Meeting the St. Paul You Never Thought You’d Meet
I welcome feedback, editorial suggestions, and questions. I’m going public with my chapters as they evolve in the proper order. I’m am also seeking a major publisher who will publish this book. Let me know what you think using the comments part of this website. George
“Because of the entrenched nature of the traditional paradigm, it is very difficult to see Paul with a new set of eyes.” Pamela Eisenbaum, Paul was not a Christian, p. 216
“Jesus, yes; Paul, never!” Richard Rubenstein, My Brother Paul, 1972
Telling people that I was writing a book about St. Paul would occasionally evoke “Who cares?” More often than not, I’d hear, “I just don’t like Paul.” There was a third category of responses, and it was the one that brought me to this topic, “I just can never understand Paul.”
It seems that many accounts regarding St. Paul begin with these negative assessments. Consider the title of a recent book by Karen Armstrong “St. Paul: The Apostle we Love to Hate.” Her intent in writing wasn’t to lead her readers to draw further away from Paul, but it seems implied in that title. There’s a book by J. R. Kirk with the title, “Jesus Have I Loved, but Paul?: A Narrative Approach to the Problem of Paul.” Kirk’s “problem with Paul” became the main topic of another recent book “Paul as a Problem in History and Culture: The Apostle and His Critics through the Centuries.” [Patrick Gray] I’m not alone in this pursuit of Paul, except that I find myself to be far less critical. I actually like Paul, and hope that is conveyed in this book.
This book is different. I want my readers to have a number of reasons to admire and appreciate St. Paul based simply on his own letters. Clearing up every question regarding him is beyond the scope of this book, but once we realize how many stories he was telling and living there are good reasons to admire and respect him. I think there’s a way to read the letters of Paul that is more like listening to another friend tell us a story. We listen with sympathetic ears and are eager to know more.
What if the story of St. Paul hasn’t been told correctly? What if we’ve been given the wrong picture of this “least of the apostles”? (1 Cor. 15:9) Those are some of the questions addressed in this book. The Paul I have found, through his own writings, may not always be likeable, but he has emerged in my eyes as one of the most fascinating men to have ever lived. I would love to have him come to my house for dinner. The conversation could last long into the night or longer if I could get him to stay. Having studied Paul so intently for a number of years I realize there are so many things we don’t know because our reliable sources for him are so limited. In this book I acknowledge issues with our sources, but I continue to maintain that the lost identity of Paul is revealed, often overtly and sometime covertly in his letters.
The difficult challenge in this book is the picture of Paul coming from the Acts of the Apostles, which is the second half of the gospel of Luke. For almost two thousand years, when preachers and biblical scholars have wanted to share something about Paul, in biographical terms, they nearly always begin with Acts for most details regarding Paul’s story. There we find the dramatic account of his call to follow Jesus when Paul was on the road to Damascus. He was going to Damascus to continue his persecution of followers of Jesus. The same story, with a few variations, is actually told three times in Acts. Ever since this is the story most Christians tell. Paul who had been the one persecuting followers of Jesus suddenly and dramatically became a “Christian.”
In the first account of Paul meeting Jesus the author of Acts used his previous name Saul—clearly a Jewish name. Four chapters later, without explaining anything about the reasons for the change, the author of Acts simply reports that Saul was also called Paul. (Acts 13:9) That becomes the name used for the rest of his account. The dominant narrative line continuing through the last half of Acts, where Paul is the focus, is that he was continually attacked by “the Jews.” The author left Paul’s old name behind. It’s as if he had stopped being Jewish. These early threads of anti-Semitism are the precursors to what became a clear separation between Jews and Christians in the centuries after Paul. Much was forgotten about the Judaism that belonged to both Jesus and Paul. A contemporary Pauline scholar, N.T. Wright, reminds us, “Paul remained a stubbornly and intentionally a deeply Jewish thinker.” [Wright, Faithfulness of God, p. 1408] That’s news to many Christians! It seems it might even have been news to the author of Acts, though he was thoroughly familiar with Jewish ways and stories.
