Sunday, November 21, 2010
Final Essay for Master of Life of St. Paul
Rev Sharon J. Mayer, D.D.
It is very obvious that Reverend Moline has great admiration for St. Paul. This is shown in his selection of text for the course and his own words on the subject. The course was well written and presented a doorway to other areas of study of St Paul. I found this to be a very interesting course.
I do believe that all thought comes from the God within and therefore all works are inspired by God. The Bible and other religious writings therefore are from God. That being said I do have some new insight on the writings by and about St Paul.
I have always had a problem with St Paul and some of his writings. After this study I better understand that the letters were in reaction to inquiries from the churches he had started while on his travels and persons who communicated with him. The ambiguities in what he said are not a change of heart but the fact he was answering a question put to him. We each do the same in our daily lives. One minute we are compelled to do or say one thing and at another time that same action or phrase would not be appropriate for the situation at hand. Each circumstance will need different words or interpretations of the events to be handled properly and with understanding.
The book of Acts was written after the letters written by Paul and the material was taken from varied sources. It is now thought that the writer, stated as being Luke, did not know Paul and was using verbal information given to him to write this book. He also was trying to enhance the interest in the teachings of Paul and incorporated many details that would appeal to and be appreciated by those persons he was writing for at the time. Understanding the times and the thoughts when this book was being written gives understanding to the words and why they were written. Many of the things attributed to Paul in the Book of Acts were not related by Paul himself. This may have been an oversight in his busy and extensive schedule or they may not have been important to the message Paul was giving. They also may have been embellishments to the life and mission of Paul to get the attention of the audience. In a time when there were so many religions and people were expecting a miracle they could believe some of the stories were parallel with other stories of the region about those that people thought of as gods. The Jewish peoples, as well as others, during that time were wanting for a messiah to come and save them from the oppressive government. Also we understand that each of us has an event where we are enlightened by God. Since all who may read the results of this are not present at the time, the reader must rely on the understanding that what is read is a remembrance and can vary from time to time or person to person in the telling.
Paul was an extremely busy person and he traveled to give the world a new understanding. I sometimes wonder if Christianity would still be here if it had not been for Paul. Because he understood so many cultures and was able to use the new Roman road systems he was able to travel to far distant areas and spread the word about what he was taught and the inspiration he received from his interaction with Jesus and others who had been with him as followers and disciples. Paul was under the impression that he was preaching about a messiah that had risen from the dead and would be returning at any moment to start a new world order. He wanted all that believed and accepted the Word to have a part in this new order and he felt that the kingdom was at hand. Paul felt that he had very little time left to convert all to the new teachings and had little patience with those that preached a different gospel. That he had disagreements with others and Peter is very evident. He was a new follower and as some even today his zeal was evident and he was driven to carry the Word to as many as possible in the shortest time possible. His feelings on this led to him impatience with others who did not feel the same urgency that he felt in makings sure all that were able heard the word and understood what Jesus had taught.
We know very little of the historical Paul. We can only rely on a few short passages in his own writings that have survived and the descriptions of those who came after that were either enhanced or had been handed down orally and given to the writers of the times. Not many writings survived the time period. Some have been found recently and are being studied and carefully pieced together. Time has blurred the real Paul, what he was told during his flash of insight from Jesus, and what he really spoke of to the churches when he started them. We will never really know the true Paul and as words have a way of taking on the speaker or writer’s views this is a problem in understanding the true message of Paul.
Over the years there have been many translations of the words of Paul and many thoughts on just what he said. We must understand that we have parts of letters that have been put together while other parts were left out of the official Bible. Many religious thinkers and those who held control over the writings have added or taken from writings and the Bible we now have is the one that was decided would contain certain writings while others were taken out or never included. The was to be a unity of belief so there would be a unity of government and control of the vast population that came first under Rome and then the control of leaders and governing bodies that followed.
I wonder if we will ever know what the original church was like. What the beliefs really were. What the early leaders thought and taught. New information is coming to light now and new books and writings are being found. There seemed to be many paths and teachings that differed from the one that has been handed down to us through the church. Even to this day the idea that there may have been a different meaning to the words of Jesus brings a debate. It is true that some doubt the findings and other want to suppress them but each should be used for leaning and moving forward in knowledge. We do not have to believe all we read or see but each event should help us think and work toward understanding.
I am not sure I am over my grievances with what I have read that St Paul said. But I do know that I have a better understanding of why he was answering in the manner he did. I have a better understanding of the times and what the people thought of women, church, and how each were to be taught and governed. He was a remarkable man and without him there may not have been growth in the small following of the new understanding of God.
The last lessons of the course were informative and helped rekindle some thoughts on the subjects presented.
I have used the following resources during this course: The course materials, multiple Bible translations. George Wills new book “What Did Paul Really Mean”, “Peter, Paul, & Mary Magdalene, The followers of Jesus in History and Legend” authored by Bart D. Ehrman, and other publications and articles in print and on the internet.
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