|The Christian Faith:||Seminar 15|
Paul was a Greek-speaking, Hellenistic
Jew trained in Pharisaical manner. He became the most important figure
in the history of Gentile Christianity and his writings are the earliest
Christian writings even before the Gospels, which were written some 40
years later. Paul transformed the Christianity and shaped the early Church
even though he actually never knew Jesus during His active life in the
Palestine. We know that Saul, as he was then called, was born in
Tarsus in the first decade of the Christian era. Tarsus was the prosperous
capital of the Roman Province of Cilicia, now southeastern Turkey. He was
the son of a highly religious Jewish family, speaking Aramaic at home and
Greek outside. As a youth he was sent to Jerusalem to become a master of
the law in conformity with Talmud, the Jewish code of living. He also learned
a trade as a tent maker. As an adult Paul became one of the most zealous
persecutors of the first Christians who were viewed by the Jewish establishement
as heretics. As such he was greatly feared by the followers of Christ (Mays
et al. 2000, Anderson 2007).
Paul withdrew from the Church in Jerusalem and began to spread his doctrine about Jesus in his native Cilicia, and then with Barnabas, made his headquaters in Antioch, in Syria. It was in Antioch that large numbers of non-Jewish followers were recruited. Paul took Barnabas with him when in AD49 he went to Jerusalem to attempt in consultation with the Church leaders to heal a serious division about how far the followers of Jesus need to conform to Judaic practices. Paul's main contribution to Christianity was to insist against all opposition that Gentiles did not need to become Jews first in order to become Christians (i.e. there was no need for circumcision). In this he was at odds with the more traditionalist apostles like Peter who insisted that all Christians must accept Jewish laws and be circumcised. From many respects Paul was considered by many followers of Christ to be a bogus apostle and was forced often to defend his calling, mission and status. Nevertheless, subsequently he left the consultation with the Church, known as the Council of Jerusalem, with a clear mandate from James, Peter and John to preach among the non-Jewish headen, the Gentiles. For the next decade until his arrest in AD58, Paul traveled ceaselessly throughout the eastern Mediterranean, from Antioch to Greece, setting up Christian communities and revisiting them.
In every large town of the Empire there was a Jewish community, and a synagogue where Paul would often begin his preaching. Paul's missionary strategy was systematic. He would target the larger towns, hoping to set up Christian communities from which his teaching would trickle into outlying areas. Anderson (2007) writes that Paul's letters indicated less of an interest in numbers of believers and more in making sure there were congregations, even small ones, in every major civilized area around the Mediterranean. Paul used the local synagogue to make his first stand, preaching to any Jews who would listen. Eventually he would be thrown out of the synagogue for his heretical preaching, at which point he would found a new Church with his latest converts making up the first congregations. He would remain in the city, building up the congregation, until the orthodox Jews drove him away.
In Greece there were not always synagogues, so Paul sometimes preached to the Gentiles in the open. Athens was no exception. Philosophers in this cosmopolitan and relatively open-minded city invited him to speak before them so that they could consider what he had to say. Their reaction was not always favourable however. Afterwards he settled for nearly two years in Corinth, teaching and writing.
During his missionary work Paul underwent three extensive journeys. The first journey with Barnabas took them both to Cyprus and then to a number of towns in what is now southern Turkey.
Paul then returned to Antioch where he had a heated exchange with Peter and "withstood him to his face". Though Peter had already recognized the validity of inviting Gentiles to become Christians, now while staying in Antioch he refused on ritual grounds under pressure from supporters of James, to eat with Christians who were not of Jewish descent. Correctly, Paul considered this refusal to be utterly wrong. He felt it went against the central point of Christ's teachings, namely that salvation was for all.
Then Paul continued his relentless traveling. The most important of the Paul's three missions was the second, undertaken around AD51 and lasting four years. Traveling up through Asia to Greece he brought Christianity to Europe. He was accompanied by Silas, a leading member of the Church of Jerusalem, and Timothy, whom they met on the way.
During his third tour Paul returned to the churches of Asia Minor, Macedonia and Greece. This time He would be much preoccupied with setting right some morality issues occurring within the Church at Corinth.
By this time the Jewish establishment in Jerusalem began to loathe Paul. Only arrest by the Romans prevented Paul's public lynching in the streets of Jerusalem. His Roman citizenship guaranteed his protection by the Roman establishment. With rumours circulating of impending plot of Paul's murder the Roman authorities decided put him of harm's way in Caesarea. He was kept in prison in Caesarea for two years until in 60 the procurator of Caesarea decided to send him back to Jerusalem for trial. Paul appealed this decision however, so he was being sent to Rome. His journey to Rome was interrupted by a shipwreck off Malta where his ship run aground, its stern being smashed by high seas. Paul together with other prisoners and occupants got ashore on broken timber from the ship. There, gathering sticks for a fire, Paul was bitten by a viper. The barbarians saw this to be a sign that Paul was a wicked man. When he came to no harm however, they took him for a god. In Rome at last, he lived at his own expense under house arrest for two years and was able to continue writing further letters to Christian communities (Mays et al. 2000).
Undoubtedly strenghtened through the mysticism
of his ecstatic experiences, despite opposition Paul's status grew quickly
in the early Church so much so that Paul's writings became recognized as
'scripture' on a similar level to the Hebrew Bible for their use in Christian
worship. Whatever his personal practices as a Jew, Paul's view that the
Jewish law was not necessary for salvation for the Gentiles spelled the
end of its importance as a major factor in Christian belief and practice
(Anderson 2007). We must be careful however, how we interpret this. This
Paul's view, which resonated deeply throughout the, especially reformed,
Christian Churches is often conveniently and erroneously interpreted as:
in the risen Lord Jesus, and you will be saved". During His Public
Ministry Jesus never made such a promise however and was careful not to
make any statements, which could lead to an assumption that good works
and righteousness (i.e. obedience of the original Jewish Law) were not
necessary for one's salvation (see also the introduction).
Anderson, M.R., 2007. Faith Enrichment Conference. Archdiocese
Montreal, Nov. 2007
Mays, J.B., Howse C., and Beeson T., 2000. 2000 years of Christianity. National Post, Gurdon Hugo Ed.
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