PAUL THE APOSTLE

The earliest and most influential interpreter of Christ's message and teaching; an early Christian missionary; correspondent with several early Christian churches.

The Life of Paul. Paul was born at Tarsus, the chief city of Cilicia (southeast Asia Minor). He was a citizen of Tarsus, "no mean city," as he called it . He was also born a Roman citizen , a privilege which worked to his advantage on several occasions during his apostolic ministry. Since Paul was born a Roman citizen, his father must have been a Roman citizen before him. Paul was part of his Roman name. In addition to his Roman name, he was given a Jewish name, Saul, perhaps in memory of Israel's first king, a member of the tribe of Benjamin, to which Paul's family belonged.

His Jewish heritage meant much more to Paul than Roman citizenship. Unlike many Jews who had been scattered throughout the world, he and his family did not become assimilated to the Gentile way of life which surrounded them. This is suggested when Paul describes himself as "a Hebrew of the Hebrews" , and confirmed by Paul's statement in that, while he was born in Tarsus, he was brought up in Jerusalem "at the feet of Gamaliel," the most illustrious rabbi of his day . Paul's parents wanted their son to be well-grounded in the best traditions of Jewish orthodoxy.

Paul proved an apt pupil. He outstripped many of his fellow students in his enthusiasm for ancestral traditions and in his zeal for the Jewish law. This zeal found a ready outlet in his assault on the infant church of Jerusalem. The church presented a threat to all that Paul held most dear. Its worst offense was its proclamation of one who had suffered a death cursed by the Jewish law as Lord and Messiah . The survival of Israel demanded that the followers of Jesus be wiped out.

The first martyr of the Christian church was Stephen, one of the most outspoken leaders of the new movement. Luke told how Paul publicly associated himself with Stephen's executioners and then embarked on a campaign designed to suppress the church. Paul himself related how he "persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it" .

Conversion and apostolic commission-- At the height of Paul's campaign of repression, he was confronted on the road to Damascus by the risen Christ. In an instant his life was reoriented. The Jewish law was replaced as the central theme of Paul's life by Jesus Christ. He became the leading champion of the cause which he had tried to overthrow.

The realization that Jesus, whom he had been persecuting, was alive and exalted as the Son of God exposed the weakness of the Jewish law. Paul's zeal for the law had made him an ardent persecutor. He now saw that his persecuting activity had been sinful; yet the law, instead of showing him the sinfulness of such a course, had really led him into sin.

The law had lost its validity. Paul learned that it was no longer by keeping the law that a person was justified in God's sight, but by faith in Christ. And if faith in Christ provided acceptance with God, then Gentiles might enjoy that acceptance as readily as Jews. This was one of the implications of the revelation of Jesus Christ which gripped Paul's mind. He was assured that he himself had received that revelation in order that he might proclaim Christ and His salvation to the Gentile world.

Paul began to carry out this commission not only in Damascus but also in the kingdom of the Nabatean Arabs, to the east and south. No details are given of his activity in "Arabia" , but he did enough to attract the hostile attention of the authorities there, as the representative of the Nabatean king in Damascus tried to arrest him <2 Cor. 11:32-33>.

After leaving Damascus, Paul paid a short visit to Jerusalem to make the acquaintance of Peter. During his two weeks' stay there, he also met James, the Lord's brother . Paul could not stay in Jerusalem because the animosity of his former associates was too strong. He had to be taken down to Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast and put on a ship for Tarsus.

Paul spent the next ten years in and around Tarsus, actively engaged in the evangelizing of Gentiles. Very few details of those years have been preserved. At the end of that time BARNABAS came to Tarsus from Antioch and invited Paul to join him in caring for a young church there. A spontaneous campaign of Gentile evangelization had recently occurred at Antioch, resulting in the formation of a vigorous church. Barnabas himself had been commissioned by the apostles in Jerusalem to lead the Gentile evangelization in the city of Antioch.

