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This Post discusses whether Saint Paul was mad. I make the case that if he had had psychiatric help none of this would have happened, i.e. there would be no such thing as the Christian religion today. Just imagine, the protestant/catholic wars, lasting a century and a half and killing 11 million people would never have happened; just imagine, the thousand year long “dark ages” when the popes ruled the west would never have happened.
Peter Turner, M.A., M.Sc.”
“Nuts, deluded, round the bend, bonkers, crackers, loony”. There are many ways both kind and unkind to describe those of us who have mental differences from the majority of the population. I have no special knowledge in this area. I merely want to get to the bottom of how Paul saw himself.
As I have noted in previous Posts:
(i) Paul never met Jesus
(ii) he never read the gospels, indeed he wrote his epistles before the gospels were penned
(iii) he claims quite openly that he learned more about Jesus through visions than the apostles learned by sitting at Jesus’ feet and hearing his words.
I want to move on and list some of the more extraordinary claims the man made; claims that if made today would result in assertions that he needed help. In his defence one must bear in mind that like most people of his time he believed in demons, angels, spirits of all kinds and in great hidden mysteries.
(i) “Paul believed that God had selected him before his birth for a singular mission that would determine the future of the cosmos” writes Professor James Tabor (reference below).
(ii) Paul believed this made him this made him the first apostle as his birth occurred before Jesus chose the twelve apostles.
(iii) Following on from this is Paul’s belief that his role was predicted in the Hebrew scriptures (O.T.)
(iv) Paul further believed that Jesus had not disclosed certain secrets to his 12 apostles, secrets which God later revealed to Paul and Paul alone through visions of Christ. (Gal 1:15-17)
(v) After his conversion on the road to Damascus, Paul went south to “Arabia” i.e. Mount Sinai, scene of God’s appearance to both Moses and Elijah (1Kings 19:1-18). Here, over a 3 year period Jesus, as the glorified heavenly Christ, communicated the gospel to Paul (Gal. 1:12). Or so Paul claimed.
(vi) One of Paul’s most ecstatic visions is recounted by him in 2 Corinthians 12 where he is taken up into paradise, like Moses or Elijah, seeing things he was forbidden to reveal.
(vii) These hallucinations were multiple (Gal. 1:12; 2Cor. 12:1) and in them he saw God as well as Jesus Christ in his glorified state.
(viii) To his mind this surpassed anything any human being had ever received, and certainly superseded anything Peter, James and the rest of the apostles had experienced with Jesus on earth. He indeed tasted the glorification that would be revealed at the second coming of Jesus in the clouds of heaven.
(ix) Tabor reckons that “There is a sense in which Paul thinks of himself as fulfilling the roles of a new Moses and a new Elijah….he came to believe that he had been chosen from birth…to fill the key role that would usher in the return of Christ.”
(x ) He considered that his work among the gentiles, foretold in the Hebrew prophets, was essential to God’s plan of salvation for mankind. a 2 stage plan was involved: stage one was fulfilled by Jesus, stage 2 was laid at the feet of Paul, who saw himself as Christ’s chosen instrument, finishing up the main task of the Messiah as a kind of second Christ.
(xi) Thus everything that Paul did he attributed to Christ working through him, and his commands were thus the commands of the Lord.
(xii) He saw the marks on his body of the beatings and stonings he had received as the wounds [stigmata] of Jesus.
Chapter and verse for all these beliefs about himself (I’m trying to skirt round his actual theology here) are given in Tabor’s book (see below). The least one can say about Paul is that he had an extraordinarily high opinion of himself.
I’m not going to blithely slag off the man who single handedly created the Christian religion and determined the direction of western civilisation. I expect people far more competent than me have already psychoanalysed him. Instead I’ll just chuck a few definitions from my dictionary onto the table. Do you think any of them apply to Paul?
Megalomania: the delusion that one is great or powerful;
Paranoia: a form of mental disorder characterised by fixed delusions especially of grandeur, pride, persecution;
Psychosis: a serious mental disorder characterised by e.g. illusions, delusions, hallucinations,, mental confusion and a lack of insight into his condition on the part of the patient;
Monomania: madness confined to one subject; an unreasonable interest in any particular thing;
Schizophrenia: a psychosis marked by introversion, dissociation, inability to distinguish reality from unreality, delusions etc.;
Obsession: morbid persistence of an idea in the mind, against one’s will.
These concepts would have been totally alien to Paul, but we have these tools so why not use them?
He himself would , however, certainly understand this letter purporting to be from Peter to James. It is the Kerygmata Petrou, part of the Pseudo-Clementines (4th century) and it makes a telling argument. Peter suggests that if people follow someone like Paul, who claims to have had visions of Jesus, how might one know he was not actually communicating with a demonic spirit impersonating Jesus? In contrast, if one goes by what Jesus actually taught to the original apostles, there is no possibility of such deception.
Nice one, Peter!
(i) Tabor, J.D. “Paul and Jesus: How the apostle transformed Christianity” Simon and Schuster (2010)
(ii) Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary, Chambers (1975)
Related Zingcreed Posts:
Saint Paul – a few notes
Paul vs Jesus
Kazantzakis: When Jesus met Paul
How Paul and Luke rewrote history to marginalize James’ early church
513 How Paul bypassed Jesus in his teaching