Paul – Misunderstanding or Misunderstood?

Paul – Misunderstanding or Misunderstood?

By Diakon Mark Raines

One problem Esoteric Christians face is whether or not to include the Pauline Letters in their corpus of holy texts. Some Esoteric Christians feel that Paul’s theology is too simplistic and too geared toward vicarious atonement. Other Esoteric Christians believe that Paul is misogynistic. Others believe that he was homophobic, and still others believe that he was anti-Semitic. It is for this reason that many Esoteric Christians are hesitant to use some of Paul’s writings, even though they think some of the things he says may have worth. But it is not necessary to abandon all or even any of what Paul actually said. He is not the narrow-minded man he is cracked up to be.

Paul and the Vicarious Atonement

It is true that Paul endorsed the doctrine of vicarious atonement, the idea that Yeshua Messiah’s blood was required as a sacrifice to allow Christians to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. However, this theological difference does not mean that we should throw out all of Paul’s writings. If we were going to throw out the writings of every person who believed in the vicarious atonement of the crucifixion, we would have to throw out almost all of the [surviving] writings of Christian church leaders.

It is also not our place to say that Paul was wrong, only that we do not believe as he did. One of the fundamental tenets of our faith is this: “All the Gods are one God, and all the Goddesses are one Goddess, and there is only one Initiator. To every man his own truth, and the God Within.” Therefore, Paul’s theology is not necessarily wrong, it just isn’t our own theology. His theology is where he – and many other Christians – were at during those times. It was a simple theology, one that was easily understood, and one that worked for them. It is not for us to say that it is invalid, only that it is not right for us.

In the Gospels, Yeshua told us that we should judge preachers and their theologies by their fruits. The developed doctrine of the vicarious atonement caused an immense amount of guit, but Paul’s doctrine of the vicarious atonement caused people to realize that they were free of all their sins, free of all guilt, free of all religious legalism, and ultimately free of death. The developed doctine was developed by the pistic church, and they are responsible for its fruits. Paul’s doctrine is drastically different from the developed doctrine, and it has drastically different fruits.

For instance, Paul believed that through faith in this vicarious atonement, men were free of religious legalism (Gal 3:23-29). This is untrue of the developed doctrine, which states that we must adhere to the tenets of a particular denomination in order to be saved. Mind you, he was not saying to dismiss morality. To him, morality was a result of love, and love was the highest of the virtues. He taught that faith, hope, and love were the greatest virtues, but even the greatest of those virtues was love (1 Cor 13:13). He believed that, in order to have a true faith, one must have love (1 Cor 13:1-3). In other words, one cannot hurt others and have a true faith. One cannot burn so-called “witches” at the stake, for instance, and still have a true faith.

Burning witches was a result of the developed docrtine of the vicarious atonement, but Paul’s doctrine of the vicarious atonement would have said that their faith was nullified by the atrocities they had committed. Paul is very much distanced from the sin and guilt of the pistic church’s developed doctrine. His is not a doctrine of sin and guilt, but of slate-cleaning and freedom.

Paul and Anti-Semitism

Some people claim that Paul was anti-Semitic. That can easily be dismissed out of hand. It is true that Paul strongly condemned the legalism of some of the overzealous Jews of his time, but it is not true that he condemned their religion or even their culture. He did not force Gentiles to be circumcised, but he didn’t say that those who wanted to be circumcised shouldn’t be either. In fact, he said that they should stick with what their culture had originally told them to do (1 Cor 7:18-20). He essentially said that circumcision wasn’t important. To the people he was writing to – Christians who believed that faith in the vicarious atonement had saved them – circumcision and uncircumcision really didn’t mean anything.

Paul was not anti-Semitic. Prior to becoming a Christian, he had been a zealous Jew who had even persecuted Christians. After becoming a Christian, the first place he went to when preaching was the synagogue (Acts 13:46). Only after they shunned him did he preach to the Pagans. He told his church in Corinth to avoid giving offense to everyone, Jews and Pagans alike (1 Cor 10:31-32). He even told them that he went so far as to act as a Jew or a Pagan when among them, in order to have fellowship with them (1 Cor 9:19-23). This was obviously not a man who hated Jews, or Pagans, or anyone, for he said:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, love is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor 13:4-7). Truly, he believed and followed Yeshua’s words, his only law: “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another” (John 13:34).

Paul and Misogyny

While it may seem as if Paul endorses misogyny, nothing could be further from the truth. The first thing to establish is that Paul very likely did not write the
letters 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus
, which contain the strongest condemnation of women attributed to Paul: “A woman must receive instruction silently and under complete control. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man. She must be quiet.” (1 Tim 2:11-12). Again, scholars now acknowledge that Paul did not write a word of this.

Actually, Paul endorses the principle of equality, saying that all are one in Christ (Gal 3:27-28). He further said that men and women were equal. Even though the first woman came from a man, every man afterward came from a woman. And, he added, every one of us comes from God alone (1 Cor 11:11-12).

Paul also noted the women who had roles in the ministry (Rom 16:1:7). Phoebe, the woman identified as “minister” in v. 1, is actually a diakonissa. The Greek word for what is rendered “minister” is actually diakonos, according to the New American Bible footnote.

