Segment 8: Paul and Jesus, Peter and Paul
Jennings begins this segment with still more pointless interviews, this time with ignorant tourists at the Vatican. These interviews reveal that many such tourists don't know anything about Paul. (Jay Leno does these kinds of interviews way better.) He then poses the question to his experts: Did Paul change or embellish on the teachings of Jesus? Calvin Butts, a black New York City pastor, answers that Paul must have done so, because preachers always do! Jennings accepts this answer and gives no counterpoint to it. According to Jennings, Paul departed not only from what Jesus had taught but also what the other apostles, including James-Paul's "toughest critic"-taught. Elaine Pagels expresses astonishment: Paul, who had never met Jesus, claimed to know Jesus and to know what Jesus wanted better than Jesus' own brothers and closest friends. The conflict between Paul and the Jerusalem apostles focused especially on whether Jews and Gentiles could eat together. According to Paul's account in Galatians, he had criticized Peter for withdrawing from eating meals with Gentiles after Jewish Christians had censured him for doing so. Jennings admits that according to Paul the matter had been resolved, but leaves the impression that Peter and James might not have seen it that way. According to Jennings, by including Gentiles in the church on an equal footing with Gentiles, Paul had laid the foundation for the separation of Christianity from Judaism.
One should not miss the subtext in the comments by Pagels and others about Paul taking it upon himself to make radical changes to Christianity. If Paul could claim to know "what would Jesus do" better than those who actually knew Jesus, well then, of course we can make the same claim today. Thus Paul, ironically, is viewed as precedent for setting aside the teaching of the New Testament writers, including Paul himself, where we think we know Jesus better. Pastor Butts can embrace Paul as one who went beyond Jesus because this means that Pastor Butts is also free to go beyond Paul.
What these experts are doing is glossing over a crucial distinction between deviating from and developing the original vision. The apostles, including Paul, did the latter, not the former. If Jesus had treated the ritual clean and unclean laws as passť, as Jennings reports; if, as the Gospels also say, Jesus had declared all foods clean (Mark 7:19), announced the end of the era of worship centered in temple and ritual (John 4:20-24), praised the faith of a Roman soldier over that of his own Jewish brethren (Matt. 8:5-13), and ordered disciples to be made of people from all the nations (Matt. 24:14; 28:19-20), then the opening of the community of God's people to the uncircumcised was evidently exactly what Jesus wanted.
The theory that a sharp divide existed between Paul and Peter must be read into the New Testament texts, in contradiction of what they actually say. This theory received its most radical formulation in nineteenth century liberal German scholarship, which posited a kind of Hegelian dialectic in the New Testament (Peter as thesis, Paul as antithesis, Luke as synthesis). Despite the numerous and grave problems with this approach to the New Testament, liberal scholars have been reluctant to give it up entirely.
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