The First Christian … Ever

Christians manage to quote their holy book quite a bit in conversation and blog posts. It often seems like they might have read it. I don’t think they have. Yes, I’m walking out on a limb here. Today I had an exchange with a believer who said “you don’t understand what you’re reading or you’re not willing to believe” when I posited that reading the Christian bible was a fast track to atheism and that their certainty that their faith was right should be questioned. I think that moments like this are double face palm moments. There is no reasonable manner to read the new testament and think that Jesus and Paul were talking about the same things. Google is your friend. There are many Christian websites and blogs talking about how they definitely were not talking about the same things.

Sometimes I want to scream at believers asking them whether they are followers of Jesus or Paul. Most of them I run into don’t seem to know the difference. For those that haven’t read the book it might not seem a big thing. If you have read it you will know that Jesus and Paul had quite different messages. Conservative Americans will be fans of Paul. Liberals and socialists will be fans of Jesus. It’s not really a book for anarchists or those with the will and desire to face life on it’s own, on their own. It’s really a self help book with rules about how to not spend eternity burning alive, and of course some ways that you should punish your neighbors if they do stuff that Paul didn’t like. It’s not really a pleasant read and right at the end it gets downright loopy. Once you discount the repeat stories and plain crazy stuff, Paul wrote most of the rest of it. He had a lot to say to various people, quite a bit more than what we supposedly know that Jesus said.

I think Paul’s episode on the road to Damascus is a bit dubious, I always have. The most prolific writer in the NT and his conversion story has two versions is something I find more than a little bit interesting. There are people that talk about hermeneutics. They want you to interpret the stories in just the right way. The whole thing is up for interpretation and the way I read it Paul was a pretty ambitious man. He went from persecuting believers to telling them how to live. In some ways that’s not much of a change but in other ways it was pretty radical. What makes a guy who is pretty much a dick change tactics and go completely the other way? It’s interesting to think about. He not only did an occupational about face but he also taught differently than Jesus did. This guy was coloring completely outside the lines, and he brought his own crayon box with him. He was off the reservation right up to the Council of Jerusalem around 50 C.E. That’s where he got his street cred and off he went. That’s where Christianity took a left turn.

The story of Christianity is not a single, homogeneous story. Basically shards of stories, letters, stuff that you have to piece together to get a picture or glimpse of the authors and what they were like, what life was like and so on. It’s all up for interpretation and it takes a lot of study to make sense of it. That is something that most believers just don’t have in them. It’s stuff they aren’t going to do. They are going to regurgitate what they hear from the pulpit each Sunday.

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That doesn’t mean that nobody has ever sat down and read it and thought about what it all means. Let’s run to a quote that inspired the title of this post. Read it a bit carefully, the language is a bit of a run-on but if  you go slow it makes sense.

    The first Christian. All the world still believes in the authorship of the “Holy Spirit” or is at least still affected by this belief: when one opens the Bible one does so for “edification.”… That it also tells the story of one of the most ambitious and obtrusive of souls, of a head as superstitious as it was crafty, the story of the apostle Paul–who knows this , except a few scholars? Without this strange story, however, without the confusions and storms of such a head, such a soul, there would be no Christianity…

That the ship of Christianity threw overboard a good deal of its Jewish ballast, that it went, and was able to go, among the pagans–that was due to this one man, a very tortured, very pitiful, very unpleasant man, unpleasant even to himself. He suffered from a fixed idea–or more precisely, from a fixed, ever-present, never-resting question: what about the Jewish law? and particularly the fulfillment of this law? In his youth he had himself wanted to satisfy it, with a ravenous hunger for this highest distinction which the Jews could conceive – this people who were propelled higher than any other people by the imagination of the ethically sublime, and who alone succeeded in creating a holy god together with the idea of sin as a transgression against this holiness. Paul became the fanatical defender of this god and his law and guardian of his honor; at the same time, in the struggle against the transgressors and doubters, lying in wait for them, he became increasingly harsh and evilly disposed towards them, and inclined towards the most extreme punishments. And now he found that–hot-headed, sensual, melancholy, malignant in his hatred as he was– he was himself unable to fulfill the law; indeed, and this seemed strangest to him, his extravagant lust to domineer provoked him continually to transgress the law, and he had to yield to this thorn.
Is it really his “carnal nature” that makes him transgress again and again? And not rather, as he himself suspected later, behind it the law itself, which must constantly prove itself unfulfillable and which lures him to transgression with irresistable charm? But at that time he did not yet have this way out. He had much on his conscience – he hints at hostility, murder, magic, idolatry, lewdness, drunkenness, and pleasure in dissolute carousing – and… moments came when he said to himself:”It is all in vain; the torture of the unfulfilled law cannot be overcome.”… The law was the cross to which he felt himself nailed: how he hated it! how he searched for some means to annihilate it–not to fulfill it any more himself!