My goal is to introduce you to the Paul found outside of Acts. I’m relying, for the most part, on seven of the letters that nearly all scholars can agree came from his hand. One of the challenges regards what to do with the other six letters that purportedly came from him? That question needs to be addressed because in most of these six outlier letters there is some biographical information about its author that may help or hinder getting a clearer view of Paul. Actually at least four of the questionable letters (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, and 2 Thessalonians) may offer erroneous and even contrary information about Paul. A more conventional institutionalized Paul seems to emerge from these four letters that were perhaps composed some 30 to 50 years after he died.
The main focus on my work is to introduce my readers to some surprising, intriguing, and admirable aspects of Paul’s story. My methodology is to rely mainly on what Paul wrote in his letters. Any other external information that can confirm or substantiate something Paul said will be helpful to this enterprise. Acts at times is exactly a source that confirms some data found in one of Paul’s letters. The other side of this process is the premise that any stories or facts that contravene something Paul said must be treated with great suspicion.
As I’ve already indicated Acts usually is the frame for what most people know as Paul’s story. My intent isn’t to trash Acts or to have it removed from the New Testament canon. We can bring historical criticism to this account and still admire the creative narrative handed down to us by the author of Acts, even while questioning its historicity. I would hope the readers of my book appreciate that I am taking Acts as an important account of the emergence of early Christian communities, and that I am treating it in a serious manner. I would wish for the same assessment accorded to an earlier Biblical scholar, John Knox, who questioned the historicity of Acts. It was said of him that he did “…indeed take Acts with the utmost seriousness; instead of assuming its reliability he subjected it to the rigorous cross-examination that is required in good historiography.”[ J.A. Hare, “Introduction” in John Knox, Chapters in a Life of Paul , p. xl]
As an example of the process I am using we need to begin with the fact that there isn’t a single reference in Acts to Paul having written any letters. Not one! By the time Acts was written (probably somewhere between 85 to 120 CE) we can conclude that Paul’s letters were saved and preserved—or at least some of them were. Some disappeared. A few seem imbedded as parts of recognizable letters of Paul. Even at the time he may have put his own letter collections together, and thus they may have been shared and copied within and between communities at least known to Paul. [David Trobisch. Paul’s Letter Collections] Even though Acts ignores important verifiable data regarding Paul’s story the author of Acts was placing Paul on the same footing of importance which he gave to Peter and James. Just a few generations from Jesus himself his early followers had clearly found their heroic figures in the first disciples who lived in Jerusalem, but also in Paul’s story as the “apostle to the gentiles” which was equally treasured. But, at least in Acts, some of the details regarding Paul’s story were ignored, lost, or, perhaps, intentionally distorted. Why, for example, did Acts make so much of Paul being a Roman citizen?
In Acts we are told that Paul was from Tarsus (in Syria), brought up in Jerusalem, trained as a Pharisee under Gamaliel (Acts. 22:3) and a few verses later on has Paul claiming he was a Roman citizen. (Acts 22:25) Not once in any of his letters, however, did Paul claim to be a citizen or from Tarsus. We have some indications from a few of his letters about his ministry in Syria, however, and thus it could be that he was from Syria. There is no collaborative evidence from other sources, though, and this must, consequently, be one of those unanswerable questions. The more important question concerns whether or not he was a Roman citizen? This is one claim that cannot be substantiated within the corpus of Paul’s letters!
Letting Paul’s voice be heard, especially as he came to know Jesus as God’s Messiah, leads us to consider that Paul had little respect for the claims of Caesar. It appears that the Romans may have had reasons to raise questions about Paul and the early followers of Jesus. Paul’s frequent arrests make sense as we consider how the new Jesus Messiah communities could have been considered to be seditious in the eyes of some Roman authorities. Some of these clues appear in Paul’s letters when we discover the subversive character of some of his arguments and words of encouragement.
