I don’t think that I am alone in having a love-hate relationship with the Apostle Paul. I, like most Christians today, have spent a lot of time talking about, learning about, and reading Paul. Luckily I haven’t studied him more than Jesus, but I think that is mostly because I attended a good Christian school. I have also had a more in-depth look at Paul than many people my age because I have walked around the places that Paul walked around. I have stood on Mars Hill, been to Ephesus, Thesoloniki, Berea, Philippi and Corinth.
I have talked about Paul in New Testament, Church History, Principles for Interpretation, Paul: Life and Times and now finally also at a state school in my History of Jesus and Paul class. I have taken a lot of Paul.
I have bounced around on my feelings for the guy. At times I have felt a close personal connection with him, as if he were my role-model from 60 A.D. Other times I have railed against him as a perverter of the message that Jesus brought. At times I am thankful for his standing up to Peter on behalf of the Gentiles. Most of the time I wish someone would have stood up to him on behalf of women. Other times, I just think he is a crazy person full of contradictions. In one place he will talk about women prophesying in the assembly, but other places he’ll tell them to shut up completely.
I, like Paul, write letters to several friends who do not have a very spiritual background. My friend Woody in prison is one of these people. He often writes me, asking me spiritual questions that are important to his life. I read his letters and ponder over them with Jesus in mind and I answer him back as best as I can. And I wonder how much different that is from what Paul did. He was a guy, just answering letters from his friends who were asking questions about spiritual matters important in their lives.
Now, I really like an Apostle that is writing letters just like me, because that takes any kind of “inspiration” issues out of it. If Paul is just writing like I am just writing than any of his ideas and teachings are debateable. We then can easily look at a teaching and say, “That was Paul’s opinion on what was best for those people at that time.” Therefore, we can then say, “That was for them, but a different path may be good for me today.”
This is my problem with Paul. If there is no inspiration. If Paul is no more than a regular guy, then I am free to get rid of the things I do not like about Paul: woman prohibitions from church leadership, etc. But if I were follow this thinking through then many other things that I do think are important have to go as well: The Lords Supper, Salvation through faith, baptism.
I am reading a book right now, that I am sure in many circles was a shocking new look at Paul. Reinventing Paul by John Gager is a look at Paul coming from his Jewish background and joining up with this Christ-Movement. In it, Gager attempts to reconcile Paul’s seemingly Anti-Jewish language in a way that makes sense to people who have always thought of Paul as railing against Judaism. This was the way I was taught to look at Paul while in school at Harding, and I am glad to see that it is a pretty modern interpretation of the Apostle.
Inspired or not, I have to believe that the Bible is true and what is contained in its pages are the lessons for the men who spent the most time with Jesus during his ministry. Though Paul wasn’t there while he was on earth, he says he received revelations from Christ, and I can see no other reason to leave a comfortable and popular life as a Pharisee to join a rag-tag group of people who were constantly getting beaten, murdered and tortured. Therefore, I must believe Paul. And if he is a man who has direct revelation and experience with the heart of God, then his teachings should be exalted above my wants for scripture.