And finally the saving thought struck him,… “It is unreasonable to persecute this Jesus! Here after all is the way out; here is the perfect revenge; here and nowhere else I have and hold the annihilator of the law!”… Until then the ignominious death had seemed to him the chief argument against the Messianic claim of which the new doctrine spoke: but what if it were necessary to get rid of the law?

The tremendous consequences of this idea, of this solution of the riddle, spin before his eyes; at one stroke he becomes the happiest man; the destiny of the Jews–no, of all men–seems to him to be tied to this idea, to this second of its sudden illumination; he has the thought of thoughts, the key of keys, the light of lights; it is around him that all history must revolve henceforth. For he is from now on the teacher of the annihilation of the law…

This is the first Christian, the inventor of Christianity. Until then there were only a few Jewish sectarians.

from Nietzsche’s Daybreak, s.68, Walter Kaufmann transl.

But we’re just not reading it right apparently. Only believers can read it right, so I’m lead to believe. The problem I find with that is that whenever a smart person reads the book then end up not believing and tend to have the same kind of interpretation as I do. I’m not trying to say I’m smart or something, just that confirmation bias seems to really skew what the book says. Nietzsche doesn’t seem to have a high opinion of Paul – the first Christian. I tend to agree with Nietzsche. Moreover I think that modern day Christians are not really doing what they ought to be doing as Christians according to their Jesus.
That won’t stop them from trying to tell the rest of us that we’re doing it wrong.

Somehow, I just don’t believe it. How is my interpretation wrong? Oh yeah, I don’t believe but I think I’m in good company.

 

 

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  1. Excellent!
    In the antichrist, I think, if there was ever a christian, he died on the cross. There has been no other since.

    • That statement is to read,
      in the antichrist, I think, Nietzsche writes, if……..

  2. Another well written post. Excellent.

  3. Hello!
    So of course I’m a little hesitant to comment on this post, because I have an extreme dislike of internet arguments (or maybe just heated arguments in general..). They’re destructive and unproductive, and no one really listens to each other. So know, that is far from what I want to cause 🙂

    -I’d really like to hear some specifics of places where you think Paul and Jesus’ message directly contradict. From my perspective on the Bible, Paul is a follower of Jesus who preaches the gospel, and of course teaches new beleivers how to live in light of that Gospel. But, of course, that is a broad statement, and yours was a broad statement 🙂 If we had time to discuss the specifics of our beleifs, that’d be cool. If not, that’s okay too.

    -Something that stuck out to me in this post, both from what you wrote and from the quote, is that Paul was the most douchey of guys and manipulative of everyone even after his conversion. What I see from the Bible, however, is that he went from a pharisee persecuting, self-righteous dude who thought he followed the law perfectly and did nothing wrong, to a guy who was humbled and turned around and was able to love others and admit his own faults. I think the fact that he mentions so much his struggle against sin is a true sign of his conversion.

    -And my last little thing in this rediculously long comment (sorry), is that I don’t get the idea that Paul was the first Christian. What about the first desciples? What about all the people converted at Pentecost? What about all those beleivers that Paul persecuted before his encounter at Damascus?

    Again, sorry for the long comment. Of course me and you are going to disagree on so many things; our views on life are extremely different, and I knew that when I followed your blog 🙂 Know that I am happy you think about these things, and glad to hear your point of view!As a Christian, I obviously love Godand I love the Bible. I think it’s super important to know why you beleive what you do, and to read your Bible and know what it says- I would agree with you that’s something us Christians forget and neglect way too much.

