Series: 1

In our first article in our series, we saw that there are some questions regarding the story of the Eucharist as it has come down to us. We have seen that most probably the original meal that Jesus carried out in the Last Supper was a kiddush, a ceremonial meal that Jesus would have interpreted as being the last one before the definitive establishment of the Kingdom of Yahweh on Earth.

We have seen that Acts of the Apostles and the Didaché talk about this ceremony, where the wine is presented first, and without any reference to an atoning sacrifice or a vicarian death of Jesus. Yet, in this section, I will argue that the author of the Gospel of Luke holds the very same tradition of the kiddush, not the Pauline one. This might seem a bit strange, given that Luke seems to be a fan of Paul. Yet, as I will argue (some time in my life), Luke agrees less with the historical Paul than with his reconstructed version of the eminent Apostle. Yet, note that it makes perfect sense when the celebration of a kiddush by the first Christians and their activities in the Temple agree with Acts‘ version of events. There, we don’t see any vicarian vision of the Eucharist, but only of a ceremony. Both books were written by the same author (we’ll call him “Luke”, although it is most probably not his name).

For such a purpose, I will set aside Antonio Piñero’s analysis for the moment, and embrace the analysis of the Last Supper in Luke made by Bart D. Ehrman in his famous book The Orthodox Corruption of Christianity.
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Luke’s Passage and Signs of Interpolation

Bart Ehrman, Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Bart Ehrman, Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

One of the passages explored by Ehrman in his book is the one on the Last Supper in Luke, where there are elements which he considers have been added by later Christian scribes in order to harmonize the passage with the other versions of the Gospels (Mark’s and Matthew’s). He also thinks that the scribe were holding “anti-Docetic” views, but I will not discuss that conviction in this blog post.

Here is the passage as it has come down to us in our versions of the Gospel of Luke:

When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” Then he took the loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body [which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.] But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table. For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined but woe to the one by whom he is betrayed!” (Luke 22:14-23).

As we pointed out, it seems as if Jesus presented the cup of wine twice. The passage in brackets and bold is the one under our scrutiny.

Contrary to practically all of the ancient manuscripts that we have, only very few of them appear with the shorter text, i.e. the text without the bracketed section (D a d ff2 i l syh). Ehrman points out that there are some of its aspects that are not Lukan in character: for instance saying “for you”, “remembrance”, or “new covenant”, three terms that only appear here and never elsewhere in Luke or Acts. The reason should be obvious for anyone who is acquainted with both books, and that is that their author does not portray Jesus’ death as an atonement for sins. In fact, he changes Mark’s texts where this theology appears. For Luke, Jesus’ death was a miscarriage of justice, and the death of an innocent who was vindicated at the moment of the resurrection (Acts 2:22-36; 3:12-16; 14:8-12; 7:51-56; 13:26-41). For example, when Jesus dies on the cross, this happens:

Now when a centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” (Mark 15:39).

Luke’s Gospel says:

When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly, this man was innocent” (Luke 23:47).

Another example:  In Mark, we find the following passage:

You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many (Mark 10:42-45).

In Luke we find the following:

The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one serves… (Luke 22:24-27).

Where is the reference to “giving his life as a ransom”? It is totally absent! Luke omitted the last part of the Markan passage.

In Acts, Luke quotes the Isaiah prophecy of the Suffering Servant, yet he is careful to choose which passages he quotes. For example, in Acts 8, an eunuch is trying to find the meaning of this passage of the Suffering Servant:

Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.

In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth (Is. 53:7-8a; Acts. 8:32-33).

Philip explains that it refers to Jesus. Yet, the author of Acts uses this passage to insist on the fact that Jesus is an innocent victim, and omits any reference to the Suffering Servant as atoning for sins (Is. 53:5,8b,10).

What does all of this mean? That, for all practical purposes Luke refuses to subscribe to the idea of Jesus either an atoning of sins or offering his life for others.

Given this scenario, what is more likely: that he changed all of the passages where Mark alludes to an atoning death of Jesus except this fragment of the text of the Last Supper, or that he also corrected Mark’s version and omitted the presentation of the wine as a new Covenant of Jesus’ blood, and that some other scribe added to the main text?  I think that the latter option seems to be most probable.

I think that the case presented by Ehrman is very strong.

