One of the great errors in Christian thought – let’s not call it a lie – is that the “Apostle” Paul personally converted, presumably to a new religion, “Christianity.” This is simply false. Paul, by his own assertion was born a Jew, a Pharisee, and remained a Jew for his entire life. When Paul asserted to his followers his opposition to the authorities, he was referring to the Roman Empire, not the High Priest and the other Jewish eminences in the first century, C.E.
Paul was preaching to the nations, that is non-Jews, and offering them a way into the covenant with God. In fact this is a clear part of Jewish theology—that the Jews are to be a nation of priests and a holy nation, leading the non-Jews into a covenant with God. Some theologians theorize that this meant entry into the Jews’ covenant with God, others into a new covenant designed specifically for them—“a new testament.”
Paul did not truly oppose Jewish law; he said the people of the nations could become part of God’s covenant by their acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah and his faithfulness towards God. Paul did NOT say that they could join the covenant by their faith IN Jesus. This error has informed (or disinformed) the Christian religion for well over 1500 years.
Most important, Paul invented major changes in the rules under which non-Jews could become members of the covenant with God. He omitted circumcision, dietary restrictions and many other of the commandments, big and small. What was he up to? He wanted to convert as many non-Jews as possible to his religious views. He wanted to increase the number of his followers, and thus his power and importance.
To further increase his recruitment, Paul emphasized an idea that was floating around in first century Israel: the apocalypse was imminent and the reign of God on earth and the day of judgment would soon arrive. Paul added to this theology the idea that Jesus, the son of God, would also return at the right hand of God and participate in the new heaven and new earth.
The 2 centuries on both sides of the millennium were an era when a huge number of magicians, messiahs, prophets and other assorted religious nuts warned of the coming apocalypse and claimed they would save the world in one way or another. Paul used this widespread fantasy to convince his hearers they must act quickly or suffer disaster. It worked. And worked. And worked.
Whether Paul believed any of this nonsense is unknowable, but he certainly ranks as the greatest and most successful religious con man of all time.