Please don’t think for a second that the Paul to be met in these pages is some kind of dour pipe-smoking theologian tucked away in a book filled office writing systematic theology. The books he had, mainly the stories from Torah and the prophets, were already in his head. He never needed a library as such. His books (i.e Torah, the Psalms and Prophets) were memorized, which is most likely the way some of his letters were carried and treasured. Paul is also more than ideas or facts offered in some logical or systematic arguments. The Paul I’ve encountered in my research is filled with marvelous stories, some of which he tells, and others which are just hinted at in the course of some particular argument or example. Be warned, though, that this isn’t a biography in the traditional sense of that genre.
The book of Acts also could not serve as a source for much of what you’d find in a contemporary biography. Acts didn’t tell us when Paul was born or anything about his parents, or siblings—if he had any brothers or sisters. We know nothing about his death, though we can presume the author of Acts knew the when and how Paul died. That author made a decision, though, to tell a story in which Paul was still alive, albeit under house arrest in Rome when he concluded his account. Obviously this particular author wasn’t writing biography in a form we would recognize. Paul wasn’t writing an autobiography either, but he was clearly telling things about himself and what was happening. It’s just often overlooked. Until now!
The Structure of this Picture of Paul
This book is divided into three main sections. It begins with “Finding the Real Paul.” Even without knowing when he was born some reasonable guesses can be made regarding when Paul met Jesus. It is also possible to offer a rough course of his ministry based on information found in his letters. Paul’s revelation from God that Jesus was the messiah may have happened within three years of the crucifixion. The two were most likely close in age, with Jesus being perhaps a few years older.
This section begins by placing Paul in the context of the history of Judea and the Roman occupying forces known to both Paul and Jesus. Taking one small clue from one of Paul’s letters it’s possible to attach a particular event to a single year in the first century. That is the crucial date for constructing a Pauline chronology.
Finding the real Paul means seeing how he remained a Jew who happened to develop a focus and passion that gentiles must be invited to the story of God that he knew from his days as a child. Once called by God to know Jesus as Messiah the ministry of Paul was to offer pagans a monotheistic faith more clearly defined through Jesus Christ. Paul did this because he was a storyteller who lived the very story he shared as he founded one new Jesus community after another. Finally this section brings us to the key issue that emerged at least within fifty years of Paul’s death. Paul was somehow institutionalized and made far more respectable than he really was. As the church became more separate from Judaism and eventually hostile to Jews, Paul became less Jewish and more like the first Christian. I call it a case of first century identity theft.
“Paul and Friends” is the title of second set of chapters. Here you’ll find Paul writing to communities of faith and commending a way of living the story of Christ. Each community was to demonstrate to the world what life in Christ was all about. Paul did not go about his ministry on his own. He had various teams of those engaged in ministry with him, and many of its members were women. This gives me a chance to partly right the ship that declares Paul a misogynist. There are some fascinating things to learn about how Paul composed his letters, saved them, and thankfully how they serve two thousand years later to be our source for seeing more of the real Paul. Though always Jewish this Paul lived as a gentile among gentiles. He would just be hard to pick out from the others seeking to survive from one day to the next. Paul comes clearer into view when we realize what it meant that he worked with his hands and had a trade. It was probably something he could never have imagined doing prior to encountering Christ. Bound to the story of Jesus Paul became the “fool” for Christ.
The last section is titled “Inside Paul’s World.” I noted earlier that’s it’s impossible to construct a true biography, but we can read between the lines of Paul’s letters and ask some “wonder questions.” I wonder if Paul had a watch and knew much about the history of his time? I wonder if he paid attention to politics of his day? What was it like for Paul to be in prison and why was he arrested so often? Was Paul really poor and to what extent did his work provide for his daily needs? What about those who seemed to have been patrons who offered housing and sent him gifts? Did Paul have just one spiritual encounter of Jesus? Finally, what about the journey’s of Paul, first to Jerusalem with a collection for the poor and then to Spain, not Rome, as his ultimate goal? There are, at least, some provisional answers to all these questions that can help fill in some of empty spaces in Paul’s story in the context of a world where most struggled for their daily bread. Paul did as well.
