The Problem of Paul and Jesus According to Schweitzer

“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



One thought on “The Problem of Paul and Jesus According to Schweitzer

  1. This post reminded me of much that I’ve been reading in NT Wright’s “How God Became King.” (Sorry ET. Jesus and the Victory of God is on the list but I fear I’m not as intelligent as you to fully grasp it just yet). The temptation when reading Paul’s writings is to over emphasize the justification and sanctification process of “being made a disciple,” as has been so acutely coined in modern evangelicalism, and not on the ushering in of God’s new kingdom THROUGH discipleship.

    Two of the components that must be consistently united are that we see and hear what the shape of these new individual’s lives must be through Jesus’ ministry and actions while he was incarnate with his people. His healings, compassion, and stories help tell us who we should be as his followers. Second, that it is through his suffering, death and resurrection that this new kingdom, and these new people, are made a tangible reality. The point being, Paul brings great attention to the king on the cross as the catalyst for justification and sanctification of the believer but what we (modern believers seeking to reconcile Paul and Jesus) must keep in mind is that the king on the cross serves the purpose of bringing his kingdom to reign here and now via his suffering and self sacrificial love.

    This might be a bit of a clustercuss of stream of consciousness. I’ve had 5 plus glasses of wine and some scotch.

    (Source texts of sorts quoted below.)

    “When we see the story of Jesus as the climax of the story of Israel, we should not be surprised to discover that the suffering of Israel and of Israel’s supreme representative is to be understood as part of the longer and larger purposes of Israel’s God, in other words, the establishment of his worldwide healing sovereignty. Conversely, we should not be surprised to discover that when this God finally claims the nations as his own possession, rescuing them from their evil ways, the means by which he does it is through the suffering of his people—or, as in the story the gospels themselves are telling, the suffering of his people’s official, divinely appointed representative. […] The “God” who has become human in Jesus is the God who, as he had always promised, was returning to claim his sovereignty over the whole world (note the “other sheep” in John 10:16) and would do so by himself sharing the pain and suffering of his people, “laying down his life for the sheep.” It is all too possible to “believe in the divinity of Jesus” and to couple this with an escapist view of salvation (“Jesus is God and came to snatch us away from this world”) in a way that may preserve an outward form of “Christian orthodoxy,” but that has left out the heart of the matter. God is the creator and redeemer of the world, and Jesus’s launch of the kingdom—God’s worldwide sovereignty on earth as in heaven—is the central aim of his mission, the thing for which he lived and died and rose again.”

    – NT Wright, How God Became King


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