About a year after Paul joined Barnabas in Antioch, the two men visited Jerusalem and conferred with the three "pillars" of the church there-- the apostles Peter and John, and James the Lord's brother . The result of this conference was an agreement that the Jerusalem leaders would concentrate on the evangelization of their fellow Jews, while Barnabas and Paul would continue to take the gosepl to Gentiles.

The Jerusalem leaders reminded Barnabas and Paul, in conducting their Gentile mission, not to forget the material needs of the impoverished believers in Jerusalem. Barnabas and Paul (especially Paul) readily agreed to bear those needs in mind. This may have been the occasion when they carried a gift of money from the Christians in Antioch to Jerusalem for the relief of their brethren who were suffering hardship in a time of famine .

Apostle to the Gentiles-- The way was now open for a wider Gentile mission. Barnabas and Paul were released by the church of Antioch to pursue a missionary campaign which took them first through Barnabas' native island of Cyprus and then into the highlands of central Asia Minor (modern Turkey), to the province of Galatia. There they preached the gospel and planted churches in the cities of Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. The missionaries then returned to Antioch in Syria.

The great increase of Gentile converts caused alarm among many of the Jewish Christians in Judea. They feared that too many Gentiles would hurt the character of the church. Militant Jewish nationalists were already attacking them. A movement began which required that Gentile converts become circumcised and follow the Jewish law. The leaders of the Jerusalem church, with Paul and Barnabas in attendance, met in A. D. 48 to discuss the problem. It was finally decided that circumcision was not necessary, but that Gentile converts should conform to the Jewish code of laws in order to make fellowship between Jewish and Gentile Christians less strained .

After this meeting, Barnabas and Paul parted company. Paul chose SILAS, a leading member of the Jerusalem church and a Roman citizen like himself, to be his new colleague. Together they visited the young churches of Galatia. At Lystra they were joined by TIMOTHY, a young convert from Barnabas and Paul's visit some two years before. Paul in particular recognized qualities in Timothy which would make him a valuable helper in his missionary service. From that time to the end of Paul's life, Timothy was his most faithful attendant.

Paul and Silas probably planned to proceed west to EPHESUS, but they felt the negative guidance of the Holy Spirit. They instead turned north and northwest, reaching the seaport of TROAS. Here Paul was told in a vision to cross the north Aegean Sea and preach the gospel in MACEDONIA. This Paul and his companions did. By now their number had increased to four by the addition of Luke. The narrative reveals his presence at this point by using "we" instead of "they" .

Their first stop in Macedonia was the Roman colony of PHILIPPI. Here, in spite of running into trouble with the magistrates and being imprisoned, Paul and his companions planted a strong church. They moved on to THESSALONICA, the chief city of the province, and formed a church there, as well. But serious trouble broke out in Thessalonica. The missionaries were accused of rebelling against the Roman emperor by proclaiming Jesus as his rival. They were forced to leave the city quickly.

Paul moved south to BEREA, where he was favorably received by the local synagogue, but his opponents from Thessalonica followed him, making it necessary for him to move on once more. Although churches of Macedonia would later give Paul much joy and satisfaction, he felt dejected at this time from being forced to flee city after city.

Paul, alone now, moved south into the province of ACHAIA. After a short stay in ATHENS, he came "in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling" <1 Cor. 2:3> to CORINTH, the seat of provincial administration. Corinth had a reputation as a wicked city in the Greco-Roman world and it did not seem likely that the gospel would make much headway there. Surprisingly, however, Paul stayed there for 18 months and made many converts. While he was there, a new Roman proconsul, GALLIO, arrived to take up residence in Corinth. The beginning of his administration can be accurately dated as July 1, A. D. 51. Paul was prosecuted before Gallio on the charge of preaching an illegal religion, but Gallio dismissed the charge. This provided other Roman magistrates with a precedent which helped the progress of the gospel over the next ten years.

