Yesterday I read a few statements in Eckhard J. Schnabel’s chapter “Paul the Missionary” in R.L. Plummer and J.M. Terry’s Paul’s Missionary Methods: In His Time and Ours that I found to be worth sharing:
“As a servant [Paul] assists Jesus in what Jesus continues to do in the world (see Acts 1:1).” (p. 31)
“Paul obeys Jesus as a slave (Greek: doulos; Latin: servus) obeys his master. This does not mean that Paul is a reluctant missionary, anticipating the day when he can shed the shackles of this bondage. On the contrary, since his status as a slave is determined by the status of his master, he regards it as a privilege to speak for Jesus Christ, the exalted Lord: he expects that ‘by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be exalted as always in my body’ (Phil 1:20 NRSV).” (p. 33)
“Since other missionaries, preachers, and teachers are also servants, there is no place for arrogance and striving for super prestige: missionary work is not about personal honor and status, but about getting work done at the behest of God.” (p. 34)
Paul’s self-image as a servant is challenging to me as a Christian. That first quote grabbed my attention: Jesus is the one working in the world through his Spirit. Paul as a servant can be seen following behind his master assisting his master’s work. If Paul envisioned himself this way, and if we can do the same, it may go a long way toward our interactions and support of one another. If we are all servants together, none masters, then we share in Christ’s work, not our own.
we could take it further, ministry is service, service is ministry, wherever we minister, we serve, wherever we serve, we minister.
Agreed, we should make a distinction between the two. That has gotten many a “minister” in trouble!
My view is this: We pick and choose from Paul, as we do from Jesus. We’d better have a relatively “self-less” or servant-leader heartset as we approach either of them as models. As to Paul, particularly…. he is very complex. Aspects of his manner and work (apparently) I think we DON’T want to emulate.
For example, I don’t see at all that he followed the example of Jesus, in terms of what Jesus apparently (we can’t have much certainty about most of the specifics) said and did on earth. He pays little attention to the earthly Jesus and Jesus’ teachings. His almost total focus is on what he saw and heard in his several visions, supposedly of the risen Christ. He makes repeated points of not getting “his” gospel from the other Apostles, or any human source. And with no claim and little chance he ever even saw the earthly Jesus, where else would he get much of a knowledge of Jesus and his teachings? (Potentially from some non-apostle early Christians, but he makes a point of saying he went directly into “Arabia” in what would have been only 36 or 37 CE, hardly where the followers of Jesus so-far were)…
More detail could be added, but the point is that Paul relied almost fully on revelation and/or his own theological logic to guide his sense of mission, which was grand indeed. And when its furtherance or success was threatened (almost certainly by the Jerusalem Apostles and leaders themselves — in my studied opinion — particularly James), he could get very testy, condemning and insulting. We tend to justify this behavior on the assumption that he was fighting corruptors of “the Gospel.” Most things short of physical violence seems o.k. in this context. But what IF his opponents were indeed the Jerusalem leaders, whose Jewish-observant views and practices (per particularly the early parts of Acts as well as some of Paul’s statements) comprised a “different Gospel” in the eyes of Paul? Again, Paul was a highly ambitious, complex and sometimes inconsistent character (like most of us); both a model of self-sacrifice and sometimes a model of self-importance and competitiveness, non-cooperation that we don’t want to emulate.
Obviously, Paul is not someone we aim to parrot in everything we do. He is a man from a different place and a different time. That said, it seems like this point is merely a truism. Paul did not want people to follow Paul as Paul, but as an apostle of Jesus. In his place and time I doubt we can find many who were more worthy of our admiration and observation. In fact, our discussion of Paul may prove this. Paul made an impact. We observe him even now, even when we disagree with him, even when we don’t know how to translate his teachings into our modern world.