    Thank you for writing this and giving me something fun to think about this morning! It was much nicer than studying for my exam 🙂

    Your friend?
    Ruthie

    • Ruthie,
      First, thanks for stopping by and commenting. Let’s see if we can do this in a civil manner. Long comments are good 🙂

      Addressing the specifics is kind of like explaining why I think water is wet and concrete is hard. There are 1000s of sites (many of them Christian) who do a grand job of explaining how Paul and Jesus were not on the same hymn sheet. Here is one from Christianity Today: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/december/9.25.html

      Jesus came for the Jews, Paul twisted it a bit so that you and the gentiles/pagans could also go to heaven. Jesus was politically left, Paul to the right. The list goes on.

      Where you think Paul’s mention of his struggle is a good sign the truth is that people don’t dwell on stuff that doesn’t bother them. He was THE church at the time for many people and he himself could not stop struggling. What he taught that others should do, he was not really able to do himself. I realize that you and others may think this a sign that he is just human. The trouble I see is that if the prime example is unable to stay the course, how can anyone else be expected to do so. How would it look if the Pope kept getting caught sinning? How could anyone expect Paul’s god to help them if that god can’t help Paul himself? That is the real problem. What Paul was teaching didn’t even keep him on the straight path.

      The desciples were Jews. The first Christian as you know Christianity was Paul. Almost all of modern/western Christianity is based on Pauline Christianity. Paul wrote the book (so to speak) on how to be a Christian and that book was cannonized many years later. In 50 CE Paul’s teachings changed the religion forever. When you study your bible and the history of Christianity pay close attention to the differences between Paul/Jesus, faith/works, who and what happened at Nicea, the great schism, reformation and so on. Understand where all the various Christian sects come from. Who the scholars think wrote the NT etc. Become a scholar on the religion and faith that you find both necessary and so vital to your life. Ask why it is that you can eat pork and shellfish. Why is it that non-Jews can get into heaven? When did the concept of hell get introduced? By who? Why don’t the Jews believe in hell? There are many questions you should be asking but Christianity doesn’t seem to be supportive of those that ask them.

      Your friend,
      MAL

      • Happy to be here, MAL!
        So I am going to respond to this with my thoughts at the moment 🙂 However, there are a lot of things you mentioned that I’d really like to spend more time looking into (for instance a lot of the history of the early church), and one always enjoys more time studying the Bible itself!

        -That Christianity Today article was getting really interesting! Unfortunately, it cut off on me, and I am not a member. I’m sure there are many articles like that one that I can look up, but for now I’ll just address some of the points you made.
        -From the Bible, I am definitely seeing that Jesus did come for the Jew first, but also for the Gentile (as Paul puts it.) Not to reason circularly with you, I don’t just see this in Paul’s letters haha 🙂 But I also see it in the gospels in Jesus’ ministry_ Matt 15:21-28 where Jesus heals the Canaanite woman’s daughter, Mark 5 when Jesus had mercy on the demon posessed man in the gentile region of Gerasenes, John 4 when Jesus saved the Samaritan woman which led to many Samaritan’s becoming believers. Also, what of the great comission (Matt 28:19) where Jesus says to make desciples of all nations? The Old Testament also follows this theme. God made a covenant with Abraham that all people would be blessed through him.

        -I’m saving your politics point to look up later 🙂 In all honesty, politics is not an area I’m well versed in, and I appreciate your challenge to grow.

        -I was a little confused about something you said. You seem to think that Paul preaches works, and Jesus preaches faith or perhaps vice versa? Either way, the message I get is that they both say faith. Jesus says Himself, that he is the Way the Truth and the Life and that no one comes to the Father but through him. As for Paul, the book of Romans speaks very clearly about grace through faith.

        -Yes, I agree (haha I hope everyone does) that the first desciples were Jews, so was Jesus 🙂 But the first desciples were Jesus’ followers, they beleived Jesus to be the messiah, the Son of God and the way to God. That is what beleivers today believe, and what Paul says as well.

        I would love to work towards being a scholar in my faith, and I appreciate your challenge 🙂 It is very important to have a reason for what you believe! I agree with that wholly.

        Yes, I have a stance on the pork/shellfish question, but will save that for another time. Obviously I have a stance on why non-Jews can get to Heaven. I would like to study up more on Hell 🙂 But I think it might be getting bedtime for this crazy college kid.

