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Christ’s disciples: helpers of others or Bible brow-beaters?

St Paul the ApostleMICHAEL DOM

HERE'S food for thought to our Christian brethren on this Sunday: what if Paul's' conversion was not of Christ?

What evidence did Paul provide? Who witnessed this? Are the stories convincing in the light of intensive and reasoned scrutiny?

Apparently, there were two different views from the 'eyewitness statements'.

This is unusual in the New Testament where “in the beginning” the four gospels (strictly three), which were generated separately from different perspectives and in different languages, basically agree on the same story of Christ's life and message.

It is a message that transcends religions and whose central tenets can be found in Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and various other philosophies. But this knowledge isn’t convenient to most Christians.

Today's version of Holy Scripture has many stories and most faithful, appreciative and learned audiences know the value of having more than one story. Verification can offer the truest depiction of life's infinite variety, depth and breadth.

The tale of Paul's conversion is interesting.

We are led to believe that the man who stoned Stephen and persecuted many others was stunned by a flash of light in the middle of the desert, picked himself up and suddenly asked, "Who are you, Lord?"

Later on, it seems he may have suffered temporary blindness from being out in the sun for too long.

It all seems too convenient.

We should also note that the-person-formerly-known-as-Saul was a Pharisee.

Has anyone wondered why a Pharisee with a perfectly proud and historical name like Saul (meaning ‘prayed for’) would change his monicker to the Roman name, Paul (meaning ‘humble’).

Of course, it could have been a strategic choice.

(1) Romans were the new masters of the universe – so the name fits in with a sense of deference.

(2) Saul was the corrupted King of the Israelites before David, the ancestor of Jesus. So the name fits with the Hebrew crowd too.

Paul was educated. He knew the Holy Scripture, that is, the original Judaic stuff. He knew religious rhetoric. He probably understood Roman legislation. “Know the rules so you know how to break them properly” (that’s Lord Buddha, by the way).

Paul’s knowledge of religious rhetoric was put to use in the 'burning bush' analogy of his reported conversion. This event usually requires a harsh and uninhabitable environment (desert, fire or salt water), lights, voices and one or two followers of lesser intelligence (read soldiers).

Being an educated scribe, a member of the elite, unlike the majority of disciples around at the time (except maybe Mark who wrote in Greek), it was no wonder Saul/Paul was able to grasp the hearts and minds of other less knowledgeable or worldly disciples.

While Paul was eventually part of the survival of the Christian movement, it would beg credulity to say this was dependent on his conversion and presence.

(Or would Christians doubt God's ability to sustain his boy's sweat and blood without Paul?)

And yet Paul’s influence is predominant, as any copy of the New Testament will testify.

In fact, Paul soon become the 'mangimasta', the 'boss-boi', of the disciple establishment, after some very confrontational disputes, probably only a few of which were recorded in his epistles.

So, was it a clever ruse for Paul to become a part of this early Christian disciple movement, instead of chasing them around half the world?

Was it a case of recognising that if you can't beat them join them?

Or maybe a case of "creating and managing change from within the system"?

(Which is purportedly a reason many politicians use to get elected in the first place.)

Whichever way we look at it, Paul's entry into the early discipleship turned the tide of Christianity and paved the way for the establishment of the current Christian institutions, which are founded in large part upon Paul's teachings.

Methinks, Christ's disciples would be more likely to be found down at the local markets, talking with the vagrants, street sellers, beggars and prostitutes.

Helping them out instead of brow-beating them with Buk Baibel.

The disciples might even have time for the public servants working in the tax office or spend a moment or two with the pig keepers, even if Legion did take out some of their previous herd.

Perhaps they’d share a poem or a song or two like King David did, if they had time for these less important things in life.

Everyone’s heard of that bloke, he was Jesus Christ’s great, great, great, great, great and greatest grandfather.

Who were the others?

Oh, that’s right, apart from Solomon, most of them never wrote down anything. But then again that was the scribe’s job, and most people didn’t have one of Paul’s kin taking dictation.