The church of Corinth was large, lively, and talented but deficient in spiritual and moral stability. This deficiency caused Paul much anxiety over the next few years, as his letters to the Corinthians reveal.

After his stay in Corinth, Paul paid a brief visit to Jerusalem and Antioch and then traveled to Ephesus, where he settled for the next three years. Paul's Ephesian ministry was perhaps the most active part of his apostolic career. A number of colleagues shared his activity and evangelized the city of Ephesus as well as the whole province of Asia (western Asia Minor).

Ten years earlier there had been no churches in the great provinces of Galatia, Asia, Macedonia, or Achaia. Now Christianity had become so strong in them that Paul realized his work in that part of the world was finished. He began to think of a new area where he might repeat the same kind of missionary program. He wanted to evangelize territories where the gospel had never been heard before, having no desire to "build on another man's foundation" . He decided to journey to Spain, and to set out as soon as he could. This journey would also give him a long-awaited opportunity to visit ROME on the way.

Before he could set out, however, an important task had to be completed. Paul had previously organized a relief fund among the Gentile churches to help poorer members of the Jerusalem church. Not only had he promised the leaders in Jerusalem to do such a thing, but he hoped it would strengthen the bond of fellowship among all the churches involved.

Before leaving, Paul arranged for a member of each of the contributing churches to carry that church's donation. Paul himself would go to Jerusalem with them, giving the Jerusalem Christians an opportunity to see some of their Gentile brethren face to face in addition to receiving their gifts. Some of Paul's hopes and misgivings about the trip are expressed in . His misgivings were well founded.

A few days after his arrival in Jerusalem, Paul was attacked by a mob in the area of the Temple. He was rescued by a detachment of Roman soldiers and kept in custody at the Roman governor's headquarters in Caesarea for the next two years. At the end of that period he exercised his privilege as a Roman citizen and appealed to Caesar in order to have his case transferred from the provincial governor's court in Judea to the emperor's tribunal in Rome. He was sent to Rome in the fall of A. D. 59. The great apostle spent a further two years in Rome under house arrest, waiting for his case to come up for hearing before the supreme tribunal.

Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ-- The restrictions under which Paul lived in Rome should have held back his efforts to proclaim the gospel, but just the opposite actually happened. These restrictions, by his own testimony, "actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel" . Although he was confined to his lodgings, handcuffed to one of the soldiers who guarded him in four-hour shifts he was free to receive visitors and talk to them about the gospel. The soldiers who guarded him and the officials in charge of presenting his case before the emperor were left in no doubt about the reason for his being in Rome. The gospel actually became a topic of discussion. This encouraged the Christians in Rome to bear more open witness to their faith, allowing the saving message to be proclaimed more fearlessly in Rome than ever before "and in this," said Paul, "I rejoice" .

From Rome, Paul was able to correspond with friends in other parts of the Roman Empire. Visitors from those parts came to see him bringing news of their churches. These visitors included EPAPHRODITUS from Philippi and EPAPHRAS from Colossae. From Colossae, too, Paul received an unexpected visitor, ONESIMUS, the slave of his friend PHILEMON. He sent Onesimus back to his master with a letter commending him "no longer as a slave but... as a beloved brother" .

The letters of Philippi and Colossae were sent in response to the news brought by Epaphroditus and Epaphras, respectively. At the same time as the letter to Colossae, Paul sent a letter, which has been lost, to Laodicea and a more general letter which we now know as Ephesians. The Roman captivity became a very fruitful period for Paul and his ministry.

We have very little information about the rest of Paul's career. We do not know the outcome of his trial before Caesar. He was probably discharged and enjoyed a further period of liberty. It is not known whether he ever preached the gospel in Spain.

It is traditionally believed that Paul's condemnation and execution occurred during the persecution of Christians under the Roman Emperor NERO. The probable site of his execution may still be seen at Tre Fontane on the Ostain Road. There is no reason to doubt the place of his burial marked near the Basilica of St. Paul. There, beneath the high altar, is a stone inscription going back to at least the fourth century: "To Paul, Apostle and Martyr."