        I think it’s wonderful to ask questions! Thank you for asking them and for answering mine 🙂

        Respectfully,
        Your friend,
        Ruth

  4. Thank you for posting this. I often get bogged down with people who confuse faith ( a great idea ) with the massive business called religion. I always thought of Paul as a mega church founder, trying to stay at the head of the church, being the center of attention and getting all the glory, while also trying to keep his own private endeavors and missteps, his own not following the things he said to do out of the view of those he was bilking. Sorry put I see Paul as a “do as I say, not as I do and have done” person.

    I often watch shows on the history channel and discovery that deal with what we know of history of the bible. The idea that the bible was written hundreds of years after the people in it lived, the titled people never wrote the versions that made it into the bible. Then there was the councils to adjust, change and chose the books that would be included and those to throw away. The fact we have documented finds of other writings that did not make the cut into the bible and that those show some things differently from the one we have now are suspicious. Then also I have watched a documentary that showed how even the leaders of a major religion did not believe in some of the very things that the common member thought was true. However the church in question decided it was not a good idea to correct the wrong ideas of the church member as it would stir up too much debate in the truth. Plus there is the fact that science has clearly shown something in the bible simply can not happen the way they are depicted.

    I love the personal faith some people have. I have faith even though it is more pagan. I never saw a personal faith used against anyone, personal faith keeps it self internal and private unless asked about. Those with personal faith do not stand on street corners to preach nor do they feel it is their job to make others have their same faith. Their faith is theirs and they share only when asked to. Religion is a big business designed to modify behavior to transfer money from the lower ranks to the upper ranks. It is a scheme to fund the people at the top. I really dislike religions. Thanks for letting me voice my opinion. Love your writing. Hugs.

    • Thank you very much. I’m glad you enjoy my blog.

  5. One small comment: I’d say Christianity took a turn to the right, not the left, in 50CE!

    • Politically, I mean 🙂

    • Lol

    • Ain’t No Shrinking Violet
    • April 5th, 2015

    As a former catholic (now atheist), I agree that it does boil down to hermeneutics, and additionally to how Christians are told by their individual denominations to interpret scripture. This is done from both the pulpit and through the footnotes in the bible, which tell you exactly what you should think about a certain verse. You’re not handed the good book and encouraged to think about it for yourself, because no one would be able to *ahem* make sense of it. There is NO free thinking, there is no questioning for the average sheep…the message is spoon fed to you.

    Of course skeptics are not impressed with this tactic and find it very objectionable. Yet that’s how it’s done, and that’s why christians will always tell you you’re either reading it wrong, or god “hasn’t illuminated the scriptures” for you (because of your disbelief). A cult must have a book or a message that unites them or it’ll fall apart…thus you’re told exactly what message you should be getting, and then your understanding is attributed to god blessing you with the intelligence for proper interpretation.

    That’s why nonbelievers are considered stoopid when reading scripture.

    • I’ve been to church a few times since my deconversion. What I’ve seen is pastors cherry picking scripture to make up a lesson that is clearly not in the book. They might as well have used ‘war and peace’ the way they were cherry picking, it wouldn’t have made a difference. All I could think was “how is that a lesson from the bible?”

        • Ain’t No Shrinking Violet
        • April 5th, 2015

        Cherry picking is standard fare to be sure. Reading the whole thing cover to cover (as I’ve done several times) does not assist in clarity either, when it’s read with nonreligious eyes.

        • The thing is, the content there gives the pastor place/reason to teach but they cherry pick to make up their own story line and the entire congregation just sits there like it’s all real and honest to goodness a message from god. It’s disgusting.

            • Ain’t No Shrinking Violet
            • April 5th, 2015

            I’m glad to find someone else who agrees with me. 🙂

            • Oh, you’re not alone. The lunatics are in charge of the asylum

                • Ain’t No Shrinking Violet
                • April 5th, 2015

                If there’s one thing I love about the atheists I’m meeting, it’s that they all seem to have an affinity for the various forms of the word “lunacy.” I love it!

  6. As a student of psychology, I think you got Paul half right (well more than half) you just need to keep going with your thinking. You correctly point out that Paul was a zealot persecuting Christians and then turned around and was a zealot as a Christian. Once a zealot, always one, I would say. I don’t find his conversion “radical” at all.

    One recent example in history was Ronald Reagan, from union leader to union buster. Seems to me that Paul liked telling people what to believe and how to live (as you correctly pointed out) and his “conversion” was just finding a different parade to get in front of.

    • I completely agree with this. Thanks for commenting

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