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  • Paul Kolberg

St Paul - A New Insight

Artist: Raphael, 1515. Source: V&A, on loan from Her Majesty the Queen. Content: St Paul preaching to the Gentiles in Athens (Acts 17: 16-34).

Content: St Paul preaching to the Gentiles in Athens (Acts 17: 16-34). Artist: Raphael, 1515. Source: V&A, on loan from Her Majesty the Queen.

St Paul [1] often boasted of his achievements – but it is unlikely that even he could have expected his efforts to achieve such profound, diverse and enduring effects. It would not be an exaggeration to say that without Paul, Christianity may not have become the world religion that it is today. Paul’s writings contribute the greater part of the Christian’s New Testament, arguably not just in terms of quantity but more importantly in terms of spiritual understanding. Whether that has been or is a good thing or a bad thing, is of course for some, open to question.

Nevertheless, Paul’s contribution to Christianity is as considerable as Christianity’s contribution to Western civilisation. There are not many humans that can claim to have played a significant part in being a founder member of a worldwide religion that has lasted more than two thousand years; a religion that has been instrumental in changing the course of human history in every area of human endeavour, and today claims to have in excess of two billion members.

But it did not come easy for Paul – at least by ordinary human standards.

Being shipwrecked several times, stoned almost to death, repeatedly beaten, punched, slapped, kicked, whipped, abused, challenged, isolated from friends and family, often hungry and thirsty, and being imprisoned for years on end -, would break the spirits of most people. In the case of Paul, quite the opposite. It is a remarkable feature of Paul’s writings that in spite of everything that befalls him, he rarely if ever shows signs of self-pity. On the contrary, he demonstrates considerable dignity, practical clear thinking and perseverance throughout his many adversities. Just as impressive, is his consistent encouragement for the people to who his letters are addressed, to stay on the spiritual path he has found and promulgates.

Love him or loath him, it is difficult not to admire Paul for his sheer doggedness and vitality - - in just staying alive.

But leaving one’s admiration at that, would be totally unjust to a man who despite, or more probably because of, his many and enduring hardships, was able to write some of the most profound letters and verses ever written. Even today, words authored by Paul two thousand years ago are often quoted in secular, religious and spiritual contexts.

'If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends.

But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.’

[St. Paul’s 1st Letter to the Christian Community in Corinth – Chapter 13: 1-13]

All of Paul’s physical sufferings arose in consequence of the public declaration of his beliefs. He openly, unreservedly and some would say boastfully, challenged the orthodox religious and secular leaders of his time. He felt compelled to do so not because he was concerned for himself, but rather he was concerned for the spiritual welfare of those he was seeking to help. Paul’s desire to share his spiritual insights with others is in fact the key to his extraordinary endurance and success – then and now.

His ability to suffer hardships in the most demanding situations, and to inspire others to follow in his wake, stems from his putting his beliefs into practice. Paul talked the talk and walked the walk.

What then were his beliefs? What was it that he put into practice and what example did he urge others to follow? Fortunately, we have a number of documents[2] authored by Paul himself. These tell us precisely what it was that inspired him to change, from being someone who was complicit in the persecution, beating and even murder[3] of followers of Jesus, into one of, if not the main advocate, ambassador and plenipotentiary of Jesus - and what was then known as ‘the Way’[4].

This article will explain Paul’s beliefs and you can skip to those below if you prefer. But to understand the profoundness of the transformation of Paul’s beliefs and how this motivated him to travel the lengths and breadths of the Roman empire and accept his physical suffering with an apparently magnanimous disposition, it is necessary to have some idea of what Paul’s beliefs were before he became a ‘Christian’.

I say this because difficult though Paul’s physical hardships were, perhaps the greater suffering for Paul was at the spiritual level. This tends to be overlooked or at least understated.

Paul’s life view was devastated with the realisation that virtually all that he had thought important about his life, what he held dear and how life should be lived – was wrong – completely wrong.

