Freethought Archives > Jeremy Bentham > Not Paul, But Jesus


Illustrious, in the church of Jesus in general, and in the church of England in particular, is the name of Conyers Middleton. Signal was, and is, the service rendered by him to the religion of Jesus. By that bold, though reverend, hand, it now stands cleared of many a heap of pernicious rubbish, with which it had been incumbered and defiled, by the unhallowed labours of a succession of writers, who,—without personal intercourse with the founder, any more than we have now,—have, from the mere circumstance of the comparative vicinity of their days to those in which he lived, derived the exclusive possession of the imposing title of Fathers of the Church, or, in one word, The Fathers.

So able, so effectual, has been this clearance, that, as it has been observed by the Edinburgh Reviewers,—speaking of course of protestants, and more particularly of English protestants,—till one unexpected exception, which it mentions, had presented itself, they had thought that in no man's opinion were those writers any "longer to be regarded as guides, either in faith or morals."

One step further was still wanting. One thorn still remained, to be plucked out of the side of this so much injured religion,—and that was, the addition made to it by Saul of Tarsus: by that Saul, who, under the name of Paul, has,—as will be seen, without warrant from, and even in the teeth of, the history of Jesus, as delivered by his companions and biographers the four evangelists,—been dignified with the title of his apostle: his apostle, that is to[Pg xiii] say, his emissary: his emissary, that is to say, sent out by him: sent out, by that Jesus, whose immediate disciples he so long persecuted and destroyed, and whose person,—unless dreaming of a person after his death, or professing to have dreamt of him, is seeing him,—he never saw.

In the course of the ensuing examination, the subject of miracles has come, unavoidably, under consideration. On this delicate ground, it has been matter of no small comfort to the author, to behold precursors, among divines of different persuasions, whose reputation for piety has not been diminished by the spirit of critical inquiry which accompanies it. Such were Mede, Sykes, and others, whose ingenious labours were, in the case called that of the daemoniacs, employed in the endeavor to remove the supernatural character, from what, in their eyes, was no more than a natural appearance. On the success of these their labours, any judgment would here be irrelevant. Not altogether so the observation, that in no instance does it appear to him that any such latitude of interpretation has been employed, as that which, on that occasion, was found necessary for the conversion of devils into diseases.

The dissentions which, at all times, have had place among persons professing the religion of Jesus, are but too notorious. The mischiefs, produced by these dissentions, are no less so. These dissentions, and these mischiefs—in what have they had their source? In certain words. These words, of whom have they been the words? Of Jesus? No: this has not been so much as pretended. Of Paul, and of Paul alone: he giving them all along not as the words of Jesus, but as his own only:—he all along preaching (as will be seen) in declared opposition to the eleven who were undisputedly the apostles of Jesus: thus, of Paul only have they been the words.

[Pg xiv]

That, by these words, and, consequently, by him whose words they were and are, all the mischiefs, which have been imputed to the religion of Jesus, have been produced,—in so far as the dissentions, from which these mischiefs flowed, have had these words for their subjects,—cannot be denied. But, moreover, in these same words, that is to say, in the doctrines delivered by them, cannot but be to be found the origin, and the cause, of no small part—perhaps of the greatest part—of the opposition, which that religion, with its benevolent system of morals, has hitherto experienced. If this be so, then, by the clearing it of this incumbrance, not only as yet unexampled purity, but additional extent, may not unreasonably be expected to be given to it.

It was by the frequent recurrence of these observations, that the author of these pages was led to the inquiry, whether the religion of Paul,—as contained in the writings ascribed to Paul, and with a degree of propriety which the author sees no reason to dispute,—whether the religion of Paul has any just title to be considered as forming a part of the religion of Jesus. The result was in the negative. The considerations, by which this result was produced, will form the matter of the ensuing pages.

If, by cutting off a source of useless privations and groundless terrors, comfort and inward peace should be restored or secured;—if, by cutting off a source of bitter animosity,—good-will, and peace from without, should be restored or secured;—if, by the removal of an incongruous appendage, acceptance should be obtained for what is good in the religion commonly ascribed to Jesus;—obtained at the hands of any man, much more of many, to whom at present it is an object of aversion;—if, in any one of these several ways, much more if in all of them, the labours[Pg xv] of the author should be crowned with success,—good service will, so far, and on all hands, be allowed to have been rendered to mankind.

Whosoever, putting aside all prepossessions, feels strong enough in mind, to look steadily at the originals, and from them to take his conceptions of the matter, not from the discourses of others,—whosoever has this command over himself, will recognise, if the author does not much deceive himself, that by the two persons in question, as represented in the two sources of information—the Gospels and Paul's Epistles,—two quite different, if not opposite, religions are inculcated: and that, in the religion of Jesus may be found all the good that has ever been the result of the compound so incongruously and unhappily made,—in the religion of Paul, all the mischief, which, in such disastrous abundance, has so indisputably flowed from it.

