Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles

Vol. 1, No. 10 Page 14 October 1999

Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles

The Apostle Paul’s Place 
In New Testament Christianity

By Dennis Gulledge

The subject of our study is one of the most admired men who ever lived.  He penned more of the New Testament than any other inspired writer.  Probably more books have been written about him, second only to Jesus.  Perhaps the most widely studied work on Paul in the 19th century is The Life and Epistles of St. Paul (2 vols., 1852) written by W.J. Conybeare and J.S. Howson.  Another valuable book is St. Paul The Traveller and Roman Citizen (1895) by William M. Ramsay.  These books present a scholarly and conservative approach to the life of the great apostle.  There is a current revival of interest in the life of Paul, and the books about him that are coming from so many of the modern “scholars” are not of the same character as Conybeare, Howson and Ramsay.  The latter books about the apostle seem to serve some political agenda of modernism.

Paul has been the subject of many high profile revisionists who are taking another look at the great apostle.  The Arkansas Democrat Gazette (February 7, 1998) carried an article by Hieu Tran Phan, entitled, “Blinded by the Light: Paul’s Role in the Formation of Christianity Again Being Scrutinized” (p. 4B).  Also, the news magazine U.S. News & World Report ran an article by Jeffery L. Sheler, entitled, “Reassessing an Apostle,” with the subtitle, “The quest for the historical St. Paul yields some surprising new theories” (pp. 52-55).  The basis of both of these articles is to re-examine Paul’s place in the establishment of Christianity.  The revisionist “scholars” of today claim that Paul “planted the seeds of a global church – something Christ never envisioned” (ADG, p. 4B).  Some “scholars” now believe that Paul was more instrumental in the founding of Christianity than anyone else, including Jesus (USN&WR, p. 52.).  It is now said that Paul was “Christianity’s true founder” (USN&WR, p. 55).  Over the past few years, “scholars” have intensified their quest for the “historical Jesus,” and they have now enlarged their focus to include the “historical Paul.”

When one considers what these revisionist “scholars” mean by Christianity it is easy to see that they are not even close to a correct understanding of the apostle.

Revisionists believe that Paul developed a spiritual Christology by borrowing from pagan mythologies.  “Religions such as Mythraism had themes of a virgin being impregnated by some divine being,” Plumer* says.  “There were stories of some godly person being killed on a tree or cross with the promise that he would return. . . . There’s no way to prove that Christianity is historically deficient, but it seems likely.”  (ADG, p. 4B).
Among the more provocative theories that have emerged from these types of studies are the following, as listed in the U.S. News article (p. 52): First, “As a Christian missionary and theologian, Paul knew little and cared less about the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth.”  The claim is made that Paul simply may not have known the teachings of Jesus because he tells no stories about Jesus.  Second,
Paul was intensely apocalyptic and believed that Christ’s Second Coming was imminent.  Consequently, he did not intend his sometimes stern judgment on doctrinal matters and on issues of gender and sexuality to become church dogma applied, as it has been, for nearly 2,000 years.
In other words, Paul was busy anticipating the end of time and did not expect his writings to constitute a divine pattern.  Third,
Although an apostle to the Gentiles, Paul remained thoroughly Jewish in his outlook and saw the Christian movement as a means of expanding and reforming traditional Judaism.  He had no thought of starting a new religion.
Fourth, “For all of his energy and influence, Paul wrote only a fraction of the New Testament letters that tradition ascribes to him, and even some of those were subsequently altered by others to reflect developments in church theology.”

In a world of “scholars” currently talking trash about Paul, it would be well for us to assess Paul’s place in New Testament Christianity.  The history of first century Christianity is contained in two names – Jesus and Paul.  Unquestionably, most of the history of the early church is embodied in the life of that great apostle to the Gentiles.

How Important Was Paul 
in the Spread of Early Christianity?

It would be hard to overestimate the importance of Paul in the spread of first century Christianity.  His ability to work and suffer for Christ was without parallel (1 Corinthians 15:10; 2 Corinthians 11:23-28).  His influence was second only to that of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1).  His writings that were inspired of the Holy Spirit are more numerous and have more powerfully directed the course of human thought and action than any others.  Peter, a great apostle though he was, was confronted by Paul once because he “walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel” (Galatians 2:11-14), but who ever confronted Paul because he was to be blamed for anything?”