It is difficult to overstate just how earth shattering this was to Paul, and the courage he needed to firstly accept his prior errors of thought, words and deeds - and just as importantly, to accept and indeed embrace the very thing he had vehemently opposed.

Imagine if you can, how you would feel if you realised that the life you have lived and are living, the beliefs that you hold dear, the friends and family that you socialise with must stop - nowimmediately. Imagine if you can, that you suddenly realise that your desire for money, ‘things’ holidays, clothes, socialising, relationships must stop and that what you thought was the perfectly correct way to live is wrong – and that you must change.

Once you had had the realisation, you would probably need time to take stock and decide what you should do. That is exactly what Paul did. His realisation was so profound that he is described as being knocked off his feet and suffering temporary blindness[5]. Not surprisingly, he went away to recuperate.

Background to Paul

What we now know as a religious movement called Christianity[6] was not known initially as such to Paul and to those who he met, taught and corresponded with. Like Jesus of Nazareth, Paul was a practising Jew. Like Jesus, Paul often quotes from the Torah[7]. Christianity was a Jewish sect initially for Jews.

It was the beliefs of that sect, particularly regarding Jesus, that brought it into doctrinal and sometimes violent conflict with the orthodox religious Jewish leadership. Given the relatively tolerant and secular world in which we now live, it is difficult to understand how and why Paul’s world was so vexed by a few people who did not accept the main stream view.

You might try and imagine what impact it might have upon you if as an atheist, you suddenly realise that you were wrong all along. There is a God. Or vice versa.

What happened to Paul would be like a Catholic Priest suddenly realising that Jesus was not God – but just a very holy and yet fully spiritually enlightened man. Or that there isn’t a Holy Trinity. Or that Mary was not always a virgin. That she did in fact have sexual desires and had sexual relations with her husband Joseph - and that Jesus really did have brothers and sisters. Imagine all of that and then that you had to accept that anyone and not just a baptised Catholic, could partake of the Eucharist in a Catholic church.

Imagine further, what the reaction would be of your fellow priests, the religious hierarchy, the congregation. Nowadays there would be some level of surprise and intolerance but ultimately, you would not be physically abused in the same way that Paul was, though you would eventually be excommunicated[8]. Of course, if you had expressed and continued to express such views five hundred years ago in Spain, you would have been physically punished and probably burnt at the stake.

How much courage and humility would be needed? The physical hardships are only a part of the pain. The most difficult part would be the sense of isolation and rejection. Unless of course, there was something to fill the void. For Paul, there was = something that filled him to overflowing.

According to Paul himself, his religious views and experience were fundamentally changed following his ‘revelation’ moment on his journey to Arabia[9].

In Paul’s letter to the Galatians he provides his own account of the circumstances in which he ceased to persecute those who were followers of ‘the Way’ and instead became the chief advocate for and to them – at least in relation to the non- Jews – the Gentiles.

‘For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation[10] of Jesus Christ.

You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors. But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus.

Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas[11] and stayed with him fifteen days; but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother[12]. In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie! Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia, and I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ; they only heard it said, “The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God because of me.”

[Galatians 1:11-24]

Paul was born to a Jewish mother. He was a circumcised and practicing Jew. He describes himself as a zealot for the traditions of his ancestors. [Galatians 1: 13-14]. He claimed to be a descendant of the tribe of Benjamin and a Pharisee [Philippians 3:4-6].

The Pharisees were one of several Jewish sects including Sadducees, Essenes and Samaritans who each considered themselves to be ‘Jews’, but held different views on some fundamental beliefs – particularly regarding ‘resurrection’, adherence to the strict letter of the ‘law’ and after life. We see similar differences within the various denominations of Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and other major religions today.