As to Paul’s connection to Jesus, well, we’ve discussed this subject, so I’m not sure that I have anything new to say in response. I disagree that Paul does not follow Jesus. Likewise, I disagree that Paul did not preach Jesus’ Gospel, though I would agree that he didn’t present it the same way Jesus presented it since he was not proclaiming it within the same context within which Jesus proclaimed it. I can see how Paul as presented by many scholars may seem to be saying something different than Jesus, but it is my conviction that the difference is between the Paul of some scholars and the Jesus of some scholars, not Paul and Jesus. Recently, Daniel Kirk’s Jesus I Have Loved, but Paul?: A Narrative Approach to the Problem of Pauline Christianity, Scot McKnight’s The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited, David Wenham’s Did St. Paul Get Jesus Right?: The Gospel According to Paul, N.T. Wright’s writings on Paul, and those who have contributed various “new perspectives on Paul” such as J.D.G. Dunn have helped me see that while we cannot ignore the differences between Jesus and Paul we must be careful not to distort the message of both so that we can’t see how one relates to the other.
The key: the Kingdom of God. Jesus understood himself as inaugurating it. I affirm that he came to see himself as the Messiah, even if he redefined this office, and Paul as a disciple of Jesus after the resurrected understood Jesus to have been vindicated as the God’s chosen King (ala Ps. 2) when God resurrected Jesus. Therefore, even if Paul does not use language about the “Kingdom” as often as Jesus (which makes sense, since Jesus spoke to fellow Jews, while Paul spoke to Gentiles, mostly, about a Jewish Messiah) he presented Jesus as such by calling him Christ and Lord while referring to his new communities as ekklesia or civic gatherings.
Thanks for the thoughtful reply Brian. I don’t have the energy or time to parse the details now, and appreciate your points. Both Jesus and Paul seem to me to represent a major factor and force in Jewish tradition and way of seeing God–that of expectation of the Kingdom, as you refer to also. The concept of just what it was and how it would come did seem to vary and overall evolve during the major/minor prophet period. (My recent reading and blog review of Schweitzer’s “The Kingdom of God and Primitive Christianity” was clarifying for me on this.)
I will also mention this parallel betw. Jesus and Paul: both had forms of the “already but not yet” element of the K. And for both, this revolved around the nature of how we treat one another in large part… in the NOW, regardless if the “not yet” appears right away as expected or not. (But I do think many Christians AND others create problems for themselves by lack of perspective and caution here, in expectation of either the K. of God or some kind of “new age/era.”)
My main concern surrounding Paul is that Xn’s tend to take his theology as being metaphysically TRUE in various details, despite the fact that it is far from systematic and clear, and DOES plow new ground relative to biblical concepts up to his time (as YOU know, the Gospels and rest of the NT was not yet written)…. They don’t realize just HOW MUCH is resting on Paul’s personal claims (with little substantiated back-up, if any) of divine revelation and resulting authority of an “apostle.” So in trying to make Paul systematic and consistent within himself and with prior Scripture, we’ve ended up with dangerous (in being often psychologically / emotionally damaging) views of what constitutes personal salvation, with the idea (sometimes subconscious but often conscious also) that it is quite tenuous and hard to know if one has obtained it, with dire consequences if one has not.
On the one hand, Paul’s apostleship is one of those things that is quite difficult to establish if we are discussing some sort of metaphysical proof that is necessary. On the other hand, Paul’s conversion has caused many of us to stop and listen to what he had to say. I have no reason to doubt that he was as pious and zealous for his Phariseeism as he claims. Therefore, I find his conversion quite extraordinary. Can I prove that he encountered the resurrected Jesus? Of course not. I believe he did though, and therefore he had my attention, though not uncritically.
Similarly, if he was accepted by others who knew the pre-resurrected Jesus, even as there may have been tensions with some of them over how to incorporate non-Jews into the Kingdom (and truly, this is the most serious matter: Wenham’s aforementioned book does a fine job of presenting this as the thing that caused tension more than anything else), then there was something about his experience that jived with them. I don’t see any good reason for Luke to present Paul as a bad man who became good unless it is based on some reality. Now, I know the “extraordinary conversion” narrative may be one reason, but I find it more plausible that Paul was a misguided person who had an experience than that Paul had a smooth transition from one worldview into another and Luke spiced it up a bit.
