I was watching Gore Vidal being interviewed for CSpan's In Depth series and his book Live from Golgotha was being discussed. He claims that St. Paul "invented" Christianity. That Jesus came for the Jews only, but that St. Paul wanted to internationalize the appeal for Jesus and so twisted the truth. What are some arguments against this claim?
The most important argument against any claim made in Live from Golgotha, by Gore Vidal, is that the book is a novel, a work of fiction set in 96 CE. In presenting Paul as a charismatic marketer of a new faith, Vidal was not making a serious claim to historicity.
Looking at the claim on its own merit, outside of the book, there are sound reasons to believe that Paul did not invent Christianity. Had he literally done so, there would have been no existing Christian communities before he began to preach. Yet, we know there was a church in Jerusalem, under the leadership of James, Peter and John (Galatians 2:9). When Paul wrote to the Romans, he was writing to a Christian community that had been formed by others. Raymond E. Brown says in An Introduction to the New Testament, page 561, that Paul’s letter implies that the Christian community had been in existence for a long time, since he had been wishing “for many years” to visit (Romans 15:23).
The key point in the question is probably to do with whether Paul 'internationalised Christianity. We can perhaps credit Saint Paul with creating Christianity as a universal religion, away from its Judaic roots. In Romans 11:13 Paul tells the Romans that he is the apostle to the gentiles:
For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office:
Paul says that from the beginning he felt called to preach to the gentiles Romans 15:15-16:
Nevertheless, brethren, I have written the more boldly unto you in some sort, as putting you in mind, because of the grace that is given to me of God, That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost.
The case is vast, and, quite literally, fills volumes. I'm currently reading New Testament People God Volume 1: Christian Origins And The Question Of God, for example, which addresses this topic at length.
There are far too many arguments against this claim than can be addressed here (obviously), but some key points I have so far taken from the book mentioned above include:
We know that Christianity was a significant factor by the early second century, because we have strong evidence of persecution of Christians. The Roman empire, and various regions, had, to varying degrees, official policies relating to (and often forbidding) Christianity.
This means that Christianity had been around long enough to grow to a noticeable size. Even assuming an early date for the origin of Christianity (say immediately after Christ's death), this is an astonishing accomplishment for such a new religion in a world where new religions, new gods, and new practices, were a dime a dozen. Pushing back a Christian genesis date makes this only that much more astonishing--not less (as most advocates of such a theory would have us believe)
An honest study of the content of the textual evidence (particularly, but not limited to the gospels and the rest of the New Testament) shows a progression in literary style as well as theology that would have taken many years to develop, and could not have been a "quick invention" by a single person let, alone by even a single generation.
There is also the issue of the biggest 1st century the problem the church faced. Whether a person first had to become a Jew before you could become a Christian and the issue of circumcision.
If Paul was this fraud then why does the bible not tell us of these questions? It would have made Paul's ministry much easier. They had to accept that sorry guys he did not mention it we have to find our own consensus as to what the correct view on these issues is.
That is a question that would need answering by people who hold such a view.
Also why did no 1st century writer mention it? There was no lack of people that wished this Christian abomination to go away. Why do they not mention this hoax? Just one mention by an 1st century Judean could have squelched Christianity before it even started but the fact remains we just do not have any such accounts.
So the question you need to ask yourself is why should I believe this account of Christianity when we have no account of a 1st century person believing this. Surely people of Jesus's era are best equipped to tell us what he was like.
What is the case against Gore Vidal's view that St. Paul “invented Christianity”?
The disciples that were ministering to the Jews were aware of Paul and his ministry to the Gentiles.
Galatians 2:7 But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter;
At the council in Jerusalem about what to do with Gentile believers it was decided to send Paul and others to them.
Acts 15:22 Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren:
Paul rebuked Peter publicly and Peter accepted the rebuke.
Galatians 2:14 But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?
It is very easy for a fictional writer like Mr. Vidal to dismiss the Bible as lies and substitute his own theories. However, his alternative construct is rather weak. If the statements and the actions of Peter and the early church leaders recorded by Luke and Paul were false, it would have been easy to refute by those who had been there and observed and heard what was done and said.
If Mr. Vidal is perplexed by the failure of the nation of Israel to respond to the gospel message and receive the kingdom that was offered her, he may want to look deeper into the Bible.
Romans 11:25 For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.
Jesus stated that he was sent to the lost sheep of Israel in:
Matthew 15:24 But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
But is not true that the salvation of God's grace through Jesus was reserved only to the Jews. As is indicated in the verses which follow that one.
Matthew 15:25 through 28 Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. 26 But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs. 27 And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table. 28 Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.
Jesus further instructed the twelve Apostles to only go to the lost Jews.
Matthew 10:5 and 6 These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: 6 But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
If we approach this subject from a logical and historical aspect, we find that it really actually means He was sent to the Nation of Israel because he had shown himself as their God on many occasions in the Old Testament. Here are a few examples:
1.The entire book of Exodus, from slavery in Egypt to the Promised land in the book of Joshua.
2.Sending down fire from Heaven to devour the 400 priests of Bal.
3.Punishing Sodom and Gomorrah with fire and Brimstone from Heaven.
Besides that he had sent Both Major and minor prophets to Israel right up until 400 years before Christ, and they were very aware of those prophets and their prophesies. they were taught from early childhood those things
Isaiah had even told them about how Jesus birth would come about and Psalms accurately described his death. And even though these things were common knowledge they still rejected him:
Luke 13:34 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!
If we use some logic here it would only make sense that he was sent to the Nation of Israel otherwise, his death would have received no more notice than the many other crucifixions by the Romans. That the Sanhedrin was well aware of these things is evidenced by their securing the tomb and setting a watch. When Jesus arose from the dead even with those precautions being taken the Jews who were schooled and had the history with God, could put them together and take that message throughout the World.
Jesus himself said that salvation was not for the Jews only:
John 10:16 And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.