As a Pharisee, Paul believed that at a time appointed by God:

  1. A Messiah would be sent to judge the thoughts, words and conduct of all human beings (Jews and Gentiles) both living and dead; and

  2. That those adjudged righteous, even those dead and buried would be resurrected.

Moreover, Paul believed that:

  1. There is only one God - who is to be loved. To recognise that there is only one God – one Creator, one Uncaused Cause is the fundamental precept of Judaism of all persuasions. This then is the primary ‘commandment’ of the Ten Commandments[13]. It would have been anathema to Paul and any Jew to conceive of Jesus being God. There is only one God. Period. The Messiah of Jewish prophesy was never thought to be or contemplated as being God. The Jewish Messiah would be a fully human, sword bearing King, who would come to ‘rule’ the earth and usher in an age of peace for all mankind.

  2. The remaining ‘commandments’ handed to Moses could be summed up by the injunction to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’[14].

  3. The way to live a righteous life (and thus avoid condemnation) was prescribed by the Torah and depending on your belief system, other rabbinic writings and oral traditions too. The Torah came to be understood as ‘the Law’[15] – the rules by which one should conduct one’s life in a righteous manner.

  4. ‘Righteous’ means acting in accord with divine instruction/doctrine/guidance – thinking, speaking and acting in a wise and/or good way.

  5. To be ‘saved’ to an eternal life with God on the day of judgement, could only be achieved by being righteous - a strict adherence with the divine instruction/doctrine/guidance set forth in the Torah - and other rabbinic oral and written guidance.

For a Pharisee, only those who had access to the instruction/doctrine/guidance of the Torah namely, those born to a Jewish mother or who were considered fortunate enough to convert to Judaism, could be ‘saved’ – or obtain salvation.

However, Paul’s letters make clear that his understanding fundamentally changed in two ways since he came to realise that:

‘a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. Rather, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart—it is spiritual and not literal’.

[Romans 2:28-29]

This passage sets forth the recurring themes of all of Paul’s letters and the two fundamental changes to Paul’s hitherto world view. This is what shook Paul to the core and what the orthodox religious Jewish establishment pushed back against.

Firstly, that salvation is not achieved by a strict adherence to the ‘law’ but rather through a spiritual connection with God.

Secondly, that such salvation was open to all who had faith in and pursued the spiritual connection to God.

Thus, spirituality and not religious observance is at the very heart of Paul’s new understanding of his (and everyone’s) relationship with God and in turn, Jesus Christ (the anointed one) and all mankind.

For Paul, Jesus is the epitome of the spiritual life – which replaces the life of religious observance.

But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we are slaves not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.

[Romans 7: 6]

Interestingly, this view of what constitutes a ‘true’ Jew is identical to that taught by Rabbi Philip Berg, the founder of the worldwide Kabbalah Centre. In his Introduction to the first ever English translation of the Zohar[16] Rabbi Berg says:

‘The Revelation event on Mount Sinai[17]…the Scroll (Torah) which contained the information and energy…Was it a revelation to Jews only? Was it for the purpose of establishing the Jewish people as a nation? Was it for the creation of religion? The Kabbalistic response to those questions is a very definite one. No!...It is unconscionable to presume that God would present the Deity of Beneficence to one nation and not others. To assume that Jews were the favoured people of the universe to the exclusion of the other people of God’s creation is a corruption.’

This is because the understanding of who or what a Jew is has been misrepresented ab initio. According to Rabbi Berg, a Jew is not someone who is born to a Jewish mother – though he/she of course may be – and Paul recognised that too:

‘The Jew – and this can include any individual who behaves in a sharing tolerant, and sensitive manner – by definition is a person who acts in a Godly manner, with a compassion for all of God’s created beings. This not only includes a consciousness of human dignity, but also respect for all other kingdoms: animal, vegetable, and inanimate.

This was the creation of God, who created with love and compassion. Anyone who fails in this behaviour does not have the soul of a Jew.’

By Paul’s and Rabbi Berg’s reckoning, there are therefore almost certainly millions of ‘Jews’ in the world who are entirely ignorant that they are, and some who claim or think themselves to be - who are not!

