• This week, we begin New Testament (the image at right is a fragment of an early manuscript from the New Testament)
• We begin not at the gospels, but at the first documents written: the letters
• Backtrack: The Gospels are organized first because they are the most important; but doesn’t mean they were written first.
• The letters were written first: Paul; Peter; John letters, which coincide with three New Testament theologies that parallel in the gospels.
• We look tonight at the letters because it is important to see the filters through which that the gospels are written – Jesus is standing on a far horizon and we see him through a lens.
o That lens is NT, and the first lens is theology of the NT writers, and that theology is explicitly spelled out in the letters, or epistles (Greek for letters).
• What we’ve talked about previously matters a great deal – the OT will be interpreted in new ways and used to bolster the arguments of Christians that they have found the true path to God:
To talk about this section of the Bible, need to grasp history of the early church:
• The church we inherit is Paul’s church because James/Peter wiped out; so we start with Paul.
• More than one-fourth of the NT writings are attributed to Paul;
• 13 letters attributed to Paul, but modern scholars consider some written by followers or later (could call the “Paul” School)
Letters authentically by Paul:
• 1 Corinthians
• 2 Corinthians
• 1 Thessalonians
• 2 Corinthians
• 1 Thessalonians
• Paul wrote these letters not as learned essays on theology, but to lend practical advice on real problems faced by the church.
• He always presented his advice in theological language, that is, he gave a midrash in support of his position.
• He might be shocked that some of these letters are considered “scripture.”
So who is Paul? Why should we care about this guy?
• Acts of the Apostles 21:39; 22:3 – Paul was born in Tarsus, an important city of Cilcia. Born possible 10 AD
• Roman citizen with certain rights, particularly right of appeal to imperial courts.
• Hellenistic Jew of the Diaspora (not all Jews went home); he is comfortable with Roman culture. Cosmopolitan
• By trade, a tent maker and leatherworker – he could attach himself to a caravan and move about the Empire. He is also proud that his trade pays his way where he goes; the “church” never pays him.
• Educated in Jerusalem (Acts 22:3); the style of his letters make clear that he is well trained in the methods of rabbinical midrash. He is basically a rabbi.
• He was proud of his ancestoral religion; he was proud to be a Pharisatic Jew; he makes clear in his letters that he never gives that up or the rituals that go with it.
• Paul is a persecutor of Jesus’s followers; they are suspicious of him. He considers Jesus’s crucifixion to be a scandal.• Conversion: Near Damascus, has a conversion experience. Acts 9
o Note: His conversion is not turning to a new deity, but seeing the God of his ancestors in a new light.
• Pharisees tend to be seen as strict adherents of the law – but it is important for us to see them as reformers who relocate the focus of Jewish worship from the temple to the local synogogue and home.
• It is but a short leap from their to Paul, and his preaching that Christ Jesus is in the temple of our hearts by the Spirit. Jesus is Wisdom
LOOKUP: 1 Cor 2:9-13
What do you hear Paul saying?
He uses Old Testament as a “prooftext,” that is, he used the Old Testament as a piece of evidence to make his point:
Notice: 1 Cor 2: 9 is a quotation from Isaiah 64:4
• Curiously, Paul does not give his own account of his “Road to Damacus” experience in his letters; it is recounted in Acts three times. In Galatians, Paul says two elements led him to Christ: a special revelation of God’s son to him, and a commission from Christ to preach to the Gentiles.• Paul stresses in Corinthians he had seen the Lord (1 Cor 9:1) and the risen Christ had appeared to him (1 Cor 15:8) as “one untimely born.” He never encountered the living Jesus.
• Missionary activity: Goes to Peter/James – they are suspicious. Send him out to build churches, and require of him an offering from those churches to prove his (and their) sincerity.
• His career is lengthy – at least 14 years – and he traveled widely in the Roman world, empowering men and women.
• Westward missions: Paul moves to Corinth, cross-roads city; diverse; wrote 1 Thes – 50 AD – considered earliest Christian document.
• Meets Aquila and Pricilla, important in building church.
• Widows use homes for churches.
• Moves to Ephesus – word reaches him about Apollos activities in Corinth; Paul goes to Corinth, apparently makes things worse.
• 1 & 2 Cor may be fragments of three to seven letters; the originals don’t exist; but are recorded together; space saving.
• Conflict over Apollos' methods.
• Apollos is ecstatic, charismatic; sloganeering and party politics; Apollos is a great preacher, and Paul admits, better than he. But Paul tells them he has seen the secret to knowledge – the hidden wisdom – that all that is necessary for salvation is the mystery of Christ.
Conference of Jerusalem:
• The issue is whether to require circumcision of all non-Jewish Christians. That is, do you have to be Jewish first to be a Christian? So far, Christianity is a sect of Judiasm – and Paul is bringing in new people reflecting the diversity of the Roman empire. The first group wants to keep it the way it has always been. Peter has been a little shaky on this: Acts 10:28-29;
• Acts, written by a follower of Paul well after the fact, presents a harmonious relationship. But Paul’s letters suggest otherwise.
