Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Pauline Captivity

We don’t know much about the Apostle Paul, but what we do know it significant. The Bible says that he came from Tarsus. Tarsus! Tarsus was the home of Mithraism, one of the many so called “mystery religions” that were popular during the first century. It is significant that Mithras was worshipped by placing a bull on a rack and cutting its throat. Initiates would stand under the rack and wash themselves “in the blood of the bull.”

In the rites of the bull-sacrifice, a bull was slaughtered on a perforated platform through which the blood poured down to bathe the initiate standing in a pit beneath. Afterward the initiate was considered “born again.” Poorer people made do with a sheep in which the sheep was sacrificed, and were literally “washed in the blood of the lamb.”[i]

Most people reading Paul’s talking about one being “washed in the blood of the lamb” assume that he was referring to Jesus and not some mystery savior.

In fact, the ancients worshiped a “Son of God” who was considered God made flesh, whose mother was a virgin. He was born on December 25th, visited by shepherds, turned water into wine at a wedding ceremony, rode into town on a donkey while people waved palm leaves, dies on Easter as a sacrifice for the sins of the world, rose on the third day and his followers celebrate his death and resurrection by a ritual meal of bread and wine.   But few people have ever heard of this god-man, His name was Osiris-Dionysus, one of the many mystery saviors of the first century.[ii]

Does that mean that I think Christianity was just another mystery religion? No, I do not, but I think Paul did. He writes nothing about the life and teachings of Jesus or his commitment to social justice. Paul himself declares that his interest in Jesus was limited to the shedding of his divine blood as a sacrifice. Nothing about the commitment to the poor and oppressed.

Paul substitutes the faith of Jesus, what he taught and did, for a belief in Jesus, that he was the second person of the trinity, the “only” begotten Son of God. That little slip has dominated the fundamentalist branch of the church to this day.  It has even influenced our translation of the Bible.  The King James version says:

For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one. (KJV, I John 5:7)

Sounds very certain that Jesus was the second person of the Trinity. On the other hand, the Revised Standard Version, based on much earlier manuscripts says nothing like that:

And the Spirit is the witness, because the Spirit is the truth. There are three witnesses, the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree. (RSV. I John 5:7)     

And why is any of this important?  The basic issue revolves around one question; are we faithful to Christ (Christian) by believing things about him, or to be a Christian, must we strive to live by his teachings and example?

Thomas Are
December 28, 2017

[i] Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, The Jesus Mysteries, Was the “Original Jesus” a Pagan God?” (Harmony Books, New York,  1999) p. 53
[ii] Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, The Jesus Mysteries, Was the “Original Jesus” a Pagan God?” (Harmony Books, New York,  1999) p. 5.