Category Archives: Apostle Paul
In Paul in Fresh Perspective, N. T. Wright reflects on Paul’s ‘redefinition of God.’ There he says,
Paul’s thought can best be understood, not as an abandonment of [a Jewish monotheistic] framework, but as a redefinition of it around the Messiah…All this and more is summed up for Paul in one of the titles for Jesus which, though he does not use it very often, comes with great force when he does. The phrase ‘son of God’ was known in Judaism as a reference to angels, but it is the two other uses which indicate where Paul sees its roots: Israel itself as ‘son of God’ (not least in Exodus 4.22), and the Messiah as ‘son of God’ in 2 Samuel 7.14 and Psalms 2.7 and 89.27. What Paul has done is to take this idea and fill it with new content, without losing the messianic meaning and the cognate of representing Israel. What has happened in, to and through Jesus has convinced Paul that hidden within the divinely intended meaning of Messiahship was God’s determination not just to send someone else to do what had to be done but to come himself to do it in person. Only so can we make sense of passages like Romans 5.6-11, where the death of Jesus (precisely as the son of God, as in 8.3 and 8.32) expresses more clearly and anything else the love of God. This can only be so if Jesus is understood as the very embodiment of the one God.
-N. T. Wright, Paul in Fresh Perspective, 84, 95
1 Corinthians 15 is a passage discussed in most works on apologetics. But often the apologist’s concern for providing evidence skews their grasp of the passage. John Frame clarifies:
I have often asked students to paraphrase Paul’s argument for the Resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11. They often mentioned the post-Resurrection appearances, especially the five hundred eyewitnesses, most of whom were still alive when Paul wrote (v. 6). But they almost always miss the main thrust of the apostle’s argument. The main thrust perfectly clear from the structure and content of the passage: you should believe in the resurrection because it is part of the apostolic preaching! Note verses 1-2: “Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you have received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.” And verse 11: “Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.”
Paul is telling the Corinthians that they came to faith through his preaching, which included the preaching of the Resurrection. He warns them not to cast doubt on the resurrection, for if Christ has not been raised, their faith will be in vain. If the Resurrection is subject to doubt, all the rest of the message will also be subject to doubt, and then “we are to be pitied more than all men” (v. 19; see also vv. 14 – 18).
The ultimate proof, the ultimate evidence, is the word of God. Eyewitnesses are important, but they die, and the memories of them fade. Only if their testimony is preserved in God’s written word will that testimony have continuing value down through the history of the world.
-John M. Frame, Apologetics, to the Glory of God: An Introduction, 58
Chris Wright answers the question, “How did Paul understand his own a missionary life and work? What was he trying to accomplish? What kept him going through all the battery and bruising (literally) of his missionary career?”
Here’s his response:
… Paul tells us [his answer] in a phrase that comes at the beginning and end of his greatest letter. His calling as an apostle was, he says, “to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of [Christ’s] name among all the nations” (Rom. 1:5; repeated at 16:26 ESV)
Now that is an ambition that resonates with strong echoes of Abraham. For Abraham is the Old Testament character par excellence who was the model of faith and obedience – as Paul, James and the author of Hebrews all testify. And the horizon of “all the nations” goes back to God’s promise to Abraham that through him all the nations on earth will be blessed [Gen. 12].
So Paul is indicating, by this prominently placed phrase, that his lifetime’s service of the gospel was all about producing communities of Abraham look-alikes in all the nations, not just the nation physically descended from Abraham. In ambitious goal, for sure, but profoundly rooted in his reading of God’s mission as expressed in his promise to Abraham…
…Paul’s personal mission was to replicate Abrahamic faith and obedience among all nations, to bring about what God had originally promised Abraham. Paul’s theology of the gospel and his theology of mission are both Abrahamic. In Christ, the promise to Abraham is accomplished in principle, for salvation is now open to people of all nations. In mission, the promise to Abraham is worked out in the ongoing history of the church and its proclamation of the good news.
Thus, though we cannot now study the passages in detail, Paul’s argument from Romans 3:29 to the end of Romans 4, and even more so in Galatians 3, is not (as sometimes suggested) merely using Abraham as an illustration of his doctrine of justification by faith, but constitutes precisely his exposition of what that doctrine means. God has demonstrated his righteousness and his trustworthiness by keeping his promise to Abraham through providing, in Christ, the means by which people of all nations, not just Jews, can enter into the blessing of a right relationship with God by God’s grace through faith.
