INTERVIEW OF AUTHOR, ROBERT ORLANDO
BOOK TITLE: APOSTLE PAUL: A POLITE BRIBE
BY: AUTHORTALK HOST, RON WAY
Hello everybody. This is Ron Way for Author Talk and Rising Light Media. What a pleasure it is for me to introduce to you once again, Part Two of my interview with an author that I think has written one of the most insightful and important books on the apostle Paul that has been written in the last decade. I really liked this book and I think it's an important book and you should be reading it. His name is Robert Orlando, and the name of the book is "Apostle Paul: A Polite Bribe". The book is published by WIPF and Stock.
It is one of the finest books I've ever read on Paul. I've read a lot of scholarly works. Robert does something different because he did a movie on this whole thing. You know movie makers, they try to pull together what is a real live scenario because it has to make sense once it's on the screen, when you're watching the life of a human being. Paul was real. Paul was trying to spread the word of his vision of Jesus.
In Part One we talked a bit about the fact that the original apostles, followers of Jesus who walked with him and talked with him through the dusty fields et cetera, must have been just shaking their heads because Paul had a completely different vision of Jesus than they did. That caused a lot of angst amongst the original Jerusalem church, who were called the followers of the Way or, as we said in the last episode, the Poor.
Now Robert, as we ended the last segment, you explained the difference in how Paul, and James and the Jerusalem church were trying to come to some accommodation. The money coming in probably helped. He said, "Look, I want to support you guys," and it appears that they needed the financial help, and so they kind of went along with Paul having a different vision. But, at some point that changed. I just want to follow up and move forward a decade, with what you call a “polite bribe.” Let's jump forward those ten years, and it's getting close to him having to bring the second installment of money back to Jerusalem and he's having some trouble. He's trying to organize it, and this ends up in him actually personally accompanying the money, coming to the temple with his group of Gentile Christians, and it ended his life. Pick it up about two-thirds of the way through Paul's mission, and let's talk about raising the money and coming back to Jerusalem that last time.
Well we estimate that happened in the late fifties AD, maybe early sixties at the latest. We know it happened, most scholars would agree it happened, again, toward the end of his life. It raises some interesting questions, because it is at Romans 15:30-31 that the book starts on (and our film starts) as he says he has a lot of anxiety about going back to Jerusalem because he wonders whether, one, his collection will be accepted; and number two, he wonders whether he'll survive the ordeal at all. Those two verses say a lot right there because if you date 2 Corinthians prior to that, that's when here you could also see in print, it's 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 where he's again being embattled because there are other Jewish apostles who are accusing him of embezzling the collection and using it to buy the honor of the apostles back in Jerusalem.
We don't have the time now to build this out, but the bottom line is it seems to be coming to a crescendo that he's got to address the fact that at some point earlier a collection was in place and he feels betrayed, and though he feels betrayed and in spite of the fact he's betrayed, he's going to go back to Jerusalem and fulfill the mission which means bringing the collection to the temple.
If you want to give some credibility to Acts at this case, with Agabus, the prophet who actually meets him, I believe it's in Caesarea, and has him for dinner and then warns him, "Do not go to Jerusalem. You'll be killed.", and Paul reacts very violently to him and says, "How dare you tempt my faith. I'm now going to go. I'm a martyr. I'm going to go to Jerusalem regardless of what the circumstances are because Christ has told me this collection is part of his plan, his mission." I'm using my words here. "Therefore nothing will stop me." In a way, he's made his mind up that bringing this collection is the penultimate act of his entire life. Now again, as a dramatist and filmmaker, when you see someone taking such extreme action, your ears and eyes go right to it and say why is this of such import to this man and then you track back. He's going back into Jerusalem to bring the collection. He doesn't know what will happen, but he knows in any case he has to do it and we see how it plays out.
I don't want you to stop there because you have broken a lot of ground in my own mind. You intimated, or at least posed the question, whether the Jerusalem church was complicit to a degree in Paul's arrest. I'd never thought of that. Walk me through that. What was going on in your mind that you came to that potential conclusion?
Well, as a storyteller and a scholar combined, I raise the questions first. What makes sense here? What would be a likely outcome and who would be involved? The who, what, where's of good storytelling. I said to myself, okay let's look back and interpret the events that occur later. Let's start with the result, because we know what the result is.
He winds up going to the temple and almost being assassinated by his accusers. There's no support, or intervention by anyone from the Jerusalem church. There's no other apostles around saying, "Wait, wait. Paul's a good man. We don't agree on everything but he's a good man." He doesn't have any friends. That's number one. Number two, if we back up a little bit to an earlier point, it says that James suggested that Paul take the money, whether in part or in whole, and use it to pay the Nazarite vows for seven other men. Right there, if you don't read too deeply into it, it means he's not outrightly embraced the cash offering that Paul brings, but he's looking for a way to embrace it.
