Paul, a late-comer who “got the word” on the road to Damascus rather than directly from Jesus but was then sanctioned by His Disciples, wrote to the early Christian Church in Corinth and said a lot of things.
Well, that’s a bit much, don’t you think?
But we live in very different times. I suppose we could excuse this by saying that perhaps it fits into the culture to which Paul was bringing Christian ideas and perhaps he rationalized that when they were ready for it, he would change the message.
I’ve attended Christian churches where “the message” was scaled back with the unstated agenda that, when talking to outsiders, you have to pull them in a little at a time.
“The real message will drive them away,” the pastor of such a church might say, “so we only tell them the parts they won’t find too offensive. We’ll teach them the rest later – when they’re ready for it.”
From a teaching perspective, I know that I have to decide which ideas and concepts to teach in class one day and which to save for the next. There are, after all, only so many hours in a day. And there are also “fundamentals” that have to be understood before more advanced topics will make sense. For example, in school we learn addition and subtraction before multiplication and division.
The gospel itself is maddeningly incomplete and fragmentary. But enough remains – sometimes several sequential pages – to offer some very interesting ideas not found in The Bible.
In one part, the Gospel of Mary records an instance where she teaches the Disciples what Jesus taught her privately. Mary’s gospel goes on to then record that some of the Disciples were incensed at this.
Assuming the translation accurately conveys Peter’s emotion, clearly he is quite upset that Jesus taught Mary things He had not taught them.
Some of that teaching is included in preceding verses and, I must say that by my Presbyterian Church upbringing, those ideas are decidedly different. But I now recognize them as Gnostic in nature and know that the early Christian church had to work hard against fragmentation. There were many ideas floating about, some undoubtedly from “left field”, and the early church had to work to get its message straight.
The Bible as we know it today was adjudicated hundreds of years after Jesus’ crucifixion. Some books were included while others were excluded. The Gospel of Mary is in the latter category – it was excluded from The Bible we know today.
Exactly why, we don’t know.
I won’t speculate.
Regardless, almost two thousand years have passed since Jesus taught and worked His miracles. And a lot of time went by between events and His teaching before they were written down. Some were written or dictated by those who knew, heard and witnessed directly what Jesus said and did. My current focus is on sources that are best-thought to be in this category.
Other books were written by those who heard – word of mouth from someone else – about Jesus. Second person stories, third person, fourth person …
And finally others, such as Paul’s numerous letters (Epistles) to various churches including the book 1st Corinthians which includes the above quotation, are perhaps even more indirect in that Paul received his inspiration through a different path.
Why were Paul’s letters included in The Bible while the Gospel of Mary was excluded?
We don’t know, and we probably never will.
Regardless, I have to say that, by today’s standards, I find Paul’s message to be so offensive that it colors, in my mind’s eye, all his writings.
Some of what Paul wrote is not only horribly out of date but I also think it simply cannot be from Jesus. The exclusionary nature of what Paul directs here simply does not fit into the inclusionary nature of Jesus’ teachings found elsewhere.
This view is not what Jesus would have directed. It’s contrary to his teachings.
Perhaps as a portent of what I think has happened, Jesus warned his followers:
Indeed, I think this is exactly what “the church” has done. When they assembled the Bible, the early church decided what to keep and what to exclude. And in keeping Paul’s letter to Corinth, they have made additional rules beyond - way beyond - what Jesus taught. And those additional laws have come to dominate us.
Preachers hold up the book and begin, “The Bible says, …”
And I have to agree. Yes, I can see and read Paul’s letter to the Corinth church in The Bible. The words are there, it’s true, but that doesn’t make it what we should do.
That’s not what Jesus taught.
It’s not what He wants us to be doing.