What follows is the annotated table of contents for my new book that I hope to complete by December of this year. I welcome comments and interest from others. In early 2017 I expect I’ll be able to be offering seminars and conferences on this topic. Please use the comment section of this web page and I’ll be happy to respond to your questions or reflections.
Annotated Table of Contents
“Meeting the St. Paul You Never Thought You’d Meet”
by George Martin
The reader is invited on a journey of discovering reasons to admire and respect Paul based less on understanding Paul as a theologian and more on Paul who was both telling and living the story of Christ. The introduction reviews the overall structure of the book and indicates some of the reasons for each of the chapters.
Section I: Finding the Real Paul
- Paul in Arabia
This chapter investigates the story of Paul’s escape from Damascus in order to find Paul in a particular year. That date allows for the construction of a reasonable chronology for Paul’s ministry. I have found very few accounts of Paul which logically recount the history of Rome’s control of the world that Paul knew within the context of his letters. Here Paul is connected to Caesar, the Nabataeans, Augustus, and even John the Baptist.
- Paul the Jewish Apostle to the Gentiles
The author of Acts never acknowledged Paul as an apostle, but it became an extremely important title that he used, not just for himself, but also for those sharing ministry with him. It’s important to consider how Paul was bringing the history of Israel and its monotheistic faith to the world. This was a “daring innovation.”
- Paul the Storyteller
In the eyes of some significant scholars Paul is a called a narrative theologian with regard to his use of scripture to tell his story of Jesus Messiah. Indeed he saw his time as the key point in which God had acted in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. He was embedded in that story. The story of Jesus in a sense became the plot of his own story. Were there clues to his life as he reflected on God’s story in his letters? Most important of all is the consideration of his call to follow Jesus with a particular focus on the letter to the Galatians.
- Paul a Victim of Identity Theft
In contrast to a statue of Paul within Vatican square which shows a huge muscular Paul holding a sword toward the sky, the Paul here aligned himself with the nobodies of this world. In contrast to the more individualized concept of faith that has shaped much of Christianity for 500 or more years, Paul’s emphasis was on the “faith of Jesus,” that could become the shape of a community called to live for “one another” composed as a “community of others.”
Section II: Paul and Friends
- Paul in Community
The boundary-blurring community that marked off Paul’s communities probably involved real mutualism in all things including shared meals and the pooling of resources. Exploring the realities of wealth and poverty in Paul’s world locates him in a communities composed of slaves and trades people. What to do about those who didn’t willingly contribute to the common good was a real question. Central to Paul was his understanding of being “in Christ” as a shared life and language, not at all akin to the world of patronage that defined the important people in Paul’s world.
- Paul and his Team
The majority of the authentic letters of Paul offer us a picture of a gregarious Paul who must have had friends in every community he ever visited. A few had resources, but most were quite common people. Many were women. Of particular importance was the role that Phoebe played in bringing his letter to the communities in Rome. Timothy may have been his closest confidant. Looking at the people he mentions tells us a great deal about Paul himself.
- Paul the Letter Writer
There are aspects about Paul’s use of letters that are intriguing and even strange in our world. Most likely they were composed in his head, then dictated, and memorized by whoever would carry the letter. Once the letter was delivered it was probably performed! Chances are that Paul may have helped coach the best way to deliver it to each community of faith. It was called “speech in character.” At the same time some of the letters may be compositions of two or three letters. Questions of authenticity are also addressed.
- Paul the Fool
Sometimes we are perplexed when we discover a saint who could get “angry” or when we find a saint who “sheds tears,” which are two sides of Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians. In this chapter I focus on Paul’s issues with a community that seemingly lost trust in him, and how he challenged them to never think more highly of themselves than others. Paul was insistent on not seeking or claiming privileges at the expense of others. This Paul kept seeing himself as a “servant” and as a “slave” of Christ—forms of identification few in his world would have willingly assumed.
Section III: Inside Paul’s World
- Paul’s Politics
There was no distinction between religion and politics in Paul’ world. Worship of the emperor was visible on a daily basis in buildings and art. Most road signs were marked by their distance to and from Rome. Public buildings bore messages about the peace and security brought by Roman conquest and subjugation—a theme reinforced by the violence and terror enacted publicly in the arena. Paul’s focus on the cross (the ultimate terror) meant that God alone could bring life out of death—something imperial Rome could never do. Paul used words like “good news”, “Lord”, and “peace” in language that clearly was subverting Roman claims.
- Paul’s Watch
Paul was living in a time between the times, anxious for the return of the Lord and God’s judgment on the evil powers of the world. Paul used the politically charged word “parousia” with regard to the Lord’s expected return. Shaped in a world of Jewish apocalyptic expectations some scholars think Paul was an apocalyptic theologian. It’s better to see the continuity in Paul between the Hebrew story and what was new in Christ. Paul lived in a kind of time described by phrases like “already—not yet” or “the time that remains.” It wasn’t a waiting or wasting time, but was filled with the spirit of God.
- Paul’s Chains
Prisons in Paul’s world were unlike any in our time. They were nearly often dark damp caves in which the prisoners hadn’t been found guilty, but were awaiting trial. And they were chained together. They could have friends visit and bring them food, or maybe a blanket. Without any light or writing instruments Paul wrote letters from prison. Unable to work with his hands at his trade, Paul in prison had time to think, to compose, and to share his ideas with valued friends who then carried his prayers and exhortations to dearly loved communities he had founded.
- Paul’s Mysticism
For too long Paul has been portrayed primairly as a thoughtful theologian. What’s often lost in the dusty libraries where people study Paul is that he had a passionate and vibrant spiritual life shaped by experiences of prayer, visions, and revelations. He could speak in tongues, and knew the voice of prophecy. To be sure he had cautionary words about these elements in worship, but they were very real to him. When he spoke of a man who was caught up into heaven, it’s evident he was talking about himself.
- Paul’s Last Journey
Paul’s letter to the Romans described two trips he had planned. He would take the collection to the poor in Jerusalem, and come to Rome, but not to stay. Spain was his destination. What was it about Spain that Paul felt compelled to bring the gospel there? It was the land most recently conquered by Rome. It’s people, now enslaved, were reminded daily that their lives had been spared by the grace of the Roman army. In Jewish lore it had been called the end of the world. Was Paul thinking that the collection and then the gospel to Spain would conclude with the coming of Jesus? Perhaps.
After a brief review of the significant aspects of Paul emphasized in the previous chapters the book concludes with thoughts on what Paul would question with regard to Christianity today. Having tried all the different expressions of the Christian faith he’d probably want to convene a real ecumenical council. He’d certainly appreciate the fact that he and Peter share the same feast day. I’m sure he would speak to the issues of ethnicity, sexual identity, and class that flame into hostility and violence in our world just as they did 2,000 years ago. He’d want us to think about our time as the “already not yet” and the “time that remains.”