AGAINST THE LAW
DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS
It appears that Paul’s letters were edited by conservatives a generation or so after his death; for instance 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians. And 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus were written in his name to propagate the conservative view. Furthermore, authoritarian and sexually chauvinistic passages were interpolated into 1 Corinthians and Romans, and also Acts of the Apostles were tampered with to the same end. Paul is mistakenly believed to be a the foremost Christian advocate of misogyny and oppressive law. He would no doubt appear to be quite conservative in our day, but in his day quite a few conservatives wanted him dead for preaching liberty.
Paul’s famous Letter to the Galatians is considered to be the Magna Carta of Christian liberty. It was considered inauthentic, but modern research has confirmed it authenticity. It expresses a revolutionary spirit, not only against the state but also against the Jewish law as well. We should keep in mind here that the Christian revolution, in contradistinction to the Jewish Revolts, was fomented as a non-violent revolution. Salvation was to be achieved by faith alone and not by works such as circumcision and war. The early Christian pacifism reminds us of the many Jews who chose martyrdom during the Jewish Revolts instead of making war against the Romans.
Paul’s controversial libertarian doctrine has elicited strong opposition and approval since the day he espoused it. It has evoked a great deal of enthusiasm (god-possession) and bizarre behavior on the part of those who interpreted it to mean that Christ had in fact come for good, therefore every Christian had been set absolutely free from the law, the law not only of the emperor, but also the Torah. Augustine, sometimes arrogantly called “the father of modern European intellectual history”, was attracted to Paul’s message, as was Luther, who wrote two volumes on Galatians. Indeed, there would have been no Reformation without Paul, or Christianity for that matter.
Luther is certainly a fascinating propagandist to read – learned humanist authors during his day took to imitating his enthusiastic biblical style. Luther’s bombastic rhetoric is knotted with logical contradictions, which he frequently justifies by reference to “God’s mysteries.” Paul, whom Luther loves dearly, is by far more rational in his expositions.
Luther relied on Paul in his revolt against the Church. His initial intent was reform, not revolution – the revelation of faith he received on the toilet one fateful day was revolutionary in the spiritual sense. Yet Luther erred early on when he came down on the antinomian (against the Mosaic Law) side of Paul’s message. He had to reverse himself – returning to the doctrine that Jesus appeared to fulfill the Law – when the political ramifications of antinomianism threatened the peace. Luther over-reacted in his infamous ‘stab and kill” (the rebellious peasants) letter. His hyperbole in that letter made him appear to be a much worse hypocrite than he really was. The letter was intended to frighten the peasants away from revolt; because of the slow communications in those days, Luther did not know that, when he released his letter, the peasants had in fact already revolted, with pitchforks under the Rainbow Banner. 50,000 or more were stabbed and killed by well-armed professional soldiers.
The overt antinomian behavior of several enthusiastic groups was limited to sexual libertinism. Monogamy, or the sole ownership of a spouse, was said to be a most dreadful sin. Some of the politically oriented sects had communistic leanings while others looked to monarchical order or divinely sanctioned king and court for salvation. Luther’s repudiated peasants flew the Rainbow Banner of the Covenant – they wanted a brotherhood of love on Earth, a Kingdom of God.
A few Marxist-Leninist thinkers adopted the Peasant Rebellion as a precursor to their dream of universal peace on Earth, to be realized by an international uprising of workers to overthrow capitalism. However, it appears that the revolt Paul had in mind was non-violent. If we examine Luther’s doctrine of just war, we discover that he followed the feudal law in respect to revolution: that Christians must not revolt even against evil, ungodly princes. A pre-emptive strike against papal princes plotting to kill Lutherans would of course be an allowed exception to the rule, not condoned but certainly forgiven without a second thought.
2004 Kansas City, Missouri