Finding the Real Paul: Chapters 1-3
It has already been suggested that the book of Acts is problematic for the task at hand, but all is not lost. The first chapter “Paul in Arabia” places Arabia, where Paul went after his revelation, in the context of the larger history and geography of the first century. The little detail that he went to Arabia has puzzled Biblical scholars, but it connects in a fascinating way to the story of Paul escaping from Damascus in a basket one night. It’s an event he mentioned in 2 Corinthians, and it was also told with different details in Acts. The many pieces to this puzzle can actually provide us the date for a particular year when we can locate Paul. That year, in turn, allows for construction of a chronology for Paul’s ministry based mostly on his letters. This chapter also places Paul in the same critical and dangerous time, under vicious and pervasive Roman domination, that led Jesus to be crucified. The Roman army played a critical, but curious, role in the events that led Paul to escape Damascus and when he, subsequently, made his first visit to Jerusalem.
Once more when turning to Acts and we find a number of accounts of Paul visiting the leaders of the Jesus community there—in particular Peter and James, the brother of Jesus. Acts has Paul making more visits to Jerusalem than can be accounted for from Paul’s letters, but that is a minor detail. More important to this enterprise is an understanding of the kind of relationship Paul had with the disciples who were identified as Apostles by the author of Acts. Never did that author credit Paul with the title “apostle.” Yet Paul called himself Apostle of the Gentiles in a number of places in his letters. Paul, on the other hand, never used the word “disciple.” Mysteries abound!
“Paul Apostle to the Gentiles” (Chapter 2) focuses on Paul’s Jewish identity. Pamela Eisenbaum’s book “Paul was Never a Christian” sets the stage for this chapter. Paul was a Jew reaching out to Gentiles, but not to make them Jews within the concept of ethnicity. One issue of consequence in this chapter is that no one in any of the communities founded by Paul would have ever called themselves a “gentile.” “Gentile” was a category created by Jews who defined all others as gentiles, which essentially meant “not Jews.” Paul, uniquely, saw these others in a whole different light, not because he had some early ethic of “tolerance” towards all, but precisely because in Judaism he knew the stories of Abraham and some key prophetic visions regarding the gentile nations. Paul is the Jew who lives as a Gentile, and welcomes all people to know themselves to be located in the Jewish story. Paul may even have conceived his ministry as Abrahamic.
In “Paul the Storyteller” (Chapter 3) you will not so much find a Paul who tells stories about Jesus, but rather a man committed to living the story of Christ. Paul will even go so far as to say that it is Christ who lives in him. Such audacious claims were made knowing they came with a price, and it was a price Paul was willing to pay, even with death, if need be.
I will also be exploring the possibility of telling Paul’s story in light of another detail found only in Acts, where we learn that Paul’s previous name was Saul. Never once in any of his letters, however, did Paul admit to having any previous name. In his letters it’s always Paulus but in the letter to Philippians he discussed his rather creditable and noble Jewish heritage, which included coming from the tribe of Benjamin. (Philippians 3:5) The traditional understanding of most biblical scholars has been that Paul was given two names at his birth: Saulus Paulus. (Two names: one Hebraic, the other Latin). The account in Acts seems to imply this. I will suggest another theory, namely, that upon discovering Jesus as God’s messiah he gave up the name “Saulus.” I was a simple letter change to become “Paulus,” a name that in Latin meant small. I’m proposing it gives us a window into the real story Paul was telling as a follower of Jesus Messiah.
