A LIFE OF PAUL:
Whatever we know about the Apostle comes to us from two sources: his letters and from the Acts of the Apostles.
BACKGROUND OF PAUL:
Born in 10 CE in the hellenistic town of Tarsus, capital of the province of Cilicia, Asia Minor (Ac 21:39; 22:3), from Jewish parents, from the tribe of Benjamin (Rm 11:1; Phil 3:5). According to Ac 23:16, Paul had a sister, domiciled in Jerusalem (“the son of Paul’s sister“). From birth Paul enjoyed the status of a Roman citizen and on occasion he would use his privileges with pride (Ac 16:37; 22:25-29; 23:27). Tarsus was a centre of hellenistic philosophy and culture. STRABO tells of its schools, which surpassed those of Athens and Alexandria. The students were native Cilicians, not foreigners, as was the case in Athens and Alexandria. It was a university city with perhaps more than three lakh inhabitants. Both Stoic philosophers and European philosophers settled in Tarsus and taught there. Famous Romans visited the town: Cicero, Julius Caesar. It was there that Mark Anthony accorded a royal reception to Cleopatra as she disembarked. This was the city where Paul was born and where he received some of his early education. He probably went to the university and used its learned approach to literature; at times he also quotes poetry (Ac 17:28). Hence, he boasts: “I am a citizen of no mean town” (Ac 22:3).
We find from his letters that Paul knew Greek well (cf.Ac 21:37.39). Also there are traces of Stoic diatribe in his writings. He was a dynamic, forceful writer, but though he might have been acquainted with the canons of Greek rhetoric, he never made use of them, as Augustine rightly put it: “As we do not affirm that the Apostle sought out the precepts of eloquence, we do not deny that eloquence sought out his wisdom“. Paul used the Greek Old Testament (usually the Septuagint), as a Jew from the Diaspora would. He spoke Aramaic and his thought patterns are Semitic. Both the Hellenistic environment of Tarsus and the Jewish heritage of his orthodox, traditional Pharisee family left their marks on the young Paul. Paul was at crossroads of two civilizations, Jewish and Greek. This double background is clearly reflected in his letters. Though there are limitations arising from his cultural background, his writings are the highest expressions of the Christian faith. He was not a speaker like Apollos, but a great writer.
He was called PAUL from birth (Roman name), SAUL (Shaul) was an added name (supernomen, Hebrew name, meaning “asked-of Yahweh“), used in the Jewish circles. In the course of his ministry he used only the latter name, probably because Saulos in Greek did not sound well (‘effeminate, affected, conceited“). Although PAULUS means “small”,”little“, it had nothing to do with Paul’s short stature or modesty. There is no evidence that SAUL was changed to PAUL at the time of his conversion.
YOUTH OF PAUL:
As a Jew from the strict Pharisee party, he was educated in Jerusalem at the feet of Rabbi GAMALIEL I (the Elder), whose floruit in Jerusalem was around 20-50 CE, from whom he received a thorough grounding in the teaching of the Pharisee school
(Cf.Ac 22:3; see also Ac 5:34.37; 23:6; 26:5; Gal 1:14; 2 Cor 11:22; Phl 3:6. See the thesis of William C.VAN UNNIK, Tarsus or Jerusalem: The City of Paul’s Youth, London, 1962). Then most of Paul’s early training took place in Jerusalem itself.
He was back in Tarsus during the time of Jesus’ activity, of which he seems to have been unaware. He never gives any indication in his letters that he did know Jesus (2 Cor 5:16 does not imply it: “Even though we once knew Christ from a human angle (KATA SARKA), we no longer know him in this way (now we know him from Spirit-given viewpoint (KATA PNEUMA)”. It refers to Paul’s attitude towards Jesus when Paul was persecuting the Church: he knew certainly what Jesus stood for and what his disciples were claiming on his behalf.
Perhaps in his parents’ home, he had learned to weave the material, made of goats’ hair, which in French, cilice, takes its name from the province of Cilicia. Paul worked as a tent-maker (Ac 18:3).
Paul’s training at the feet of Gamaliel the Elder suggests that he was preparing to become a rabbi. According to Joachim JEREMIAS, Paul was at his conversion not merely a rabbinical disciple (TALMID HAKAM), but a recognized teacher with the right to make legal decisions. This status is presupposed in the role he played in going to Damascus (Ac 9:1-2; 22:5; 26:12). He asked the High Priest for letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, that would authorise him to arrest and take to Jerusalem any followers of “the Way”, men or women. Such authority would only be given to someone qualified. It seems to be confirmed by the vote that Paul cast against the Christians (Ac 26:10), apparently as a member of the Sanhedrin.