The idea that the gospel of Jesus – a Jewish Rabbi and almost certainly one of the elite Tannai - could be and should extend to non-Jews, to Gentiles, was both revolutionary and shocking - even and especially to Peter (St Peter) and James the brother of Jesus.

To get an idea of how revolutionary and shocking it would be it should be remembered that the Catholic church does not permit the Eucharistic bread and wine to be taken in a Catholic church by anyone other than a baptised Catholic. Imagine if the Catholic church’s teaching permitted anyone – a Jew, a Muslim or even an atheist to partake of the Eucharist – and you might begin to understand the impact of Paul’s mission to extend what were Jewish beliefs to non-Jews – to Gentiles for goodness sake! This took amazing insight[18], courage and not inconsiderable determination on Paul’s part.

In the Acts of the Apostles, we read that the question of circumcision of Gentiles required a meeting of the elders of the ‘church’ in Jerusalem. Certain Pharisees were insisting that circumcision was necessary (understandably) from their point of view, but Peter, Paul and others agreed that it was not necessary. Somewhat surprisingly.

‘Peter stood up and said to them, “My brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that I should be the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the message of the good news and become believers.’

[See: Acts 15: 6-7]

I say surprisingly since there is relatively little documentation available to us that relates to St Peter, his beliefs and his actions as they relate to the Gentiles. For someone that according to this passage in Acts,

‘should be the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the message of the good news and become believers’,

it appears that in fact Paul fulfilled that function.

The relative paucity of documentation as it relates to the words and deeds of St Peter of course contrasts greatly with what we know of Paul. But how reliable is the documentary evidence we have concerning Paul? It is to that issue I now turn.

The authenticity of Paul’s letters

It often comes as a surprise to practising Christians to learn that the earliest[19] written records of Christianity are not the four gospels of Matthew, Mark (which was written the closest in time to Jesus death), Luke and John, but the epistles (letters) of the apostle[20] Paul.

Of the fourteen letters attributed to Paul, there is nearly universal agreement amongst New Testament scholars that seven of the epistles (Romans, Corinthians 1 & 2, Galatians, Philippians, Thessalonians 1 and Philemon) were authored by Paul himself. As to the rest, scholars are divided as to whether they were written by or for and on behalf of Paul - or indeed by others ostensibly in his name. It does not matter. The seven letters contain more than sufficient information to make reasoned and objective conclusions concerning Paul’s beliefs. There is nothing of any material consequence in the other seven that contradicts what Paul says in ‘the seven’.

Each of the seven letters were addressed to the different communities of followers of ‘the Way’, Jews and Gentiles in various cities and towns in the Roman empire. Paul called the communities - ‘churches’.

Unfortunately, Paul’s letters contain very little information on the specifics of what Jesus taught. Primarily they set out Paul’s views on the following:

  1. Faith.

  2. Salvation.

  3. The limits of the benefits of ‘the Law’ – as found in the Torah.

  4. The Holy Spirit.

  5. God as Father (‘Aba’) in relation to Jesus.

  6. God as Father (‘Aba’) in relation to everyone.

  7. Jesus as Son of God.

  8. Jesus as Messiah.

  9. Jesus as an example and role model of a truly spiritual life.

Summary of Paul’s teachings in the seven letters

As expressed in the seven letters, Paul’s core teachings can be summarised in this way:

  • Life is a spiritual journey to achieve salvation – being part of God’s family.

  • Priority should be given to the pursuit of spiritual endeavours to achieve ‘salvation’.

  • ‘Salvation’ is what we nowadays would call ‘enlightenment’. A total connection with God. This is an inner experience.

‘For I delight in the law of God'

[Romans 7: 22]

  • The path to enlightenment is achieved only by spiritual endeavours in the context of righteous living – not by observing ‘the Law’. Righteous living is achieved through love:

’Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbour as yourself.”Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law’.

