Paul – Explained

“Yes…Yes…Yes…  That’s it exactly!” he pronounced to an empty room.  Again, Tolstoy came through.  Leo just finished explaining that the “chief cause” of the false interpretations of Christianity’s and Jesus of Nazareth’s message was Paul.  What caused Tolstoy to decide this?  The fact that Paul was the apostle who connected the Old Testament to the New Testament.  Tolstoy concludes, “…this doctrine of the tradition, this principle of the tradition, was the chief cause of the distortion of the Christian teaching and of its misunderstanding (xxii).”  Tolstoy’s premise?  Simply that Jesus’ words should rank higher than any other persons.

“This all makes so much sense,” he thought to himself.  Finally, someone said what he had been feeling.  But it was not that simple.  He still believed and needed some of Paul’s ideas.  In particular, Paul’s assertion, “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.  There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus,” for him, had singular merit.

So, what should be done with Paul?  For years, this question vexed him.  During a sermon one Sunday, in an instant the answer came:  end the special treatment.  Some of what Paul said was true and had value.  Some of what Paul said wasn’t true and didn’t have value.  His task was to treat Paul no different than any other thinker.  The issue wasn’t black and white.  He had to discern the value himself, idea by idea.  In other words, he finally remembered that Paul was just a man.

Despite the profound meaning and encouragement he gained from this statement, he felt it would be too radical for other believers.

Holding his breath, he hoped instead to discover that it resonated.


Tolstoy, Leo, Leo Wiener, and Greg Oviatt. The Gospels in Brief. New York: Barnes & Noble, 2004. Print.



  1. Joan

    Paul was one person with ONE point of view. Like people everywhere, he had a desire to get others to see what he saw, believe what he believed. That was his agenda. The success of his influence rages on to this day.

    What is rightousness anyway other than a point of view? Isn’t it ignorance and/or willful denial that there is any other valid point of view? I wasn’t raised Christian, but I sure got the lesson early on that there is more than one way of seeing things.

    In 4th grade art class, they throw a pile of junk in the middle of the room, and every student draws it. When they display the pictures en masse, the most mind-blowing thing about it is the different points of view! All of them are accurate, all of them are true. Simultaneously. Holy crap! Maybe the Jews and the Gentiles see Jesus Christ from two different places. Righteousness is suddenly, to me, ignorance, the result of thinking what you see in front of you is true, without considering anyone else’s point of view could be true. Makes my head spin.

    In high school, at the planetarium, realizing the “phases of the moon” is only possible from the view point of an earthling, and further, must be created over time. Another earth-shattering revelation. The Jews and Gentiles not only see Jesus from different places, they’ve got a lot of history, looking at it over time, their stories are like telling about the phases of the moon. I’ve looked up, I’ve seen the moon, wow, the idea that someone “off earth” could have another view of it, what in the world, could I possibly ever have another view of that would make me understand understand understand….everything!? Then finally, the pictures came out, earth and her precious moon, from billions of miles away. I wept. Finally, the grace of the biggest view I ever saw of my life and everything in it. I will never be able to understand it all. What a relief.

    The fights come when one says, “mine is the only way” instead of “live and let live”. In my experience, enlarging your view as much as you possibly can, you come to a place where you see righteousness given by faith, especially the kind of “blind faith” that true Christianity requires, as being one of infinitely many points of view, many of which have the same goal, which is for people to do the things that will make them happy, avoid the things that will bring suffering, and live in harmony both within themselves and out in the world.

    I experience blind faith as one of the most powerful tools in my life, but what I have faith in changes all the time.

    In “Paul Explained” we get less explanation of Paul than of Mugwump.


    • A Mugwump

      Hey Joan,

      Thanks for taking the time to write such a lengthy reply. At times it seems like you think we disagree; at other times, not. This blog was simply attempting to convey that, in the end, Paul cannot be simply accepted or rejected. (I grew up accepting his words as truth, and later wanted to fully reject them as false and distracting. These days, in my pursuit of truth, it has become clear that it is more complicated than I would have preferred.) Oh well. The Bible verse was simply a tool I chose to use to help make this end happen. Convincing anyone of anything about righteousness never entered my mind.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s