Not only that, but I want to argue that Luke (whoever he was) chose to “correct” the Markan text in a very specific way: by making it fit the ceremonial form of the kiddush. He did this by making Jesus bless the wine first and the bread later. As a result, here we have Luke‘s original text:

When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” Then he took the loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body; but see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table. For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined but woe to the one by whom he is betrayed!”

And this is perfectly consistent with what we find in Acts 2:43-47, where Christians were celebrating a Eucharist that omitted all reference to an atoning or vicarian view.

Why did he adopt the kiddush variant of the Last Supper? My hypothesis: It is most probably because Luke’s church belonged to a tradition that practiced it, much like in the case of the churches that produced the Didaché. This tradition met its dead end when the process of institutionalization ended up adopting Paul’s, Mark‘s and Matthew‘s versions of the Last Supper.

Again, this reinforces the conviction that most probably the original story of the Last Supper was most probably a story of a farewell kiddush ceremony, and that the Gospel writers Mark and Matthew were most probably directly or indirectly influenced by Paul’s version of that event.
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Reference

Ehrman, Bart D. The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.

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Rarely do we find a person in history who has been so loved and at the same time hated than Saint Paul. Christians in general love him and have a deep respect for him. There is a reason for that. For all practical purposes, Saint Paul provided the philosophical and theological foundations of Christianity as we know it. Still, there are some who despise him. Friedrich Nietzsche claimed that he was the founder of Christianity as the religious movement we know today. What about Jesus Christ? In the words of Nietzsche: "There was only one true Christian and he died on the Cross" (The Antichrist).

On the other hand, there are those who hate him for good reasons. First, there are the Jews. We can find plenty of statements from St. Paul where he said that the Torah, the Law of Moses, was no longer valid after Jesus’ death. According to him, Jesus’ sacrifice means the end of the Law. Only faith in Jesus Christ, and not the deeds of the Law, saves the soul. But for Jews, that is a minor transgression compared to several passages where St. Paul apparently demeans Jews in a big way, and even it seems that he is happy that they had suffered some of God’s chastisements.

Feminists are among the first who hate St. Paul. If you read his letters, you get the impression that he was a misogynist, declared women inferior, and even ordered them to shut up in assemblies. After all, sin entered the world thanks to women! Furthermore, for the modern mind, his views of matrimony where women should be subordinated to men are outdated and completely unfounded. And to worsen the whole thing, he even tells people to practice celibacy.

Last, but not least, the GLBTT (Gay-Lesbian-Bisexual-Transsexual-Transgender … etc.) community hates the passages where he actually says that effeminates and homosexuals will not go to heaven, because they carry out contra-natura acts.

This article is not meant as a Christian apology of Saint Paul, but rather an exposition of the best historical profile we can provide according to the most recent studies by serious Biblical scholars. I will use Senén Vidal’s analysis, but I’m not going to agree with him in everything. The purpose of this article is to show the most important points where Christianity and its opponents agree and diverge to who Saint Paul really was.

Some Considerations Regarding the Acts of the Apostles

Scholars have been skeptical about some claims made by the Acts of the Apostles. It is true that whoever wrote the Gospel of Luke also wrote the Acts, but we don’t really know his identity. We can recognize, though, that he wrote the Acts many years after St. Paul’s death (A.D. 58), about A.D. 80 or 90. We also know that it was written after the destruction of Jerusalem under Titus (A.D. 70). This means that the Acts came to be after Christians were banned from synagogues, as a result of being blamed by Jews in part for such horrendous outcome.

The author of the Acts showed a tendency among Christians who lived such dismissal from Judaism. Let us remember that Jewish leadership at the time was divided between different sects: the Sadducees, the Pharisees, and the Essenes (the latter established itself in Qumran). The Pharisees were members of the priestly elite in Jerusalem, and used their religious authority to preserve the purity of the Jewish ways. Unlike the Sadducees, the Pharisees wanted to preserve the Torah and its integrity, while rejecting gentile or pagan influence. It is highly probable that the Pharisees were the ones who wanted Christians to be banned from synagogues after A.D. 70. Although not all zealous Jews were Pharisees, in the minds of many Christians, especially in gentility, they were synonymous.

If you read the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, the term "Pharisee" is used to mean a pious or "zealous Jew", not always it meant "the Pharisee priests".

Also, St. Paul’s influence in the Mediterranean, and the way people regarded him as an Apostle of Christ, led many Christians to question his authority, given that he never met Jesus. The author of the Acts of the Apostles was interested in showing St. Paul as an eminent figure with Apostolic authority.