[Romans 13: 8-10]

  • Love is only achieved by prioritising spiritual pursuits and not material. This can be understood as switching from the pursuit of a desire to receive for oneself to a desire to receive for the benefit of others. Thus:

‘But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we are slaves not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit’.

[Romans 7: 6]

‘Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these[21]. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit’.

[Galatians 5:16-25]

  • Jesus of Nazareth lived a righteous life. Jesus was a fully enlightened human being. Jesus is the example that should be followed. He was flesh and blood like us but he exemplified living a spiritual life. We have the same opportunity for enlightenment as Jesus because the spirit (of God) that God placed in Jesus is also in us. The spirit is one and the same and from the same source.

‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you’.

[Romans 8: 1-11]

  • Life is to be enjoyed and can only be enjoyed through spiritual enlightenment. Paul explains that to truly live, it is necessary to die. Death can take two forms. Either a physical death – in which case (provided you have pursued a spiritual life) the spirit’ continues to live and is lifted (resurrected and lives) in unity with God. Alternatively, a ‘death’ to the way of ‘life’ in the sense of societal norms and expectations, by forgoing or re-prioritising physical and sensory aspects of our ‘real life’ experience and instead, striving primarily for a spiritual connection with God.

‘‘For if we have been united with him [Jesus] in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him [Jesus] in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus’.

[Romans 6: 5-11]

  • Being enlightened means being fully in harmony with God and thus being part of God’s family. Jesus was God’s son because he accepted God as his father (Aba) – the head of his ‘household’. These are allegorical and metaphorical ideas. Anyone can be a part of God’s family and become the Son or Daughter of God – and a sibling of Jesus through Faith in and the pursuit of a spiritual life.

‘For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ — if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

[Romans - 8:14-17]

The suffering here is the same suffering Paul endured – not at the physical level. It is the difficulty of surrendering or relinquishing (dying) to your ‘life’ as you have experienced it thus far, and replacing with another type of life – a spiritually led life.

  • Faith is the total commitment to a spiritual approach to life – which is total trust in God. The best example of that total commitment and trust is found in Jesus of Nazareth - and thus it can be said that Faith in (the example of) Jesus will lead to salvation – to enlightenment. A life lived in Jesus, in the same faith of Jesus, with Jesus living in you, is a spiritual life – that can and will lead to salvation/enlightenment.

  • The Holy Spirit is God’s spirit within each of us. This Holy Spirit is a non-material energy or vibration. In modern kabbalah – it is called the Light. It is isn’t God, but emanates from God and is therefore connected to God. The key to understanding this is to understand that ‘spirit’ is a form of energy that operates at a certain vibration. Our challenge is to discover this spirit within ourselves and by doing so reach a level of consciousness that leads to the ‘Kingdom of God’ - a state of being connected with God.

‘For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’.

[Romans 14: 17]

'May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.'

[Romans 15:13]

  • The opportunity to live in God’s family is open to Jews as previously defined above – and that includes those who have not been physically circumcised – i.e. Gentiles.

'Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel[22] and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery[23] that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.'

[Romans 16: 25-27]

Paul repeatedly refers to the Gospel of Jesus – the good news of Jesus. But to Paul, that good news is not just the core teaching of Jesus - but primarily it is Jesus’ example. Jesus has been anointed by God. He is Messiah[24]. The example is not just of the righteous conduct of Jesus in his life time, but also the example of Jesus being raised from the dead following his crucifixion. Jesus’ exemplified the spiritual life since he was prepared to and did permit himself to be crucified – in accordance with what he considered to be God’s purpose for him.

For Paul (and indeed Jesus[25]) being raised is not a physical thing. It is a spiritual raising – to a higher level of consciousness. That raising occurs after death. But the death is not a physical death (thought it may be) but rather the death of and to a life lived in pursuit of physical stimuli. True life is a life lived in pursuit of non-physical spiritual advancement.

‘We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

[Romans 14: 7-9]

The ‘life’ or ‘living’ that Paul refers to is of course a spiritual life. The ‘death’ or ‘dying’ is to the ‘physical material life – of the flesh’.