Robert Jewett says in my film, he says it was kind of a... What was the term he used? Like an early laundering scheme as a way to cover up the fact that gentile money needed to be covered up to be entered into the temple. It was a way that James might have been possibly looking for a way that it would be acceptable to enter the temple. That's another piece on the ground.
As you look back into Acts, and to answer your question from earlier, Acts later sneaks in... A lot of scholars have brought this up in my screenings and my book tour is that if you go to Acts, I believe it's 24, you later see when Paul is speaking before the Procurator Felix and he says to him, "I only came. I wasn't a troublemaker. I didn't come to the temple as trouble. I was bringing an offering." He even points to the fact that, in light of Felix, he's trying to justify the fact that he wasn't looking for trouble. He meant well. He was just trying to show unification. Here's the key line when Felix says, "I kept bringing Paul in and out of my chambers hoping he would give me a bribe."
I thought this is so tight now. I wasn't even looking for that. This came up after the film was made and the book, but it says so many things because hidden in the language here is Felix, and he expects Paul to be capable of bribing, which means he's not an impoverished man but a man of means, which is interesting, and the fact that he must have heard, because he was brought to prison as a result of the melee that happened in the temple just, what was it, months earlier? Or maybe a year earlier. It's in the air, the idea that there were bribes. There's the temple. There's betrayal. There's conflict still going on politically.
We're speculating here Robert, but when you envision what happened; Paul shows up at the temple and he's probably bringing along the entourage that were gentiles, which were not allowed beyond a certain place in the temple. There are signs in Greek, in Latin, and Hebrew that say that if you pass this line you will be killed, and it's their fault, they have been pre-warned. Yet, he brings these people into the temple grounds anyway, and it's a large group of gentiles. He is asking for trouble. I can just see it causing a ruckus right then and there. Yet you imply that maybe the temple elite were tipped off, and perhaps even the crowd was tipped off that Paul and his entourage were coming, by maybe even the church members that didn't like, or even hated Paul.
I think about, let's put ourselves in James' place. Let's give him the benefit of the doubt that he's trying to find a way to work this out and he's on Paul's team still as a fellow apostle. Why does he not just take the collection and tell Paul to go. "Quick! Get out of here. Get on a boat and get out of here."
Yeah, why didn't he? I agree.
I'm saying this is what... circumstantial evidence doesn't mean it's not true. It may be less true than being able to point to an exact date or historical fact, but it's not less, it may be less true by degree, but it's not not true that I'm saying why didn't James just say, “We're so glad you did this. We still want to be part of your ministry, but go back where you came from. There's trouble at the temple." James would have had to know what was going on in the temple. He was so influential in that movement. The fact that he existed as a Jewish Christian within a Jewish community meant that he had to have inroads or be accepted by the larger Jewish community.
You are referring to James the Just.
Yea, James. Both James, Peter, John, anyone who lived and worshiped there. That brings up another point. If they fundamentally agree on the essentials of Christianity, mainly the meaning of the Messiah, the coming of the Kingdom, then would it be that far out of reach for James and the others to embrace the fact that Paul was saying that there's a movement among us that would mean that Christians don't have to be Jews? Would that be such a stretch? They would allow him to kind of lead himself to that kind of trouble, or would they try and save him and say, "No one's going to embrace this?" As a matter of fact, I think James says, "People hear that you're telling them they don't have to follow the Law of Moses." Well, if he knows he's in trouble, why not stand in for him? Why don't walk with him in solidarity into the temple?
I think this raises... for me there's the raising of the questions in these cases is important, but what I want to know, what I'm trying to point out the most is that this idea that Luke later comes up with that there's this harmonious one faith to the other, God, to Jesus, to the apostles, to Paul. It's just not reality when you start looking at the details of history. Even Luke's attempt to whitewash this history or put a good face on it if you will, you still have to dig a little deeper. When you do, you start to see at every moment Paul is being confronted and they're not agreeing with him. The question becomes how much of this is Paul's, how much is he on his own in a sense, and how much is he really sharing with the other apostles?
One other question is, and if Jesus was around at that time, who would he have supported if he was around? Would he have supported Paul or would he have supported James and the other faction?
Absolutely. It's something you have to ask all the time. I think you say someplace in your book, I'm sure they were thinking to themselves, if Jesus was God, he must've known that Paul was going to be coming. How come we have to take orders from this guy? I want to read something from your book Robert before we get to a close. It's the only quote I'll read here, but I think it was very, very insightful. Referring to Paul…
"We might say today that he was a man driven by his own demons. He was always right. He was the number-one apostle. He did not need Jesus in the flesh because he knew him in the spirit world and his untested personal visions were what single-handedly informed his gospel. 'The gospel I preach to you is no human invention. No man gave it to me. No man taught it to me. It came to me as a direct revelation from Jesus Christ.' Galatians 1:11,12. The man was driven but he thought he was the super apostle."