The Teaching of Paul. Paul is the most influential teacher of Christianity. More than any other disciple or apostle, Paul was given the opportunity to set forth and explain the revelations of Jesus Christ. Because Paul was called to teach Gentiles rather than Jews, he was in the unique position of confronting and answering problems which could only be presented by those completely unfamiliar with Jewish traditions. Several themes come through in his writings.

Christ, the Son of God-- Paul knew that the one who appeared to him on the Damascus Road was the risen Christ. "Last of all He was seen by me also," he says <1 Cor. 15:8>, counting this as the last of Christ's appearances.

Paul seems to have entertained no doubt of the validity of the appearance or of the words, "I am Jesus" . Both the appearance and the words validated themselves in his later life. His whole Christian outlook on the world, like the gospel which he preached, stemmed from that "revelation of Jesus Christ" .

Christ was, in a unique sense, the Son of God. Other human beings became sons and daughters of God through their faith-union with Christ and their reception of the Spirit of Christ. From this point of view the Spirit was "the Spirit of adoption," enabling them to address God spontaneously as "Abba, Father" .

Another token of the indwelling Spirit was giving Jesus the designation "Lord": "No one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit" <1 Cor. 12:3>. This designation is given by Paul to Jesus in the highest sense possible. It was bestowed on Jesus by God Himself when He rose to supremacy over the universe after His humiliation and death on the cross.

One striking designation which Paul gives to Christ--" the image of God" <2 Cor. 4:4> or "the image of the invisible God" -- appears to be closely associated with his conversion experience. Paul emphasizes the heavenly light which was such a memorable feature of that experience. Paul speaks of the minds of unbelievers being darkened to keep them from seeing "the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God" <2 Cor. 4:4>. This suggests that when "the glory of that light" dispelled the darkness from Paul's own mind, he recognized the one who appeared to him as being the very image of God.

Christ is presented by Paul as the one "through whom are all things, and through whom we live" <1 Cor. 8:6>, and in whom, through whom, and for whom "all things were created" .

Displacement of the law-- After his conversion Paul said, "To me, to live is Christ" . Before his conversion he might well have said, "To me, to live is law." In his mind he had judged Christ according to the Jewish law, finding Him condemned by it. Since the law pronounced a curse on one who was hanged on a tree , Paul took the side of the law and agreed that both Christ and His people were accursed.

After his conversion, Paul recognized the continuing validity of the Scripture which declared the hanged man to be accursed by God, but now he understood it differently. If Christ, the Son of God, subjected Himself to the curse pronounced by the law, another look at the law was called for. The law could not provide anyone with righteous standing before God, however carefully he kept it. Paul knew that his life under the law stood condemned in the light of his Damascus-Road experience. It was not the law in itself that was defective, because it was God's law. It was instead the people with which the law had to work who were defective.

The righteous standing which the law could not provide was conferred on believers through their faith in Christ. That righteous standing was followed by a righteous life. In one tightly packed sentence Paul declared that God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do, "sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit" .

The law could lead neither to a righteous standing before God nor to a righteous life. Paul, while faithfully keeping the law, was condemned before God rather than justified. His life was not righteous but was sinful because he "persecuted the church of God" <1 Cor. 15:9>. This situation radically changed when Paul believed in Christ and knew himself to "be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith" .

Christ, then, "is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes" . The word "end" is ambiguous: it may mean "goal" or "completion." As the law revealed the character and will of God, it pointed to Christ as the goal. He was the fulfillment of all the divine revelation that had preceded Him: "All the promises of God in Him are Yes" <2 Cor. 1:20>. But when the law came to be regarded as the way of salvation or the rule of life, Christ put an end to it. The law pronounced a curse on those who failed to keep it; Christ redeemed His people from that curse by undergoing it Himself. He exhausted the curse in His own person through His death.

