Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Why Paul and Not Jesus? A Brief Reflection

As I sip grapefruit from a wineglass, I recall a question someone asked me a long time ago. Well, long ago in the sense that I do not remember the specific time. In between the insanity at work, the joy of marriage, and the pressing of seminary, I can now think about this unmentioned comment in more detail
"Why Paul and not Jesus?"
In the spirit of New Testament scholarship, one could write a few dissertations about this very question, and I'm quite confident at least someone has. For me, Paul remains the singular apex of frustration and inspiration. In between being an iconoclast and an impeachable brick wall, Paul has shown himself to be a remarkably profound and infuriating dead man.

A key difference for me, in terms of my love for Paul, is that we have so much diverse material about him. Thirteen epistles in the New Testament are attributed to him, which roughly equates to 25% of the entirety of the New Testament, and so he is the second most prolific author we have in the canon. However, in terms of influence, Paul is second to none here in the Western world. Justification, gender, sexuality, the rapture: all of this is largely filtered through a Pauline lens (and this is a good thing in many ways), and so it is not unheard of as to why I prefer studying Paul over the Gospels.

Another possible answer is that Paul explicitly (and implicitly) challenges his congregations in the midst of immense ethical turmoil, and the reconstructions behind this-through the blessing of historical criticism-are particularly fascinating.

Finally, Paul haunts me. The man is our first interpreter of the sayings and significance of Jesus, and the fact that he is so culturally removed from myself (I say this while typing on a computer, after all!) makes him uniquely fascinating insofar as his writings continue to influence a large portion of humanity. It is easier to study Paul simply because he often just tells us what he feels. Anger. Joy. Sorrow.

Part of me wonders if Paul ever considered that his epistles to his dysfunctional and often bonkers churches would end up all collected and put between two covers and recited on Sunday mornings everywhere. I like to hope he would be flattered, but part of me thinks his reaction would be more earthy than that.


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