Matthew vs Paul: A Race To Invent Jesus

In the summer of 2015, I had a proselytizing Baptist minister come to my door to invite me to his church – he was going door-to-door, trying to kick up support for his church.

I was friendly to him, and told him I wasn’t a believer, but I said I’d let Christian friends know about his church.

He said he was concerned for me, and went on a short diatribe about how we’re all fallen because of those damn miscreants in Eden.

I let him finish, and brought up how I thought it was silly that an all-knowing God couldn’t have predicted great-grandma and grandpa’s behavior.  I also asked him if he thought it was ethical to punish offspring for their parents’ mistake.  I was cordial though.

We talked for another 10 or 15 minutes, and in the conversation, I asked him about his thoughts about Galatians vs Matthew, which give obvious inconsistencies that came about from obviously different theologies.

He gave the standard response, which is to say that Jesus came first to the Jews, and then to the Gentiles.  I wish I’d had thought to ask him about a different passage in Mark, but I didn’t think of it at the time.

The specific contradiction I brought up begins with Paul’s writings in Galatians:

Galatians 5
3 Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 5:4 You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5:5 For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value.

Compare Paul’s anti-circumcision position to Matthew 5, where Jesus is on the mount:

19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Obviously these do disagree – and they disagree very specifically.  Circumcision was the first commandment given to Abraham.  Given that the 10 commandments were later provided to Moses, circumcision might have been the least of the Mosaic laws.

Put into historical context, though, if you are of the opinion that Matthew was written after 80 or 85, more like 130 or 140, then the disagreement between Galatians and Matthew is really just a proxy war between the Marcionites and the Jewish Christians.

For Jewish Christians, probably in and around Jerusalem in the first half of the 2nd century (130s), there probably were attributes within the Marcionite sect that were attractive, but the idea that the god of the Old Testament was lower than the god who sent Jesus was simply unacceptable; in my opinion, that is what gave rise to the Gospel of Matthew – it was the Jewish version of Mark’s Gospel, complete with a reminder not to ignore the law.

From that perspective, it is interesting that such a heresy as Christianity was able to survive at all among those who were still loyal to Mosaic law, and I think the reason for it is because of how much persecution Jews had experienced, particularly during and after the Bar Kokhba revolution.  Given that Christianity was increasingly offering theological solutions to increasing problems inherent in Judaism (notably a lack of an atonement solution after the temple destruction of 70), that might explain how many components of the Gospel of Mark worked their way into the Jewish Christianity, while the Marcionite/Paul theology completely fizzled.  The messiah-man who offered alternative atonement was well-received, but the supplemental texts which talked about the archons, the Demiurge, and the celestial warrior Jesus, were rejected entirely.

I wish I would have brought up to the Baptist minister Mark 9:38-41.

38 “Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”

39 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 9:40 for whoever is not against us is for us. 41 Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.

Here, the text makes reference to someone who is doing work in Jesus’ name.  Even the most conservative estimate of Mark (70CE) puts the text well after Paul.  I think Mark was written between 100 and 125, and I think the reference Mark is making here is to Paul and his contemporary theological doppelganger, Marcion.

Compare this text with Matthew 7:

22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

Catch that?  Mark says it’s great if someone casts out demons in Jesus’ name, but Matthew’s Jesus said “I never knew you.”

There’s no doubt in my mind.  This is a reference to the Pauline/Marcion theology – given the strong Jewish undercurrent in Matthew, it’s easy to see why the writer (borrowing from Gospel of the Hebrews) would have been so uncomfortable with Marcion’s Jesus – specifically, an alternative higher God above Yahweh, which was not only a theme in Marcion’s Christianity, but also existed in earlier Christian iterations, particularly the Alexandrian ones (Sethians, etc).  There are even echoes of a higher God above Yahweh in the Gospel of John 8:44, when Jesus said to the Jews:

You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning…

The echoes of Marcionism in the New Testament hardly get more obvious than that passage.  Of course, one could make the argument this goes back to Sethianism, as well.

The canned response about Jesus first coming to Jews, then Gentiles, is not only historically wrong (given a complete absence of evidence of 1st century Christianity in Jerusalem), but as a response to the Galatians v Matthew concern, it’s total bullshit.