At the same time, he liked to present St. Paul as someone who is respected by gentiles, especially by the Roman authorities.

Some Considerations Pertaining the Corpus Paulinum

To have an accurate profile of St. Paul we have to face the problems that come from the corpus paulinum, i.e. a set of letters in the New Testament which are considered to be written by St. Paul. I don’t have space to talk much about them, but there are three problems regarding it:

  1. First, some of the letters allegedly written by Saint Paul were not written by him. Some of the letters written by St. Paul reflect the Christian mentality of his time and were widely accepted in Christianity before the second century C. E. However, there were some others which were not recognized as coming from St. Paul until much later during the second and third centuries. These post-pauline letters are: 2 Thessalonians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, and Hebrews. All of these letters speak of the situation of the Pauline communities at the end of the first century or the first part of the second.
  2. Still, there is another problem with the authentic Pauline letters: there are later Christian interpolations in many of them. Much of these interpolations reflect opinions which are clearly not St. Paul’s. Scholars had a hard job digging them out of the authentic texts, trying to make sense out of them.
  3. Finally, even if we take out the interpolations, and the pseudoepigraphic letters, we have the problem regarding the way these letters are arranged. For instance, according to the most recent scholarship, 1 and 2 Corinthians were originally five different letters. The sixteenth chapter of the Letter to the Romans was in reality a separate letter to a community in Ephesus. The letter to Philemo consists of two different letters.

Keeping in mind the inherent difficulties of the Acts of the Apostles, and the real authentic letters, let us proceed to find out who St. Paul was, and was not.

Different Aspects of St. Paul’s Life

Both Christians and opponents have a particular conception of St. Paul as being a person born in Tarsus, who inherited Roman citizenship, studied in Jerusalem at the feet of Gamaliel, was a witness of St. Stephen’s death, and traveled to Damascus to persecute Christians where he had a vision of Jesus and converted to Christianity.

There are many aspects of this that need to be clarified. It seems true that St. Paul was a Jew, specifically from Benjamin’s tribe. It also seems true that he was born in Tarsus, which can explain why he had two names, one Jewish (Saul) and one Hellenistic (Paul). However, he did not acquire Roman citizenship by being born in Tarsus or inheriting it, since being born there is not really a way to be a Roman citizen by birth. If we look at the documentation we have available in the New Testament, the only place where it says that he is a Roman citizen is in the Acts of the Apostles. Nowhere in the authentic letters does St. Paul say that he is a Roman citizen. In fact, if we explore them, we realize that he could not have been a Roman citizen, because particular chastisements he suffered were strictly forbidden for Roman citizens:

Five times I have been given the thirty-nine lashes by the Jews; three times I have been beaten with sticks; once I was stoned; three times I have been shipwrecked, and once I have been in open sea for a night and day (2 Cor. 11:25, my bold).

Why would the author of the Acts say that St. Paul is a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37-38; 22:25-29; 23:27)? The answer lies in the fact that he wants to show St. Paul as generally a good Roman citizen, as a respectable figure in gentility. However, everything we have from St. Paul himself speaks against that fact.

Also there is a problem with the allegation that St. Paul was formed by Gamaliel in Jerusalem, and that he witnessed St. Stephen’s death. But St. Paul’s own words seem to contradict all of these facts. In his letter to Galatians, he states the following regarding his conversion:

But when God . . . called me through his grace and chose to reveal His Son in me . . . I was in no hurry to confer with any human being, or to go up to Jerusalem to see those who were already Apostles before me. Instead, I went off to Arabia, and later I came back to Damascus. Only after three years did I go up to Jerusalem to meet Cephas (Gal. 1:15-18).

Some verses later, he says:

After that I went to places in Syria and Cilicia; and was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judaea which are in Christ, they simply kept hearing it said, ‘The man once so eager to persecute us is now preaching the faith that he used to try to destroy,’ and they gave glory to God for me (Gal. 1: 21-24).

Notice the curious scenario vis-a-vis the traditional knowledge on St. Paul. Why would St. Paul "return to Damascus" and only went to Jerusalem briefly? More puzzling still is his statement that none of the Christian communities in Judaea knew about him. Jerusalem is in Judaea. In other words, everything points to the fact that St. Paul did not live in Jerusalem, nor did he persecute anyone in that place. Apparently he persecuted Christians in Damascus because he was from that place. Only in the Acts of the Apostle does he appear as going from Jerusalem to Damascus to persecute Christians.

