What evidence do Paul’s letters provide for the diversity of early Christianity? Throughout history societies have created numerous religions and belief systems (Christianity being one of these). In the years that followed the death of Jesus Christ, a man named Paul believed he had been “… sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father…” ( NRSV, Galatians 1:1) to spread the gospel of salvation (or ‘Paul’s Euangelion’). Paul’s Euangelion stated “…we believe that Jesus died and rose again and… the Lord himself, … will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise ...” (NRSV, 1 Thessalonians 4:14-16). During this time, the belief systems within regions influenced the content, and delivery of Paul’s Euangelion, as well as how it was received and followed by people groups (thus creating diversity within Christianity). This essay will discuss the evidence found in Paul’s letters pertaining to three diverse Christian groups known as Wisdom Christianity, Torah Observant Christianity, and Apocalyptic Christianity. As stated in Paul’s letter B to the Corinthians (“I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand” (NRSV, 1 Corinthians 15:1)), Apocalyptic Christianity believes and followes Paul’s Euangalion. Paul’s tone in his letters to the Corinthians is one of warmth, connection, and endearment as he refers to the congregation as “those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints” (NRSV, 1 Corinthians 1:2). Apocalyptic Christianity believes that one did not need to be circumcised in order to become a follower of Christ and receive salvation. Proof of this is found in Paul’s letter B when he states “…Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing … Let each of you remain in the condition in which you were called” (NRSV, 1 Corinthians 7:18-20). They follow the example of Jesus who died for their sins, not Jesus the Jew, and therefore the only requirement to become a follower of Christ was “baptism and resurrection, dying to oneself and becoming alive in Christ … identifying oneself with Jesus and the resurrection” (Ford). Paul clearly speaks this message in his letter to the Romans, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? … we have been buried with him by baptism into death … as Christ was raised from the dead … we too might walk in newness of life” (NRSV, Romans 6:3-4), as he encourages the receivers of the letter to turn away from sin. The fist group that differs from Apocalyptic Christianity is Wisdom Christianity. Wisdom Christianity is the group lead by Apollos, and which has not accepted Paul’s Euangalion (viewing Christ as ‘the teacher’, not ‘the redeemer’). This group has the “understanding of Chris not as a saviour from sin through his death and resurrection, but as the teacher of divine wisdom that liberates the soul” (Ford). Wisdom Christianity believs that Jesus died on the cross, but that he did not rise from death, that he is not returning to gather his people, and that ‘the end’ comes when one gains insight through wisdom. They believe that “the crucifixion of Christ was incidental not central” (Ford), and that the human problem is ignorance not sin, and thus Jesus delivers people from ignorance. Paul refers to this group in Letter B to the Corinthians as he encourages them to follow him, not Apollos (“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (NRSV, 1 Corinthians 11:1) to truly be saved. In his letter, Paul writes how powerless wisdom is (“For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’ … The world did not know God through wisdom … For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God” (NRSV, 1 Corinthians 1:19, 21, 3:19)), and establishes his superior status over Apollos (“I planted, Apollos watered … like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it … no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid (NRSV, 1 Corinthians 3:6,10-12)), in an attempt to sway Wisdom Christianity towards accepting his Euangalion.
The second group that differs from Apocalyptic Christianity is Torah-Observant Christianity (TOC). This group is addressed in some of Paul’s letter including Galatians (which carries a cold, and corrective tone). Paul sees this group of Christians as ‘traders’ since their belief is Torah observant, and Paul Euangalions is not. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians he asks “You were running well; who prevented you from obeying the truth” (NRSV, Galatians 5:7), which shows Paul had delivered his Euangalion, but it was not carried out according to his command. TOC believes that circumcision (“… if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you …every man who lets himself be circumcised … is obliged to obey the entire law…” (NRSV, Galatians 5:2-3)), as well as be baptized, dietary guidelines, and other Torah traditions (“You are observing special days, and months, and seasons, and years” (NRSV, Galatians 4:10)) are necessary in order to become a follower of Christ. Paul sees Torah observance as slavery requiring freedom, which can be found in following his Euangalion (“…we were imprisoned and guarded under the law … now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian [the law] … As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (NRSV, Galatians 3:23-28)). Paul tries to relate to TOC in stating “If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day … a Hebrew born of Hebrews … a Pharisee … a persecutor of the church … as to righteousness under the law, blameless. Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. … because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (NRSV, Philippians 3:4-8), saying ‘I was delivered from this, you should be also. He advices them in “… forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead … join in imitating me,” (NRSV, Philippians 3:13,17), warning them that “…not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ” (NRSV, Galatians 1:7)).
Proof of the diversity of Christianity is seen in Paul’s letters as Paul addresses the different issues (and rebellions from his Euangalion) within each community. Apocalyptic Christianity, Wisdom Christianity, and Torah Observant Christianity all had varying views of how one came to follow Christ, thus showcasing the diversity of Christianity. Works Cited
Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America, . "New Revised Standard Version of the Bible Online." (1989): n.pag. GodWeb. Web. 9th January 2013. . Ford, Stephen. "Paul's Letters Lectures." York University. 2013. Lecture.