If you look closely, sometime between 120 and 140, all these guys – Marcion, Valentinus, Polycarp – they all went to Rome, which is where it would seem the gospels of Mark and Luke were written.  Yet all these guys were from the East.  Stephan Huller makes the point that our beloved bishop of Lyon (France), Irenaeus, might never have actually lived in Lyon; rather, Huller puts him in Rome –

This is an interesting detail, and I think it adds weight to the following:

  1.  Marcion was a much bigger part of the early orthodoxy than Irenaeus later gave him credit for
  2. The Gnostics (or heretics, if you prefer) were a much bigger part of the early orthodoxy than tradition suggests
  3. The accumulation of these “heavy hitters” in Rome c. 120-140, coupled with the fact that these guys’ fingerprints are all over the earliest canon (and the current New Testament), adds weight to the notion that the gospels came much later than what many historians suggest (Mark-70; Matthew-85; Luke-95; John-100).
  4. I think Revelation came first.  Not the whole thing, but the middle of it is so abstract, and so based in the “outer space” that was the foundation in Gnosticism, that it would seem that the gospel’s version of Jesus (and maybe even the Pauline letters) were divined from Revelation.

Author: Tim...Stepping Out

Tim Stepping Out

2 thoughts on “Matthew vs Paul: A Race To Invent Jesus”

  1. Do you take into account that the editors were working with compilations of “Sayings of Jesus” and any number of other works and it is entirely possible that they, or their scribes, just plain got it wrong. Matthew has Jesus saying He didn’t come with peace in hand but a sword, etc.

    Since the audiences for these gospels had limited knowledge but were wedded to it, it was dangerous to contradict that knowledge (like when the Lord of The Ring movies eviscerated Tolkien), so they may have had to include some things they didn’t particularly want to. Paul/Whomever was a master of this tactic: he would say one thing and then shortly thereafter say exactly the opposite (which is why he got a reputation for being a liar). The device works because, as Simon and Garfunkel said “a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest” (The Boxer). Paul’s audiences would listen for their message and skip over the others. This is still the case today with evangelicals insisting there are no contradictions in the Bible.


    1. I think oral tradition played a big part in this fudgery…I think that’s why so many characters resemble so many other characters – why does Marcion resemble Paul? Why does Paul resemble Appolonius of Tyana? I think oral tradition and time creates some of the trouble here…and it seemed to be quite common in this crowd that people stole the attributes of the people they revere (for instance, Acts basically converts Paul into Jesus v2).

      If you’re referring to the Gospel of Thomas when you reference “The Sayings of Jesus”, I don’t know if people saw a lot of risk. I know the Thomasine community in Syria and the Johannines in Turkey (and later the Valentinians) all encouraged their members to try to have visions (revelations from Jesus). I think the Thomasines were more open to these visions altering their theology than the Johaninnes were, and I think there are sections in the Gospel of John that specifically call out problems with the Gospel of Thomas.

      Obviously, it’s a theological problem when on Tuesday, Jesus tells someone one thing, but then tells someone else a contradictory thing on Thursday.

      “Matthew has Jesus saying He didn’t come with peace in hand but a sword”. In revelation, the serpent has a sword coming out of his mouth – this to me is an obvious reference to the Logos. I can’t help but wonder, especially considering that I think Matthew came at least 40 or 50 years after Revelation, that this was Matthew’s interpretation of Revelation. So, obviously that’s not a gnostic interpretation. A gnostic would have recognized the sword as being symbolic of the word (Logos). But a person/community who is less attached to the Greek underpinnings (and more attached to Jewish tradition, particularly closer to Judea), might not have been too concerned about this symbolism, and might have read the proto-Revelation completely different than an armchair theologian in Rome.

      “Paul/Whomever was a master of this tactic: he would say one thing and then shortly thereafter say exactly the opposite”
      I kind of think that was the MO of the day. I think a lot of things are going on like that, especially from 120-150. It’s all whitewashed and jumbled, which is why I think it’s so plausible that Paul was indeed the character later described as Simon Magus (the father of all heretics). If you assume Paul’s interaction with Cephas in Galatians 2 and the Simon Magus incident in Acts (8?) are describing basically the same event, then you have to conclude that self-serving bias was not only common, but critical in advancing one’s theological position.


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