Perhaps Paul was married (cf.1 Cor 7:8, Paul would classify himself with the “widowed” rather than with the “unmarried–“it is good for them to remain as I am“; cf.1 Cor 9:5–Paul would not have remarried). According to the apocryphal Acts of Paul, the name of his wife was THECLA. According to K.Luke (The TPI Companion to the Bible, vol.2, New Testament, Bangalore, 1988, p.71), “the Apostle remained unmarried, probably with the intention of devoting himself whole-heartedly to study and scholarly pursuits“. A certain Rabbi justified his renunciation of marriage saying: “What shall I do? My soul clings to the Torah (Law). Let others keep the world going“. Celibacy was a most rare exception among the Jews.
As a sincere Pharisee, Paul’s passion was to serve God by scrupulous observance of the Law, source of life. When he returned to Jerusalem in about CE 36, he was apalled at the preaching of Peter and other apostles: they put this Jesus, rightly condemned by the authorities as a blasphemer, on the same level as God. Being an intransigent Pharisee, Paul decided to fight tooth and nail against this new sect. He approved of the death of Stephen and left for Damascus to pursue disciples of Stephen who had taken refuge over there and bring them back from there to Jerusalem for punishment (Ac 22:5).
CONVERSION OF PAUL:
Paul’s conversion was in 36 CE; it is related to the martyrdoom of Stephen, when the witnesses piled their garments at the feet of the young SAUL (Ac 7:58;cf.22:20), so that he might mind them. It was 12 years before the Council of Jerusalem (49 c.e.; cf.Gal 2:1).
Paul gives an account of the event in Gal 1:13-17 from his own apologetic and polemic standpoint. Three other accounts are given in the book of Acts (9:3-9; 22:6-16; 26:12-18). These accounts stress the overwhelming, unexpected experience amidst his persecution of the Christians. These three accounts carry variants in details, but the basic message is the same, expressed by the words of the Risen Lord: “ Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”. Saul questions:”Who are you, Lord?”. The Lord answers: “I am Jesus (of Nazareth) whom you are persecuting”. Variants may be due to the different sources of Luke’s information.
2)Division: The account can each be divided into four sections: a)Introduction (Ac 9:3-4a; 22:6-7; 26:12-14); b)The Encounter (Ac 9:4b-5; 22:8.10; 26:14b-16); c)The Effect on Paul and his companions (Ac 9:7-8; 22:9.11; 26-NIL); d)Role of Ananias (Ac 9:10-19; 22:12-16; 26-NIL).
From a cursory reading we see that there is full verbal agreement among the three accounts in the dialogue between Christ and Paul. Such word for word repetition is not by chance, it brings out the tremendous impact upon Paul of the identity revealed as existing between the Exalted Christ and his Church. This shows that for Lukan scheme of his whole story the mystery of the Oneness of Christ and the Church is basic. Paul’s awareness of it conditions his own theology. For Luke, the history of the Church is the extension of Christ’s redemptive activity in this world. It is the era of Holy Spirit, of the Church. (Cf.Jacques-Bénigne BOSSUET: Church is the prolongation of Christ—L’Eglise, c’est le prolongement du Christ).
There are several divergences: a)The companions stood by speechless or fell to the ground (Ac 9:7;cf.26:14); b)the companions heard the voice or not, speaking to Paul (Ac 9:7;cf.22:9); c)the companions saw the light or saw no one (Ac 9:7;cf.22:9); d)Paul’s eyes were open but he saw nothing, scales were on his eyes (Ac 9:8.18; cf.22:11, because of the glory of that light), about noon or midday a great light from heaven flashed round him (Ac 22:6; 26:13; cf.9:3); e) “I am Jesus” (Ac 9:5b; 26:15b; cf.22:8c); f) in the third account of his conversion, in Greek, given by Paul in his speech before Agrippa, Bernice and Festus, he put into the mouth of Christ a proverb found only in Gk literature, “IT IS HARD FOR YOU TO KICK AGAINST THE GOAD” (Ac 26:14c).