If you take a step back, and I'll try and conclude on this, but I think you have to come up with there's two propositions you can embrace. If you're coming more from the traditional perspective, and not this new narrative that I've constructed from the history, you'd have to believe that God's intentions were either (after the generation of Jesus, moving toward his apostles), were either misguided, misunderstood or not realized, however you want to characterize that. God, Jesus, needed to go to a deeper bench, so to speak, as one person said, and find Paul to then contradict everyone else and say, "You know you guys didn't get it right and I'm ...", that's what you have to believe from a traditional perspective.
If you're coming more from a historical, critical perspective, which is where I'm coming from in my book. I'm not trying to sell theology. I'm just trying to make sense out of history, out of story. I'm saying you have to begin to question how much of Paul's vision was Paul and how much was coming from the original legacy of God, Jesus, and the original apostles.
Yes. I struggle with Paul. I'll be honest with you, because what we have, in my humble opinion, what we've brought forward, is the surviving form of Christianity, which is Paul's because the Jerusalem church was cleaned out. In 70 AD the Romans came through Jerusalem, and if the church still had a presence there, or a place there, they were probably killed, hauled off into slavery, or scattered to the wind. What we're left with is Paul's churches, which were the strong churches outside of Jerusalem. After that point, nobody wanted to be associated with the Jewish portion of the faith. I think that we've skewed the faith for two thousand years away from the actual elements of history, and this was done by a very, very vociferous voice for Jesus, based on his own visions, which was Paul. He says, "Even if the angels came down and said something different, it's not true. I'm the one. I'll tell you what to believe." I find this so egotistical.
I think you could also, just to broaden the conversation a little bit, you could argue that Paul is bringing Rome as much into Judaism as he's bringing Judaism into Rome.
Absolutely. Good point.
Let's be fair here. It's not like the rest of the world is non-religious. It's religions were all competing for the marketplace. The Roman roads opened the door, like the telephone, like the computer today, and it's men like Paul who get to speak to us. First of all, they're educated outside of the core and then they come back in with new idea. In a way, you could argue that it's the nation idea of God, right? The ethnarch idea of God breaking out into the universals of the new world of the Greco-Roman period, and Paul is a conduit and he's doing both. He's working it both ways. He's conforming of the Messiah to make sense to a Greco-Roman world with retired soldiers and poor Greeks. At the same time he's bringing in language and things that would only fit, that could only work if you speak those languages for the new audiences.
I don't see him as, maybe I'm being too complex here, but I don't necessarily see him as a good guy or a bad guy but a man of his time. I do see him as the stubborn visionary, absolutely. I don't think he's listening to anyone. I think that's, if you want to say a fanatic or whatever it is, but he would even tell you that. He was proud of being a fanatic. Again, as the point of the storyteller, I have no theological bones to pick. What I'm merely saying is that the theological explanation that's been around for two thousand years is unsatisfying intellectually. I always kind of had that feeling about it and that thought about it, but it was only when I dug into it I said can I sequence something that's more intellectually satisfying, that makes more sense from a human perspective? The human drama at the heart of the. That's what I think I've accomplished.
Robert, we've reached the end of our time. I want to thank you so terribly much for taking time out of your busy day. It was so enlightening and I do appreciate this. Folks, if you were sitting here in the studio with me, you would see that I've probably got thirty, forty tabs on my copy of the book that we never got to. The book is going to be a fascinating read for you because, again, he is not writing as a scholar... He is a scholar, but he's writing in a way that you can understand it and I can understand it. He writes so clearly that you can visualize it. I really highly recommend his book.
Again, the name of the book is Apostle Paul: A Polite Bribe by Robert Orlando. The book is published by WIPF and Stock. Also check out Robert's website for his movie with the same title. Go to www.apolitebribe.com . You can even download it and watch the trailer there for free.
Thank you Robert for being with us. I am so grateful that you joined us today. Folks, this has been a fun, fun day for me. I hope you enjoyed it too. For Author Talk and Rising Light Media, have a wonderful day.