Spiritual ‘life’ is true and ‘eternal life. This is life ‘on earth as it is in heaven’ – life as it was intended before the fateful events in the Garden of Eden.

What we see in Paul’s letters is mirrored in the core teaching of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels and to which I shall briefly next turn.

The Core teaching of Jesus of Nazareth – as found in the Synoptic Gospels

In my book, Jesus & Kabbalah – The Hidden Treasure, I demonstrate that based primarily on what we read in the Gospel of Mark (written the nearest in time to the death of Jesus of Nazareth) and to some lesser extent the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, it is absolutely clear that the recorded core teaching of Jesus of Nazareth is as follows:

  • The purpose of life is a personal spiritual ‘quest’ to connect to ‘the Kingdom of God’ – a state of living without fear but rather in a state of love. What Buddhists call ‘enlightenment’.

  • The core teaching ‘metanoia[26] the Kingdom of God has come near’, is (we are told in each Gospel) what Jesus ‘began to teach’ using parables – a form of teaching not previously recorded in Rabbinic literature. It is also what he is recorded as specifically instructing his disciples to go forth and teach. Nothing else. Just that[27]. ‘Metanoia, the Kingdom of God has come near’.

  • The way to attain enlightenment is to have faith in God.

  • Faith is what we would say in modern parlance is a connection to God at a spiritual level.

Like Jesus, Paul exhorts his audience to put aside their worldly concerns - of how to find shelter, clothes, food and other material aspects of life. Instead, Jesus advises us to:

‘Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these [material] things will be given to you as well’.

[Matthew 6:33]

This is one of the ‘beatitudes’ that form part of the ‘Sermon on the Mount’. The word ‘beatitude’ derives from a Latin word having its roots in the word for blessedness – in turn means a state of being with divine favour – at home with God.

From murderer to saint. Paul’s life and his beliefs are the very embodiment of the teaching of Jesus – the promise of God. It includes the assurance that it is never too late to ‘metanoia’ towards attaining a higher level of spiritual consciousness.

Paul understood that God does not judge anyone. He only loves us – patiently waiting for us to change the direction of our life. He is in this respect the ultimate Aba.

Like any father, God invites his children to judge themselves, forgive themselves and respond accordingly. There would be no merit or sense of achievement in God or anyone else making the right decision and taking the appropriate steps for us. We are responsible for our own decisions and actions.

God does not punish. We punish ourselves by removing ourselves from the spiritual path. God is the father we all need and want. He is love. And what is love? It is difficult to describe or explain but Paul did a pretty good job of it.

‘Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends’.

Substitute ‘love’ with ‘God’ and you get:

‘God is patient; God is kind; God is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. God does not insist on his/her own way; God is not irritable or resentful; God does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. God bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

God never ends’.

Paul’s message is that we each of us have the potential to love – and therefore to emulate God – as Jesus of Nazareth did – and many others before and since.


Paul Kolberg

January 2018


[1] Paul is the Hellenised version of his original Hebrew birth name Saul.

[2] They are known as Paul’s ‘Epistles’ – which simple means ‘letters’.

[3] ‘Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died. [ Acts of the Apostles 7:58-60] – See also: Acts 8:1 ‘And Saul approved of their killing him. That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria’.

[4] Acts 9:2

[5] Acts 9

[6] ‘the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch’ – [Acts 11:26]

[7] The Torah (‘instruction’ or ‘guidance’) is the first five books of the twenty four books of the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh). The first five are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. Over time the word Torah has come to mean not just the five books but also the oral Torah, the Hebrew Bible and the voluminous commentaries found in the Mishnah, Talmud and Midrash.

[8] See for example the relatively recent and unusual case of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre

[9] The event that is often referred to as Paul’s ‘conversion’ on the road to Damascus was not really a conversion but rather a sudden realisation, a revelation - and according to Paul he was on his way to Arabia and not Damascus – which was and still is in Syria. The version that claims he was on the road or way to Damascus and not Arabia is set out in Acts 9.