At first sight these details are conflicting, but they can be reconciled. In Ac 9:7, “HIS COMPANIONS STOOD SPEECHLESS, FOR THEY HEARD THE VOICE, BUT SAW NO ONE“, whereas in Ac 22:9 “HIS COMPANIONS SAW THE LIGHT, BUT DID NOT HEAR THE VOICE (OR WORDS) OF CHRIST“. How to reconcile these contradicting statements?
i)Heard or Not the Voice?: N.TURNER explains that AKOUW with genitive refers to a mere physical hearing (hearing the sound of the voice, AKOUEIN PHONES, cf.Jn 10:3), whereas the accusative implies understanding of what is said (AKOUEIN PHONEN). Luke singles out a difference between Paul’s experience and that of his companions: they recognized the fact that a person was speaking, but could not understand what was said nor see who the person was. Luke wishes to insist that Paul saw the Risen Lord. His experience was specifically the same as that of the Apostles on the various occasions of Christ’s post-resurrectional appearances. It was a traumatic experience that he never forgot, and to which he always associated his apostolic commission: “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord” (1 Cor 9:1; cf.15:8).
ii)Apocalyptic Motifs: Lk uses typical motifs of vision, light, voice, fall to the ground (cf.Dan10:5-9) to show that a TREMENDUM IS TAKING PLACE. ONLY PAUL shared the experience, the ENTOURAGE was aware that something was going on, but did not perceive its significance. According to the form-critics, ancient authors (Greek and Jewish) had consecrated formulae and typical motifs used in the description of appearances: The sky is split, a great light streams out, Asenath falls on his face. There is no need to stress the historicity of all details in the accounts, nor to posit two distinct sources behind Lukan accounts. The different reaction of the entourage should be explained analogously: In Ac 9:7 the bystanders stand speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one; whereas in Ac 26:14, Paul and the on lookers fall to the ground. Being speechless or falling to the ground are two different means from the ancient literature to express identical meaning-contents (=THE FORCE AND FASCINATION OF THE EPIPHANY OR MANIFESTATION OF THE RISEN LORD WHICH TOUCHES EVEN BYSTANDERS).
iii) The Theme of Blindness: The second account of Paul’s conversion is his own speech on the occasion of his arrest in the Temple and is apologetic. Paul tries to conciliate the infuriated mob of Jerusalem by identifying himself with the Jews of the Holy City. He speaks in Aramaic and is successful, as it is evident from their silence (cf.Ac 22:2). He stresses his Jewish blood, his rabbinic training at the feet of Gamaliel, his zeal for God. This apology serves the general purpose of the story of Acts, in as much as it underlines the unreasonableness of the Jewish opposition to the Apostle. Another theme is that of blindness: It is not a symbol of spiritual blindness, as a consequence of the refusal to believe (like that of Elymas, the Jewish magician, also called Bar-Jesus, associated with Sergius Paulus, the Roman proconsul of Cyprus—he opposed Paul’s preaching, but he was blinded, and the proconsul believed, cf.Acts 13:6-12–), but it underlines the impotency of man in face of the Supernatural (cf.Phl 3:7-12). Paul is probably aware of the similarity of his own experience to that of the prophet EZEKIEL in his inaugural vision, when he saw the “glory of the Lord” and fell upon his face (Ac 26:16; cf.Ez 2:1). Luke never ceases to point out at the finger of God. Paul’s blindness is a parable in action: his insight into the triumph of GRACE OVER NATURE (cf.Rm 1:16).
iv)Greek Proverb (Ac 26:14c): In his third account which is an address to his hellenistically educated audience, Paul highlights the most momentous meeting of his existence, his attention goes to Christ and his words. There is no hint of his blinding, or his baptism, or reference to Ananias, or (except for a passing remark) any mention of his companions’ reaction. Paul notes that the voice he heard was in the “hebrew language” (that is, in Aramaic, the spoken language, LINGUA FRANCA, of the Palestine of that day, after the Exile). Then Paul puts into his mouth a proverb, current only in the Gk-speaking world (AESCHYLUS, EURIPIDES AND PINDAR). The maxim has the same function as blindness: it underscores the transcendence of the divine, THE SUPERNATURAL. But how could such a proverb be put into the mouth of Christ?
Following Karl RAHNER, Norbert LOHFINK states that whatever a person sees or hears in an appearance (or vision) he/she receives according to the imaginative-conceptual possibilities which are his because of his/her own past experience (QUIDQUID RECIPITUR, AD MODUM RECIPIENTIS, RECIPITUR= Whatever is received, is received according to the mode/capacity of the receiver).