Which leads us to the next question: was he a Pharisee priest? This is a very difficult point. The Acts of the Apostles is a late document, whose author equates Pharisees with pious or zealous Jews. So, it could be possible that St. Paul was a zealous Jew, but was not a Pharisee strictly speaking. We could also say that his letters do not reflect the language of a Jew formed in Palestine, but rather as one formed in a Hellenistic environment, which would further reinforce the point that he did not grow up nor was he formed in Jerusalem.

We have to mention, though, that in the authentic Pauline letters we find a statement that St. Paul was a Pharisee, and it is in his letter to the Philippians:

Circumcised on the eighth day of my life, I was born of the race of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrew parents. In the matter of the Law, I was a Pharisee; as for religious fervour, I was a persecutor of the Church; as for the uprightness embodied in the Law, I was faultless. But what were once my assets I now through Christ Jesus count as losses (Phil. 3:5-7)

However, this passage itself forms part of a bigger passage (Phil. 3:1b-4:1) which has signs of being a later interpolation within the original letter. Practically such a passage demonizes the Jews (as we shall see, St. Paul never did that), it seems to reflect strongly on St. Paul’s death, and praises St. Paul in the first person (suggesting that St. Paul is writing his own praise, something out of St. Paul’s character). It also interrupts the sequence of the argument between Phil. 3:1a and 4:2. As expected, the term Pharisee, in this case, is used in the sense of zealous Jew, a person who wanted to follow the Law to the letter.

On the other hand, it seems that the one of the few reliable data provided by the Acts is that probably St. Paul grew up to be an artisan (Acts 18:3).

There is the issue regarding St. Paul’s own conversion. There is no reason to think a priori that the story of his conversion as presented in the Acts of the Apostles is wrong. St. Paul is sincere when he says that he had revelations. In fact, there were many times he had these kinds of mystical experiences. For instance, approximately by the year A.D. 40, he had experienced an abduction to the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2-4). Some neurologists theorize that he may have had temporal lobe epilepsy, which would have led them to those kinds of experiences.

Regardless of whether this is epilepsy, or revelations of Our Lord, or both, we have to take the story we find in the Acts of the Apostles cum granus salis. Not all of the details offered in the Acts agree with each other. We know that St. Paul had a vision and ended up blind because of it. He saw a bright light, heard a voice, and fell from his horse. However, it is not clear whether the other men with him saw the light, or heard the voice, or fell from their respective horses, or were standing up (Acts 9:1-9; 22:5-16; 26:9-18). Maybe the core of the story regarding St. Paul’s experience might be true, but the discrepancy of the three versions of the story cry out "Handle with care!"

Finally, there is another very important point to this story. Why was St. Paul persecuting Christians in Damascus? As we now know in this analysis of the Biblical texts, he actually lived in Damascus as an artisan, but he was admittedly a pious and zealous Jew. Christians in Palestine were, for all purposes, a branch of Judaism, which practiced the Torah just like all other Jews. How can we explain St. Paul’s persecution of Christians before his conversion? The only possible explanation is that the Christian community in Damascus already showed signs of rejecting the strict path of the Jewish Torah. Damascus itself was very influenced by Hellenistic ideas, and already by 30 A.D., shortly after Jesus’ death, there were Christian communities which started to depart from Judaism.

This demystifies a statement made by many opponents of St. Paul: that he was the one who made Christianity depart from Judaism. Quite the contrary. It seems that before his conversion, St. Paul was furious at the fact that the Damascus community would betray one of the very foundations of Judaism. This also explains why he opened up to gentiles after his conversion to Christianity.

St. Paul’s First Partial Profile

Saint Paul

From a biographical standpoint, we now have a partial idea of who Saint Paul really was. He was born in Tarsus, from a Jewish family, from the tribe of Benjamin, who was brought up in the ways of Judaism and Hellenistic thought and philosophy. He was a professional artisan, and was highly intolerant of those Jews who diverged from their Jewish roots and accept Hellenistic ways of thinking. For him, that would be a contamination of Judaism. While he lived in Damascus, he persecuted Christians for not adhering to Jewish Torah. During one of his persecutions, he had a revelatory experience which completely changed his views towards Hellenistic Christians. He converted to a more Hellenistic branch of Christianity, and actively advocated for tolerance towards them.

In my next post, I will talk more about traditional misconceptions about his thoughts and ideas about Jews and women.

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