Finally, while Pauline Christianity’s survival and eventual rise to influence does not prove anything more than Joseph Smith establishing Mormonism it does tell us that he was not a flash in the pan cult leader. Whatever he said and did grabbed people’s attention. Personally, the Paul I meet in his epistles, while confusing and troubling at times, appeals to me as a man who lived seriously the proclamation that God raised Jesus from the dead. Paul’s life makes me wonder how deep my own confession goes.
Now as to Paul the dangerous influence, would you mind being specific? Often it is not Paul but Paul interpreted or Paul universalized that causes problems. Is it Paul that worries you or Paul interpreted?
Paul seems to have held everyone is ultimately a slave – you are either a slave to sin and death, or you are slave to Christ and His kingdom.
The idea that we are all slaves is anathema to those who have only ever known a free society. Nevertheless, Paul seems to argue, that even then we are not free. (That even after we are baptised we still experience our flesh waging a war against our spirit, even if Jesus guarantee’s us that our flesh will not win – this is evidence that we are slaves to Christ).
Agreed, Paul does use slavery as an analogy for how we live. In other words, we are not free of everything. We are not our own deity. There is one who is free, ultimately, and that is God. I think this drives Paul’s language. One is not an island to themselves. We all worship someone or something, and even when we think it is ourselves this is ultimately a sign it is something else.
Actually, Brian, I think it is both Paul and how he’s interpreted that concerns so many people… and me mostly because of them… I don’t have the concerns in relation to myself. Not, btw, that there are not issues also with things in the Gospels, Acts, the other epistles, and Revelation. I’m not singling out Paul alone, but I believe his influence is the main factor that both created later Christianity in creedal and institutional form and confused what Jesus and his original followers believed and followed (basically Torah, with Messianic belief in Jesus). I see some of the doctrines of Paul as being beneficial, pro-social, etc. But others are not.
I do agree that Paul probably was positively transformed by how, why, and the implications of it and in other similar situations is discussion for another time…. too much generally gets conflated together. Sorting it all out is indeed a complex situation… probably why there are so many views on it. Plus it intertwines with complex theological concepts derived mostly apart from Paul that he gets incorporated into.
If Paul’s “influence is the main factor” in creating a Christianity unrecognizable to “Jesus and his original followers” then we should be able to explain in what sense, no? I hear this claim often enough, but often it is based on two misconceptions, at least: (1) That Jesus’ message had to remain static and that Jesus’ death and resurrection couldn’t have altered or made more precise his person, message, and mission. (2) That Jesus as Israel’s Messiah following Torah means that Paul could not have welcomed non-Jews into the community without demanding their conversion to Judaism seems like a groundless claim. Let’s remember this: Jesus had no reason to disregard Israel’s Law. He was Israel’s Messiah. Likewise, prior to the resurrection Jesus lived when there was no fulfillment of the Old Covenant, when the New Covenant had not been offered, and when the work of God was not fully unveiled.
This is the claim of his earliest followers, not the earliest followers we invent but that left behind no writings. Paul is quite early and no one seems to oppose Paul’s claim in his ranks that Jesus is the Messiah and Son of God or that he resurrected from the dead. There confusion was over whether or not Jesus’ death marked the end of the Old Covenant, the beginning of the New Covenant, and whether particular symbols of Judaism had been “fulfilled” in his life, death, and resurrection. This became even more important when the Temple System was removed. Judaism had to begin rethinking things as well. This is what happens when apocalyptic, earth shaking, life altering events take place. For almost all Jews the destruction of the Temple was one of these things (though one wonders if those at Qumran cared and how it impacted many Diaspora Jews in the west and east). For Jews and non-Jews who announced allegiance to Jesus as Messiah a more apocalyptic, earth shaking, life altering event happened: God resurrected Jesus.
If the destruction of the Temple could force people to rethink the meaning of the cult, the Law, and what it meant to be the people of God in the world surely a man raising from the dead would do the same.
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