Wednesday, August 27, 2008

How St Paul got his beliefs

Something I've found greatly helps me understand different scholars interpretation of Paul's theology are 'Just So' stories... one to three small paragraphs of a hypothetical and plausible story, outlining how and why Paul came to hold the various beliefs he does.

Such a story should explain why Paul's theology has the characteristic emphases it does. I find that such stories have great explanatory power. They point to what things were important to him and why, they point to reasons for inconsistencies, and they can be used to deduce what the scholar thinks Paul's view are on other issues. Overall, they make the depiction of Paul seem more plausible and real, and hence more convincing.

If a scholar makes no effort to provide such a story, I often try to puzzle one out myself that would account for Paul having the beliefs the scholar alleges. In cases where I am unable unable to construct a hypothetical story that could have resulted in Paul thinking the things the scholar alleges him to have thought... I tend to be very unconvinced of the arguments.

So what are your 'just so' stories? How did the apostle Paul get his beliefs?


Blogger Nathan said...

Why, he came to his beliefs by direct revelation from God, of course :P

But seriously, I'd say any story needs to take into account the large amount of dissonance one would experience from becoming the person who you were persecuting. I can imagine him swinging to the other end of the spectrum and being very anti his old position.

Blogger Barbara said...

Dissonance - there is that, but it's offset by the grace that comes with such a life-transforming experience. Plus, that becomes such a minute thing when you are turned from living for yourself and your own ideas to living for Christ and His mission. Like John the Baptist said, and as it applies to all in whom the Holy Spirit dwells, He must increase and I must decrease. Or as Paul stated, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.

Plus, after the incident on the road to Damascus, he went on to spend some 17 years studying the Scriptures with the light of the revelation of Christ before he trotted the globe to preach it. He also spent much time in the company of the men who had lived alongside Jesus for three years. Don't forget - Peter validates Paul in one of his own epistles (2 Peter 3:15).

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find the explanation in Hyam Maccoby's two books on Paul convincing. (The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity, and Paul and Hellenism) He follows the New Testament evidence and finds that Paul was not a high profile Pharisee, but a confused semi-Jew (my term) who grew up half Jewish in Tarshish but confused by all the Mithraism around him, ultimately came to Jerusalem and tried to become a Pharisee and rabbi but couldn't cut it, disillusioned he became a Saducee thug in the service of the high priest and had a nervous break down when the high priest sent him on his mission to persecute Christians in Damascus, at which point his syncretic theology (a mixture or half-understood Judaism and Mithraism) emerged ready made from his subconscious as the answer to his delima.


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