• Paul agrees to gather an offering for the poor of Jerusalem to prove his sincerity; Acts reports he undergoes Jewish purification rituals;
• The issue seemed to be settled in favor of Paul’s position: James declares for Paul’s position
• After the conference, Paul returns to Antioch. Things aren’t really quite as settled as it sounded.
• Someone from James gets to Peter, and he refuses to eat with non-Jews at Antioch; the church Paul started in Galatia begins to follow that practice of segregating Jewish from non-Jewish Christians at table. Word gets back to Paul, and he is furious. Even Barnabas falls into this. Paul writes to Galatians to tell them of the absurdity of this:
LOOK UP: Gal 2:11-14
• Importance – the breakthrough here – is that we are saved not by outward rituals and good works, but by faith.
• Acts declares there is a new authority over the church, and it is not a human: Acts 13;1-3 – the Spirit. Even Peter declares he is “only a mortal.” (Acts 10:26)
• Imprisoned in Ephesus, he writes to the Philippians; he also writes to Philemon, asking for release of slave Onesimus.
• Eventually freed, goes to Macedonia; meets up with Titus, gets good news about Corinth agreeing with him; he writes an apology to Corinth.
• Paul returns to Jerusalem with the offering he promised to prove his worth to Peter and James. He writes a letter to Christians in Rome – how they got there, no one knows, but not a church that he directly founded. Letter to the Romans is basically a grant proposal to fund a missionary trip to Spain.
• Paul arrested in Jerusalem; demands to be tried as a Roman citizen in Rome. He is taken by ship, long journey, shipwrecked. The letters of Paul stop. Paul disappears.
• 1, 2 Timothy, Titus – some believe are authentic Paul, others say not; Greek style is different; the letters reflect a later organization (bishops, presbyter, deacons) and ethos (women shall be silent) that are not in the authentic Paul letters and are, frankly, hallmarks of the early church post-Paul and Peter.
• Those letters could have been dictated, some argue, to an assistant. Common practice in Roman world – tell the general content and they write it.
• Whence Paul? Did he get to Rome? Tradition says he was martyred in Rome, but no evidence of that. Clement of Alexandria says he got to Spain. By the way, Onesimus of the letter fame became Bishop of Alexandria. Roman tradition has it that Paul was martyred in Rome in 62 AD. Perhaps, or that could be self-serving to bolster the credentials of Rome as the center of the church.
Not a systematic presentation of Christian doctrine but a working out of beliefs under battle conditions in the face of concrete practical problems.
o Where do we fit in Judiasm?
o Who is a Christian?
o Who can we eat with?
o Who is in charge in our local church?
o What does worshipping God look like?
o What are our rituals?
o Should we speak in tongues?o How do we hold all these diverse people together in one (new) religion?
This way of doing religion has never been tried before: this is a religion based on faith and not normative behavior (rules) or ethnic allegiance. If anything, it cuts across all manner of cultural norms and behaviors.
o Paul has norms – he is human – but he is principally about interpreting the God the Hebrew Scriptures in a new way.o He interprets Abraham in a new way, for example: the covenant we heard about in the OT for the Jewish people now extends to all people.
IMPORTANT: to see that Paul is treating Abraham as an allegory, that is, a symbolic story.
o Allegory is typical of the early church. Augustine brings allegory to its highest level by interpreting the rather simple story of Adam and Eve being cast out of the garden as the foundation to a complicated doctrine of original sin.o Paul has ritual – he holds himself to Jewish rites as a personal spirituality – and he commends Christians to remember Christ in the Lord’s supper. The Lord’s supper becomes an ongoing rite through the words of Paul (it is Paul’s words we use in our Eucharist).
The important thing with Paul:
o He has encountered the Christ of the Holy Spirit, and it is that Christ who lives among us and leads this new church.
o Paul makes the reasoned argument of a well-educated rabbi – but beneath that is a profound mysticism. The Spirit is everywhere and our purpose in life is to encounter and be guided by that Spirit. See Ps 139
o Jewish law is important – it is not cast off – but is seen in a new light: it encourages people to seek a new and growing relationship with God. Without that at the core, the law is only empty ritual.
o God’s righteousness – God’s Law – is now embodied in Christ. The response people should have is faith and it is faith that leads them to salvation.
o New interpretation: Recent scholars detect a more subtle argument and translation from the Greek – that it is the faithfulness OF Christ in people that saves – the emphasis is on the action of Christ, not the actions of people:
Frank J. Matera, professor of New Testament
The Catholic University of America
Writing in Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology (Presbyterian):
Summarizes Gal 1:4; 2:20 thusly:
“No one is justified or acquitted before God by the works of the Mosaic law, not even those works that outwardly identify one as a member of Israel (circumcision, dietary prescriptions, or observance of religious days). Rather, God acquits (saves) people on the basis of the faithfulness of the Son who loved us and gave himself for us. This is the reason that even Jewish believers believe in Christ. There is no need, therefore, to adopt a Jewish way of life.”
Now that you’ve settled into Paul, it is only fair to warn you that Paul’s is not the only theology in the NT. Like the OT, there is diversity. The reason, again, we are discussing this tonight is so that you will read the gospels – the life of Jesus – in light of the discussion about what the Jesus event means and how we are to live by it.