Therefore, Paul concretized through this proverb in image and concept what he grasped from Christ in a pre-conceptual and pre-image form. Or it is more likely that Lk placed on Lord’s lips a Gk proverb familiar to him in order to clarify to the readers
that Paul could not simply resist the Lord’s superior power?
v)Double Vision: In Ac 9:10-16 Ananias and Paul are favoured with VISIONS. They are not related separately, one after the other, but the narration of the second vision is part and parcel of the first vision; they are “sandwiched” (sandwich-structure).
“Behold! He (Paul) is praying, having seen (in a vision) a man, Ananias by name, coming in and laying hands on him so as to see again (=regain his sight)” (Ac 9:12).
This piece of literary technique should be attributed to Luke. From verse 10 onwards, the narrative is told from the viewpoint of Ananias. By having Christ himself relate what meantime is happening to Paul, Luke is able to avoid changing the locale of the action (or the viewpoint) from which the story is told. So a related, but distinct narrative is inserted into the dominant story without interrupting the flow (cf.this technique of Ac 2:8-11, where Luke places his list of nations in the mouth of those who react to the address).
The double vision is regarded as a literary motif (rather than a literary form); it is an elementary and distinct part of a literary unity. By the inclusion of Ananias section, Luke shows that Paul’s sufferings are a part of God’s plan. Suffering is a characteristic of the apostolic calling and is a part of Christ’s designs (Ac 5:41; 2 Cor 4:7-12). Lk’s version of the Damascus road event shows the convert Paul as one to whom the name apostle (APOSTOLOS, from APOSTELLW, in Hb SHALIA’) rightly belongs, for a) he has truly “seen the Lord” (Luke undoubtedly learned this from Paul himself, who used to prove his apostolic vocation to the Corinthians, cf.1 Cor 9:1; 15:5); b)he is to be formed by suffering on the pattern of the Twelve (Ac 9:15, cf.Col 1:24); and
c)Christ himself appears to Ananias in order to reveal a new and deeper meaning in the notion of “witness” (MARTYS) than Peter’s speech before Mathias’ election would lead us to believe. At the same time, Luke knows that Christ’s appearance to Paul differs in one very notable respect from his visits with his own in Jerusalem or Galilee–it is the Christ exalted in divine glory, who appears to Paul (cf.Ac 10:41).
WHY HAS LK GIVEN US THREE ACCOUNTS OF PAUL’S CONVERSION?—
Lk follows in the book of Acts the same method as in the third Gospel (in the traditional order): As he displayed the work of Jesus as a journey from GALILEE to JERUSALEM, so Paul travels to Rome, where the development of Christianity comes to an end. With Paul established in Rome, Luke’s theme is played out to its conclusion: The apostolic Church has broken out of narrow compass within which its links with Israel’s religion inevitably tended to confine it and carried out the Master’s command to reach “the end of the earth“. As a protagonist in this literary form Luke chose, not Peter (as the first half of Acts would lead us to expect), but Paul. This choice is imposed by our historian’s acquaintance with the events of early Christianity and is dictated also by his interest (and his public’s interest) in the Apostle of Gentiles. One of the most important devices Luke uses in his narrative to stress the importance of Paul’s Roman voyage and to discover its meaning to the readers is the threefold repetition of the story of the Apostle’s first meeting with the Risen Lord (Ac 9:3-19; 22:6-16; 26:12-18).
In the synopsis of the three accounts we have noticed similarities and divergences. The author had a purpose in placing details seemingly at variance with one another.
ITS IMPACT ON HIS LIFE AND TEACHING:
Paul himself and Lk in the bk of Acts both describe the experience on the road to Damascus as the turning-point in the Apostle’s career. It was an encounter with the Risen Lord (KYRIOS), that made Paul adopt a new way of life. It was an encounter, the traumatic experience that turned Paul the Pharisee into Paul the Apostle.
Paul’s theology was influenced most of all by his experience on the road to Damascus and by faith in the risen Christ as the Son of God which developed from his experience. New Testament scholars are today less prone than those of former generations to consider that experience as a “conversion” to be psychologically explained in terms of Paul’s Jewish background or in terms of Rom 7 (understood as a revelation of the Son accorded him by the Father) (Gal 1:16). In it he saw “Jesus the Lord” (1 Cor 9:1; cf.1 Cor 15:8; 2 Cor 4:6; Ac 9:5). That revelation of the Crucified “Lord of Glory” (1 Cor 2:8) made Paul the first Christian theologian.
