Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Questioning Paul

I don't know why I put Paul and John of Patmos into a different category than Isaiah, Jeremiah, or any of the Old Testament authors. For some reason the Old Testament authors were prophets whereas I think of the New Testament authors as historians documenting Jesus' life and sayings. That's obviously not the case as 13 of the 27 books of the New Testament were written by Paul and even the Gospels are accepted as not written by those who knew Jesus during his lifetime.

I have a hard time completely dismissing those books as, using that argument, one would have to dismiss almost the entire Bible. Oral tradition has been a long-standing means of communication and that's how most of the scripture was transmitted throughout time. My problem is when the writers or repeaters add to or subtract from the original content.

Paul of Tarsus was a well-known persecutor of the early Christians. Then, on the road to Damascus, he was struck with a vision of Jesus and instructed to preach his word. I don't know why I can accept the prophets having visions and being divinely guided but have a problem with the Apostles and Disciples. I think in my mind, they were instructed to teach Jesus' message and not to create. I realize that the message given by Jesus (or any prophet, for that matter) was incomplete and needed to be interpreted but obviously many people in early Christianity, even within the circle of the Apostles, have many different interpretations. The interpretations I trust most are, naturally, those from the people who actually knew and were directly taught by Jesus. However, very little is reliably attributed to the original Apostles, indeed, the majority of the New Testament is attributed to Paul and Luke, a follower of Paul.

If Paul were indeed divinely inspired, I would expect his words to be accurate. Paul obviously believed that the apocalypse would occur very soon, during the lives of some of his audience. I can assure you that now, almost two thousand years later, none of Paul's original audience are still alive. Also, Paul's disagreements with other leaders of the early church. Indeed, the term "Pauline Christianity" is used to highlight his extreme influence on the formation of Christianity, regardless of the ideological differences between him and the Apostles heading the early Christian church of Jerusalem.

On the other hand, regardless of ideological differences, the original Apostles did accept Paul and charge him with teaching the Gentiles. If he did go astray, it wasn't initially when he was still in agreement with the others. I just wish there were documents from other writers that affirm or refute Paul's teachings. I feel like the more I read, the more I know how many different hypotheses exist and the less sure I am about anything.

Also, this would be a great time for someone with some formal Christian theological education to chime in. Although I've emailed numerous pastors, priests, and seminary professors to represent Christianity, none have commented on a post or replied to my email. The only voice of Christianity thus far was a one-time visitor who commented on a post. Representing Islam I've had at least one email reply from an imam and the continual comments from my Saudi friend. You'd think the pastors would be more interested in keeping their sheep from straying. Maybe they're turned off by the anonymity.


Anonymous said...

As to who is a prophet and who is not, anyone chosen by God to reveal His truth (and accepts that choosing) is a prophet. Peter Kreeft, in one of his books, makes the statement that "prophets are like fingers; we are not to look at them, but to that which they point". Biblical scholars have for many years argued on the dating of the New Testament books, some even dating all of them in the 2nd century. Personally, I have found the writing of Robinson in his book "Redating the New Testament" to be the most convincing argument -- and he dates all the books before the year A.D. 70.

As to the use of oral tradition to transmit Scripture throughout time, I don't believe that the writers or repeaters added or subtracted from the original content. As a matter of fact, it is through the use of this same oral tradition that we can today learn what is meant by different passages in Scripture which on the surface appear to contradict each other. We can consult the "Early Church Fathers" to find their interpretation of these passages. After all, they are almost two thousand years closer to the original writers than we are today. We also have the promise of Jesus to send the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, to be with His Church always; which means that the one Church founded by Jesus is still guided by that Spirit of truth. That Church is the Catholic Church.

You are correct that the Apostles were instructed by Jesus to teach His message and not to create. This is one reason why we must look to the Early Church Fathers for answers to some interpretations of passages -- many of the Fathers were instructed by the apostles or by one who had been instructed by an apostle so we are much closer to the original teaching which was originally only an oral teaching. You can find more information on the history of the Bible in the booklet "To Tell You The Whole Truth About The Catholic Church And the Bible" which is available for free download at www.scborromeo.org.

As to Paul believing that the Apocalypse would occur very soon, I might recommend investing in the book "The Days of Vengeance" by David Chilton. It is out of print but still reasonably priced. Chilton, like Robinson, dates Revelation (the Apocalypse)before A.D. 70 and points out that the original fulfillment of all the book came in destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 (when most of his audience was still alive). It is interesting to note that approximately 1.2 million Jews died during the siege of Jerusalem, but not one Christian perished because they had all heeded the warnings and had moved elsewhere before the siege took place.

There are also some interesting Point Papers on www.scborromeo.org including one titled "Who The Heck Was Melchizadek?" which speaks to his human origin, a question you had in one of your postings.

Anonymous said...

Good questions all. Read questioningpaul.com - very comprehensive. I do not have a lot of trust in the "Church Fathers"; after all, God is our Father and teacher.