Many scholars have noted that the teachings of Jesus and the teachings of Paul are fundamentally different. Why did Paul change the message of Jesus? Let us begin by looking at two contradicting statements:
Paul: “And so the Law was in charge of us until Christ came, in order that we may then be put right with God through faith. Now that the time for faith is here, the Law is no longer in charge of us.” (Galatians 3:24-25)
Jesus: “Do not think that I have come to do away with the Law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets. I have not come to do away with them, but to make their teachings come true. Remember that as long as heaven and earth last, not the least point nor the smallest detail of the Law will be done away with—not until the end of all things. So then, whoever disobeys even the least important of the commandments and teaches others to do the same, will be least in the Kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-19)
Despite Jesus warning against doing away with even the smallest detail of the Law, Paul changed the Law in the most dramatic way imaginable. He essentially made the entire Law inapplicable. Why? And how did Paul justify this?
According to Paul, no one can be justified by the Law, since it is impossible to keep every article of the Law from birth till death. So Paul reasoned that there must be another route to salvation. Paul argues that, in fact, Jesus has fulfilled the Law on our behalf if we believe that Jesus died for our sins. With this belief, our sins are washed clean, and we will go to heaven. Unfortunately, it also means that if we do not believe this, we definitely go to hell, since Paul says “a person is put right with God only through faith, and not by doing what the Law commands” (Romans 3:28).
Paul essentially changed the message of Jesus into a blind-faith kind of doctrine, where the crucial factor is whether or not we believe that Jesus died for our sins. Paul’s doctrine actually contradicts many statements by Jesus. Yet that is not even the strongest objection against it; the strongest objection has to be this:
If what Paul proposed is the intent of Jesus all along, why did Jesus not tell his followers about it? Why, in his three-year ministry, did Jesus instead preach and explain a completely different route to salvation? Why would Jesus do this when almost all of these teachings would become redundant if the doctrine Paul proposed is correct?
The way to salvation that Jesus actually preached can be deduced using only the words of Jesus himself. Let us look at this more closely, beginning with what Jesus says about the Law: “Do not think that I have come to do away with the Law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets. I have not come to do away with them, but to make their teachings come true.” We will see that what this actually means is that Jesus will show us how we can make the Law work.
Paul made a serious error in thinking that no one can be saved if the Law is in place, because in the very same sermon, Jesus also said: “Do not judge others, so that God will not judge you” (Matthew 7:1), and “If you forgive others the wrongs they have done to you, your Father in heaven will also forgive you” (Matthew 6:14). If we follow the teaching of Jesus to “love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Matthew 22:39), we will naturally fulfill these two conditions.
To ensure we always fulfill these two conditions, we need to transform our mind into one that naturally loves our neighbor as we love ourselves. This is emphasized by the Greek word metanoia (a word rather inadequately translated as repentance in the Bible). Meta means transformation, and noia means being or Mind; so metanoia actually means transformation of our mind. When Jesus calls for our “repentance,“ he is actually calling for us to transform our mind into one that naturally loves our neighbor as we love ourselves.
Which brings us back to why the Law is not to be done away with, because in the very same sermon, Jesus also explains: “Do for others what you want them to do for you: this is the meaning of the Law of Moses and of the teachings of the prophets” (Matthew 7:12). This is essentially the same as “loving your neighbor as you love yourself” which means that we will fulfill the essence of the Law if we keep this commandment of Jesus. This is the route to salvation that Jesus actually preached and explained in his three-year ministry.
Not only does Paul’s doctrine change the message of Jesus, it actually hampers the path of salvation that Jesus is teaching us to follow. For how are we to transform our mind to one that truly loves our neighbor, while having to also accept that our neighbor is going to hell merely for a difference in beliefs? If we love our neighbor as we love ourselves, it would be like having to accept that we ourselves are going to be tormented eternally. This is the most important reason why Paul should not have changed the message of Jesus.
Jesus has shown us that the teachings of the prophets actually work if we love our neighbor as we love ourselves. When a master leaves his disciples for the last time, he will leave them with the main message behind his teachings. And so, at the last supper, Jesus said: “My commandment is this. Love one another, just as I love you” (John 15:12).