The only difference between that experience in which Jesus appeared to him (1 Cor 15:8) and the experience of the official witnesses of the Resurrection (Ac 1:22) was that his vision was post-Pentecostal. It puts him on an equal footing with the Twelve who had seen the KYRIOS (Ac 10:43).
First, this experience influenced his whole life and gave him an extraordinary insight into what he later called the “MYSTERY OF CHRIST” (Eph 3:4). He had been “seized” by Christ Jesus (Phl 3:12) and a “necessity” had been laid on him to preach the Gospel (1 Cor 9:15-18). He compared that experience to God’s creation of light (2 Cor 4:6). The compulsion of divine grace pressed him into the service of Christ, he could not kick against the pricks of such a goad (Ac 26:14c). His response was one of vivid faith, in which he confessed with the early Church that “JESUS IS THE LORD-KYRIOS” (1 Cor 12:12; cf.Rom 10:9).
That “revelation” (Gal 1:16) impressed Paul, first of all, with the nity of divine action for the salvation of all men, which is manifest in both the Old and New Dispensations. As a result of that encounter with the Risen Christ, Paul did not become a Marcionite, rejecting the Old Testament. The Father who revealed his Son to Paul was the same God whom Paul the Pharisee had always served. His experience on the road to Damascus did not alter his fundamental commitment to the “one God“. In fact, Paul remained still a Jew in his basic outlook.
Secondly, that vision taught him the soteriological value of the death and Resurrection of Jesus, the Messiah. If his basic theology did not change, his Christology did. As a Jew, Paul shared the messianic expectations of his time; he looked forward to the coming of a messiah (of some sort). But the vision of
Jesus taught him that God’s Anointed One had already come, that he was, “Jesus who was handed over for our offences and raised up for our justification” (Rom 4:25). Before his experience on the road to Damascus, Paul certainly knew that Jesus had been crucified. This was undoubtedly one of the reasons why he as a Pharisee could not accept Jesus as the Messiah. He was for Paul “a stumbling-block” (1 Cor 1:23), one “cursed” by the very Law which he so zealously observed (Dt 21:23; cf.Gal 3:13; Phl 3:5-6). But
the Revelation near Damascus impressed him emphatically with the soteriological and vicarious value of the death of Jesus of Nazareth in a way that he never suspected before. With a logic that only a Rabbi could appreciate, Paul saw Jesus taking upon himself the Law’s curse and transforming it into its opposite, so that he became the means of freeing men from its malediction. The Cross, which had been the stumbling-block to the Jews, became for him the “power and wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:18-25). Henceforth, he would understand the Crucified Lord as his Exalted Messiah.
Thirdly, that Revelation impressed Paul with a new vision of salvation history. Before the encounter with Jesus the Lord, Paul saw man’s history divided into three great phases: 1)From Adam to Moses (the period without the Law); 2)From Moses to the Messiah (the period of the Law); 3)the Messianic Age (the period when the Messiah would legislate anew). But the experience on the road to Damascus taught him that the Messianic Age had already begun. This introduced a new perspective into his view of salvation history. The ESCHATON, so avidly awaited before, had already begun–although a definitive stage was still to be realized (hopefully not too far in the future–proleptic eschatology). The Messiah had not yet come in glory. Paul (with all his Christians) found himself in a double situation: one, in which he looked back to the death and Resurrection of Jesus as the inauguration of the new age; another in which he still looked forward to his coming in glory, his PAROUSIA. Therefore, far more than his Pharisaic background or even his hellenistic cultural roots, that revelation of Jesus gave Paul an ineffable insight into the “mystery of Christ” (remark the triple impact on Paul’s writings). It enabled him to fashion his “Gospel” distinctively his own. However, Paul did not immediately understand all the implications of the vision accorded to him. It provided only a basic insight, which was to colour all that he was to learn about Jesus and his mission among men, not only from the early Church’s tradition, but also from
his own apostolic experience in preaching “Christ Crucified” (Gal 3:1).
CHARACTER OF PAUL
1)He was a person of great dedication, capable of pursuing an ideal with a complete disregard for the cost. It was with equally single-minded determination that he had persecuted those he considered God’s enemies (1 Tm 1:13; cf.Ac 24:5-14), and later preached Christ as the one, universal Saviour. This Saviour he served passionately and selflessly for the rest of his life. Nothing stopped him doing the work: hard work, exhaustion, suffering, poverty, danger of death (1 Cor 4:9-13).