INTERVIEW OF AUTHOR, ROBERT ORLANDO
BOOK TITLE: APOSTLE PAUL: A POLITE BRIBE
BY: AUTHORTALK HOST, RON WAY
TO LISTEN TO THE ENTIRE INTERVIEW CLICK HERE
Hello everybody, this is Ron Way for AuthorTalk Rising Light Media. What a pleasure it is for me to introduce to you today an author that I think has written one of the most insightful and important books on the Apostle Paul that has been written in the last decade. I really like this book, and I think it's an important book, and you should be reading it. His name is Robert Orlando, and the name of the book is Apostle Paul: A Polite Bribe. The book is published by WIPF and Stock. Welcome, Robert, to AuthorTalk.
Thank you for having me.
When modern Christians think about Paul, we don't understand how important it was in the modern years of the modern Christian faith. I think that the churches pay more attention to the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, even though Paul's letters predate them by decades. Without Paul, we certainly wouldn't have the Christianity that we have today, which may be very different from the teachings of Jesus. Robert, one of the things that you do so well in your book is breathe life into Paul's stories and writings. Because you're a movie-maker, you paint a picture, you string together seemingly disparate facts and events into a life's picture of a real human being, which Paul most certainly was.
I want you to walk us through a brief life summary, just a thumbnail, if you will, of Paul's life from that special revelation, whatever that was, which Acts says it happened on the way to Damascus, to the next three years, where Paul was alone in Arabia before he ever spoke to any followers of Jesus that knew him intimately. Then, lastly, his evolving relationship with the home church in Jerusalem, and the apostles, or the super-apostles. Just give us a quick thumbnail and start us on our way.
If you don't mind, I just want to take a quick step back, because I think you're saying something quite significant, and that is that our modern lens, and the church's lens, generally still seen through the canon, looking backward. When you think of the Bible in terms of a canon that's been laid out in a certain way, that begins the biography of Jesus, goes through Luke-Acts, which then takes you on for the mission of Jesus to the original apostles, and ultimately on to Paul and others. The reason why that can distort the historical Paul is because if you look at it through the lens of chronology, the truth is that it's Paul, in advance, I'd say way in advance in some cases. He's also separated from the Gospels, which is a fact most scholars agree with, by the Jewish war and other things, huge events on the ground, that change the landscape, change the audience, change the location of where the movement is originally fromed.
With those factors in play, it's almost a paradigm shift completely to start with Paul and his letters in the year 50 A.D., as opposed to the Gospels, and it's debatable, but whether it's 70 to 120 A.D., after the Jewish war, and after the relocation of the original Jewish Christian movement. Having said that, I think to understand Paul is to start with his letters, not start with the more mythical filters that come later to explain the phenomena of Paul, but to actually just hear him as if he's on a phone call reaching out to us, telling us what are the problems on the ground.
Why write these seven consensus letters? The main reason he wrote these letters was because he couldn't be everywhere at once, although I'm sure he wanted to be, and as he would come into a town and convert several of the leaders, and grow a new church, he would have to leave at some point to go on with other missions, and found that a lot of times, and I think we can get into this later, his original vision for that area, whether it was Corinth, or Thessalonia, or all these other locations, would fall apart. He, as a result of responding to these crises as a pastor would, or a traveling missionary who's trying to keep his network together, would start writing letters to replace him, and send them with emissaries like Timothy and Titus to go back into these communities and say, "Well, you're right on this, you're wrong on this, don't listen to these other people."
What we start to realize is that there's an intrusive presence of other Jewish apostles who also believe, maybe in differing degrees, in the same Jesus, who a lot of times are undermining his own ministry, which, to me, raises a very curious question, which is "Why all this conflict?" Why do people who come from the same legacy of Jesus have all this conflict? What I've done in my film and book is looked into this conflict as a storyteller, as a dramatist, and said, "What is the nature of this conflict? Where does it come from, what do the two sides represent, and why is this drama playing out?" before you get to the later rewriting of history that comes through Luke-Acts and the Gospels. When you ask those essential questions, you start there, what you find is you don't find this visionary Paul who is merely responding to light in the sky, and going out and telling all the Good News, and people gathering round, but that he's an embattled individual, to a large degree.
He does find, it seems, intimacy with a lot of the people he mentors, like Timothy and Titus, who become very close with him, and others, like Apollos, and some of the women who lead the churches he's with, but in terms of his peers and the legacy that emerges out of the Jewish Christian movement of Jerusalem originally, and then later crosses over into Paul's time, there's almost a conflict throughout, I would say. There's more respites that are not filled with conflict, and there is one bias here, which is that we're looking through his letters, and maybe he wrote a lot more letters when he wasn't in a crisis or having a conflict, but that's not what we do know.