From a small Paul to a tall Paul is the story in “Paul a Victim of Identity Theft.” (Chapter 3) Here I am asking serious questions regarding Paul’s status in the first century as he traveled along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean sea, and then headed west into Macedonia, eventually after some detours, heading to Spain, intending only to spend some rest time in Rome. Was he really a “Roman citizen” as tradition tells us? Or would we have a hard time recognizing him amongst the multitude of common people struggling on a day-to day basis? Here is the discussion about the history of “fighting over Paul’s legacy” that has marked Pauline scholarship beginning in the 2nd century. We will not encounter Paul the professor of theology, but Paul the founder of nascent communities of followers of Jesus, carving out a common life with each other, needing the counsel of Paul and members of his team, and most importantly his incarnated example of living “in Christ.” In this same chapter I will introduce you to what has been called the “New Perspective on Paul,” and then unpacking the letter to the Galatians leading to what I call Paul’s unexpected identity—that which was lost to our sight for so long.
All of this focus on the identity of one person, namely Paul, is actually contrary to something that is so clear in his letters. Even though he uses his own story, and does that in a variety of ways, his continual focus was always on the life and unity of the communities of those living the Jesus story. The very idea of someone all alone in the world, who reads the scriptures, and who decides they are a Christian, would leave Paul shaking his head and asking, “How can that be?” In Paul’s world there was only one way to follow Jesus, and that was in the company of others committed to the same Lord, and the same shared life of mutual support. If you were to ask Paul, “How can I be in Christ?” He’d tell you “only with others in Christ!” What was one of the most important noun-phrases in all of Paul’s letters? It’s “one another” or as Bridgett Kahl spells it “one an-other,” with the emphasis being on living with those we once thought of as “other.” This is the profound theme in pulling together all of the chapters in the next section.
Paul and Friends: Chapters 4-7
The next step in discovering Paul involves an emphasis on those who worked alongside of him, and who took his message (his letters) to others. There was a constant flow of information and stories in Paul’s world. To be sure there was no CNN reporting on TV to the whole world what just happened. Yet news of events did travel those Roman roads, and was carried on the ships transporting goods. Most important of all were the people who carried the news and stories. It’s a fascinating collection of people who were helping Paul, and what’s surprising to many is the role of women in that story. This second section is the one with the most emphasis on what Paul believed, but not as if we abstracted his brain from is body. What he believed was how he lived “in Christ.”
“Paul in Community” (Chapter 4) is an attempt to capture in words what a grand family portrait would be like had Paul stood in the midst of one of his communities of faith for their annual church picture. We probably wouldn’t be able to recognize Paul from any other others, especially if we thought he might look more distinguished by the way he dressed. I don’t think he’d even be seated at the center of picture. If we have any clue to where Paul might have been in such a picture it may come from the Latin meaning of Paulus. It’s the word for “small.”
Paul was living in what one scholar has called “a remarkable new boundary-blurring human community made up of Jews and Gentiles together…” [Hays, What is Real Participation In Christ. #8] The essence of that shared life was the narrative of a world story centered in the cross, resurrection, and expected parousia (or coming) of the messiah. Inside this story was a way of living with each other and it was this message, above all others, that is so clear in Paul’s letters. It wasn’t a faith to be explained as such, and it wasn’t just to be “spiritual” as if you had to have certain ecstatic experiences of faith. Actually Paul scolded the Corinthians for what he saw as a mere “soulish” approach to faith. [Mc Clendon, Narrative Ethics, # 21] It was a call to “a new humanity” in which identity would be shaped by the other. It wasn’t about finding yourself, but finding Christ in these new brothers and sisters, and then sharing in the story of Christ.
The sharing wasn’t knowledge about the faith, but the actual practice of faith in a community that was challenging all the usual boundaries from the previous worlds of its participants. N.T. Wright has implied that ethics was a kind of team sport for Paul.[Wright, Faithfulness of God, Note #340] His favorite pronoun is the second person plural or, in a more colloquial way, “Y’all.” To be sure Paul called for obedience to the gospel from all within each community of faith. The emphasis was consistently on serving one another, which makes Paul’s frequent references to himself as “slave of Christ” most unexpected in his world. “In fact, the very use of the word [slave] would repel, rather than attract, any listener who is part of the upper ranks of Roman society.” [Ascouth, Paul’s Macedonian Associations, p. 123.
