Robbing Peter to Pay Paul: The Usurpation of Jesus and the Original Disciples
Robbing Peter to Pay Paul looks at how Jesus' teachings were supplanted by St. Paul's doctrines. Jesus is presented to the reader of the New Testament with two different personalities. He is first described as a Jewish Rabbi recognized by His followers as the promised Hebrew Messiah. His second personality, stripped of its Jewish-ness, is somewhat like that of a Greco-Roman god.
His Disciples were Hebrew in the first instance and in the second, they were mostly Greco-Roman. Saint Paul authored most of the Greco-Roman tenets in the New Testament, of course. He became a citizen of Rome as Saul of Tarsus, but is now known as Saint Paul. For centuries theologians seem to have preferred Paul's doctrines to the teachings of Jesus and have shaped a message over the years that our faith must be placed in Jesus' death, not in His life.
As Christianity took shape, Paul battled to get his Greco-Roman dogma accepted. Those persons supporting Paul soon developed a strategy to accomplish that feat. Belittling the Disciples was one approach to the problem, it appears. This is especially true of Peter in some of Paul's Galatians passages.
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The subtitle identifies the point: "The Usurpation of Jesus and the Original Disciples."
Powell tells the story of the modern path to ignoring Jesus' teachings--His lessons to us as our Lord when in the flesh, and focusing solely on faith in Him as savior, i.e., a transcendent power.
Powell demonstrates that Bultmann is at the head of the list of theologians who direct us away from Jesus' teachings while in the flesh. On page 3, Powell quotes an article about Rudolf Bultmann, the most influential theologian of our century, that quotes the encyclopedia:
"he [i.e., Bultmann] developed his own theological position, namely that the Christian faith is, and should be, comparatively uninterested in the historical Christ, and should be focused upon the transcendent Christ." ("Rudolf Bultmann," Encyclopedia Brittanica Online (2008).)
In that spirit, Powell says "many theologians prefer Paul's doctrines," and focus on the death of Christ (and its transcendent empowering/saving believers), not the life of Christ. (Robbing Peter, id., at 3.) But Powell points out that Jesus says "anyone who gives heed to what I say and puts his trust in the one who sent me has hold of eternal life...." John 5:24 NEB. (Powell likes the New English Bible issued by the Cambridge University Press.)
Thus, Powell is a great defender of reviving focus upon the teachings of Jesus, and not simply teaching a 'gospel' of faith in Jesus.
In sum, this is an excellent book which highlights the defective position of Paulinism. Powell offers a lot of new research on Paul. It is well-written. It is also a rather short book -- just over 200 pages, yet is jammed pack with information.