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Paul spread Christianity to the Greco-Roman world, introducing the fledgling faith to a larger audience than ever before. While Jesus and his contemporaries only preached, unsuccessfully, to the Hebraic communities, Paul brought hundreds of thousands to the faith as converts. Recorded in the New Testament as the Epistles, he introduced new ideas such as the nature of human sin, de-emphasis of law and ritual, and the promise of eternal life, which appealed to the flocks of Hellenics who had previously been part of the polytheistic pantheon of Ancient Greece, and later Rome. Paul institutionalized the spread of Christianity by completing the break from Judaism and making the new faith one of mass appeal. The life and teaching of Paul was the most significant factor that led to the spread and influence of Christianity.
Paul brought the epicenter of Christianity out of the cramped region of Roman-controlled Judea and into the cultural centers of the Mediterranean. For this he has been called the co-founder of Christianity. It was Paul that started writing the Holy Scripture in Greek, and it was Paul that changed the Messiah’s name from the Hebrew Yehoshua to the Greek Jesus. This process of Hellenization, and later Westernization, shows more similarity to modern Christianity than rabbinical Judaism, as practiced today, or of the Judaism practiced in ancient Israel. For this, Christians have Paul alone to thank. His singular contributions to the shaping of Christianity as a religion, and making it more than a simple movement in the fertile Messiah-breeding grounds of Judea, have unrivaled influence in the faith’s spread, with the possible exception being the life, death, and message of Jesus. Even though Christianity is a religion centered around one man, if historians were to examine the differences between its practice today and over 2000 years ago, they would note significant juxtapositions, and anyone studying the spread of Christianity would soon come upon a vital shift in its movement around the time of Paul. In his Epistles, he wrote to various cultural centers of the Hellenic world and brought the faith into their homes. But he molded the fledgling movement into a world religion that would spread like wildfire throughout the Mediterranean, because of its mass appeal.
Paul completed Christianity’s break from Judaism in his teachings, and this gave the faith a newfound influence among the Hellenic peoples. Throughout history, Judaism only ever appealed to a small minority of people, and it was that way at the time of the spread of Christianity. Before Paul, early devotees had merely been Jewish Jesus followers. They still adhered to Jewish law, but believed that the Messiah had come in the form of Jesus. But with the advent of Paul’s teachings, they became Christians, separating themselves forever from their Hebraic foundation and origin. Besides changing the language from Hebrew to Greek, Paul criticized the importance of law and ritual in the celebration of faith. Although rituals unique to Christianity were to come, namely Holy Communion, Paul argued that faith is enough. He contended that all are justified by faith in God, that faith transcends law and ritual, and placed an emphasis on individual worship. Perhaps most importantly, he maintained that there was no favoritism with God, no chosen people that had a special covenantal relationship. Paul said that all one needed was faith in Jesus to achieve redemption, and this appealed to the pragmatic Hellenic masses, who recognized its practicality over the heavy time commitments of other religions. Through his completion of the break from Judaism, started by Jesus during his preaching throughout Galilee, Paul helped Christianity spread into the Hellenic world, the dominant society at the time.
Paul introduced new ideas during his spread of Christianity, ones regarding the nature of human sin and the promise of eternal life. He argued that man is born from the sin originating from Adam and Eve, and that Jesus’ death was a sacrifice for the sins of all humanity. He argued that faith in the risen Christ frees the supplicant of sin, and that one can absolve their sins through belief in Jesus. This is a stark contrast with Judaism, which asserts that the world God made in his seven days of creation was inherently good. But the idea of absolving one’s sins appealed to the flocks of converts from the Hellenistic world, as did the promise of eternal life. Paul maintained that all one needed was faith in Jesus to receive eternal life. Here Paul soaked in some of the promises of other influential faiths of the time, and institutionalized Christianity’s spread throughout the Mediterranean. These revolutionary new ideas are what differentiate Paul’s influence from that of Jesus’s sway most starkly. And these concepts are what made Christianity spread so quickly, through its mass appeal. Like a careful architect, Paul took the foundation of a new faith from Jesus’ life and message and crafted it with the right emphases to be able to sell on the market, in this case the Hellenic world. This influence cannot be denied, and it trumps that of any other in history.
Some might argue that the foundation of Hebraic ideas was more influential in the spread of Christianity than that of Paul’s. It is true that Jesus derived much of his teachings from Judaism, and that he sought to reform the ancient faith, not create a new one. Yet Paul took Christianity in such a divergent direction in its rise to worldwide prominence that it is impossible to argue that he is less important than any other factor in the spread of the fledgling faith. Without Judaism, Christianity would not have been founded, but without Paul, Christianity would have never risen beyond the scope of tiny Judea.
Paul made Christianity appealing to the Greco-Roman world. Through his promise of eternal life, acceptance of all, simple message of redemption, and pragmatic attitude towards ritual, he brought many new converts to the faith. And because of his emphasis on Christianity as a story of a man Jesus, with whom everybody can identify with, he brought it to prominence. Paul’s influence on the spread of Christianity cannot be denied. Many have even argued that Christianity should instead be called Paulism, as his life and teaching have become the defining aspect in its evolution into a world religion.
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