“What endless trouble theology has given itself about the problem of Paul and Jesus, and what shifts it has been put to explain why Paul does not derive his teaching from the preaching of Jesus, but stands in this respect so independently alongside of Him! In doing so it is talking all round a problem, which it has first made insoluble by failing to grasp it in its completeness. The discovery that Paul takes up an independent attitude towards Jesus is misleading, unless one at the same time recognizes all that he has in common with Him. For Paul shares with Jesus the eschatological worldview and the eschatological expectation, with all that these imply. The only difference is the hour in the world clock in the two cases…
… Truth is for him (Paul) the knowledge of redemption as it results, on the basis of the eschatological expectation, from the fact of the death and resurrection of Jesus… In drawing the logical inferences from the altered world circumstances Paul is forced by the position to take, in his teaching, an original attitude alongside of Jesus. But in this he is merely recasting in accordance with the conditions of time the fundamental conceptions, derived from eschatology, which are common to them both….”
– Albert Schweitzer, The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle
Did Paul preach a different gospel than Jesus? The orthodox reaction is obviously “no.” Yet, this question continually shows up in New Testament scholarship, and not without warrant — the emphasis on forgiveness of sins and the kingdom of God/heaven in the gospels versus the concept of justification and confrontation with Law/circumcision in Paul’s epistles. These things don’t seem to overlap. Yet, Schweitzer is convinced that much scholarship has missed the continuity between the theology of Jesus’ preaching and Paul’s epistles because it has badly misunderstood the eschatological redemption around which both Jesus’ and Paul’s thought revolves.
For Schweitzer, the essential difference is not the gospel, but the realization in history of the gospel’s content. Jesus’ death is understood eschatologically both in the gospels and Paul’s epistles. The essential “difference” is their location with reference to the eschatological world clock. Jesus certainly preached eschatological sermons and saw his death as integral to the eschatological redemption promised by God (this is one of the key insights of Schweitzer’s “Quest”). For Paul, the issues are simply not the same as before because the eschatological event actually transforms the cosmos and creates new problems to address (I apologize, my JL Martyn is showing). According to Schweitzer, Paul believed this is what Jesus would have him preach if Jesus were still walking on earth at the time (not to mention it was the Gospel he received “through a revelation of Jesus Christ” Himself, Gal 1.12). To simply run to Jesus’ sermons before His death and resurrection is to minimize His apocalyptic death and resurrection which now is the key to everything.
Once Paul’s theology is understood as centered in the eschatological death and resurrection of Jesus breaking through in the death and resurrection of those “in Christ”, then our reading of the Gospels becomes less disjointed from Paul’s vision. Does Christ not announce the end of God’s enemies? Does Christ not bid his disciples to come and die