1. That Paul had no such commission as he professed to have;—2. that his enterprize was a scheme of personal ambition, and nothing more;—3. that his system of doctrine is fraught with mischief in a variety of shapes, and, in so far as it departs from, or adds to, those of Jesus, with good in none;—and that it has no warrant, in anything that, as far as appears from any of the four gospels, was ever said or done by Jesus;—such are the conclusions, which the author of these pages has found himself compelled to deduce, from those materials with which history has furnished us. The grounds of these conclusions he proceeds to submit to the consideration of his readers.

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The work may be conceived as divided into five parts.

1. In Part the first, the five different, and in many respects discordant, accounts given of Paul's conversion, which, in these accounts, is of course represented as being not only outward but inward, are confronted, and, so far as regards inward conversion, shown to be, all of them, untrue: and, immediately after, the state of things, which produced, accompanied, and immediately followed, his outward conversion,—together with the time and manner in which that change was declared,—is brought to view. This part occupies the first two chapters.

2. Part the Second is employed in showing,—that, from the first commencement, of the intercourse, which, upon the tokens given of his outward conversion, took place at Jerusalem between him and the apostles, Acts 9:27, to the time when,—in consequence of the interposition of the Roman commander, to save him from the unanimous indignation of the whole people, more particularly of the disciples of the apostles,—he was conveyed from thence under guard to Rome, a space, according to the commonly received computation, not less than six and twenty years, (Acts 21 and 23), no supernatural commission from Jesus, nor any inward conversion, was,—either by those distinguished servants and companions of Jesus, or by their disciples at Jerusalem,—believed to have place in his instance. This part occupies eight chapters: to wit, from the 3d to the 10th inclusive.

[Pg xvii]

3. In Part the Third, in further proof of the insincerity of his character,—in addition to an oath proved to be false, are brought to view two unquestionably false assertions:—each having for its subject a matter of prime importance,—each deliberate and having in view a particular purpose: the one, a false account of the number of the witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus; 1 Cor. 15:6; the other, a prediction of the end of the world before the death of persons then living; 1 Thes. 4, 15, 16, 17. This part occupies Chapters 11 and 12.

4. Part the Fourth is employed in showing,—that no proof, of his alleged supernatural commission from the Almighty, is deducible, from any account we have, of any of those scenes, in which he is commonly regarded as having exercised a power of working miracles. For, that not only he himself never made exercise of any such power,—on any of those occasions, on which the demand for it, for the purpose of overcoming the disbelief entertained of his story by the Apostles, was extreme,—but, neither on those, nor any other occasions, did he ever take upon himself to make reference, to so much as any one instance of any such proof of special authority from the Almighty, as having been exhibited by him on any other occasion: that, for the belief in any such gift, we have no other ground, than the relations contained in the history called "The Acts of the Apostles," or, for shortness, The Acts: and that such throughout is,—on the one hand, the nature of the occurrence itself, on the other hand, the character of the representation given of it,—that, to a disbelief in the exercise of any such supernatural power, it is not necessary that any such imputation as that of downright and wilful falsehood should be cast upon the author of that narrative: the occurrences[Pg xviii] in question being, mostly, if not entirely, such as lie within the ordinary course of nature,—but, upon which, either by the fancy, or by the artifice of the narrator, a sort of supernatural colouring has been superinduced. For this purpose, these supposed miracles are, each of them, separately brought to view and examined. This part occupies the 13th chapter.

5. Part the Fifth is employed in showing, that,—even if, on all these several occasions, the exercise of a power of producing supernatural effects had, by unequivocal statements, been ascribed to Paul by the author of the Acts,—such testimony, independently of the virtual contradiction given to it by the above-mentioned circumstantial evidence,—could not, with any propriety, be regarded as affording adequate proof—either of the fact of Paul's having received a divine commission, and thereby, having become, inwardly as well as outwardly, a convert to the religion of Jesus—either of that radical fact, or so much as of any one of the alleged achievements, which, upon the face of the accounts in question, are wont to present themselves as miraculous: for that, in the first place, it is only by error that the history in question has been ascribed to Saint Luke: it being, in respect of the account given of the circumstances accompanying the ascension of Jesus, inconsistent with the account given in the gospel of Saint Luke, when compared with Acts 1:3 to 12,—and as to those attendant on the death of Judas, inconsistent with the account in Saint Matthew 27:3 to 10 and Acts 1:16 to 20: and moreover, such being the whole complexion of his narrative, as to render it incapable of giving any tolerably adequate support to any statement whereby the exercise[Pg xix] of supernatural power is asserted. This part occupies Chapter 14.