In every area of activity, Paul cast a longer shadow than any other disciple or apostle (1 Corinthians 15:10).  He who was once the scourge of the church became the surge of the church.  He was remarkably changed from a persistent persecutor to the great apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 22:4-5; Romans 11:13).  The Gospel was preached to “every creature under heaven” during his lifetime (Colossians 1:23).

Paul Broadened the 
Horizons of the Gospel

Two factors contributed to the great success of Paul’s labors: First, the universality of the Gospel message (Mark 16:15; Romans 1:16), and second, the strength of personality which enabled him to carry that message.

It was primarily through his efforts that the Gospel was preached in Cyprus, Galatia, Macedonia, Greece, Asia and other places of the Greco-Roman world.  Modern day revisionists think that this is something Christ did not envision for Christianity.  Not only did the Lord envision it, he commanded it! (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15).  Exclusivism was no part of Paul’s preaching unless that exclusivity is in Christ! (1 Corinthians 1:23).  Paul came out of Phariseeism, but Pharisaic narrowness had no place in his preaching (Acts 23:6).  Neither did he produce a “Pauline Christianity” as opposed to a “Jewish Christianity” (1 Corinthians 1:12-13).  Paul knew that the Gospel was God’s power to save every man (Romans 1:16).

Paul Revealed Christianity 
as a Spiritual Religion

Paul demonstrated that God’s love for national Israel had merged into a wider love for spiritual Israel:
“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.  And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:15-16).
The falsehood is propagated by revisionists that Christianity was just an extension of Judaism.  It would appear that they do not know any more than those first century antagonists who considered the church to be a sect of Judaism (Acts 24:5; 28:22).  According to the U.S. News article, authors Richard Horsley and Neil Silberman, in their 1997 book, The Message and the Kingdom, argue that
Paul never considered his Damascus Road experience a “sudden [conversion] to a new religion.”  Instead, they argue, he found it a revelation of “previously unknown details of God’s unfolding plan for Israel’s salvation at the End of Day.”  What Paul then began to fervently preach was not a new faith but a refined and fulfilled version of the old.  (p. 54).
To the contrary, Paul was a chosen vessel to Jesus, not to Moses (Acts 9:15).  Paul preached the new covenant, which is a covenant and not a conglomeration (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 8:6-9).  Paul opposed the Judaizers who attempted to forge Judaism with Christianity (Acts 15:1-5).  No one ever drew a clearer distinction between the Law of Moses and the Gospel of Christ than Paul did! (Galatians 3:15—4:7).

Paul Spoke God’s Word 
on Two Important Issues

Liberal critics love to pit Paul against Jesus on matters of social conscience.  It is claimed that Jesus was a social radical whose “love” theology was accepting of all cultural deviations, while Paul was a renegade apostle who was not in lock-step with his Master.  Take, for example, the matter of the role of women in worship.  Paul said, “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence” (1 Timothy 2:12).  The remote context of this statement is proper behavior in the life of the church (1 Timothy 3:15).  The reasons for these limitations transcend culture (1 Timothy 2:13-14).  Modern feminism feels the brunt of Paul’s words.  The “Rev” Nancy Hastings Sehested, “pastor” of the Sweet Fellowship Baptist Church in Clyde, NC, said, “I’ve been beat up by St. Paul for the past 20 years” (USN&WR, p. 54).  She “sees much of the antifeminist stance as an outgrowth of Paul’s writings” (Ibid.).  Some critics reinterpret Paul’s words to mean that he was preserving order in worship rather than limiting the role of women in the worship service.

Paul’s teaching on homosexuality is equally provocative (cf., Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11).  The claim is made that Paul was not repulsed by homosexuality per se, but the abuse of sodomy – homosexual rape and sexual addiction that often occurred in Greco-Roman bathhouses.

Paul should certainly be appreciated for the great apostle that he was, and who, second to Jesus, was the greatest exponent of Christianity that the world has ever seen.  His work and words still stand as the plan of God to redeem sinful man.

*This is Fred Plumer, pastor at United Church of Christ in Irvine, California, and an associate of the Jesus Seminar, a radical panel deconstructing the Bible.  It is worthy of note that Deconstruction is a method of literary criticism that “bases interpretations on the philosophical, political and social implications of the use of language in the text rather than on the author’s intention” (Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary).

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