“Paul and this Team” (Chapter 6) introduces the many who shared in ministry and leadership with Paul in what had to be a unique and surprising network which relied on the Roman roads, and the many ships that plied the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea. The author of Acts also knew that Paul had partners in ministry but the critical issue will be between the reliability of that account in contrast to Paul’s word. The partnership with Barnabas will be an example of this argument. The two parted company but the differing accounts lead to the conclusion that Paul’s story needs to be one followed. There is also the important data regarding a large number of co-workers and friends of Paul cited in his letters. There are even indications that many of them were slaves based simply on their names.
A goodly number of those Paul knew as associates in ministry were women, and one in particular—Phoebe— seemed to have earned his trust and confidence for one very important task, which was to take his letter to the communities of faith in Rome. There were other women of importance mentioned in the letters. Careful exegesis of some of Paul’s comments particularly regarding marriage and the role of women in worship will also serve to counter some of the assumptions that Paul was patriarchal and dismissive of women. He wasn’t.
If the term side-kick is appropriate then it’s also clear that Timothy fit that role. Paul thought of him as his “son” (Phil.2:22), and said he was “…doing the work of the Lord just as I am.” (1 Cor. 16:1). On the basis of the opening greeting in 1 Thessalonians we can even credit Timothy as one of the authors of that particular missal. There were so many others accorded the recognition of sharing in the ministry alongside of Paul. Aquila and Prisca seemed to have played a special role with a community that gathered in their house (probably in Ephesus). That city was perhaps the base for much of Paul’s extensive ministry. It’s actually a rather long list of names on Paul’s team when we add up all that appear in his correspondence.
In “Paul the Letter Writer” (Chapter 7) one of the more fascinating aspects about such correspondence is that it was sent to communities in which the majority of people were not literate. How Paul would be surprised to see so many church people today, with heads down in worship, looking at a bible or the bulletin with the lessons of the day printed while someone reads the assigned readings for the day.. That couldn’t have happened in his world. There—people listened. That’s how they learned the stories of their faith. It was an oral culture. Our world is also a story-telling world, particularly in our daily discourse, when we recount what just happened or what we heard.
There are two main parts to this discussion of Paul’s letters. One focus will be on the way the letters were probably composed, written, saved, and most likely performed from memory. Since a number were composed in darkened prison cells where Paul would not have access to any writing instruments, we can conceive that he was writing in his head, and sharing his ideas with those who came to visit. Of particular interest is why Paul signed the letter to Galatians, and made reference to the “large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand.” (Gal. 6:11).
|Letters generally accepted as by Paul
||Some scholars believe these are by Paul—others disagree
||General consensus that these are not Paul’s letters
The second part of the chapter on Paul’s letters will examine the question of which letters are authenic, and why there are legimitate questions to ask regarding the other six letters which bear his name. (Almost all scholars, by the way, dismiss Hebrews as one from Paul’s hands because of content and language which simply isn’t like Paul at all.) Ongoing controversy reigns among biblical scholars regarding 2 Thessalonians. Some scholars offer some valid reasons that Ephesians and Colossians were written by Paul, but there is not a strong consensus around that idea. The earliest codex (a collection of letters or documents) actually had nine letters of Paul, but it didn’t include Philemon [Eisenbaum, Paul was not a Christian, 118] , Philemon is considered definitely from Paul. The most questionable, but frequently cited letters are what are often called the pastoral epistles, namely 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus. When these letters are compared with those we know came from Paul they fail because there is hardly any correspondence with regard to “….style, vocabulary, theology, polemical devices…” [Dennis R. MacDonald, The Legend and the Apostle, p. 113] to what Paul wrote. Most significantly these three letters show evidence of “hierarchical ecclesiastical leadership” [Ibid] clearly nothing that Paul knew in his world of Jesus followers.
