Jesuism is also called Jesusism or Jesuanism. There is no sect or denomination of Jesuism, but the term summarizes the approach of many who view the teachings of Jesus to be different from (and in opposition to) the teaching of Paul (Paulism). Diverse groups use the term Jesuism to emphasize what they see as the distinction between following Jesus and following Paul or being part of the modern church that has been largely influenced by Paul.
It has become popular in the last 150 years to pit Paul against Jesus and the other apostles. Jesuism takes the view that Jesus taught Judaism whereas Paul took the teachings of Jesus and changed them to make them acceptable to Gentiles. Jesus, it is said, taught that keeping the Law is necessary and that He had not come to abolish the Law, whereas Paul taught that it is not necessary to keep the Law and that the Law is in fact abolished. A host of modern critical scholars (from F. C. Baur in the mid-19th century to Bart Erhman today) propose that today’s orthodoxy is simply a Pauline interpretation of Jesus’ doctrine—one of several legitimate interpretations.
We must admit that there was some misunderstanding about the message of Jesus and its implications for Jew and Gentile early on, and the New Testament is straightforward about this. There were divisions within the early church, and it took a while for Jews to come to accept Gentiles on an equal basis without any of the specific markers of Judaism like circumcision and observance of the food laws.
It took a vision from the Lord to convince Peter that he should go and share the gospel with Gentiles (Acts 10), and then he had to answer for his actions to the rest of the church authorities in Jerusalem in Acts 11. In Galatians, Paul explains that Peter withdrew from the Gentile believers and refused to eat with them and that Paul confronted him about it (Galatians 2:11–14). This all came to a head in Acts 15 when the church leaders met to iron out the issue, and the result was an official statement that Gentiles do not need to keep the Law to be saved or to be in fellowship with Jewish believers. Even though Paul opposed Peter in Galatians 2, he recognizes that this was a momentary lapse on the part of Peter and that they were ultimately preaching the same gospel (Galatians 2:6–10).
Some charge Protestants with putting more emphasis on Paul than on Jesus. This simply is not true. Protestants may emphasize the preaching of Paul more than the preaching of Jesus, because so much more of Paul is recorded. However, if one properly emphasizes Paul, one cannot help but emphasize Jesus, because Jesus is the center of Paul’s preaching. In Paul’s own words, “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (2 Corinthians 2:2). And “It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice” (Philippians 1:15–18).
In the final analysis, there is no such thing as “Jesuism” as opposed to “Paulism.” Paul was an apostle of Jesus Christ, handpicked by the Lord Himself. If one really follows Paul, one must follow the Jesus that he preached. If one values the teaching of Jesus, one must equally value the teaching of the Holy Spirit who inspired Paul and the other writers of Scripture to record and explain the life and teaching of Jesus. Ultimately, the Bible speaks with one voice, and when the Bible speaks, God speaks, regardless of the individual human authors of the individual books.