According to Paul, the law was a temporary provision introduced by God to bring latent sin into the open. When they broke its individual commands, men and women would realize their utter dependence on divine grace. Centuries before the law was given, God promised Abraham that through him and his offspring all nations would be blessed. This promise was granted in response to Abraham's faith in God. The later giving of the law did not affect the validity of the promise. Instead, the promise was fulfilled in Christ, who replaced the law.

The law had been given to the nation of Israel only, providing a privilege which set it apart from other nations. God's original promise embraced all nations and justified Paul's presentation of the gospel to Gentiles as well as Jews. The promise had wide implications: "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law... that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith" .

The age of the Spirit-- Those who believe God as Abraham did are not only justified by faith but also receive the Holy Spirit. The blessing promised to Abraham, secured through the redemptive work of Christ, is identified with the gift of the Spirit. The age of the Spirit has replaced the age of law.

It is common teaching in the New Testament that the age of the Spirit followed the completion of Christ's work on earth. Paul presents this teaching with his own emphasis. His negative evaluation of the place of law in Christian life naturally caused others to ask how ethical and moral standards were to be maintained. Paul answered that the Spirit supplied a more effective power for holy living than the law could ever supply. The law imposed bondage but "where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty" <2 Cor. 3:17>. The law told people what to do, but could provide neither the will nor the power to do it; the Spirit, operating within the believer's life, can provide both the will and the power.

The Spirit is called not only the Spirit of God but also the Spirit of Christ. He is the Spirit who dwelled within Christ during His earthly ministry, empowering Him to accomplish merciful works and to teach wisdom and grace. The qualities which characterized Christ are reproduced by His Spirit in His people: "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" .

John the Baptist predicted that Christ would baptize men and women with the Holy Spirit . The New Testament teaches that this prediction was fulfilled with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost . Paul accepted this teaching about baptism with the Spirit, but linked it with his teaching about the church as the body of Christ. "For by one Spirit," he wrote to his converts in Corinth, "we were all baptized into one body-- whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free" <1 Cor. 12:13>.

In various ways Paul views the present indwelling of the Spirit as an anticipation of the coming glory. The Spirit's work in the lives of Christ's people differs in degree, but not in kind, from their full sharing of Christ's glory at His advent. It is through the work of the Spirit that they, "beholding... the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory" <2 Cor. 3:18>.

The Spirit is referred to by Paul as the one who identifies the people of God to secure them "for the day of redemption" , as the "firstfruits" of the coming glory , as the "deposit," "guarantee," or initial down-payment of the resurrection life which is their assured heritage <2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5>.

The body of Christ-- Paul is the only New Testament writer who speaks of the church as a body. The members of the church, he suggests, are as interdependent as the various parts of the human body, each making its contribution in harmony with the others for the good of the whole. Just as a body functions best when all the parts follow the direction of the head, the church best fulfills its purpose on earth when all the members are subject to the direction of Christ. He is, by divine appointment, "head over all things to the church, which is His body" . The Spirit of Christ not only dwells within each member but also dwells within the church as a whole, continually giving His life to the entire body together. The body cannot be thought of without the Spirit. "There is one body and one Spirit," and when the members show one another the love of God they "keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" .

The source of Paul's concept of the church as the body of Christ has been long debated. One source may have been the Old Testament principle of "corporate personality"-- the principle of regarding a community, nation, or tribe as a person to the point where it is named and described as if it were an individual. God said to Pharaoh through Moses, "Israel is My Son, My firstborn... Let My son go that he may serve Me" .

Perhaps the most satisfactory source of Paul's concept can be found in the words of the risen Christ who appeared to him on the Damascus Road: "Why are you persecuting me?" . Paul did not think he was persecuting Jesus, who was beyond his direct reach. But that is exactly what he was doing when he persecuted Jesus' followers. When any part of the body is hurt, it is the head that complains. Jesus' words may have sown the seed of that doctrine in Paul's mind. The Lord told Ananias of Damascus that He would show Paul "how many things he must suffer for My name's sake" . Paul later echoed this in his statement, "If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it" <1 Cor. 12:26>.

