Paul’s missionary campaign began c.44 in Antioch. He journeyed to Cyprus, where he converted Sergius Paulus, the governor of the island. It was probably at this point that he changed his name from Saul to Paul, in honor of his distinguished convert. After journeys in Asia Minor where he made many converts, Paul returned to Antioch. His second missionary tour (51-53) took him as far as Corinth; and his third (54-58) led to a three-year stay in Ephesus. It was during these missionary periods that he wrote his Epistles.
Paul’s new religion had the advantage over other salvation-cults of being attached to the Hebrew Scriptures, which Paul now reinterpreted as forecasting the salvation-death of Jesus. This gave Pauline Christianity an awesome authority that proved attractive to Gentiles thirsting for salvation. Paul’s new doctrine, however, met with disapproval from the Jewish-Christians of the Jerusalem Church, who regarded the substitution of Jesus’ atoning death for the observance of the Torah as a lapse into paganism. Paul was summoned to Jerusalem by the leaders James (Jesus’ brother), Peter, and John to explain his doctrine (c.50).
At the ensuing conference, agreement was reached that Paul’s Gentile converts did not need to observe the Torah. This was not a revolutionary decision, since Judaism had never insisted on full conversion to Judaism for Gentiles. But Paul on this occasion concealed his belief that the Torah was no longer valid for Jews either. He was thus confirmed in the role of “apostle to the Gentiles,” with full permission to enroll Gentiles in the messianic movement without requiring full conversion to Judaism.
It was when Peter visited him in Antioch and became aware of the full extent of Paul’s views that a serious rift began between Pauline and Jewish Christianity. At a second conference in Jerusalem (c.55), Paul was accused by James of teaching Jews “to turn their backs on Moses” (Acts 21:21). Again, however, Paul evaded the charge by concealing his views, and he agreed to undergo a test of his own observance of the Torah. His deception, however, was detected by a group of “Asian Jews” (probably Jewish Christians) who were aware of his real teaching. A stormy protest ensued in which Paul feared for his life and was rescued by the Roman police, to whom he declared for his protection that he was a Roman citizen. This surprising announcement was the end of Paul’s association with the Jerusalem Church, to whom the Romans were the chief enemy.
The Roman commandant, Claudius Lysias, decided to bring Paul before the Sanhedrin in order to discover the cause of the disturbance. With great presence of mind, Paul appealed to the Pharisee majority to acquit him, claiming to be a Pharisee like James. Paul was rescued by the Pharisees from the high priest, like Peter before him. However, the high priest, resenting this escape, appointed a body of men to assassinate Paul. Learning of the plot, Paul again placed himself under the protection of the Romans, who transported him by armed guard from Jerusalem to Caesarea. The High Priest Ananias was implacable, no doubt because of Paul’s defection from his police task in Damascus, and laid a charge of anti-Roman activity against him. Paul appealed for a trial in Rome before Caesar, his right as a Roman citizen. The assertion of Acts that the Jewish “elders” were also implicated in the charges against Paul is unhistorical, since these same elders had just acquitted him in his Sanhedrin trial. Paul was sent to Rome, and here our information ends. Legends speak of his eventual martyrdom in Rome.
Paul’s authentic voice is found in his Epistles. Here he appears as an eloquent writer, skilled in asserting his authority over his converts as their inspired teacher. The view often asserted, however, that Paul writes in the style of a rabbi is incorrect. His occasional attempts to argue in rabbinical style (e.g., Romans 7:1-6) reveal his lack of knowledge of rabbinic logic. Paul’s letters belong to Greek literature and have affinity to Stoic and Cynic literature. His knowledge of the Scriptures is confined to their Greek translation, the Septuagint. Paul was a religious genius, who invested Greek mystery-religion with the historical sweep and authority of the Jewish Bible.
Not All of Paul’s Pap is Palatable
Paul wrote some things which are distasteful to the modern mind, and therefore a number of teachers and scholars are saying that what Paul wrote in his epistles is not to be taken very seriously by Christians today. Some of those less palatable teachings include:
–the process of salvation, which Paul says involves “justification by faith,” a term which JESUS never used.
–citizens of a given country are to be obedient to the laws of the state.
– men are to have short hair, and praying women are to have long veiled hair.
– women are not to take on positions of authority in the collective assembly of God’s people.
–those who continue in homosexual practice (and illicit heterosexual relationships) shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
“not to be taken very seriously by Christians today” EXACTLY our point!
But those things that people like; e.g. “Jesus died and rose from the dead to save us from our sins”; this is not nonsense and is to be taken seriously. How are we to know which of his nonsense is to be taken seriously?.
But Jesus says that all that is written is inspired by the Holy Spirit:
Jesus spoke to his disciples just before His suffering and crucifixion (recorded in John 14,15, 16), and told them some important things before they were confronted with the crisis of the Cross. Among the instructions which Jesus gave to the apostles, was a pre-authentication of the entire New Testament. John 14:26 and John 16:13 are the key passages. In those two portions of Scripture Jesus promised that He would send the Holy Spirit (who will do three things):
a) “bring to your remembrance all that / have said to you”–that is, events associated with the life and death of Christ as we find them in the Gospel accounts.
b) “will teach you (explain to you) all things”-that is, the Holy Spirit will give you an interpretation of the historical facts as we find them in the Epistles.
c) “will show you things to come”–that is, the Holy Spirit will show the great events associated with the end of the age, as we find them in the Revelation.
Jesus promised these things to His apostles just before His death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven. And so the New Testament is not a record based on the fallible memories of the human apostles, but the entire New Testament contains the truth which is a revelation of the infallible Holy Spirit. This promise of the Holy Spirit’s oversight includes the epistles of Paul. Jesus said to the apostles, just before He ascended into Heaven, that what they recorded would be superintended by the divine Comforter, the Holy Spirit. Thus what the apostles wrote was pre-authenticated by Jesus.
Approximate Dates of the Pauline Epistles
|Epistles||Date of Composition|
An excellent book on this subject by Hyam MacCoby is entitled The Mythmaker, Paul and the Invention of Christianity. (ISBN 0-06-015582–5)