to] submit to your husbands as to the Lord" (5:22). The Greek is different in this segment from that which Paul used elsewhere, I have been told, as if an author is limited to one style throughout his career. So wives can be off the hook under this interpretation, but on that theory, husbands need not love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it. Then we are back to a pre-Christian paradigm of arranged and politically driven marriages and look what that's done for us in the modern era (Charles-Diana; Bill-Hillary). But wait, Peter said pretty much the same thing (1 Peter 3:1), admittedly with a view toward converting non-believing husbands by their behavior without words.

But on the theory that Paul wrote that verse and meant what he said, he comes across as at least as progressive in the marriage realm as Jesus. Jesus said that which God has joined together let no man put asunder (Matt. 19:6), pretty much putting the kibosh on divorce, but said nothing that I can find about how to act inside of a marriage (other than the warning against committing cardiac adultery in Matt. 5:28, and note that this proscription applies only to men, without regard to whether they or the object of their affections is married, scarcely "progressive" in this age of equal rights to sexual gratification).

Paul's admonition to love wives (as opposed to treating them like chattel) is at least as revolutionary as Jesus' well-side conversation with the Samaritan woman living with a man without the benefit of clergy, having had five prior husbands (John 4:18-19; I suppose I'd have quit then, too). Sure, Paul condemned all sorts of other behavior, not limited to sexual impropriety, such as lying or cheating or suing each other, but I see no condoning of that by Jesus. Unless "progressive" means "anything goes," then I'm not sure how you can claim that Jesus, who came not to change the law but to fulfill it (Matt. 5:17), is more progressive than Paul. But reifying what I said earlier, I am not a theologian, minister, priest or scholar, but a person of faith.

JE comments:  Wouldn't Jesus' admonition against the "Jimmy Carter sin," if it applies only to men, give women the right to lust in their hearts?  As for "progressive," I was thinking not so much about Christ's teachings on behavior, but on forgiveness.


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