[10] Typically a ‘revelation’ would occur in a dream but it may just be a sub conscious thought that arise to the conscious – much like we can all experience as ‘intuition’. N.B. Paul says it is a revelation ‘of’ not by Jesus.

[11] Cephas is Greek for Peter – as in St Peter.

[12] There can be no room for reasonable doubt that James is Jesus’ biological brother and that this and other references to the brothers and sisters of Jesus [See: ] is not consistent with the teaching of the Catholic Church that Mary, Jesus’ mother, was an eternal virgin. This doctrine is purely man made and there is no reference to it in the synoptic gospels or any other New Testament writings..

[13] Neither the Torah nor Jewish tradition calls them the Ten Commandment. The Torah calls them ‘the ten utterances’. There is debate too as to whether the first ‘utterance’ is a commandment at all. It is understood to be a preface to what follows. What has become known as the Ten Commandments are really Ten Points of Guidance. That having been said, monotheism is the very hallmark of Judaism and the primary Guide to an enlightened life, which is achieved by the pursuit of the first and primary utterance.

[14] Actually, there isn’t a commandment ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ or a direct equivalent.

[15] The word ‘Torah’ really means ‘instruction/doctrine/teaching’. The word ‘law’ gives a wrong impression but through mistranslation fell into common (mis)usage. Each time you read the word ‘law’ in Paul’s letters, he is really referring to what he understands as the instruction/doctrine/teaching found in the Torah.

[16] The Zohar is a foundational text of Kabbalah – just as the New Testament is to a Christian and the Quran to a Muslim

[17] When Moses went up Mount Sinai and was handed the Ten Commandments

[18] Paul of course made it clear that his insight ‘is not of human origin’. [Galatians 1:11]

[19] It is generally accepted that Paul’s earliest letters were written around 55/58 AD – approximately twenty years after Jesus’ death. The earliest gospel is Mark and that is generally accepted as being written at some point around 66 -70 AD.

[20] ‘Apostle’ means follower. ‘Disciple’ means someone who learns.

[21] On the face of it Paul’s view seems somewhat bleak! But whilst he cites the extreme consequences/attributes of selfish sensory/physical pursuits, he is no advising against total abstinence. He is advocating moderation. What Buddhists would call ‘the Middle Way’. If we are to accept what is written in the Gospel of Mark (the closest in time to Jesus’ death be written) then Jesus wined and dined. He did not advocate fasting as a way of life. Mark 2:15-22 – See also: Matthew 9:10-17, Luke 5:29-39, John: 2:1-11.

[22] Paul’s Gospel is that Jesus’ good news is available to all – including Gentiles. ‘Gospel’ of course is derived from Old French meaning simply ‘good news’.

[23] Paul is referring here to esoteric knowledge –that was known to the Rabbinic sages called Tannaim – this would include Kabbalah. See: Jesus & kabbalah – The Hidden Treasure.

[24] Messiah is derived from the Hebrew word which means ‘anointed’ - with holy oil by God. The word ‘Christos’ [and hence ‘Christ’] is simply a translation of the word ‘anointed’. In this context ‘anointed’ means specially chosen or picked out by God. Jesus Christ is Jesus the anointed one.

[25] Jesus explains in Mark 12: 24-27 that ‘when they [dead people] rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven’. ‘Raising’, or ‘resurrection’ is according to Jesus a purely spiritual process – a raising of consciousness. He goes onto say: ‘as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the story about the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is God not of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong’. See also Chapter 8 of Jesus & Kabbalah – The Hidden Treasure.

[26] ‘Metanoia’ has been incorrectly translated as ‘repent’. In fact, metanoia includes the concept of not just remorse and regret for a ‘sin’ (i.e repentance) but also a resolve to change oneself – to change the way one looks at life. Metaonia includes ‘change’.

[27] Matthew 10:7

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