In Part the Sixth, to give additional correctness and completeness, to the conception supposed to be conveyed, of the character of Paul and his attendant historiographer, jointly and severally considered,—a conjunct view is given of five reports of his five trials, as reported in the Acts. This part has been added since the publication of the above-mentioned Summary View. It occupies Chapter 15 of the present work.

Chapter XVI. and last, winds up the whole, with some general observations on the self-declared oppositeness of Paul's Gospel, as he calls it, to that of the Apostles: together with an indication of a real Antichrist, in compensation for the fabulous one, created by Paul, and nursed by the episcopal authors and editors of the Church of England, translators of the Bible: and by Chapter 12 of the present work, the imaginary Antichrist is, it is hoped, strangled.

At the time of the publication of the Summary View,—for the more complete and satisfactory demonstration of the relative insufficiency of the narrative in question, a short but critical sketch was, as herein stated, intended to be given, of the parts not before noticed of the History of the Church,—from the ascension of Jesus, being the period at which that narrative commences, to that at which it terminates,—to wit, about two years after the arrival of Paul at Rome, Acts 28: the history—to wit, as deducible from the materials which, in that same narrative, are brought to view: the duration of the period being, according to commonly received computations,[Pg xx] about 28 or 30 years[A]: the author of "The Acts" himself,—if he is to be believed,—an eyewitness, during a considerable portion of the time, to the several occurrences which he relates.

On this occasion, and for this purpose,—the history in question had been sifted, in the same manner and on the same principles, as any profane history, in which, in a series of occurrences mostly natural, a few, wearing a supernatural appearance, are, here and there, interspersed: as, for instance, in Livy's, and even in Tacitus's Roman History: on the one hand, the authority not being regarded as affording a sufficient foundation, for a belief in the supernatural parts of the narrative; nor, on the other hand, the sort of countenance, given to the supernatural parts, as affording a sufficient reason, for the disbelief of those, which have nothing in them that is unconformable to the universally experienced course of nature.

In respect of doctrine, the conclusion is—that no point of doctrine, which has no other authority than that of Paul's writings for its support, can justly be regarded as belonging to the religion of Jesus,—any more than if, at this time of day, it were broached by any man now living: that thus, in so far as he is[Pg xxi] seen to have added anything to the religion of Jesus, he is seen to set himself above it and against it: that, therefore, if this be true, it rests with every professor of the religion of Jesus, to settle with himself, to which of the two religions, that of Jesus and that of Paul, he will adhere: and, accordingly, either to say, Not Jesus but Paul,—or, in the words of the title to this work, Not Paul but Jesus.[B]

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[A] To prevent, if possible, an embarrassment, which might otherwise be liable to have place on the part of the reader,—and therewith, the idea of inconsistency, as having place here and there in the work,—the following indication may be found to have its use.

A cloud of uncertainty, to the length of one or two years, hangs over the duration of the period embraced by this work: namely, that between the point of time at which the conversion of Paul is stated to have taken place, and the point of time at which the history, intituled The Acts of the Apostles, as therein declared, concludes:—a point of time, posterior by two years to that of his arrival at Rome.

[B] For making the requisite separation, between the two religions of Jesus and the religion of Paul,—an instrument, alike commodious and unexceptionable, has—for these many years, though, assuredly, not with any such view,—been presented to all hands, by Doctor Gastrell, an English and Church of England Bishop: namely, in a well-known work, intituled The Christian Institutes: date of the 14th Edition, 1808. It is composed of a collection of points of faith and morality, and under each are quoted the several texts, in the New Testament, which are regarded by the author as affording grounds for the positions indicated. If then, anywhere, in his composition of the ground, passages, one or more, from this or that Epistle of Paul, are employed,—unaccompanied with any passage, extracted from any of the four Gospels,—the reader may, without much danger of error, venture to conclude, that it is to the religion of Paul alone, that the point of doctrine thus supported appertains, and not to the religion of Jesus. As to any of the Epistles, which bear the name of any of the real Apostles of Jesus,—a corresponding question may perhaps be here suggesting itself. But, with regard to the design of the present work, scarcely will they be found relevant. For, when compared with the sayings of Jesus as repeated in the four Gospels, scarcely will they be found exhibiting any additional points of doctrine: never, pregnant with any of those dissentions, which, from the writings of Paul, have issued in such disastrous abundance. Only lest they should be thought to have been overlooked, is any mention here made, of those documents, which, how much soever on other accounts entitled to regard, may, with reference to the question between the religion of Jesus and the religion of Paul, be, as above, and without impropriety, stated as irrelevant.

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