One thing that could be to Paul’s detriment is his belief that women should be veiled and men should not (1 Cor 11:7-10). However, this belief was probably not uncommon at the time. The Jews of the time also believed women should be veiled, as did non-Jewish Arabs, and even some Pagans. Paul is not even as narrow in his conviction as some were – he says that there is no set practice in his own church, and that it is still open for debate (1 Cor 11:16).

Paul and Homosexuality

It’s a little harder to defend Paul in his views about homosexuality. It does seem altogether possible that he did condemn homosexuality. Rendered in English, he said: “Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor boy prostitutes nor sodomites [homosexuals] nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor 6:9-11).

Still, it’s very possible that
Paul wasn’t even talking
about homosexuality
as we know it. It may well be that Paul was talking about male prostitution alone; not only that, but a specific kind of male prostitution that lended itself to idolatry. Obviously, this is not homosexuality as we think of it today. When we talk about moral homosexuality, we’re talking about two men or two women loving each other and sharing that love through sex. We’re not talking about male prostitution. It might be that male prostitution was exactly the situation Paul was confronting, not love between two men or two women. This especially seems to be the case since Paul only mentions males lying with males, instead of mentioning females lying with females as well. It is, then, highly possible that Paul did not condemn homosexuality.

However, even if Paul did condemn homosexuality, he would not have been the only one of his times. It is highly possible that all twelve Apostles may have thought of homosexuality in a negative connotation, and many other church leaders of the time as well. Why? Well, it was a part of the Jewish culture at the time not to think well of homosexuality. These men and women were indeed the Chosen of Yeshua, but they were not perfect. It is highly likely that they did give into a few of the wrong trends of their own cultures, and the condemnation of homosexuality may well have been one of the things they gave into.

Paul; Still a Valuable Saint For Our Times

Despite the controversy that does and always has surrounded him, Paul is still a valuable saint for our times. I have proven effectively that he is not an anti-Semitic, misogynistic man. I have shed some light on how he may not have condemned homosexuality. If he did condemn homosexuality, I have demonstrated why he might have done so at the time, and why it is not applicable in our own times. I have talked about how his vicarious atonement theology is different than the sin-and-guilt theology of our own times, and how his theology was more focused on love and faith than on sin and guilt.

More important than what he is not, is what he is. Paul was a generally good man, who was passionate about his religion at all times. He believed that faith, hope, and love were the highest of all virtues – and he believed that love was over all virtues. He believed that religious legalism was wrong, and sought to show people that faith was not something that could just be contained in synagogues, in churches, in mosques, or in commandments. Even though he was not necessarily right on all counts, he was still a good person. He was not infallible, as pistics today claim, but that’s okay. Infallibility is not one of the criteria for our holy texts – Godhead is infallible, but man is always fallible, and man writes. So Paul was not infallible, but he was still a good man, and worthy of our respect still today. His message was not infallible, but it was still a good message, and worthy of our attention still today.

Copy and paste the following questions into a new e-mail, answer them, and send them to the
Mystery School with the subject line reading: “Diakon  5 Paul Answers”

1. What are the four primary problems people have with St. Paul?

2. Fill in the blanks: If we were going to throw out the writings of every person who believed in the _____ _____ of the crucifixion, we would have to throw out almost all of the _____ _____ of Christian _____ _____.

3. T/F – We can say that St. Paul’s vicarious atonement theology is absolutely wrong.

4. What is one of the fundamental tenets of our faith?

5. What is the big difference between St. Paul’s vicarious atonement theology and the developed doctrinal vicarious atonement theology?

6. T/F – St. Paul condemned the Jewish religion and culture.

7. Did St. Paul say that Gentiles should or should not be circumcised? Did he say that Jewish Christians shouldn’t be either?

8. Why shouldn’t St. Paul’s views about circumcision be viewed as anti-Semitic?

9. T/F – Paul told his church in Corinth to avoid giving offense to anyone, both Jew and Pagan alike.

10. What was Yeshua’s only commandment? Did St. Paul seem to adhere to it? Why or why not?

11. T/F – St. Paul probably did not write the pastoral letters – 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus.

12. What was St. Paul’s reasoning for saying that men and women were equal? Take a look at 1 Tim Chapter 2. How does this contradict St. Paul’s reasoning? This is one of the reasons it is highly unlikely that St. Paul wrote 1 Timothy.

13. T/F – St. Paul never noted the women who shared the ministry with him.

14. What is one thing that could be to St. Paul’s detriment when dealing with the rights of women?

15. T/F – St. Paul said that God had ordained that women should be veiled, and that the practice could not be changed.

16. St. Paul may not have been condemning homosexuality. What could he have been condemning? How is this drastically different from homosexuality as we know it today?

17. Fill in the blanks: It is highly possible that all the _____ _____ may have thought of homosexuality in a _____ connotation.

18. Why might St. Paul, and others, have condemned homosexuality?

19. Fill in the blanks: The saints were the _____ of Yeshua, but they were not _____.

20. What St. Paul was is more important than what he was not. According to this essay, what was he?

Essay 1

How do you feel about this essay? Do you think that St. Paul really was a misogynist, an anti-Semite, a homophobe, etc.? Or do you think that he has been misunderstood, and that maybe he is worthy of the title of saint? All views are acceptable, but be prepared to back up your answer.

Essay 2

Based on what this essay says about St. Paul, how could he be a valuable role model for diakon(issa)s (and all clergy)? Even though he was not perfect, do you think that St. Paul’s theology and his letters still have some value in the world today? Why or why not?