I remember the day like it was yesterday. Sweaty palms. Racing heart. The stage music was playing softly. Ministers were standing around the steps below the pulpit waiting for me and others to come forward. The message had been preached with fire and conviction. The salvation call was out. Jesus had spoken—at least through the pastor—and, being convinced, I was coming forward to set my life straight and give it to Jesus. Why? Because the preacher had convinced me that the Jesus of the Bible wanted this. What exactly this was I wasn’t really sure. But I assured myself that I could figure it all out later. The important thing was that I was getting “saved,” right? I mean, after all, wasn’t getting “saved” by believing the literal gospel story the right thing to do?
The Apostle Paul would have disagreed. For him, the salvation message wasn’t so simple. Nor was it so powerless. For Paul, being saved was radically different than what the traditional Christian message presents to us today; it was an event so life-transforming that it brought about an other-worldly experience most modern-day Christians could hardly conceive of, much less believe in. It was a powerful mystical phenomenon that words cannot describe, and it was about a self-realization so profound that it even changed his understanding of reality. Many of today’s mystics can empathize, but such language might scare away a traditional Christian. Why? Because doctrine, dogma, and creed has muddled the true Christ experience Paul preaches for a more watered-down version. The Christ experience Paul taught was about looking WITHIN. The Christ experience taught in most of today’s churches is more about looking without. In essence, it’s just smoke and mirrors.
Fed up with the modern Christian experience, I invited my pastor over for dinner one week and said my farewells. I always respected my pastor as a person, and I still do. But I realized we were now on separate paths and I had to discover my on profound experience. I went to a few other churches. I met some more wonderful people. But I still knew none of it was right for me. So I withdrew from all institutional Christianity and began to study alone. I plunged the depths of the Bible like I never had before. In time, I discovered the true Apostle Paul. The true Paul, like the true Jesus, was nothing like history has presented him. And that’s what this blog post is really about. So let’s dig in!
In the first part of this series, we discussed how the Apostle Paul:
- Never met the physical Jesus.
- Had a spiritual revelation of Jesus by a bright light (road to Damascus).
- Went into the desert for years of solitude following the Damascus experience.
- Made it clear that his version of the gospel was not something taught to him by men (doctrine, ideas, dogma, religion).
- Never mentions the Virgin Birth.
- Wrote his letters before the gospels or any other story containing a historical Jesus.
Taken together, the points mentioned above should—at the very least—get you thinking about who Paul’s Christ Jesus was. If you read my last blog post (found here), then you already know that I argued Paul’s Christ Jesus was not the historical Jesus crucified under Pontius Pilate. Paul’s Christ Jesus was about a spiritual awakening of the Christ within you.
But how can this be? Isn’t the literal, historical Christ the only Christ Paul could have been referring to? Not hardly. We have only been taught to think this way through hundreds of years of doctrinal conditioning.
So what’s Paul’s gospel message about if not a literal, historical Christ?
In Ephesians Paul tells us his gospel version is a mystery. The Greek word mystery means “secret.” In essence, Paul is talking about a gospel that is hidden to the carnal man. It can only be understood through spiritual (metaphysical) means. In other words, the “mystery” Paul speaks of so frequently in Ephesians is about a revelation that can only be experienced, not understood mentally. It is not about a doctrine. And more importantly, it is not about something we “attain” on the other side (after death). Consider this verse by Paul:
“…Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.” (Eph 5:14)
Did you get that? Paul is speaking of a resurrection while being ALIVE! For those of you who thought Paul taught a resurrection experience after death, think again. For Paul, the resurrection experience happened in this lifetime! It was the same for all mystics in ancient times. Mystics from across the ages referred to carnal men as dead men walking. To a mystic, you are dead (even if you are biologically healthy) until you have had a direct spiritual experience that transcends the physical senses. They even taught that the physical body was a metaphorical tomb.
Now for the real kicker: Paul tells us in plain English that the Bible stories are NOT literal. Galatians 4:22-24 states:
For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewomen. But he who was of the bondwoman was born of the flesh; but he of the freewomen was by promise. Which things are an allegory…”
Wow! Paul clearly states that the Abraham story is an allegory. My computer dictionary gives three meanings for an allegory:
- A short moral story (often with animal characters)
- A visible symbol representing an abstract idea
- An expressive style that uses fictional characters and events to describe some subject by suggestive resemblances; an extended metaphor
Synonyms given by my word web dictionary are: “parable” and “fable”
I have had many Christians tell me that Paul only said that the Abraham story was an allegory because it was both spiritual and literal. But a fable is a fable. It is not both. We cannot have our cake and eat it too.
Some of the most prolific and earliest Church Fathers also taught the scriptures were allegorical and esoteric in nature. Consider the statement made by Origin:
“When the Bible says that God used to walk in paradise in the evening or that Adam hid behind a tree, no one, I think, will question that these are only fictions, stories of things that never actually happened, and that figuratively they refer to certain mysteries.”
There goes that word “mystery” again.
As I mentioned in the first part to this series, the Bible has been stripped of its intended meaning. In its place a powerless salvation message has been taught which encourages us to “know” God through doctrine. This has in part been done through emphasizing a literal, historical gospel message instead of a spiritual one. One this is clearly understood, the good news that Paul referred to becomes very good news indeed
In closing, I want to mention that many Christians are never taught the verses in the Bible commanding us NOT to take the scripture literally. I will cover those in the next blog post.
I hope this post helped you put the scriptures back into their proper perspective. At the very least, I hope it has caused you to look for the deeper meanings behind the literal stories. If you would like to read another article addressing more on metaphysical experiences from the Old Testament, feel free to read here and leave a comment.