What we do know is that he's speaking very harshly against his brethren and saying, "Please don't come in my church, don't invade the purity of the Gospel message," and essentially what that is is that it's, "A new epoch has been born, Jesus came to me in a vision, even though you were his original apostles," and this includes James and Peter and John, and a lot of the names that we see later in the history of Christianity. He's telling them that "although you knew the original Jesus, the physical Jesus, he came to me because he gave me a new revelation," and you could imply by that that the others were not aware of it, or were not fully cognizant what it meant, but it was for Paul to then say to them that in this new epoch with the Kingdom about to be born, the Kingdom on Earth about to be born, that a lot of the former human rituals and elements that held together religion, mainly Judaism, would no longer be necessary.
This meant not just Judaism, for all human religion, because there would come a new epoch soon where spirituality would dominate, we would take on new bodies, and a whole new world would be born, almost a utopian idea. In light of that, it meant that older views of religion, like Judaism, he believed, held, would fade off, along with Greco-Roman pagan religions and other things, and in that new world, we would live and learn that we no longer could be identified by either class systems, or gender, or in the case of Jewish Gentiles, ethnic identity. All these boundaries would be shattered, and we would live as spiritual beings together in the Kingdom. That's kind of the essence. It's saying a lot, I know, but it's kind of the essence of what I see Paul's vision is. He tries to take that vision and put it in the world.
Well, I think it was interesting, that in one place in your book, you said, one of the observations that you made was how dumbstruck an original follower, such as an apostle, maybe Peter, James, and the others, might have been when they heard Paul's version of Jesus. You said, and I think I'm quoting here, that they would have had to shake their head and wonder to themselves, "Who's he talking about? It certainly isn't the Jesus I know. Where did he get this stuff?" He never calls it a “vision”. The blinding light came from Acts, much, much later. Paul doesn't talk about that, but he did have a revelation of some sort, because he stopped what he was doing, chasing Christians around, and he took off for Arabia. Talk a little bit about the very first years, where he met these apostles, and how that interaction came. What do you see as your vision of what happened?
Well, again, if we stick with the letters and what we'll call his autobiography in the first two chapters of Galatians, he tells a story that kind of narrates, he is doing it in retrospect, but he's kind of narrating the different early, let's call them "story beats," that were significant enough to mention for his own life. One of the things he clearly points out is he says after he had his vision, and by the way, let me parenthetically say, I do believe he had visions or a vision, but we'll get to this in a second, but the description of Acts is where it's troublesome, about an audible voice, and other witnesses, and things like that, which we can revisit if you'd like.
Back to Galatians, so in the first two chapters, he kind of depicts his early years as an attempt to move away from the authoritative figures. Because his vision was so new, he didn't want to give them the impression that if he went back for approval, that that would be the way the mission would take place: he would have a vision, he'd go back, and James and Peter would give Paul their blessing, and then he'd move on. I think he was trying to avoid that, but learn that when he went out into the synagogue with the early churches in Antioch and, like you said, Arabia, which we don't know a lot about, but we have the echoes in a lot of scholars' works, we find out that he failed.
If you want to point to something specific that is in the history books ... I mean, that is historical and accepted as historical by most, he winds up being thrown out of a city and chased by their ethnarch to the point where he has to be lowered in a basket in the middle of the evening. His ministry didn't start off very well, and some project, or they guess at this point, that the reason it didn't do so well is because he was breaking down a lot of these ethnic boundaries with his message, and a lot of people weren't going for it.
He spent about three years in Arabia, if we are to follow the time line here, about three years, then he said, "Okay, then I went up to Jerusalem, and I talked to James and Peter," but not the rest of the disciples, and he struck the first deal, right?
Correct. He says James was there, but according to his words, he did not engage with James, he was just there, which makes him, historically, this kind of shadow figure, because he outrightly engages Peter, but doesn't deal with James.
Right. The brother of Jesus.
Who ended up, later on, actually being the head of a church when Peter took off, and was traveling himself.
Correct. James becomes the leader of the same church later on, but not, not ... People won't just say because Peter was absent, but because James might have taken over for Peter after some other controversies that we can get into; we can also talk about what Peter felt about the mission, and was he orthodox enough himself to remain the leader in Jerusalem. There's two views of this event. I remember, Gerd Lüdemann gets into this in his works a lot, about how James took over for Peter at a certain point, not just because Peter was on a missionary trip, but because Peter was not the right representative and might have leaned in the direction of Paul too much.
Right, and in truth, it seems that Peter kind of vacillates later on, and then infuriates Paul, and we can get into that later also. After his visit to Jerusalem, you begin to paint a picture of a real man. You tell a story that makes sense. You bring together the letters that Paul writes, and you try to string together a human story out of them, because in truth, we really are human beings, and we react to people and circumstances, and you can begin to trace that human trajectory, and that's what you did. We always think that Paul was the leader of the gang that took off and went to the diaspora, or the Greek cities and the Roman cities, but in the beginning, it's interesting to note that he was relegated to spending years as an apprentice to Barnabas. If you read Paul alone, though, you don't get that perception. He says, "They gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship," and he sounds like an equal when he writes about it—or more. Why do you think that Paul was subservient to Barnabas during this early time frame?
