A Man of Letters
"For we know in part, and we prophecy in part..."
- The Apostle Paul
I love Paul.
My preaching finds its source nearly entirely in the New Testament, divided pretty much right down the middle...about half of it from The Gospels, and the other half from Paul's Epistles.
I guess if I had to claim a favorite chapter in the Bible it would probably be Romans, Chapter Eight, part of his letter to the church at Rome ( "There is therefore now no condemnation..."..."the whole creation groans, waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God"...).
I love His post-resurrection revelation of Christ...I consider it to be pristine.
I love his independence...the fact that, after his conversion, he went to Arabia for three years to develop his own theology/ideology, instead of going to Jerusalem to be mentored and/or influenced in any way by the original Apostles. He thought for himself, nearly to the point of being unteachable...and this is in spite of the fact that he learned at the feet of Gamaliel, a teacher who was to Israel and to Judaism what Socrates and Plato were to the Greco-Roman world.
I love that he never stopped defending his Apostleship, even though it was questioned, challenged and debated for as long as he lived because he wasn't one of the original twelve.
I love his mystical side...the part of his gift that produced the kind of imaginative writing we find in the first chapter of Ephesians...that sort of out-of-the box thinking that enabled him to present concepts such as "The Body of Christ", or the notion that Jesus was crucified "before the foundation of the world".
I personally believe that he wrote the book of Hebrews, and if he indeed did, I think it's amazing how he took the symbolism and typology of the Old Covenant in that book, and made it relevant to those who were not originally of the seed of Abraham.
I love his faith and tenacity...that bulldog kind of can-do perseverance that enabled him to survive beatings...being left for dead on more than one occasion...shipwrecks...all kinds of intense opposition.
I love his universalist teaching, like when he said things like "Christ is all and is in all"...or when he said that Christ was even in the Scythians (the most primitive of the barbarians), a concept that would have been considered outrageous to most civilized people at the time.
I love that he never talked about hell or eternal damnation, and confirmed the promise of ultimate reconciliation by saying that eventually "every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess".
I love that he continued to evolve as his tradition gradually (and sometimes reluctantly) bowed to his revelation...something to which I can definitely relate.
I love his flawed humanity...the fact that he struggled with his own beliefs, and was sometimes inconsistent, like when he circumcised Timothy, even though he constantly insisted that circumcision didn't mean anything under the New Covenant.
I love his candor and transparency...the inner conflict that he openly shared with his readers in Romans 7 ("Oh, wretched man that I am")...the fact that he had issues with his ego, and was often intolerant and inflexible with others, like when he had a permanent falling out with Barnabas over Mark. He could be totally full of himself at times, and yet he could write the ultimate masterpiece on love in 1 Corinthians 13.
I love that he set an example of knowing "'how to be abased, and how to abound"...how to be content in every state in which he found himself...and in that context could say that he could do all things through Christ who strengthened him.
I love that he said that those who are in the ministry should be financially supported by the ministry, but also did what he had to do, making tents to supplement his income when it was necessary.
I love that he eventually made peace with his life ("By the grace of God I am what I am...''), and even made peace with his death ( "To live is Christ, to die is gain...")...
I could write a whole book about Paul, and one day I might.
But not everyone holds my high opinion of him, even among theologians and scholars...some of the greatest thinkers in history...mainly because Paul's writings seem to be in conflict with some if not much of what Jesus taught.
This is not a problem for me, personally, because, as I've already said, I embrace and even celebrate Biblical contradictions...the exchange of ideas that comes from different paradigms (THE BIBLE IS NOT A BOOK! THE BIBLE IS A LIBRARY OF BOOKS!)
To make my point, here are a few quotes...I neither fully agree nor fully disagree with any of them, even though I do (and always will) love Paul and his mind and his teaching...
"... Paul is in effect the first Christian heretic, and his teachings, which become the foundation of later Christianity, are a flagrant deviation from the 'Original' or 'pure' form extolled by the leadership. Whether James, the 'Lord's brother,' was literally Jesus' blood kin or not (and everything suggests he was), it is clear that he knew Jesus...personally. So did most of the other members of the community or 'early Church,' in Jerusalem, including of course, Peter. When they spoke, they did so with first hand authority. Paul had never had such personal acquaintance with the figure he'd begun to regard as his 'Savior.' He had only his quasi-mystical experience in the desert and the sound of a disembodied voice. For him to arrogate authority to himself on this basis is, to say the least, presumptuous. It also leads him to distort Jesus' teachings beyond recognition, to formulate, in fact, his own highly individual and idiosyncratic theology, and then to legitimize it by spuriously ascribing it to Jesus."
"As things transpired, however, the mainstream of the new movement gradually coalesced, during the next three centuries, around Paul and his teachings. Thus, to the undoubted posthumous horror of James and his associates, an entirely new religion was indeed born, a religion that came to have less and less to do with its supposed founder."
- From the book, "The Dead Sea Scrolls Deception" by Michael Bajgent and Richard Leigh (Corgi Books, London, 1991)
"Paul was the great Coryphaeus, and first corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus."
- Thomas Jefferson
"Where possible he (Paul) avoids quoting the teaching of Jesus, in fact even mentioning it. If we had to rely on Paul, we should not know that Jesus taught in parables, had delivered the sermon on the mount, and had taught His disciples the 'Our Father.' Even where they are specially relevant, Paul passes over the words of the Lord."
- Albert Schweitzer
"Paul hardly ever allows the real Jesus of Nazareth to get a word in."
- Carl Jung
As I previously mentioned, Jesus said to call no man "Father" on the earth...Paul, however, insisted that he was to be considered and called a father by his followers, even though they may have had thousands of instructors.
Jesus elevated the status of women and seemed to enjoy their company...all kinds of women...prostitutes...a woman caught in adultery...a woman with an issue of blood...a woman who had had five husbands and was living with a man to whom she wasn't married.
The first person Jesus called to the ministry of proclaiming His resurrection was a woman, Mary Magdalene.
Paul told women to keep silent in the church...didn't allow them to usurp authority over men...told wives to submit to their husbands...
Women apparently found Jesus to be approachable...a safe place for them in a very patriarchal world in which they were considered to be not much more than objects...
Suffice it to say, a harlot never felt comfortable enough to wash Paul's feet with her hair!
And when it comes to the subject of homosexuality, as I said in the last chapter, it didn't even seem to be on Jesus' radar screen...but it was definitely on Paul's.
To be continued...