Hannah and Papa J

Hannah and Papa J

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Paul the Apostle

Dear Hannah,

HG Wells once wrote in his Outline of History that Paul was responsible for refashioning the Christian religion.  From what I can tell this seems to be unfair.  Not only because there were twelve actual Apostles to keep him from doing it, but because Paul had a very different mission from Jesus Himself.  The whole purpose of Jesus was to start the Christian religion.  The job of Paul and the Apostles was to figure out how to organize it.



The reason we know this is true is because before Paul arrived, the Apostles had a very difficult time deciding what to do with themselves.  Nobody was really sure whether the disciples should be doing what Jesus commanded by waiting on Christian tables, or doing what Jesus commanded by overseeing the waiters.  In the end they decided that some of them would be responsible for running things and others for doing them; and that a partition of duties was not only necessary to their keeping of Jesus' commands, but to the very existence of the Christian church.

The administration of the church is a much different task than just being a member of it.  Even Jesus, in his preaching, was oftentimes found "contradicting" Himself by saying one day that you ought to turn the other cheek and love your enemy, and the next that anyone who didn't apologize to the church should be shunned in entirety.  Of course, a man who says both can have an excuse: that he knew the true meaning of his statements and that neither of them should be taken too radically -- and that he knew exactly when one principle should bend to another.  But a follower frequently runs the risk of being a rebel, and in balancing the teachings of his Savior, may oftentimes be accused of deviating from them.

Paul is accused of fashioning a new theology because at the time of Christ there was no settled Christian theology.  The differences between the Pharisees and the Sadducees on the immortality of the soul prove there wasn't even an official Jewish theology.  He's accused of abandoning the teachings of Jesus because at the time of Christ nobody had even compiled all His teachings; and even after the Gospels were written we find Paul quoting Jesus in a matter never mentioned in the Gospels.  To take a man as wild and shocking as Jesus, someone who almost overthrows our moral principles and earthly authorities, and then turn his teachings into functional authorities and a code of justice, would seem an impossible task to almost anyone involved in it.  The fact that Christianity ever became a functional society is a miracle, considering that a literal reading of many of Christ's teachings asks us to abandon our rights, and the purpose of any community is the mutual and systematic benefit of its members.

Paul was the only Apostle who was capable of writing decently, and his extensive education in theological matters permitted him to not only outlast the other Apostles, whose instructions appear to have been overwhelmingly verbal, but to overwhelm them in terms of influence.  The teachings of the other Apostles were passed on to successors who may or may not have remembered everything they said.  Paul's prolific instructions were passed on verbatim for centuries to anyone who could read.  And while the other Apostles may have gloried in dining with and listening to their Savior, Paul almost alone has the honor of guiding the majority of His children.  Nobody even knows anything about Thaddeus, despite his being an Apostle.  We know more about Paul than anyone else in the New Testament, with the exception perhaps of Jesus Christ Himself.

Our knowledge of the tardy Apostle is oftentimes unflattering.  He's responsible for the most reasonable regulations (he who will not work shall not eat), as well as the New Testament's most beautiful and popular passages (one of them being 1 Corinthians 13).  On the other hand he seems to take the most sensible things and blend them with ridiculous things almost without any hesitation*.  One moment he tells you that women are inspired by God, and the next that nobody should listen to them (1 Tim 2:12).  He nearly denies the value of speaking in tongues while trying to defend it (1 Cor 14:1-25).  He says we ought to cover women's heads because of the angels, and the next moment he says that the angels are irrelevant (1 Corinthians 11:7-16).  He says all authorities are given the legitimate use of the sword, and then tells Christians to accept even the illegitimate uses of it.  He says governments are a terror only to those who do evil, in a society where the government was terrorizing the people who did good (Romans 13:1-5).  He says that God is responsible for making us what we are, but that we are responsible for doing what we do (Romans 9:6-24).  He tells us to use the gentlest language, and then wishes for his enemies to castrate themselves (Galatians 5:11-12).  He says one moment that all Scripture is inspired, and the next that he's speaking out of his own devices (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 1 Cor 7:25-28).  He wants us to be lenient with outsiders, and to excommunicate our brethren over a series of vices (1 Cor 5:9-13).  He's sincere and imbalanced; humble and proud; cool-headed and emotional; sometimes clear and other times confusing.  His appraisals of his own merits are (perhaps necessarily) long, and his condemnation of his own deficiencies are exaggerated and short.  He speaks gently and threatens to use a rod.  He decries partisanship, and provides the Christian church with the most powerful condemnations of heresy.

Paul's writings, having the authority of Scripture, are oftentimes mistaken for an ideology when they're better taken as a portrait of a man in an extremely important historical moment -- frequently beautiful, quickly terrifying; convinced of his own wisdom; unstoppable in his dedication; intolerant of vice and gentle towards ignorance; meeting the needs of the moment as he saw fit, while marching relentlessly toward an indescribable eternity.  In Paul's writings we saw the Christian church confused, broken, immoral, contentious, vivacious, fanatical, heretical, repentant, resurgent, maturing, and in Clement's epistle to the Corinthians, written long after Paul's own death, triumphant.  Paul's authority didn't refashion anything.  From what I can tell he was responsible for fashioning it.

Your father,
-J

*I apologize for this list in advance, since it may be possible that after years of reading the epistles repeatedly, I may have misunderstood Paul's meaning.  But I sincerely doubt this is the case, and advice you to research the matter for yourself.  The reason I advise you to do this is because there are two ways to react to anyone saying he speaks for God, and the first way is to accept everything he says.  The other way is to scrutinize everything he says.  Watch a documentary on Jim Jones, and choose for yourself which one seems more reasonable. 

2 comments:

  1. Jeremy
    Just a quick note to say thank you. I ran across one of your essays on "American Thinker" a few months ago. It struck me as just incredibly insightful. I believe it was one of the essays on Black Lives Matter. I later read another article on from somewhere and again, this one struck a chord with me. It turns out that it was another essay from Jeremy. Upon making the connection I came to your website and I have been reading through most of your works as I have the time. I have told a half a dozen friends about it and they too have become fans of your writing. I am not a writer, but if I were,your work would be the yardstick against which I would measure myself. Your thoughts are original, organic and and incredibly insightful. Thanks and I look forward to the next one.
    Rob

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    1. Thanks Rob -- hearing people love my work makes my day. Hope to have even better essays for you down the road!

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