Saturday, May 1, 2010

rethinking Paul, who also made Blanc and Marx's argument

I'm rethinking my opinion of Paul. I always thought he was irrelevant to true Christianity—it's not Paulinity, right? Almost every Christian quote I hate is credited to Paul, so I figured he could be scrapped. But when I learned that scholars think the letters of Paul come from three sources, the original Paul and two or more later writers, I began to like the original a little better, but I still had problems with some of his arguments.

Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan's The First Paul has answered my immediate objections. Like many readers, I had read Paul's statements about faith through the lens of the conflict between Catholics and Protestants over fifteen hundred years later. I didn't see the first century struggle between conservative and liberal Jewish Christians over the God-lovers, the gentiles who participated in Jewish worship but had not committed fully to Judaism by becoming circumcised.

I like the first Paul a lot better now. I'm especially fond of his idea of equality, or a "fair balance."

Here's the New Revised Standard Version of 2 Corinthians 8:12-15:
For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have. I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written, ‘The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.’
Many translations of that passage follow the King James Version, which uses "equality":
For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not. For I mean not that other men be eased, and ye burdened: But by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality: As it is written, He that had gathered much had nothing over; and he that had gathered little had no lack.
Wycliffe's version is nice, too; instead of "equality" or "fair balance," he uses "evenness." His translation suggests that we want to be even with everyone.

At the end, Paul is referring to Exodus 16:18. Here's the New International Version: "And when they measured it by the omer, he who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little. Each one gathered as much as he needed."

Paul says to seek the fair balance. His argument is the same as Louis Blanc's: From each according to ability, to each according to need.