Continued from The Problem with Paul.
Here are the facts.
Paul never met Jesus in person. Secondly, despite having a vision (Acts 9, the conversion of Paul) he did not receive any special wisdom or instruction from Jesus or God. Acts 9:6 states, “6 But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” Therefore after his vision, while he may have decided to follow Jesus, he would have had no idea what it meant to follow Jesus or be a Christian in general. Then, instead of going and meeting with the apostles, and learning about Jesus, he went into Damascus to meet Ananias. He received no further instruction from Jesus nor God in Damascus, and did not meet or discuss anything with the original disciples of Jesus.
If the above seems like an unfair impeachment of Paul, please remember that aside from the eyewitness accounts of the Essenes it is drawn entirely from an exhaustive analysis of statements made by Paul himself, from his own letters, made canon in the New Testament. There is nowhere else that Paul explains himself, and explains that he only said those things (above) for some purpose not mentioned here. This issue is examined in more detail at Did Paul Lie in which it is shown that Paul claimed to have intentionally lied and pretended to be a Jew in to get along with, and convert, Jewish people (I.E. the church of Jerusalem). So we're not accusing Paul of anything, he said he did it himself.
The main issue with all of this is that the logical conclusion is that Paul lied also to the Apostles and disciples of Jesus, pretending to have had a vision and be an Apostle in order to eventually split with, and wrest control away from, the Church of Jerusalem under James. This a huge, serious problem with Paul – especially since it is the modus operandi stated outright in the letters of the Essenes. One would think that it calls for a thorough re-examination of Pauline theology as a whole, but for many Christians it is too late to impeach Paul. Their religion has become a religion of Paul and not of Jesus, or of God.
Paul makes several statements and comments and structures his arguments in a way which demonstrates an utter lack of knowledge of Pharisaic beliefs and customs. He also demonstrates (at best) a shocking lack of understanding of Old Testament theology. If indeed Paul was a Pharisee, he was possibly the worst Pharisee ever to have existed.
In 1 Corinthians 9:9 Paul states,
9 For it is written in the law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? 10 Or does he not speak entirely for our sake? It was indeed written for our sake, for whoever plows should plow in hope and whoever threshes should thresh in hope of a share in the crop. 11 If we have sown spiritual good among you, is it too much if we reap your material benefits? 12 If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we still more?1 Cor. 9:9-12
This is so striking because (it should be known) no religious Jew would ever say such a thing; no one who comes from a Pharisaic background would ever suggest such a thing.
The idea that this isn't talking about an Ox and it is instead entirely in reference to us (i.e. the commandment is being spoken of in the manner of a parable) is an idea that is at once familiar to Christians but completely alien to Jews. That Paul would use such a means of explanation is a sharp contrast to his portrayal of himself as a Pharisee – it's just not the sort of argument a Pharisee (or any good Jew for that matter) would come up with. TO be clear, even if we assume Paul is just making the point for the point's sake, it is a stab in the wrong direction. No Jew or especially Pharisee would use that passage to make such a point while stepping over the verse's original intent.
This is very much in the spirit of the Epistle of Barnabas, which would often second guess passages in the Old Testament, step over their clear intent and explain them to mean something else entirely – thus allowing a believer to break that commandment in the spirit it was originally intended to be kept.
Every serious student of Pharisaic Judaism who was literate would have had the following verse memorized and explained to them and would have had their understanding checked by their teacher in Yeshiva. I say this only to point out how central the Jewish understanding would have been to any Pharisee.
11 “For this commandment which I command you this day is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. 12 It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up for us to heaven, and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ 13 Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us, and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ 14 But the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.Deuteronomy 30:11-14 (RSV)
The intended Jewish meaning is clear, yet, in Romans 10:6-8 Paul slaughters this verse so badly it is difficult to know he is actually quoting Deuteronomy. He is; check your cross-reference, it will link these two passages.
5 Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on the law shall live by it. 6 But the righteousness based on faith says, Do not say in your heart, “Who will ascend into heaven?” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 or “Who will descend into the abyss?” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart (that is, the word of faith which we preach); 9 because, if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.Romans 10:5-9 (ESV)
Obviously, no Pharisee nor Jew would ever have taken the verse in Deuteronomy to mean what Paul is stating here. Deutoronomy 30 is very clear that God did not intend someone (such as Jesus) to come down from heaven to explain the Torah (or salvation) to us, nor did we need help in keeping it because it was too far away or too hard for us to grasp it. This verse is very problematic for Paul, who does away with it in one brush-stroke.
But upon closer examination it becomes very problematic for Paul in another sense, in that it undermines his credibility. It is very difficult to try and see how the original verse is supposed to mean what Paul says it means; it is precisely this sort of mangling which, if we assume was done innocently (out of a lack of experience or knowledge of the Torah and it's precepts), suggests Paul was not a Pharisee in the first place.
Paul's use of this phrase to explain the particular doctrine he is expressing here characterizes him as a Christian who is trying to find something in the 'Old Testament' which sounds vaguely Christological. In this particular instance his aim was a clear miss.
Paul's spiritual worldview is distinctly hellenistic. Paul's mind is clearly expressing a late Greek/early Roman Mithtaic spiritual worldview which is alien to Pharisaic/Jewish thought.
For example, in 1 Corinthians 15:44 Paul writes, “44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. …” This is actually a big deal (and there are other similar statements elsewhere which discuss this spiritual worldview). The Jewish view on the resurrection is entirely physical; in contrast to the Greeks this idea was insanity. The Greeks believed in a spiritual resurrection (“44 …If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.”). This spiritual body was considered much higher and purer than the physical body which was considered the vessel of a broken world.
That Paul gives the idea of a spiritual resurrection here and in other places is completely in-line with Greek philosophy and at odds with the Jewish notion of the resurrection as being completely physical (i.e. see Ezekiel 37).
In summary, everywhere you look in Paul's writing, you see his thoughts betray his closeness and likeness to hellenistic Jewish philosophers like Philo, and their distance and opposition to Moses' teachings in the Torah. This is all well and good, but it does show that Paul could not have been a Pharisee, at least not any Pharisee worthy of the name.
Please see Veils and Scales for a detailed discussion of Paul's failure to comprehend spiritual blindness.
For an overview of the major issues with Paul, please see The Problem with Paul – Why do people suspect Paul?