The moral of it all: scribbling is a double edged sword.


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Peter Kranz

Don't forget that before Paul came on the scene Peter had a vision about spreading the gospel to all, not just the Jews, and even stayed with Roman officials. And he opposed 'the circumcisers' who were insisting that Christian converts had to obey all the Hebrew laws (ouch!).

Paul gets most of the credit, as he was a writer and an educated man (he even quotes Plato). But perhaps it was Peter and James that really laid the foundations. And they were ordinary blokes. And they were proto-communists which the get-rich brigade of millionaire evangelicals don't like to mention. Hinn, Meyer, Hillsong etc. I'm looking at you.

Peter Kranz

Phil - touché. It was probably a TR7. They always ran about fourth. Nice but flawed. My son had one in our front yard for a year trying to repair a cracked cylinder wall. He couldn't decide between a simple weld or a new block.

The thing never did run and went to the scrap yard.

But Triumph did some nice motors.

Michael Dom

Stanley, I recall learning that Simon Peter, the fisherman, was probably not the author of Epistles 1 and 2 Peter.

Also, it seems to me as a writer that those epistles are taking care of administrative matters, about christian etiquette, like 'submit to rulers', advice for husbands and wives and for elders and young men, and who to dispose of false teachers.

Considering Peter was there with Christ throughout his preaching life, capture, torture until just before he ran away from the crucifixion, that administrative agenda seems hardly the stuff he would want to write about.

For example, Simon Peter could have set the record straight between Mathew, Mark, Luke and John about how he met Jesus - did the dude just jump in his boat or was he on the shore?, was it his younger brother Andrew, who was John the Baptist's disciple who told him about Jesus?

But maybe those details didn't really matter to Peter.

Also, Peter was a fighter (read doer) not a writer.

He would have killed those soldiers at Gethsemane.

So I think if early Christians were going wrong he would have rocked up to them and told them to their faces. Or sent a strong verbal warning. I'd like to think he was ol' skool.

And God help the false teachers if Peter found out what they were up to, because I think he might have done them in if he caught them.

John K Kamasua

In recent times, one can witness a trend developing and snowballing and will soon engulf the entire institutions of the church. A somewhat unholy or holy marriage depending on whichever way you look at it, and from where you are looking at, between the church and the state is developing.

Mark this down: History has taught us lessons that when the church and state have come together, the people have always suffered.

Call it convenience, tactic or strategy but these have mostly appeared to have nothing to do with the spiritual well-being of the members of the church.

Ed Brumby

An interesting fact gleaned from Peter Frankopan's excellent 'The Silk Roads' is that in the Middle Ages there were, apparently, more Christians in Asia than in Europe ....

Stanley Amben

Paul was deeply spiritual, even the good Simon Peter warned others to be weary of his letters (2 Peter 3:16).

Protestants have emancipated from the 'tyrannic rule' of the "Mama Church" and thus establishing "sola scriptura" doctrines based on Biblical Truths of grace and love.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Solomon rode forth in his Triumph - the operative word is 'in'. I don't think it was a motorbike at all but a Triumph sports car.

Jesus, of course, rode a bicycle.

William Dunlop

Peter - Perhaps it was a Cub. Had one once. Before my Austin Healey Seabring Sprite.

Daniel Kumbon

My ancestors didn’t know what Rome or what the rest of the world was doing in the olden days.

They were minding their own business offering pig sacrifices to two lots of spiritual forces – those that were mischievous and those that were helpful. Mischievous spirits caused fear and made people sick – these spirits were believed to be dead relatives. A pig was killed to appease my late uncle when I was very sick about the time kiaps and missionaries were establishing themselves in my area in Kandep.

Gote was another spirit – a good spirit which lived in the sky. He oversaw everything that happened and blessed/helped people who conducted their lives properly. My people offered sacrifices in a special mumu called a Gote mau. I witnessed such a ritual at Bilisaka on the foothills of Mt Kondo. The sacrificial site is still referred to as Gote Anda Katenges which translates to ‘The place where Gote’s house is’. The site was sort of looked upon as ‘holy’ and people were forbidden to go near it.

