Paul and Where He Differed?
Searching for other things in the New College Library this a.m., I noted that we’d acquired a volume of collected studies by Morton Smith: Studies in the cult of Yahweh, Vol. Two: New Testament, Early Christianity, and Magic, ed. S.J.D. Cohen (Leiden: Brill, 1996). Scanning the table of contents, one title caught my eye: “Paul’s Arguments as Evidence of the Christianity from which He Diverged” (pp. 254-60). (The article originally appeared in Harvard Theological Review, 79  254-60.)
I’ve argued that the conspicuous silence in Paul’s letters about any christological differences with, e.g., Jerusalem believers, was significant indication that there was no substantial difference between them in this area. His silence on this matter is conspicuous because Paul does indicate that he had differences with some other early Christian leaders, and is not hesitant to indicate what they were (see, e.g., my discussion in Lord Jesus Christ [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003)], 165-67).
In this article, Smith contended that Paul fought on two fronts on the issue of Christian behavior: against a “libertine” view that Smith ascribed to Kephas (Peter), and against a legalistic/rigorist view that Smith ascribed to James (“the Just”). Whatever the merits of Smith’s contention (and I think it’s flawed, esp. in his ascription of the sources of the “libertine” view), I find it interesting that he noted no differences over christological matters.
Smith could hardly be accused of any Christian apologetic motive! And so his inability to find any significant christological issue between Paul and Jerusalem is all the more interesting.
It’s a frequently echoed-but-ignorant claim that Paul “founded” Christianity, broke with prior Jesus-followers, and radically invented a new view of Jesus. There are plenty of other reasons for thinking otherwise, and plenty of other scholars with whom I join in doing so. And we can count Morton Smith among them!