He never forgot that having persecuted the Church of Christ, he was the unworthiest of all the apostles. All the great things he succeeded in doing he attributed to God’s grace working through him (1 Cor 15:10; 2 Cor 4:7; Th 4:13; Col 1:29; Eph 3:7).
2)Paul had a sensitive temperament that showed itself in his attitude to those he had converted (Phl 4:10-20; Ac 20:17-38; Gal 1:6; 2 Cor 12:11). After outbursts of anger he soon became fatherly (1 Cor 4:4f), even motherly (Gal 4:19) and anxious to restore the earlier affection (Gal 4:12-20;2 Cor 7:11-13).
3)Paul’s fiercest outbursts of indignation were directed against everybody who tried to seduce his converts, whether they were Jews, who opposed him wherever he went (Ac 13:45.50) or Judaizing Christians who wanted all followers of Christ to follow the Law (Gal 1:7; 2:4; 6:12f). He never minced words with either of these groups (1 Th 2:15f; Gal 5:12; Phl 3:2), and manifested his selfless sincerity (Ac 18:3). Some of the Judaeo-Christians, who remained faithful to the Law, invoked Peter (1 Cor 1:12) and James (Gal 2:12), in an attempt to discredit Paul, but Paul always respected the authority of these apostles (Gal 1:18; 2:2), though he claimed to be just as much as witness to Christ as they were (Gal 1:11f; 1 Cor 9:1; 15:8-11). Even when Paul had his disagreement with Peter (Gal 2:11-14), his attitude was conciliatory (Ac 21:18-26), and he organized a collection for the poor Christians of Jerusalem (Gal 2:10), since he considered this would be the best possible proof that his pagan converts were truly one with the Christians of the Mother Church (2 Cor 8:14; 9:12-13; Rom 15:26f).
ANALYSIS OF PAUL’S THEOLOGY
The key to Paul’s theology is his christological functional soteriology. The term EUANGELION is Paul’s personal way of summing up the meaning of the Christ-event, the meaning that the person and lordship of Jesus of Nazareth had and still has for human history and existence (Rom 2:16; Gal 2:2; 1 Th 1:5; 2 Cor 4:3), because he was aware that “Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the Gospel” (1 Cor 1:7).
Characteristics: 1)God’s salvific activity for his people is now revealed in a new way through the lordship of Jesus Christ (Rom 1:17). Thus, the Gospel reveals the reality of the new age, the reality of the ESCHATON.
To this apocalyptic nature of the gospel must be related Paul’s view of it as MYSTERION, “mystery, secret” (RAZ in Aramaic), hidden in God for long ages and now revealed–a new revelation about God’s salvation. Paul equates “God’s mystery” with “Jesus Christ…crucified” (1 Cor 2:1-2), just as he had equated his “gospel” with “Christ crucified” (1 Cor 1:17.23-24). Paul viewed himself as a “steward“, dispensing the wealth of this mystery (1 Cor 4:1). In presenting the Gospel as mystery, Paul is implying that it is never fully made known by ordinary means of communication. As something revealed, it is apprehended only in faith; and even when revealed, the opacity of divine wisdom is never completely dispelled.
MYSTERION is an eschatological term derived from Jewish apocalyptic sources; its application to the Gospel gives the latter a nuance that EUANGELION alone would not have had (something fully comprehended only in the ESCHATON). The word MYSTERION was already familiar in contemporary Gk mystery religions. But his comprehension depended not so much on hellenistic sources as on the OT and Jewish apocalyptic writings of the intertestamental period. Its OT roots are found in Hb SOD and in Aram RAZ (“mystery“, “secret“, Dan 2:18-19.27-30.47; 4:6). The latter is a Persian loanword, used in Aramaic to designate the revelation made to Nebuchadnezzar in his dreams (cf. also 1QpHab 7:5; 1QS 3:23). Its real roots are in Palestinian Judaism rather than in the Hellenism of Asia Minor. It is a carrier-idea for Paul; for him it conveys the content of his Gospel, whereas in Qumran Literature it conveys the hidden meaning of OT passages.