The concluding chapter in the section Paul and his Friends focuses on Paul’s correspondence with the Corinthians where, in both letters Paul called himself a “fool” and at the same time offered various litanies of sufferings, trials, and struggles. This is the Paul who might write “…letters that are weighty and strong but his bodily presence is weak and his speech contemptible.” (2 Cor. 10:10) In his first letter to the same community he said he purposefully didn’t use “lofty words or wisdom” (1 Cor. 2.1) and then proceeded to praise foolishness. (1 Cor. 3:18). The autobiographical material is like a huge waterfall in the second letter. Paul asserted he was among “apostles” who had become “… a spectacle to the world…we are fools for the sake of Christ.” (1 Cor. 4.9-10)
In “Paul the Fool” (Chapter 8) I am also asking questions about the work that Paul did to support his ministry. What is interesting about the work he did with his hands, is that he most likely didn’t need to labor so hard. He could have, and at times, did accept help from others, in a world where patronage was considered noble and honorable. Others did help Paul and this will be noted. The more interesting side of Paul is that he had some skill that allowed him to provide for his daily needs but not much more. I am also going to entertain the possibility that Acts was wrong in telling us that Paul was a tentmaker, and that is why he stayed with and worked with Aquila and Priscilla in Corinth. (Acts 18:1-3) There is a clue in this story, though, because Paul most likely did belong to a guild of like-minded people with a specific trade. They might even have been in the world of “theater”, making “stage properties” instead of making tents. Paul seemed to know a great deal about the role of “fool” in the theater of his day.
Inside Paul’s World (Chapters 9-13)
“Paul’s Politics” (Chapter 9) begins this last section because there was never a day when Paul could have forgotten the claims of Caesar to be the savior of the world and the one who brought “Pax Romana” to the Empire. It wasn’t that Paul believed any of those claims. We see over and over in his letters that he had decided that Caesar could never be his Lord—only Jesus. It was a dangerous decision, but one that Paul knew how to negotiate with his biligual and bicultural skills. One scholar maintains that ‘…Paul and his team functioned as bilingual and bicultural translators and mediators – as go-betweeens…’ (Ehrensberger, Paul at the Crossroads, p. 97]. This is the chapter that wrestles with the truth of the claim made by Moltmann that “The crucified Christ has become a stranger to the civil religion of the First World and to that world’s Christianity.” [Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, Page 65] Paul would probably write with the same subversive skills he used about 2000 years ago were he to be writing letters to our faith communities.
The next chapter, “Paul’s Watch” (Chapter 10), focuses on a Paul who would be very surprised to find that the history of violence born out of theories of domination and submission, which he knew at the heart of the Roman empire, would continue for over 20 centuries. He thought he was living near the end of time with the expected coming of Christ which could happen any day. “For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first.” (1 Thess. 4:16) Paul’s choice of a word to image the coming of the Lord was parousia which was known in his world to describe the coming of Caesar or one of his representatives. Paul used the word in a subversive manner.
If you had asked Paul “What time is it?” he wouldn’t tell you the hour or even that evening was near. He might have given a more obscure answer, perhaps by saying, “This is the time that remains.” That’s the concept offered by the theologian Agamben who wrestled with Paul’s understanding regarding the coming end to the world. This is the chapter where I address questions about Paul’s apocalyptic thinking. Is it the main thread for his ministry and teaching? There is a divide among biblical scholars regarding Paul’s sense of time between those who emphasize his apocalyptic theology, and those who focus on Paul’s sense of continuity with the Jewish concept of the covenant.
“Paul in Chains” (Chapter 11) explores what it was like to be arrested and put in prison in the first century by orders of some Roman official. Paul was in chains for considerable periods of time and on multiple occasions, and this is all by his own admission. Five of the letters came from him while in prison. Douglas Campbell has noted that Paul was “an experienced detainee.” [Campbell, Framing Paul: An Epistolary Biography, p. 304] Were Paul to apply to serve one of our churches I suspect his arrest record would be troubling to most call committees.
In Paul’s world those who were thrown into prison were waiting for some kind of trial. Prison wasn’t the punishment that was administered, though it was a place of shame and deprivation. More importantly for our consideration of the letters Paul wrote from prison most prison cells were usually dark caves. There is evidence that friends could bring a prisoner food or come to visit, and that seems the case with Paul’s references to those who shared in his trials.