Well, these details matter. It's hard to go through all the details now, but let me give you some key points that I think help organize what we're talking about here. One is that Paul, and again, a lot of scholars support this, and even, I think, the general circumstantial history that there was an early collection, some speculate that Paul was, actually, he was given early-on the chance to be mentored by Barnabas to see how he does, after his vision, and how loyal he would be, but part of the reason was, he was brought in to help Barnabas with a collection. Interestingly enough, in Antioch, it was a church that was beginning to integrate early on, so Paul was, I guess, looking at his later life and his ministry, it was ideal for him from a point of contacts. He was raising funds, and he was also working out of a ministry that was already beginning to be, maybe not as far as he wanted to go, ultimately, but integrated with Jews and Gentiles.
I think that's where that comes from, but the line you're bringing up in Acts 15, and this is where you're getting into time logic, it gets a little tricky, and I don't want to get lost in the weeds here, but whether you place Acts before or after Galatians is important, but in either case, let me just address both points. In the case of Galatia, when he said, "I came back and found out that all of them had turned against me, that James, brother of Jesus, had sent emissaries to tell and segregate the sharing of meals, and Peter went along," which Paul took as a betrayal, he also said Barnabas also got caught up in this.
It's almost like he felt the letdown that Barnabas, who had been his mentor, and who had originally gone out in the mission field, now was buying more into, let's call it a retrospective look of the Christian Gospel, which was to go back to the early combining of the Gospel with Jewish law. He felt Barnabas let him down. Later, when he said that he gave him the right hand of fellowship, that was earlier in my timeline, when originally, they were looking for a compromise, which is where the collection compromise comes in, or, if you will, the bribe, is that they couldn't come together until Paul offered a way to kind of find middle ground, and that would be by offering a collection.
He was basically saying, "We only have so many choices. Either everyone becomes a Jew," which would be impossible, "or we move past Judaism," which was impossible, and he felt like the way he could find the middle was that if he offered a collection that would still show the priority of Jerusalem, in light of his modern Christian movement, it would still give honor to the legacy of the early church, but still give a way for Gentiles to belong to it. Aside from the monetary part of it, it also had a unifying fact that I think is tied in to the verses you just spoke of.
You know what I'd like for you to do, Robert, is that the subtitle of your book is "A Polite Bribe," so let's address that head-on for a second. There were two different collections. The first one, which you've been speaking about, which happened fairly early on, and then there's a second collection, I'm not even sure if it's mentioned in Acts, but that took ten years to complete. That's just an incredible thing for me to contemplate, that he went out and away from Jerusalem for ten long years preaching, recruiting, and raising money without ever sending any back? What did he do, keep promising, "Honest, I'm going to send the money"? Or, perhaps he was collecting in dribbles and drabs, and sending it back piecemeal? If that was the case, then he wouldn't need to come back during that last visit—which was the fateful visit—so I’m guessing that it wasn’t until his relationship with the church was coming unhinged that he finally got serious and started pressuring the churches for the money.
Mm-hmm, mm-hmm (affirmative). Well, one scholar, the Catholic, Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, tried to actually break down in hours and miles what this would have entailed, to actually collect all this money, and how preoccupied he became to make it happen. My take on it was that this was a giant annoyance for him. He didn't want to be bothered raising funds, he wanted to be about the business of spreading the Gospel. Unfortunately, and now let me set up the circumstances, what is the conflict? What's the radical idea here that most people don't know of, but that is captured in the book and the film, but that scholars know of, and that is that in the early Christian movement, there were still factions, namely, the one that was born of the Jerusalem apostles and the one that was moving more out toward the Gentiles.
Now, there was common ground. Originally, there had to be, because Paul was trying to gain their approval. As we said, he went back after his vision, but at a certain point, they couldn't come to terms with his teachings, the movement was growing, a lot believed the end times were coming closer also, so a lot of issues that maybe in the beginning were more experimental became more serious, coming down to simple ideas like voting. If you had a church and you were Jewish, and you had an overwhelming audience of Gentiles, they wouldn't be as concerned about maintaining Jewish law or whatever, and if the end never came, and the Messiah never returned, you'd start losing what was the core of your system of belief very quickly, because just the numbers alone play out to give you one little insight there.
