"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Paul, Early Church Communities and Teachings of Jesus

What Paul Meant by Garry Willis  -- just a hodgepodge of things I've noted thus far in this book

"[Paul] is a mystic and a deep theologian, but also a voluble street fighter, a man busy on many fronts, often harried, sometimes exasperated."  (pg. 7) Paul's "real weapon was always language" (pg. 42) even when he fought against the believers in Jesus prior to his acceptance of the Way.

"If we want to see what the original Jesus communities looked like, the first and best witness to this is Paul, the earliest writer of what would become in time the New Testament. ... Those who believe in a providential revelation through the New Testament must deal with the fact that Providence preserved the first batch of inspired writings with the signature of Paul."  (pg. 10)

Speaking of the church communities (think meeting in houses not buildings such as today), the author discusses how "the proliferation of these gatherings was astonishingly rapid." He says too that, "The story of Paul is never that of an individual, some religious genius hatching his own religion out of his head. We find in his letters hymns that communities had formed and sung before he set them down in an epistle. ... He takes us closer in time to Jesus than does any other person or group or body of writings. The best way to find out what Jesus meant to his early followers is to see what Paul meant to his fellow believers, many of whom had seen Jesus in his earthly lifetime or after his Resurrection without having written their stories down for us.  Paul did write. But he was writing about a shared experience, not a single and idiosyncratic one. If Paul was such a foe and underminer of Jesus, why was he accepted so soon and broadly by those who knew Jesus?  The answer is that Paul was not a counterforce to Jesus but one of the early believers who together bore witness to him.    The Jesus gatherings in the Diaspora proved more fertile and lasting than those in Judaea itself, not because of any one man's brilliance, energy, or deceptions, but because they were more vitally expressive of what Jesus meant.  Paul was part of this explosion of belief. His letters are dispatches from that hurricane of activity." (pg. 15)

"The experience of the risen Jesus was not only the pivotal event in Paul's own life. It was for him the center of salvation history, for the Jews and for the world. It is what he preaches. Without it, he would have nothing to say and the gatherings would have nothing to bring them into existence."  (pg. 29)

Why did Paul not recount more about Jesus' life?  "The letters are not expositions of the meaning of Jesus' life -- though Paul could have engaged in that when he was with the gatherings he helped form.  The letters are addressed to specific problems, and he uses materials from Jesus' life only when that is needed for addressing those problems." (pg. 44)

The author argues that although Paul may not always use the specific words of Jesus, "he surely had grasped the key to what Jesus taught during his life on earth."  Paul also taught love for your neighbor and enemy (Rom. 12:20), overcoming evil with good instead of taking revenge (Rom. 12:19), not judging and condemning others (Rom. 2:1 and 14:10) among other things Jesus taught. 

Nietzsche said Paul was a man with a "'genius for hatred.'"  Yet the author wondered if a hate-filled heart could pen something as lovely as this which is more in line with Jesus' Sermon on the Mount and the Golden Rule.

From Paul to the Corinthian believers: 

 1If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames,but have not love, I gain nothing. 

 4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 

 8Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 11When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 

 13And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.  

(I Corinthians 13)


Amber said...

Oh, I have this book. I picked it up in the clearance bin. What do you think of it so far? I've heard that the author is a bit off kilter actually.

Susanne said...

Well, he completely dismisses Luke's version of Paul's life as recorded in Acts, but I guess some of what he says could be convincing. I'd have to read someone's version of why Luke's story IS fine to see which makes better sense. It's an interesting perspective if not the one I am familiar with. :)

Amber said...

Well, he completely dismisses Luke's version of Paul's life as recorded in Acts

I have no way of describing accurately the sound I made when I read this. It's that disbelieving 'uh-huh'. And on that note I believe I shall be completely dismissing this author and his conclusions. :)

dude. my captcha is 'floating'.

Susanne said...

Ha, ha! Yeah, I actually felt bad for Luke while reading this book. :) He's very pro-Paul though.

It's not a hard read. When you get around to it, I'd like to hear your thoughts on his "take" on things. :)

filthykafir said...

From a strictly historical approach, Luke was writing his gospel and Acts in the mid 90s of the first century, while Paul pursued his ministry throughout the decade of the 50s -- fully two generations before the Lukan account. While Luke is recognized by most scholars to have been a pretty good historian, by the standards of the time, I personally think his material on Paul is seriously flawed. On the other hand, I find no reason to doubt the veracity of Paul himself in those portions where he refers to his own story. [The one exception I make to that evaluation of the accuracy of the Pauline epistles is that I think he may have overestimated the enthusiasm of the Jerusalem community for his outreach to Gentiles. I suspect their acceptance of that (I believe, novel) idea seemed to them a good way of getting a guy with some unusual, distinctly non-Jewish, ideas about Jesus out of town for a while.]

sarah said...

I am just reading, the first Christian about the life of Paul by Karen Armstrong. She is quiett well known in the UK, have you read any of her work?
She seems very critical and actually I think she is in some ways looking to explain why she herself left the call of being a nun but I am finding it interesting.

I really liked the quotes about love being not selfish, etc. I agree completely and feel like framing that quote for my wall!

Susanne said...

filthykafir, welcome and thanks for your feedback on this post! I enjoyed reading your perspective on Luke's account of Paul's life and also the other about getting Paul out of town. :)

Thank you!

Susanne said...

sarah, glad to see you again. Yes, I just finished reading "Muhammad: A prophet for our times" earlier this month..or was it last? :) I wrote several posts about it at the time.

I didn't realize KA had a book about Paul. Yeah, he seems to be very much loved by some and very much hated by others. Thanks for letting me know about her work on him.

I'm glad you loved the love chapter. That's what people always called it when I was growing up. :)