Think Again About Paul

I have met folks who gave the impression that Paul the apostle made them uncomfortable. They disagreed with some or all of his writings. They felt free to reject them as anachronistic and irrelevant to modern (or postmodern) values. Opinions ranged from mildly critical to openly hostile.

Critics of Paul have referred to his unwillingness to oppose slavery, his teachings on the role of women, his teachings on sexual ethics, and what some observers consider to be an abrasive tone and authoritarian style. Some have even accused Paul, the Jewish rabbi, of being anti-Semitic.

No doubt he was controversial. He incurred opposition, sometimes violent opposition, everywhere he went. The apostle Peter wrote what many have thought: some of Paul’s writings are “hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16). If he is out of step with our culture, we must recognize that he was also out of step with his own culture. Paul was always, and he remains, counter-cultural.

Yet the church for almost two thousand years has recognized Paul’s authority as an apostle of (one sent by) Jesus Christ. He took Jesus seriously. His message was always Christ-centered. His writings exalted Jesus as “equal with God” (Philippians 2:6) and the very “fullness of deity in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9).

He took the gospel seriously, the message of Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). He said that those who believe this gospel are “saved” (1 Corinthians 15:2). They are “rescued from the dominion of darkness” and transferred into the kingdom of light (Colossians 1:12-14).

He took his mission seriously. Paul said that his apostleship was “by the will of God” (Colossians 1:1). He had no hesitation in making this claim because  Jesus himself had appeared to him and instructed him as to his calling. He affirmed that his message was not something he learned from other people, but was revealed to him directly by Jesus (Galatians 1:11-12).

He wrote thirteen of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament. This shows that the early believers accepted his writings as “scripture” (2 Peter 3:15-16). Many of these first-generation Christians had known Paul and had been close enough to him to have observed his life and character (1 Thessalonians 1:5, 2:5-8). They could see for themselves whether or not Christ was speaking through him (2 Corinthians 13:3).

Those who have qualms about accepting the teachings of Paul should think again. Jesus said that his apostles would speak for him and that any who received their message, received him (John 13:20; Matthew 10:40). It is a serious matter to reject the official representative of Jesus!

If Paul spoke and wrote with the authority of Jesus, it would be wise to (1) understand what he meant; (2) believe the good news of redemption that he preached; (3) put into practice his ethical and moral teachings; and (4) follow where he leads, into a new life “in Christ” (Ephesians 2:4-10).

There are indeed hard questions about Paul that deserve careful exploration. I plan to devote the next few entries on this site to an examination of some of the issues I raised in the opening paragraphs above. I appreciate your engagement with this discussion. If these writings are helpful, I invite you to forward them to others and to communicate with me.

    –  Pastor Randy Faulkner Randy 2019-spring