What started to happen was, I think, and this is proven in the history, James started to recoil back and return more to, let's call it "orthodox," for want of a better word, to a more pure Judaism, even through the lens of, let's say "Christian Judaism" or "Jewish Christianity," however you want to capture that, but the thing that Paul does is he comes along and says, "Well, now what do we do with all these Gentiles? They're Christians, they're believers, I know them, I circumcised Timothy. What do we do with them? How do we all fit together, because we can't split apart. If we split apart, then Christ is made up of two groups. If he's made up of two groups, we can't share in the meals, we can't share his body and blood, we're not one movement. How do we put this thing together?"
I think what he did was ... Here's the three possibilities, I'll go through them again. One, all Christians must become Jews, which means being circumcised, and if you get into the history of what it means to be an adult male being circumcised in that time, before there were sterile tools for surgery, you're dealing with a big and dangerous operation back then. That would be one, and no, they wouldn't have gone for it anyway, and the same with, if you went past Judaism and you said, Two, Jewish law was no longer necessary, and gave the Gentile crowd the nod, you'd be going against six thousand years of history, which is kind of the themes that come through Romans later, when Paul says, "Well, what of the Jews now? In light of this Gospel, what about the Jew? What about the Jewish Christian?"
He's stuck in the middle, and I'll say it again, I think the key for him was that the collection, the collection of money, and from what we know, the Gentile churches had a lot more wealth, and the Jerusalem churches did live in a lot of poverty, which is where it gets a little confusing with giving to the poor, and what "the poor" means. I think what he said was…
Paul, you mean.
Paul, yeah. The best way for Paul to strike a balance was to say, "We will keep the honor, the core, the legacy, and the Jewish Christian roots, but we will bring the unity, we will bring that honor through the support of the Gentile community." It was a way to kind of agree to disagree, in almost a polite bribe, if you will. It's not a direct bribe, it's kind of polite, because it's not alone, it's not the money alone, but it enhances, or persuades those listening to go along with it.
One other important point, vital point, is that throughout history, the idea of "the poor” ("the poor" has been defined in multiple ways, but it doesn't mean "a collection for the poor," meaning the impoverished). It also means “the poor” that was a group, a lot of them associated with radicals that went back to the Maccabean movement, that were against Rome, or the imperial powers, but that held Jerusalem, almost like we see today in more radical movements, who couldn't support themselves because they worshiped all day, they prepared for the end of times, and that group has, a lot of times, been associated later with the Ebionites, but during the times of Paul's conflict, some have linked to the Jerusalem apostles themselves.
The possibility does exist, and I believe this, in my book and film, I wrote it, was that I think that he's also saying, "Don't forget the poor, don't forget us who have to remain at the temple and prepare for that day, and can't go have a second career and support ourselves. Don't forget us." There was a lot of meaning attached to this collection.
With that, Robert, see how fast it goes, Robert? I told you that it would. We're going to have to bring this to a close, but ladies and gentlemen, you're going to tune in to the second half of this interview next week. I really highly recommend his book. Again, the name of the book is Apostle Paul: A Polite Bribe, by Robert Orlando. I will mention also that you should check out Robert's website for his movie with the same title. You go to www.apolitebribe.com, and you can even download it and watch the trailer there for free.
Thank you, Robert, for being with us. I'm so grateful that you joined us today. Folks, this has been a fun, fun day for me. I hope you enjoyed it too. For AuthorTalk and Crossing the Line. Watch for Part Two of my interview with Robert coming soon. Have a good day.
Think about it, either Jesus knew what he was doing in picking his disciples, or within three years after he died he thought that they were total failures and he needed to bring in the “A-Team,” Saul of Tarsus, the man that was soon to become the Apostle, Paul. And, Paul, as one of Christianity's most celebrated converts, may have needed more than faith and fervor to convince the other apostles to accept his vision of Christian ministry, he might have needed… a bribe!
IF GOD AND JESUS ARE ONE—GOD DIDN'T KNOW WHAT HE WAS DOING!
Jesus picked his twelve disciples. If Jesus and God were One, then he must have known that the disciples that he picked were going to fail as emissaries to the world. Why pick them in the first place? Paul was alive when Jesus was teaching, why not pick Paul three years earlier than he did, before he was crucified?
The twelve disciples were an ignorant bunch. They had trouble understanding his lessons and teachings, even when he gave them special tutoring. They couldn’t read or write, so they couldn’t take notes on what Jesus said or did, which meant that we had to wait forty years after he died, as the stories were handed down by word-of-mouth, before we got the first Gospel written down (Mark). And, they weren’t that great at going out two-by-two during Jesus’ life, performing miracles and testifying. Jesus tried that path for them and they failed miserably. So, are we to assume that Jesus couldn’t see into the future?