It baffles me to wonder how my ancestors had named ‘Gote’ - the good spirit in the sky and it is exactly pronounced and spelt in the Enga language in the same way as GOD Almighty – the supreme being that rules heaven and earth according to the Holy Bible.
My people accepted the christen faith more easily when they drew parallels with the good deity Gote and God of the Holy Bible – the ‘Good News’ the missionaries brought. My parents died as good christens and I’d rather have my children believe in Gote – the same God that helped and blessed my ancestors who did good.

My elders told me in the hausman never to remove of life the ‘tep ita’ supporting the foundation stones in the fireplace – and if you do you will find all sorts of insects crawling about underneath it.

Michael Dom

Paul was thorough with his indoctrination. An affront to him is an affront to Christ.

It's the downside of trying to be more and more like Jesus, I suppose, after a while it goes to your head.

"Three ways to live", "Ten secrets to success", "How to Make Friends and Influence People", everyone has their pet doctrines - it's commercial enterprise, and the churches are a leading proponent, though I'll readily admit they tend to make better use of the 'investments'.

I prefer Lord Buddha's wisdom:“Now, Kalamas, don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, ‘This contemplative is our teacher.’ When you know for yourselves that, ‘These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness’ — then you should enter & remain in them."

It ain't pick your choose, it's learn your truth.

You can't just sit in the vehicle, your soul, and expect it to move you places, you have to learn how to drive it.

Joe Herman

I heard recently someone put it this way.

"There are three ways to live. 1. Irreligion: I don't have to obey anyone but myself. 2. Religion: O obey, therefore I am accepted by God. 3. Gospel: I'm accepted by God at infinite cost to Jesus Christ, therefore I obey."

That definition does a disservice to atheists and secular humans (the irreligious), who do not just "obey ourselves" but seek to discern from nature, society, the human spirit and our own very existence how we should live and contribute in this brief moment in time we are privileged to be sensate beings - KJ

Chris Overland

Michael, you are plainly a scholar on matters religious!

Karl Marx asserted that the main purpose of organised religion was to exert temporal power and control over society. From your remarks about "sheeple" my guess is that you, like me, think that he was right to refer to religion as "the opiate of the masses".

The great marketing pitch for all monotheist religions is to offer a superb after life experience provided you acquiesce to the rule of the priestly class during your earthly life. Adherents have to accept this as an article of faith, along with the various other "mysteries" that surround religious belief.

Thus ISIS offers its recruits guaranteed post mortem access to over 70 breath takingly beautiful virgins. This seems to have been a very successful marketing strategy to date (at least for men).

Of course, because the reward for submission and/or martyrdom is only available after death, there are zero customer complaints about breach of contract! Perfect!

Maybe you and I should form a company selling a superb after life experience for, comparatively speaking, a mere pittance in earthly cash?

Oh, damn! I forgot. The Catholic Church used to do that through the sale of indulgences. You could knock centuries off your time in purgatory with them and they were a good little earner for a long time till that spoil sport, Martin Luther, gave the game away.

Somehow, despite all theology being full of more logical holes than the post iceberg collision Titanic, the various religions defy all common sense, not to mention experience, and continue to thrive.

That is what I call a true mystery.

Michael Dom

Chris, I think the 'how' part is straight forward: fear, mysticism and waring religious states.

Pait bilong ol Kristen na Muslim em ino samting b'long nau tasol. Oloman, em pait b'long ol tumbuna ia.

The way I read the history there were basically two major sides to choose between: Christianity or Islam.

Both of these groups 'dealt' with these other minor cults on the way, e.g. witch burning, blasphemy and heresy laws, the Inquisition, Holy Wars, and basically making nobility a law unto themselves, vested with right to rule by The Almighty Himself. (In other words, much like modern day PNG.)