Paul’s doctrine of justification is essentially missional for it extends the blessing of the gospel, with no ethnic privileges or barriers, to all nations in principle, and therefore demands that it be extended to them in practice – that is, in the practice of evangelism, church planting and discipling communities who walk in “the obedience of faith” among the nations.
-Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission, 63, 76
Some have made the claim that the apostle Paul wasn’t interested in the ‘historical’ Jesus. As far as they are concerned, Paul was more interested in the ‘theological’ Christ of his redemptive narrative. Regularly referenced to support this claim are Paul’s own words in 2 Corinthians 5:16:
From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer.
This of course potentially is a huge blow for Christians who root their faith in real history. After all, part of the common Christian confession is (according to The Apostles’ Creed) Jesus the Messiah “suffered under Pontius Pilate.” That places the significance of Jesus’s life and ministry within a particular geographical and historical setting.
In What Saint Paul Really Said, N. T. Wright, shares a thought on Paul’s elevated praise of love in 1 Cor. 13. But before we look at that, let’s refresh our memories on Paul’s words:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
(1 Corinthians 13 ESV)
Now, Wright’s helpful analysis:
A brief word about love. Paul does not mean that all Christians should feel warm fuzzy feelings for each other. That romantic and existentialist reading of agape does not begin to capture what is really going on. The critical thing is that the church, those who worship God in Christ Jesus, should function as a family in which every member is accepted as an equal member, no matter what their social, cultural or moral background. The very existence of such a community demonstrates to the principalities and powers, the hidden but powerful forces of prejudice and suspicion, that their time is up, that the living God has indeed won the victory over them, that there is now launched upon the world a different way of being human, a way in which the traditional distinctions between human beings are done away with. That is why we find in Ephesians the climactic statement: the purpose of the gospel is that ‘through the church the manifold wisdom of God might be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places’ (Ephesians 3:10). The very existence of a community of love, love where before there was mutual suspicion and distrust, is the crucial piece of evidence that tells Paul that God’s spirit has been at work (Colossians 1:8). -What Saint Paul Really Said, 146.
I found this gem over at Michael Bird’s blog:
Michael Gorman has a short piece about his forthcoming work on participation and mission in Paul.
Bird then provides us with these 2 quotes from Gorman:
According to Paul, God is on a mission to liberate humanity—and indeed the entire cosmos—from the powers of Sin and Death. The fullness of this liberation is a future reality for which we may, and should, now confidently hope. In the present, however, God is already at work liberating humanity from Sin and Death, through the sin-defeating and life-giving death and resurrection of his Son, as a foretaste of the glorious future that is coming. God is therefore at work creating an international network of multicultural, socio-economically diverse communities (“churches”) that participate in this liberating, transformative reality and power now—even if incompletely and imperfectly. They worship the one true God, confess his Son Jesus as the one true Lord, and live in conformity to the self-giving divine love displayed on the cross by means of the power of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Father and of the Son.
Participation, in other words, is essential not only to salvation, ethics, and eschatology, as many students of Paul have noted, but also to mission. Indeed, to separate these aspects of Pauline theology and spirituality is to commit an egregious act of misinterpretation of the apostle, for all of these are inseparably knit together for him. To be in Christ is to be in mission; to participate in the gospel is to participate in the advance of the gospel.
(Emphasis in Bird’s original blog entry)
In his magisterial work, The Resurrection of the Son of God, N.T. Wright comments on the famous “love chapter” in the apostle Paul’s work 1 Corinthians with the following remarks:
Love is what will hold the church together when various pressures threaten to pull the Messiah’s body apart- when those with different gifts, or enthusiasm for a particular teacher, or a sense of their own rights and a disregard for other people’s conscience, or a failure to recognize those of different social standing as equal at the lord’s table, seem to want to go their own way. This chapter [1 Corinthians 13] has a claim, alongside chapter 15, to be considered the real heart of the letter. If the church can only grasp this, it will solve at least half the problems Paul has been grappling with. And yet even this exquisite chapter looks forward, particularly in the section just quoted [verses 8-13] to the final discussion, which will concern the resurrection, the new world that God will make, and the continuity between the resurrection life and the life here and now. The point of 13:8-13 is that the church must be working in the present on the things that will last into God’s future. Faith, hope, and love will do this; prophecy, tongues and knowledge, so highly prized in Corinth, will not. They are merely signposts to the future; when you arrive, you no longer need signposts. Love, however, is not just a signpost. It is a foretaste of the ultimate reality. Love is not merely the Christian duty; it is the Christian destiny. To hold the Corinthian church together, Paul needs to them love; but to teach them love he needs to teach them eschatology.