2)Gospel is the power of God, a salvific force (dynamis) unleashed in the world of human beings for the salvation of all (Rom 1:16). The Gospel may involve a proposition, “Jesus is the Lord” (1 Cor 12:3; Rom 10:9), to which human beings are called to assent; but it involves more, for it proclaims “a Son whom God has raised from the dead, Jesus, who is delivering us from the coming wrath” (1 Th 1:10). It is thus a Gospel that comes not in words only, but with power and the Holy Spirit (1 Th 1:5). It is the Word of God, which is at work (energeitai) among you who believe (1 Th 2:13;cf.1 Cor 15:2).
3)Paul’s Gospel is related to the pre-Pauline kerygmatic tradition: “I passed on to you above all what I received“(1 Cor 15:1-2); and he is careful to stress the “form” or the “terms” (tini logo) in which he “evangelized” the Corinthians. In vv.3-5 there follows a fragment of the kerygma itself, and v.11 asserts the common origin of Paul’s Gospel.
4)For Paul the Gospel stands critically over Christian conduct, church officials, and human teaching. It tolerates no rival; that there is no “other gospel“(Gal 1:7) is affirmed by Paul in the context of the Judaizing problem in the early churches, when certain Jewish practices were being foisted on Gentile Christians (circumcision, dietary and calendaric regulations). Human beings are called to welcome the Gospel (2 Cor 11:4), obey it (Rom 1:5), and listen to it (Rom 10:16-17). It is to be accepted as a guide for life: “Let your manner of life be worthy of the Gospel of Christ“(Phil 1:27). Even Kephas, a pillar of the church (Gal 2:9), was rebuked publicly by Paul in Antioch, when he was found to be not “walking straight according to the truth of the Gospel“(Gal 2:14).
Yet for Paul the normative/ethical character of the Gospel was also liberating, for he mentions “the truth of the gospel” in connection with “the freedom that we have in Christ Jesus” (Gal 2:4). Hence, though normative, it also liberates from legalisms devised by humans.
5)The Gospel continues the promises made by God of old (Rom 1:1; cf.Is 52:7. See further Gal 3:14-19; 4:21-31; Rom 4:13-21; 9:4-13; more fully in Eph 1:13; 3:6).
For Paul Gospel is part and parcel of a plan, gratuitously conceived by God for a new form of human salvation, to be revealed and realized in his Son. The author of this plan was God (HO THEOS, 1 Cor 2:7), the God of “the covenants“)(Rom 9:4). What Paul teaches about God is not a theology (in the strict sense) independent of his christocentric soteriology, for this God is the “Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 1:3; Rom 15:6; see also 1 Cor 1:21).
Paul’s anthropology (his teaching about humanity) is at once individual and corporate.In the period before Christ, human beings were sinners who, despite their striving to live uprightly, never achieved that goal and never reached the destiny of glory intended by the Creator for them. They sinned, the failed to “hit the mark” (HATTA’, HAMARTANEIN). The tendency to sin (“concupiscence”) is with one from birth. Human sin is fissiparous and contagious. Such sin divides humankind and creates a solidarity of sinners. This conviction about the universality of sin among human beings was born of experience, observation, and corporate attestation (Rom 5:12-21; cf.Gn 2-3). The Law came to increase sin, since man due to his weakness (or carnal condition, SARKINOS) could not observe it. Christ brings a new union of humankind with God (a “new creation“). Through Baptism actually the Christian is identified with the death, burial, and Resurrection of Christ. Through faith and baptism, we are incorporated into the “body of Christ“. Eucharist is the source of union of Christians with Christ and of Christians among themselves, of the Church.
Paul uses these three terms: “soul“, “spirit” and “body“. Paul does not describe the human being in itself, but his different relations vis-a-vis God and the world. He uses different words, which do not designate parts of the human beings, but rather aspects of the person as seen from different perspectives.
In Th 5:23, Paul uses soma, psyche and pneuma. Pneuma does not designate the holy Spirit (cf.Rm 8:16; 1 Cor 2:10-11). Soma and psyche denote the whole human being under different aspects. But it is not easy to distinguish PNEUMA in this sense from psyche (cf.Phil 1:27; 2 Cor 12:18). Pneuma suggests the knowing and willing self and as such the aspect that is particularly apt to receive the Spirit of God. Sometimes, however, it is a mere substitute for the personal pronoun (Gal 6:18; 2 Cor 2:13; 7:13; Rm 1:9; Phlm 25). Nous is a human being as a knowing and judging subject, with a capacity for intelligent understanding, planning and decision (cf.1 Cor 1:10; 2:16; Rm 14:5; Rm 1:20; 7:23). There is little difference for Paul between nous,”mind” and kardia, “heart“, which often means “mind” as in OT. All these aspects of human existence are summed up in zwe, “life“, a gift of God that expresses the concrete existence of a human being as the subject of his/her own actions.
