Historical context of Christianity

St. Paul is the most fascinating person in the Bible next to Jesus.

Here is some context for understanding St. Paul: The Jews were conquered by the Romans right before the events in the New Testament; Paul was the most successful evangelist by far; the books of the New Testament were written by the followers of St. Paul, not Jesus’ direct followers. There is a lot to unpack in those three sentences.

As the years went by and Paul brought more and more Gentiles into this sect throughout the Roman Empire, he was bringing into the sect a wealthier and less threatening-to-Rome class of members, people who hadn’t been raised to believe that God and not Rome was the ultimate arbiter of the laws. Paul collected funds from these higher-social-status people to maintain and support the very weak-status disciples in Jerusalem. Consequently these disciples grew increasingly dependent upon Paul.

This creates a conflict. Paul’s work is bringing in the money and converts, which the original disciples and their followers struggle to match. This gives Paul an increasingly prominent role. And that’s not the only conflict.

Paul’s conversions lead to a serious issue with circumcision, because Jews required it but the pagans that Paul was converting did not. Circumcision is not a big deal to a baby that doesn’t know what’s going on. But Paul was converting adult pagans en masse, and they understandably didn’t want to get circumcised at their age. This created a serious conflict between the new converts Paul was bringing in, and the leadership under St. Peter:

So, the question is: were these new men, whom Paul had brought in, actually Jews? Not according to the commandment that started Judaism: they certainly weren’t. Circumcision was Judaism’s signature commandment; a man didn’t even qualify to be a Jew unless he had first signed the covenant with God by becoming circumcised, and Paul’s men had not signed. This was in black and white, in Genesis. It was undeniable.

These conflicts, among others, created a schism in the early group. Paul’s actions to resolve these conflicts provide historical context to understand the New Testament. Again, remember – the books of the New Testament were written by Paul and his followers, not the original disciples based on Jerusalem.

I think the author’s conclusions are much too strong, but for those interested in these times, it’s worth reading more of this analysis. Read it here.

Sidenote: if you’re interested in this topic, read the Book of Galatians as an adult. It’s the earliest book in the New Testament, it was written by Paul, and viewed in the context of history it is a revolutionary departure from what went before.

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