Thursday, December 04, 2008

Who Was Paul?

I used to think St. Paul was a jerk. I couldn't stand him or what I perceived to be his theology. After my 'Paul and the Early Church' class taught by Greg Carey, i'm now having second thoughts. I used to think Paul as a lot like this picture (photographed by yours truly from the Sacred Heart Catholic Church on the corner of Walnut and Nevin here in Lancaster) just giving people the bird and telling them they're going to hell. i've come to think a little differently of Paul but still am trying to articulate that thought. for your help, i'd love to know what you make of Paul! who was he?

To help, here are the 4 legacies usually assigned to Paul by today's scholars. Was he:

The Preacher of salvation by grace from the burden of the Law?

The Preacher who proclaimed God's reign by breaking through in Christ the Messiah of Israel?

Was he a social conservative that opted for celebacy and temperance based on the teachings of Christ?

Was he a social radical that opted for a new, liberative lifestyle based on the teachings of Christ?

I'll hold my opinion until after i write this paper! but i'd love to hear what y'all think, so rawk and roll!!!


Cody said...

I vote number one (it appears to me the most academic conclusion, as long as we're not supposing he was right).

I've leaving it up to you to change my mind about Paul.

Sally said...

Gosh Luke I wish I had a couple of hours to write about this but it's been a long week and there's more to go. I'm sure, since you have had the incredible teaching of Greg C you are way more enlightened than I so pardon my less than scholarly attempt.
I will say a few things to get the convo rolling.
First I can't pick just one definition from your list. I have to say that I too thought that Paul was not my friend for a long time, mostly because of his views on women. Over the years I've spent a good deal of time with Paul and have come to some conclusions. He was a sexist....but no more than most others of his time and station. He did value women, in fact his first church was established in the home of a woman...drum roll hero....Lydia the seller of purple cloth!! He was cocky somebody (Phil 3:3For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— 4though I myself have reasons for such confidence.
If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless)
Yes indeedy, he's all that and a bag o' chips! But as I looked longer at the text I realized that what I think he was really saying was...I was all that and I STILL wasn't worthy of Christ!!! So, yes on #1 "a preacher of salvation by grace>>>"
Paul was chosen by God to be an interpreter of the events that had just occurred. He talked a lot about the kingdom and his eschatology was clear (1 Cor 15:51 51Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.) So yes on #2 a preacher who proclained God's reign...
When it comes to celibacy that's a really touchy (or non-touchy) subject that I don't have time to tackle at the moment. I will try to get back here in a day or two and finish up the last two.

Chris E. said...

I gotta vote for #3: Was he a social radical that opted for a new, liberative lifestyle based on the teachings of Christ?

this assumes that you'll only be edified by the choice of one option, a "this or that but not both" approach. Though I don't personally hold to that (I doubt you do either).

I'd go for the social conservative thing in some arenas, but I don't quite hold to the concept that Paul was a misogynist....something about disallowing females speaking in worship vs prescribing when they CAN speak in worship makes me think there was more than one writer, or he was speaking to individual situations, or - heck - maybe the man changed his mind.

And the guy sure did have a lot to say about grace methinks...

I think over and above, he was a changemaker, radical, raring to go (everywhere).

Anonymous said...

My take on Paul – from years of reading and (and few years of) debating his writings.

(a) The Preacher of salvation by grace from the burden of the Law?

• Paul taught against circumcision of the Gentiles “Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God” (1 Cor 7:19)

• Paul taught against dietary laws “But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat.” (1 Cor 8:8 – and this in regards to food sacrificed to idols – double taboo)

• Galatians 2:16 “nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.” – This is fairly common Pauline language – faith is important – not the law.

• However, and here is the dilemma, Paul teaches from Torah/Prophets – uses them as an authority for moral values of Christianity (even though the works of the law do not justify someone?): “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal 5:19-21)

I think Paul is about faith as salvation for the Gentiles he is reaching out to – and they are not subject to Jewish laws (since they are not Jewish). However, he does base his teachings on the Tanakh and regarding values – his values find their home in the Tanakh also. I think Paul teaches salvation through Jesus (Messiah) – via faith – but faith is not an idea as we normally see it. Faith is more about a lifestyle…without deeds it is not really faith.

(b) The Preacher who proclaimed God's reign by breaking through in Christ the Messiah of Israel?

• “When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.” (I Cor 15:28)

It is evident that Paul taught God’s reign occurred through the Messiah Jesus – a reign that started on earth and started the inclusion of the Gentiles into the kingdom (likely based on the Abraham promise ‘about the sands of the seas and descendants’). I think for Paul, that reign began and they were instituting it on ‘earth’ (in heaven as in earth) – but they were also waiting for their enemies to be crushed and the kingdom to be set-up (a return of Jesus as King – not as sufferer).

(c) Was he a social conservative that opted for celibacy and temperance based on the teachings of Christ?

• 1 Cor 7:8-9 “But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I. But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” – Paul was ‘not married’ and opted for a life of celibacy (it would appear)

• 1 Cor 10:23 “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable All things are lawful, but not all things edify” – Paul was a man of reason and balance (is this what we mean by temperance – balance?)

Paul obviously was celibate because we hear no stories of his wife nor do we hear of his sexual promiscuousness (and he teaches against such things fairly often). As for non-violent – one has to believe he was – since no story has him striking back for all the stripes he took (not in Acts nor in his own letters). He was a conservative fella when it came to one’s behavior (although he did allow some leeway) – but certain things were just untenable (like sexual immorality, idolatry, murder, etc).

(d) Was he a social radical that opted for a new, liberative lifestyle based on the teachings of Christ?

He had aspects of being a social radical – talking about a new liberating lifestyle (from death to life) based on the person/teachings of Jesus.

However, Paul’s concern is the ‘gospel’ – the good news to him seemed to be about salvation and this new community of God – in the end – I have to fall into category (b). Paul is all about this new kingdom coming – and planting that kingdom on earth in gentile communities (God’s reign on earth – and in heaven – now – and in the future). God broke through so much in Paul’s mind – the Gentiles were included as equals to Gods promises (with Israel). Now that’s a reign I am ‘down with’.

***Sloppy journalism on my part – but it will suffice

Kate said...

Luke asked me to comment, but I don't really have a clue who Paul was (or even what books he wrote--other than NOT the Gospels). I know the 2-3 bible church services I've been to quoted him endlessly. I wasn't in love with those churches (to put it mildly!), so that probably clouds my opinion. So I'm glad to hear via Luke that Paul might not be such a jerk. Although I can't help but LOVE the way the light hits the statue! :-)

Anonymous said...

I think I would have to weigh in as supporting B most heavily but I can see Paul in the other choices also. I have become a fan of NT Wright, and while I am far from an authority and really am probably only a novice when it comes to his thinking on Paul, I think he might support B as his lead choice also. I love the language of God's kingdom coming to earth beginning with the Incarnation and continuing to now and beyond as a project that I can join as God sets the world to rights as NTW would put it.

RJ said...

Wow... what a GREAT response to your question, Luke. You really do RAWK! Ok, my down and dirty on brother Paul is that he is a broken servant of Christ - much like the rest of it - who sometimes REALLY gets it right and sometimes gets it wrong. (Who doesn't!?) But it has been a misogynist Greek dualist culture in the body of Christ that has warped the apostle's best teachings re: women and sexuality, and, used them to wound rather than heal. Bottom line: Paul was about setting people free in the grace of Jesus that he himself mystically encountered. Good luck, my man.