So those in power picked a side and the people were duly subdued.

The 'grassroots' on both sides, from ancient times and into medieval period, were mostly a superstitious lot, uneducated, unhealthy and living a very short life - much shorter than their stone aged ancestors according to some archaeological findings. The influence of the Greek thinkers still had a long, long way to travel yet.

The sheeple could be controlled more easily if they were given a religion that both united and yet subdued them completely.

They obeyed like lambs to the slaughter.

Constantine was a turning point for Christianity.

I wouldn't be surprised if Constantine had done a coin toss. Although the story of his powerful mother's influence does seem compelling. (Wait till Hollywood makes a movie of that story.)

In fact, I'd suggest that the date that Constantine saved the Christians from being further persecuted (February 313 AD) should be an international Christian holiday.

Bloody politics or the Lord works in mysterious ways?

Chris Overland

Michael Dom's analysis of Paul's impact on the Christian church raises the interesting question of how what started as a "grass roots" movement in Judea ended up becoming so powerful across Europe and beyond.

The short answer to that question is that the Roman Empire simply hijacked the movement and bent it to its will. Paul was part of that process.

The structure of the pre-reformation Christian church fairly faithfully reflected that of the Roman Empire. There was an Imperator in the person of the Pope, a Senate composed of the Princes of the Church (the Convocation of Cardinals) and beneath them an elaborate hierarchy of Archbishops, Bishops, Abbotts, Priors, etc.

For a very long time the Pope claimed to have both religious and temporal power over the European ruling elites. He reserved the right to appoint a Holy Roman Emperor who, nominally at least, presided over much of Europe. This state of affairs lasted from AD800 to AD1806.

The Pope's meddling in European politics helped create considerable discord, such as when he divided control of the so-called New World (the Americas) between the Spanish and the Portuguese.

Needless to say this decision was not well received by the rising English and Dutch powers (which were Protestant), who studiously ignored it. Open warfare soon followed which did not fully subside for several centuries.

In England, disputation over the Pope's interference in internal matters finally came to a head with Henry the 8th when the Pope declined to grant him a divorce.

Henry resolved the matter by severing relations with Rome, setting up his own church of which he became head and, for good measure, disestablished the hugely wealthy English monastical system.

I think that history demonstrates conclusively that, at least before the reformation, the Christian church was, to all intents and purposes, the last vestiges of the Roman Empire, the western part of which had supposedly collapsed in AD 476.

The modern Catholic Church continues to be controlled, organised and behave in ways that would be immediately recognisable to a citizen of ancient Rome.

Unlike Michael Dom, it seems that very many Christians do not understand or, perhaps, do not accept, that their religion is primarily an enduring artifact of a long fallen Empire.

`Robin Lillicrapp

And yet the intellectual and scientific elite are fascinated by the pursuit of esoteric and religous goals linked to the paranormal. This group operate behind the curtain and exert a disproportionate influence, I think, on world events- or is it so that their activities are led by an agenda coinciding with what many believe to be leading to Jesus' second coming to assume His Messianic role etc?

Peter Kranz

I think good ole George Gershwin summed it up pretty well.

Philip Fitzpatrick

So what you are saying is that Christianity was and remains a political movement. And we all know that politics depends on power and who holds it. Once you've got that all the acolytes fall in line.

I was talking to my son about this a couple of days ago and we decided that the creation of the planet and the evolution of humans was a cosmic accident.

So it's pointless looking for a meaning to life. Once you accept that idea you realise there is no grand plan i.e. there is no supreme being pulling any strings.


Peter Kranz

Talking of King Solomon, do you know he was the first man with a motorbike? As the Gud Buk says "Solomon rode forth in his Triumph". (It was a Tiger 800)

Good bike but not good enough to come firtht - KJ

Peter Kranz

Michael - good one. And did you know that the first Christians were probably black Africans? Check out Acts 8. That'll put Donald Trump's hair into a frenzy.

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