Sure he could, you say. He picked the Jewish disciples to get the first Jerusalem church going, and then he picked Saul of Tarsus (Paul) to move it out into the Greco-Roman world. Well, someone should have told the Peter, James, and the rest of the gang that, because they didn’t believe that Paul was giving the world the correct message. They followed him everywhere he went and tried to undermine him. Why didn’t Jesus before he died just say, “Listen guys, I want you to minister to our people, and I’m going to bring this guy named Saul along in a few years to go out among the Gentiles. I want you to work with him, OK?” It would have made things so much easier for Paul too, because he got so angry that he wanted the emissaries from the home church to have their privates cut off (those are his sentiments not mine!).
As it was, it looks like Paul had to “bribe” his way into the good graces of Jesus’ disciples in Jerusalem—twice—at least that is what the author of Paul; A Polite Bribe, Robert Orlando thinks. Listen to this two-part interview that I had with him (below) and make up your own mind. Comment back, and let’s see what your thoughts are. I’ll respond back on what I think, and we can get a conversation going. This should be interesting.
We ended our last blog by saying that it is through the reading of Paul’s letters that we find out what was being transmitted and believed about Jesus in and around 50-55 CE (Common Era—the same as AD)—roughly 20 years after Jesus had died. We won’t have any other written records about Jesus until roughly 70 CE, when the first gospel, Mark, was written. [Check the timeline in the last blog post]
Fast-forward with me to Martin Luther King Jr.
To put this problem of having no written records of or about Jesus for at least 40 years after Jesus’ death in perspective, let’s fast forward to Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) as an example to see what that might mean to our understanding of the man today.
King was a great teacher, a man of God. He was worshiped by many of his followers as an example to live by, a teacher, a visionary, a “savior” of and for his people; but more than that, he was considered by many in our nation as a savior of all peoples whom would travel his path of love—and he was killed. He was murdered for trying to change the consciousness of a nation. Years later we also find out that he was being tracked and reported on by the government, in this case at least, the FBI, and perhaps other agencies as well as a potential subversive. Sound vaguely familiar to a story we all know?
King was killed in 1968, 48 years ago. The very first Gospel to be written (Mark) was written in about the year 70 CE, and the last (John) in the 90’s CE; a time span of roughly 40-70 years after Jesus died. So it is almost exactly analogous of our situation with MLK. If we were to try to sit down and compose the story of MLK’s life in our fast-forward scenario, it will be a “Gospel” (which means, Good News) account of MLK’s life.
Let’s continue with our journey into the here and now; let’s imagine that there has been no radio or television transcriptions or recordings, no newspaper accounts, no written documentation at all of what MLK said or did—just memories of those that were close to him. As with Jesus, let’s also assume that we don’t have any writings from any of MLK’s original followers.
If any of his thoughts and beliefs are now to be remembered 48 years later, it will have to be by later day followers of his—none of which knew MLK personally—because none of the Gospels were written by any of Jesus’ disciples; they were written by followers of followers.
So our later-day chronicler of MLK’s life has to go out and try to record people’s memories of him and then try to make sense of the wildly divergent memories and weave a story that ties his life together and makes sense to those that would read and later follow this special man with his unique teaching of love.
It is now 48 years after MLK died, and ours will be the first story to be recorded (similar to the Gospel of Mark). There won’t be another story written to compare our story with for another 15 or 20 years, and yet another 10 or 15 years after that before the final stories end up being written.
If we make this analogous to the gospels, 4 different people trying to write down the salient parts of MLk’s life and teaching, and these 4 different people are not only writing decades apart, but each of them are writing in different countries and different cultures. In addition, none of the writers will speak English (all the gospels were composed in Greek, not Aramaic, the language of Jesus and all of the original disciples). It’s getting problematical to come up with a single cogent vision of the man, isn’t it? That is exactly what we find in the case of Jesus.
What would be the result of our first chronicler’s efforts? How accurate would the stories turn out to be to the historical man?
Paul’s account of his encounter with the resurrected Jesus is very important to the story of Christianity, because the account of his experience with the “resurrected” Jesus in his letters are by far the earliest written account that we have of what and how people believed about the resurrected Jesus at the time, yet his telling of his story is still roughly 20 years after Jesus died. There are no earlier written records before that date that survived.
It is through the reading of his letters that we find out what was being transmitted and believed about Jesus around 50-55 CE (Common Era—the same as AD). We also have to remember that although his letters are included at the end of and after the Gospels of the New Testament, he is actually writing his letters to the Christian communities perhaps 15 to 20 years before the first Gospel (Mark) was written. Then another 15 or so years will pass before we get the next two Gospels (Mathew and Luke), and the last Gospel (John), and the second half of Luke’s Gospel (called Acts), comes yet another 10 or 20 years further beyond that (at the end of the first or the beginning of the second century).
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