Although many Christians are blissfully unaware, the Apostle Paul is sometimes considered an enigma in the scholarly world. There are many aspects of his theology that seem to disagree with and contradict the theology of the Gospels. Scholars such as Gerald Massey have done a great job introducing us to aspects of Paul that would never be taught in the institutionalized church. He was a great pioneer that has emboldened many to see the Apostle Paul in a new light. But I also believe this great mind, who I have the utmost respect for, still didn’t understood the fundamental symbolic nature of Paul. More on this later.
Gerald Massey’s Paul the Gnostic Opponent of Peter: Not an Apostle of Historic Christianity
Gerald Massey dropped a bomb on the traditional view of Paul in the 1900’s through his essay entitled, Paul the Gnostic Opponent of Peter: Not an Apostle of Historic Christianity. In that work Massey argues that Paul was opposed to a literal Christ who died and was resurrected. Massey argues instead that Paul’s Christ was the mythical Christ within, the same Christ of the ancient Egyptian mystery schools, a spark of the divine that is realized within the human soul. I believe Massey is correct in this bold assertion, but I also believe he makes a mistake with other assertions. I will discuss what I believe to be these mistakes in future posts.
For now, I want to focus on one of Massey’s reasons for why Paul’s Gospel could not have been one of the Orthodox position, to which I am in total agreement.
Paul’s Conversion had to be 27 A.D.
Massey points out a huge problem for those that contend Paul taught the orthodox position of a literal Christ. I have addressed this before on this blog, but not in detail and without concluding remarks and studies that I will deliver in this series.
When we take Paul’s own words about his conversion in Galatians and line them up with what Luke writes in Acts, we have a problem. Paul himself tells us in Galatians that after his conversion to Christ he spent three years in Arabia (Gal. 1:17-18). Paul then tells us that after another 14 years he went again to Jerusalem with Barnabas. When we add 14 and three we get a total of 17 years. Thus, when Paul went to Jerusalem the second time it had been 17 years since his conversion. Remember that.
In Acts 12:25 Paul and Barnabas escort food and supplies because of a famine prophesied by Agabus in Acts 11: 28-30. This is a historic famine that we can date accurately through historical sources. It happened in the year 44 A.D., during the reign of the emperor Claudius.
This time also marks the second visit to Jerusalem mentioned by Paul from Galatians, which was 17 years after his conversion. So now we do some simple math to get the year that Paul was converted according to Acts and Galatians. 17 years take away 44 A.D. tells us that Paul was converted in the year 27 A.D.!
Why is this important? Because the majority of modern Biblical scholars agree that Christ was crucified between the years 30 and 33 A.D. Therefore if we reconcile the timeline of Acts and Galatians, we must conclude that Paul’s conversion by Christ was not the historical Christ of the Orthodox Church. How could it be? Jesus hadn’t even been crucified yet in 27 A.D.! If this is indeed the case, then what Christ was Paul converted to?
This is a question that we’re going to get to in part 2 of this series when we discuss Galatians. I believe this is where Massey’s brilliance shines. The mistake I believe Massey makes is thinking that Paul was a literal figure. As I already stated, I’ll address this issue in later posts. For now let us just remember that when we take the accounts of Paul’s conversion from Acts and Galatians, his conversion date does not line up with historical Christ of Orthodoxy. A great observation by Massey, and one which I do not think can be ignored, unless you go against the grain of most modern Biblical scholars and contend that Jesus was crucified well before 30 A.D!
Before ending this post I wish to clarify my position. I have stated before on this blog that Christ was based on a real historical person/persons, but that the events in the Gospels are exaggerated to reveal the inner Christ. I believe it is the same with Paul. While the Apostle Paul may be based on a historical person/persons, as a whole, he is symbolic of birthing the inner Christ. Stay tuned!