View Article  Romans 5-6

We made a little headway with the heavy-duty theology of Romans 5-6, looking at Paul's development of his thesis that as creation had begun, and been corrupted by one man, Adam, so it would be restored by one man, Jesus.  In Romans, Paul talks of Christians participating in Jesus' death, with resurrection as a future event.  In Colossians, he talks of Christians already participating in Jesus' resurrection.  Some scholars (e.g. Ehrmann) take this as evidence that Colossians was not written by Paul, but the class was more open to the idea of a preacher developing his ideas, or for that matter, using different analogies and explanations of complex concepts.

We talked a little of the paucity of archeological evidence for Paul, and, for that matter, Jesus, and wondered if current excavations in, say, Capernaum, might in the future provide some documentary evidence.

View Article  Romans 3-4

Some of us can remember when executives had secretaries to whom they could dictate letters.  Usually, this worked well, but occasionally things could go wrong, as when the executive digressed into conversation, which the secretary included as part of the letter, or when the secretary, at the executive's request, included a well-used paragraph, but without making a clear transition.


Possibly we see some such phenomena in the epistles, as in chapter 2, when Paul goes into a long digression about the activities of some sinners, which does not further his argument, or later, when a dissertation on civil authority seems to have little to do with the particular problems of the church in Rome.


In Chapters 3 and 4, Paul recovers from his digression, and again puts forward his hypothesis that Christian Gentiles were "children of Abraham" -- the idea that we saw earlier in I Corinthians.  This time, however, Jews are not excluded, and a two-track theory is proposed "the circumcised shall be justified by faith and the uncircumcised by faith".   What then is the advantage of being a Jew?  Well......


Paul has been accused of many things, and he repeats some of the accusations.  Was he preaching the idea, that since forgiveness of sins involved the grace of God, we should sin more so that grace might abound?  This is the heresy of antinomianism, and is, in fact not confined to Christianity.  Paul strongly repudiates the idea.


To buttress his case, Paul uses long excerpts from Scripture.  On examination, they turn out to be a collection of somewhat out-of-context verses, taken from the Septuagint translation of several Psalms and a couple of sections of Isaiah.  One wonders what literature Paul carried with him, and it is tempting to believe that he carried "Verse of The Day" selections, particularly for the use of his Gentile converts, who might find wading through the whole of the Law and the Prophets rather heavy going, even if they had access to them.


View Article  Romans 1-2

Paul did not found the Church at Rome; indeed, it is uncertain who did.  Catholics are quite clear that the church was founded by St. Peter, but protestants point out that there is no scriptural support for this.  Some have suggested that the “visitors from Rome” stated to have been present at Pentecost may have returned to Rome and founded the church there.  Members of the church may have been among the “Jews whom Claudius expelled from Rome” (Acts 18:2). Two of them, Aquila and Prisca, turn up again as colleagues of Paul in Corinth and are mentioned in Romans 16, still away from Rome. The Roman historian Suetonius mentions that Claudius expelled from Rome “those who had rioted under one Chrestus”, and some historians have been tempted to suggest that Suetonius was getting confused with Christians – though Chrestus was an accepted Roman name.   If the Christian church in Rome was founded early by Jews, who were then expelled, the Jewish Christians may have found on their return that the church had become dominated by Gentile Christians.  Conflict between Jewish and Gentile Christians in Rome may have inspired Paul to write; some Catholics suggest that he was asked to write by St. Peter.

Some have said that Paul was a great preacher but a poor systematic theologian; he appears not have been a great diplomat either – he starts Romans  with a massive denunciation of a poorly identified group who have “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images …….. “  Accusing this group of a great variety of sins, including robbing pagan temples and blasphemy, he mentions that they are homosexuals.  The language is most intemperate, though perhaps it may be said that he cites homosexuality as one feature of these sinners, not vice versa.

Oddly, there is no mention of the Roman Christian church in Acts, when Paul eventually arrives in Rome; the Jewish leaders there (when did they return?) seem to have heard of the Christian church only by rumor.

It is a truism that Paul’s letters were written before the gospels were produced; at the beginning of Romans he appears to be unaware of the doctrine of the “Virgin Birth” – “… he was Son of David, according to the flesh…….”

In a complex argument, Paul says that Jews are not really Jews if they do not keep the Mosaic Law, and more surprisingly, that Gentiles become Jews --“real circumcision is a matter of the heart”.

View Article  II Corinthians 11-13

We had previously seen that some commentators posit that chapters 10 thru 13 are part of the "stern letter" for which Paul ultimately apologised. Certainly the last few chapters continued the stern approach, culminating in Paul's threatening to come to Corinth and use his "power" to discipline the church members.

Some historians point out that "boasting' was not generally frowned upon as it is in our society; on the contrary, a man who did not boast of his achievements and did not come with letters of recommendation might be seen in a similar light to someone today attempting to enter Washington power circles without resume or references. When Paul lets loose at the "super-apostles" who criticised his message so completely that Paul refers to "another gospel", he gives lists of the trials that he has undergone, most of which cannot be corroborated by the account of his activities in Acts.

(However, if Acts is, as we have surrnised, primarily a defense document for Paul's trial, then items like the three shipwrecks might well have been omitted as irrelevant to countering charges that he was an anti-Roman agitator.)

Paul gives a strange account of being caught up into Paradise*. Some have attempted to synchronize this event (fourteen years after his conversion) with his visit to Jersusalem, and have surmised that he had an out-of-body experience in the Temple ("whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know " 2 Cor 12:3) Audrey further hypothesized that he might have fallen on the stone floors of the Temple duing this, causing some local intercranial bleeding which could have left him with a tendancy to epilepsy -- conceivably the "thorn in the flesh" which he was subsequently given to prevent his being "conceited".

Visiting heaven is apparently not unknown in the literature of the time:

There are many ancient stories about various levels in heaven, for example, whether there were one, three, seven, or even 955 levels of heaven.. In each of these numbers, the highest was the place reserved for God alone. According to I Enoch, there is one heaven, but according to the Testament of Levi 3:1 there are three, so also in the Apocalypse of Moses 37. 3 Baruch 11:1-2 mentions five heavens and 2 Enoch 20:1, 3 Enoch 17:1, the Apocalypse of Abraham 19:5-6, and the Ascension of Isiah 9:6 speak of seven heavens. Remarkably, 3 Enoch 48:1 speaks of 955 heavens! Paul is evidently familar with the tradition that speaks of three levels of heaven and he tells of the experience of being transferred (translated) into that part of paradise where God abides. The Bible Knowledge Background Commentary


*Paul partially disguises this as the experience of a man he knows -- but later verses, in which he says he will not boast about this, suggest that the man is Paul himself.  Interestingly, those who entered the mystery religions of the time were forbidden to talk about their experiences, but some did talk about what happened "to a friend of mine".........

From Eusebius:  ‘Paul… committed nothing to writing but his very short epistles; and yet he had countless unutterable things to say, for he had reached the vision of the third heaven, had been caught up to the divine paradise itself and had been privileged to hear there unspeakable words. Similar experiences were enjoyed by the rest of the Saviour’s pupils… the twelve apostles, the seventy disciples and countless others besides’ (History 3.24).