The apostle Paul was a man driven by truth. On several occasions he supports his claims by explicitly denying falsehood (Rom. 9:1, 2 Cor. 11:31, 1 Tim. 2:7). How did this passion for truth motivate him? It drove him to missions, preaching, and developing arguments to persuade others. Truth persuades. This is one of the chief reasons that religion spread by the sword (as in historical Islam) is a bad idea. Once a truth enters into the mind and captures it, no amount of force can simply erase it. This is true of both unbelief and belief. Conversion is both 1) the changing of our minds by way of new convictions and 2) a radical miracle wrought by the Spirit of God.
Too often well-intentioned Christians ignore the first point in defense of the second.
We shouldn’t make that mistake.
One thing that particularly strikes me about the Apostle Paul was the suffering he endured. When we examine his prison letters (Galatians through Colossians) Paul conveys three thing that relate his suffering to the message of the gospel. These three things are:
- Paul’s awareness of suffering
- Paul’s understanding of his suffering as a means to promote the gospel
- Paul’s awareness of his blessing through suffering.
This threefold perspective not only helps us to grasp Paul’s understanding of his own apostolic ministry, but it also helps to deal with hardships in our own ministry.
Nothing that we do for the Lord is in vain. Paul knew well his ministry meant suffering. Living out God’s radical new-creation message, with its correlated message of sin, guilt, and restoration, is totally out of step with the “life-perspective” of non-Christians. Yet, like Paul, we must not turn a blind eye to the function that suffering serve. As Paul teaches in Rom. 8:28, God is actively working in the midst of all things for our good, whether those things are blessing, famine, persecution, or the sword.
Lastly, like Paul, we should be acutely aware God’s blessings in the midst of our sufferings, even now. Paul knew that his sufferings- from his beatings to his false imprisonments-placed him in unique situations with unique opportunities to proclaim the gospel. The same is true for us today. Also, not to be forgotten, is the fact that often we can testify to the truth of our message by our response to hardship, trials and persecution, for then too is the gospel proclaimed (in deeds, if not in words).
For more on the life and ministry of the Apostle Paul see,
In Colossians 2:1-4 the apostle Paul says:
V.1 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face, 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument.
Note here what Paul was doing. The apostle is actually contrasting his position with those of his opponents (which many commentators believe to be of a proto-gnostic stripe). They valued mystery, wisdom, and knowledge. These, Paul says, can only be found in Christ. As one who feels called to teach and educate Christians the importance of worldview thinking, I find Paul’s comments here most helpful. I also find that what Paul is saying here addresses some of the most basic questions that people have, and roots there answers firmly in Jesus.
So, many of our churches are still addresses challenges posed to the faith by the modernist mindset. These challenges would include the rationality of the faith, the possibility of miracles, the exclusivity of Christ, and modernism’s devotion to scientism. And, while remembering these answers is crucial (because the challenges never fully go away), we must be very cautious not to miss the newer forms of critiques against the faith. Sadly, many of the postmodern challenges to the faith are on target. One critique is that with the desire to refute modernist attacks Christians (evangelicals largely) have over-responded and squeezed all mystery out of the faith. We have desired to show that no contradictions exist in Scripture (and there are none), and in the process have flirted with epistemic arrogance, not acknowledging when we simply cannot reconcile a difficultly (though surely there is no actual contradiction). In apologetics, we have lowered the bar of what we seek to defend to that which is plausible and possible in the mind of the unbeliever.
To the postmodernist, we need to reaffirm that there is mystery-true mystery- in Christ. Something greater than ourselves exists, Someone that transcends our finite ability to comprehend Him.
To the pragmatist, we affirm with Paul, that in Christ, we find true wisdom. Christianity “works.” Christ provides us with the tools to living a productive life (though, we may often have to challenge our standards of “productivity”). In Christ, and through His Spirit in us, we now see the world as it is, and He prompts us to live out His story in a manner that befits citizens of his kingdom.
To the rationalist, we affirm with Paul, that only in Christ are hidden all the treasures of knowledge. Christ supplies us we genuine categories for understanding man, God, sin, redemption, the world around us, and our neighbor. While we cannot have exhaustive knowledge, Christ does provide us with true knowledge, knowledge granted by God Himself.