We don’t know anything about the length of various times Paul spent in various prisons, but certainly they had to last for weeks of maybe even months. He had plenty of time in which to think and compose in his head the letters he might send. More importantly were the hours he spent praying and that brings us to “Paul the Mystic” (Chapter 12). The usual story of Paul, as framed by Acts, is that Paul had a single mystical encounter with the risen Lord when he was on the road to Damascus. As noted earlier this is the model for what some consider Paul’s conversion—an idea that is challenged in a number of places in this book. When it comes to Paul’s mysticism there is plenty of evidence from his letters that he had many deep spiritual encounters in his life in Christ. The kinds of experiences Paul had must have been born out of a deep prayer life which had it’s roots in the Jewish world that shaped his spirituality.
“Paul’s Last Journey” (Chapter 13) brings up more questions than answers, but fits within the scope of this book because of its focus on a few interesting clues regarding this remarkable man. Once more there is a discrepancy between the account in Acts and what Paul wrote. The last chapters of Acts (23-28) focus on Paul who was arrested in Jerusalem and eventually sent to Rome where at the end of the account he was living under house arrest free to welcome all who came to him, still able to preach and teach. The problem is that in his letter to Rome that wasn’t his intended destination. He would only rest up there with his hope to go to Spain.
Why would Paul want to go to Spain to continue his missionary work? That’s the important question addressed. N.T. Wright made an interesting comment about Paul’s missionary work in the cities of Corinth, Philippi, and Rome (to name just a few). They were places where Caesar’s power was the strongest. (Wright, Faithfulness of God, p. 1502). There was one more journey Paul wanted to make. “He had travelled the central heartlands of the Roman empire, and it was now time to head for the city at the very heart itself, and to go on from there to the key western outpost of Rome’s wide domains.” [Ibid, p. 1502] What Wright didn’t say was that Spain was the most recently conquered territory in the Roman Empire. From a Jewish perspective it was also considered the “end” of the world. These are the clues followed in what may have been the journey that Paul did not, in the end, take.
Paul’s last journey also took him, at least in terms of his intentions in Romans, to bring a collection gathered from various Jesus communities in Greek-speaking parts of the Mediterranean world to the poor followers of Jesus in Jerusalem. The story of this collection weaves in and out of various letters, obviously receiving support in some communities, while challenged in others. There’s something in Paul’s understanding of the prophetic message that lent great importance to this collection. Even if we maintain that he was able to bring this collection to Jerusalem the lingering question will still be, “How was it received?”
In the “Conclusion” of the book I offer a brief review of the aspects of Paul uncovered in my research. I will also add some thoughts about the things that would perplex and trouble Paul about Christianity as we know it. We even have to wonder if Paul would decide to call himself a “Christian.” What cannot be denied though, as we continue to read Paul’s letters in our worship and in our study of the early followers of Jesus that the book of Acts was correct. Acts concludes with Paul living in Rome where “…he welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ, with all boldness and without hindrance.” (Acts. 28:30-31). He still is teaching and proclaiming. His voice continues. And hopefully we have a better sense of the man himself and his powerful story.
 The word “Christian” appears in quotes because it wasn’t a term that Paul used for himself in any of his letters. Acts makes the reference to this term in ???
 Two of the six questionable letters, Colossians and Ephesians, have a number of biblical scholars maintaining that they were written by Paul. Few will claim that 1& 2 Timothy and Titus are Paul’s letters. There are a few making the case that 2 Thessalonians was an authentic letter from Paul.
 It wasn’t actually that unusual as I’ll explain, with one very important difference regarding the people who shared Paul’s life.
 Paulus was how he was known. It is a Latin word, translated in our Bibles simply as Paul.
 My New Revised Standard Version has a title just before Acts 22:6 which reads: “Paul Tells of His Conversion.” The other two occurrences of this story (Acts. 9:1-19, 26:12-18) describe it as a “conversion.”