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Month: September 2016

Annotated Table of Contents

Annotated Table of Contents

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 

  1. 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.

  1. 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.”

  1. 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.

  1. 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 

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.”


From Saul to Paul: A Long Journey

From Saul to Paul: A Long Journey

This sermon was given on Sunday September 4th at the Lutheran Church of the Cross in Nisswa.

From Saul to Paul: A Long journey

The Lutheran Church of The Cross, Nisswa MN
The Rev. Dr. George H. Martin
September 4, 2016
(Philemon, and Luke 14: 25-33)

Today’s sermon is about your name and the common name we all share. It’s a sermon based on the letter to Philemon, the one letter in the New Testament we read in its entirety at one sitting when it appears once every three years. It’s only 25 verses long.

The letter sent to Philemon was one the Paul wrote while he was in prison, or as he said at one point in the letter, while he was in chains. One Pauline scholar even has a book about Paul titled “Chained in Christ.” I dare say Paul would have a hard time seeking a call as a pastor to most churches because a background check would reveal the number of times he was arrested.

In that world, in the first century, when you were arrested and placed in jail, it meant you were awaiting a trial. But you could wait a long time in a dark damp cell that was more likely some underground set of caves in which the prisoners found their hands or legs attached to iron fetters and chains set in stone. Whatever food and water you might have would most likely come from a visitor, or a fellow prisoner who shared what they had. And we know from this letter that Philemon had sent his slave Onesimus to assist Paul.

Two things about Oneseimus as a slave. It never says that he was a runaway slave. Exaclty the opposite. It seems Philemon wanted to help Paul and had done so.

Second: We can’t expect Paul in this letter to make a political stand against an economy that depended on slaves. It just was the way it was in that world. It was true in every part of Paul’s world. As N. T. Wright, the scholar says, slavery was like electricity in our world. We all just take it for granted. But what Paul said about Onesimus becoming like a brother to him, and then suggesting the Philemon see him as a brother. That’s an amazing statement.

Now, about some names. We have to learn about the meaning of Paul’s name. There’s the meaning of the name Onesimus. And there’s the name we all have in common. And there is your particular name.

My full name is George Harvey Martin. The name “Martin” is my surname. Some people actually get the name “Martin” as their first name. Anyone like that come to mind here? Of course. Martin Luther. My first name George, in Greek, means farmer. It’s Jorge in Spanish, and I really like the Italian version, “Georgio.”

I’m named after my two grandfathers. What about you? How about if for about a minute you turn to someone near you, maybe someone who doesn’t know your name. Tell each other what your name is, maybe what it means in some language, and why you were given that name, if you possibly know.


Now about the meaning of Onesimus. In Greek it means “Useful.” What we need to understand is that slaves always had a name from their previous life—unless, of course, as often happened, they were born into slavery. All slaves were given their name by their owner. The owner of a newly purchased slave might look at him and say, “From now on your name is “Tertius.” You’re my third slave. Your number three. That’s all.”

And Onesimus. His name meant “Useful.” Maybe Philimon saw something positive in him and knew he had some particular skills, and told him, “I like what you know and can do. I’m going to call you Useful, your name is Onesimus from now on.” Or maybe his name was a joke. That he was a klutz who dropped and spilled things. We don’t know.

What you can be sure is that no self-respecting Roman citizen would ever name a child Tertius or Onesimus. And neither would in that first century would they name their child Paulus.

Paulos was the Latin name of Paul. I’ll tell you what it means in a minute. I think we can assume that Paul wasn’t his given birth name. He most likely had a Jewish name. One source for this is the book of the Acts of the Apostles, which tells us his name was Saul. Never once in any of the letters, though, did Paul mention that his previous name was Saul, but he did refer to his proud heritage as “…a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews…” (Phil 3:5) But he didn’t keep or use that name once he was called—his words were “called through God’s grace” Gal. 1:15)—to proclaim Jesus Messiah among the Gentiles. His name was Paulos.

For years I never knew what that name meant. Most of us don’t. You will now. It’s the Latin word for “small” or “humble.” Those who knew Paul might have told you that “small” was the better definition. A late second century document described Paul as a short bowlegged man.

What’s really significant in the context of this sermon is that Paul is a slave name in the 1st century.

Taking on a new name in the course of making a decision to follow Jesus actually continues in our day. I was privileged to attend the ordination of an Armenian Orthodox priest in 2010. I don’t remember the name that priest was given by his parents, and if you were to ask him, I’m willing to bet, he wouldn’t tell you what it was. You see, when the Armenian Archbishop laid hands on him and made him a priest, he gave him his new name. As he knelt there the Archbishop gave him his stole to wear. They placed a chasuble over him, and then he had him stand and face the congregation. And the Archbishop said, Please greet and welcome your new priest. And for the first time the priest, his family, and his congregation learned his new name. Please welcome “Father Gregor” he said, named after Gregory the Great one of the early church fathers.

At baptism each of us gets our name. The Pastor asks “Please name this child.” And if you are well coached you give their first and middle name if there be such. When I got to baptize my last grandchild, I said please name this child, and my daughter Kate said “Spencer George.” She didn’t add his last name, or what is called his surname, which is Martin-Jones. That’s name tied him to each side of his family. At his baptism, though, Spencer received another last name. Just as each of you did when you were baptized. You see each us of became a member, at baptism, of the Christian family. And your new last name became “Christian.”

I know you don’t like that Gospel reading where Jesus said, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children…” and the list goes on. It’s really not a very good translation of the Greek word “miseo.” Eugene Peterson in the translation called “The Message” did much better.

Jesus turned and told them, “Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters—yes, even one’s own self!—can’t be my disciple. Anyone who won’t shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can’t be my disciple. (Luke 14.26 The Message)

Let me connect this to Paul’s core message to Philemon to Onesimus. You see Onesimus is different. He has received Christ, and he isn’t the same person anymore. Thus Paul is telling his owner Philemon, who is Paul’s friend, that Philemon should see Onesimus as his brother in Christ.

What if Philemon had said to Paul, well I can’t see him as my brother. But if you want him, I’ll set him free and you can have him? That would have been a defeat for Paul, and for Philemon. Paul’s issue is the reconciliation of all, and in this instance of Philemon and Onesimus in the context of Jesus, Lord and Messiah.

Over and over in this short letter of 25 verses we find not one, but eleven times some version of the phrase “in our Lord Jesus Christ.” In “Kyrios Iesous Christos” is the Greek.

And Paul literally meant “in” as Located in, found in, discovered in, residing in, attached to, and we might even say using that language of cartology “geographically placed at this particular point on this map.”

Paul once said, in describing in Galatians his call to proclaim Jesus as Messiah that early on in this ministry he “…was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ.” Let me repeat to you the key phrase. They are the churches of Judea that are in Christ. Paul isn’t saying you find these churches in Judea. Go looking for them there. No, go looking for the Churches of Judea that are found to be living in and with Christ.

Send them a letter, but not to Judea per se, but to their real address which is “in Christ.”

And you and I with our common last name. What is it? It’s “Christian.” Where are we to be found. Right here. You and I are in the right place, along with all the others, who called Jesus Lord and Savior. In “Kyrios Iesous Chistos”. Maybe you might say those words to yourself as you open your hand this morning to receive the body and blood of Christ. As you reaffirm that this is your family.


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