Who Founded Christianity: Jesus or Paul?
When Paul preached the gospel, he was consciously implementing the achievement of Jesus, not founding a separate religion.
BY: N.T. Wright, Bishop of Durham
Was Paul really `the founder of Christianity'? Did he, in other words, invent Christianity as we now know it, transforming the beliefs and vocation of Jesus of Nazareth into a system and movement which Jesus himself would never have recognized? Is it to him that we owe two thousand years of Christian history, with all its puzzles and paradoxes, its glories and its shame?
...If we are to locate both Jesus and Paul within the world of first-century Judaism, within the turbulent theological and political movements and expectations of the time then we must face the fact that neither of them was teaching a timeless system of religion or ethics, or even a message about how human beings are saved. Both of them believed themselves to be actors within the drama staged by Israel's God in fulfillment of his long purposes. Both, in other words, breathed the air of Jewish escatology.
It will not do, therefore, to line up `Jesus' key concepts' and `Paul's key concepts' and play them off against one another. It will not do to point out that Jesus talked about repentance and the coming kingdom, while Paul talked about justification by faith. It misses the point even to show (though this can be done quite easily) that these two, when set in context and translated into terms of one another, belong extremely closely together. The point is that Jesus believed himself to be called to a particular role in the eschatological drama; and so did Paul.
I have argued elsewhere that Jesus believed himself called to be the one through whom God's strange purposes for Israel would reach their ordained climax. He announced to Israel that the long-awaited kingdom had arrived. He celebrated it with all who would join him, welcoming them into table fellowship and assuring them that their sins were forgiven. But the kingdom would not look like Jesus' contemporaries had imagined. It would not endorse their particular agendas. Particularly, it would not underwrite the agendas of those who were bent on forcing upon Israel an all-or-nothing stand for God, Torah, Land and Temple that would commit Israel to a war of liberation against Rome. Jesus warned that to take this route would result in huge, unmitigated disaster; and that this disaster, if Israel brought it down upon her own head, would have to be seen as the wrath of Israel's God against his people. Those who judged would themselves be judged. Those who took the sword would perish with the sword. Those who turned the Temple into a den of brigands would only have themselves to blame when the Temple itself was torn down, so that not one stone was left upon another.