It consists of 13 letters. ITS FORM: Paul’s letters share features of the contemporary Greco-Roman and Semitic letters. a)OPENING FORMULA: It is praescriptio: PAUL TO X. Paul uses not KHAIREIN, but KHARIS KAI EIRENE (1 Th 1:1), usually expanded, “Grace and peace be yours from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal 1:3; Phil 1:2; cf.Nm 6:24-26,”covenant favour and peace“). KHARIS has the Pauline connotation of God’s merciful bounty manifested in Christ Jesus (cf.Rom 5:1-11). Thus, the words may be Paul’s summation of the BONA MESSIANICA of the Christian era, the spiritual gifts that he begs for his readers. b)THANKSGIVING: Its function is to focus the epistolary situation, to introduce the vital theme of the letter. c)MESSAGE: It joins an ethical exhortation to its doctrinal exposé. The body of Paul’s letter is divided into two parts–doctrinal, presenting truths of the Christian message, and hortatory, giving instructions for Christian conduct. d)CONCLUSION AND FINAL GREETING: It contains personal news or specific advice for individuals. It is followed by Paul’s greeting, a characteristic blessing, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you” (1 Th 5:28; Gal 6:18; Phil 4:23; 1 Cor 16:23; 2 Cor 13:13; Rom 16:20.24; Phlm 25).
Composition of Letters: What method did Paul use? He may have dictated word for word, sentence for sentence or the sense, leaving the formulation to the secretary (cf.Rom 16:22, to Tertius). Paul adds the greeting in his own hand in 1 Cor 16:21, which may imply that the rest was dictated. In Gal 6:11,he compares his handwriting with that of the trained scribe, who has written what preceded (cf.2 Th 3:17; Col 4:18). Phlm (vv.25) may mean that Paul has written the whole letter in his own hand. Anacolutha, inconsistencies of style, and the lack of consistent terminology may be explained by dictation; distractions must have occurred that would also have affected the style. A long letter like Rom or 1 Cor would scarcely have been finished in one sitting or one day.
GOD’S JUSTICE (Rom 1:1-17):
Probably Paul wrote the letter to the Romans in Corinth or in Cenchreae, sometime in the winter of AD 57-58, after an evangelization of Illyricum (15:19) and of Macedonia and Achaia (15:26; cf.1 Cor 16:5-7; Acts 20:3). Paul had not founded the Roman Church–it was a mixed community, Jewish and non-Jewish converts looking down on each other. In view of this danger, Paul thought it prudent to pave the way for his visit by sending a letter (through Phoebe the deaconess, Rm 16:1) in which he stated systematically his ideas about the problem of HOW JUDAISM AND CHRISTIANITY WERE RELATED TO EACH OTHER. He was forced to develop these ideas by the “Galatian crisis“.
ROM and GAL need to be treated together, because both letters analyse the same problem: THE PROBLEM OF CIRCUMCISION. Gal may have been written at Ephesus or even in Macedonia, about the year 57. Gal is the “LITTLE SISTER” of Rm.
Some of his significant teachings (on the Church, the Eucharist, the Resurrection of the body, even Eschatology) are missing from it. It is not a compendium of doctrine, but an easy-letter presenting his missionary reflections on the historical possibility of salvation, rooted in God’s uprightness and love, offered to all human beings through faith in Jesus Christ.
In view of the Judaizing crisis, Paul came to realize that justification and salvation depended not on deeds prescribed by the law, but on faith in Christ Jesus. Rm discusses some of the same topics as Gal, but whereas Gal was composed in a context of polemics, Rm was written in an irenic mood. It introduces elements of Gk literary style, rhetoric, and Stoic diatribe.
Significance of Rm: Immeasurable is the part Rm played in the Western Christian thinking and Reformation debates. Famous commentaries on it were penned by Martin LUTHER, P.MELANCHTON, and John CALVIN. Modern religious thinking has also been greatly affected by the theological commentaries by Karl BARTH, Anders NYGREN, H.ASMUSSEN, C.K.BARRETT and Emile BRUNNER. Among Catholic commentators, we have E.-B.ALLO, Ceslas SPICQ, Stanislas LYONNET.