Christianity Without Paul

What would the religion be like if the Apostle Paul had never lived?

BY: Bart Ehrman


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What is particularly important is that for Paul, this Christian mission was to go not simply to Jews scattered throughout the world, but to both Jews and Gentiles. And in fact, in Paul's churches, most of the converts were Gentile--former pagans (one-time adherents of the various polytheistic religions of the Roman world). Within a generation or so of Paul's death, the vast majority of all converts were from the ranks of paganism. Had this shift from Jew to Gentile never happened, arguably the conversion of the Roman empire would never have taken place, since Christianity would have remained a form of Judaism, not a religion open to all peoples.

What would have happened had the empire never converted? The vast majority of people living in it would have remained polytheists; and Christianity would have remained a sect within Judaism--a group of Jews who believed that the Jewish messiah had come for the Jewish people. To be a Christian, in other words, one would first have to become a Jew.

If Christianity had remained a Jewish sect, rather than a world religion, it would never have taken over the empire. The empire would have remained pagan. The Christian church would never have become the dominant religious, cultural, social, political, economic institution of the Western world. The entire history of the Middle Ages, down to the Renaissance (imagine all of the art work and literature involved!), to the Protestant Reformation, into the modern world--where some two billion people are in one way or another identifiably Christian--none of this would have happened.

What would have happened had Paul never lived? One could argue that the vast majority of people who today call themselves Christian would still be worshiping the gods of Greece and Rome, and Christianity would be one of the small sects within Judaism, with little impact on the world around it.

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