The first time Paul wrote of this subject <1 Cor. 12:12-27>, his purpose was to impress on his readers the fact that, as Christians, they have mutual duties and common interests which must not be neglected. When he next expounded on it , he wrote of the variety of service rendered by the various members of the church. In accordance with their respective gifts, all members build up the one body to which they belong. The health of the whole body depends on the harmonious cooperation of the parts.

In his later letters, Paul dealt with the relation which the church, as the body of Christ, bears to Christ as head of the body. The well-being of the body depends on its being completely under the control of the head. It is from Christ, as head of the church, that "all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase which is from God" .

Paul's doctrine of the church as the body of Christ is closely bound up with his description of believers as being "in Christ" at the same time as Christ is in them. They are in Him as members of His body, having been "baptized into Christ" . He is in them because it is His risen life that animates them. Jesus once used another organic analogy when He depicted Himself as "the true vine" and His disciples as the branches . The relationship is similar to that between the head and the body. The branches are in the vine and the vine at the same time is in the branches.

Eschatology-- Eschatology is the teaching about things to come, especially things to come at the end times.

Paul originally held the views of eschatology which were taught in the Pharisaic schools. When Paul became a Christian, he found no need to abandon the eschatological teaching which he had received at the feet of Gamaliel. But his experience of Christ did bring about some important modifications of his views.

The distinction between the present age and the age to come was basic to this teaching. The present age was subject to evil influences which affected the lives and actions of men and women. The God of righteousness and truth, however, was in control of the situation. One day He would bring in a new age from which evil would be banished.

The Pharisees taught that the end of the present age and beginning of the new age would be marked by the resurrection of the dead. Whether all the dead would be raised or only the righteous among them was a matter of debate. In Paul stated before the governor, Felix, that he shared the hope "that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust." In his letters he spoke only of the resurrection of believers in Christ, perhaps because it was to such people that his letters were written.

An important question was the relation of this framework to the messianic hope. When would the Messiah, the expected ruler of David's line, establish his kingdom? His kingdom might mark the closing phase of the present age; it might be set up with the inauguration of the age to come; or it might occupy a phase between the two ages. There was no general agreement on this question. Another question on which there was no general agreement concerned the extent to which the Messiah would revoke or replace the law of Moses.

When Paul was confronted with the risen Christ on the Damascus Road, he realized that the Messiah had come and that in Him the resurrection had begun to take place. Having been raised from the dead, Christ had now entered upon His reign. The age of the Spirit for His people on earth coincided with the reign of Christ in His place of exaltation in the presence of God. There "He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet" <1 Cor. 15:25>. The present age had not yet come to an end, because men and women, and especially the people of Christ, still lived on earth in mortal bodies. But the resurrection age had already begun, because Christ had been raised.

The people of Christ, while living temporarily in the present age, belong spiritually to the new age which has been inaugurated. The benefits of this new age are already made good to them by the Spirit. The last of the enemies which are to be subdued by Christ is death. The destruction of death will coincide with the resurrection of the people of Christ. Paul wrote, "Each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ's at His coming" <1 Cor. 15:23>. The eternal kingdom of God will be consummated at that time.

The resurrection of the people of Christ, then, takes place at His coming again. In one of his earliest letters Paul said that, when Christ comes, "the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord" <1 Thes. 4:16-17>.

Further details are provided in <1 Corinthians 15:42-57>. When the last trumpet announces the Second Coming of Christ, the dead will be raised in a "spiritual body" replacing the mortal body which they wore on earth. Those believers who are still alive at the time will undergo a similar change to fit them for the new conditions. These new conditions, the eternal kingdom of God, are something which "flesh and blood cannot inherit"; they make up an imperishable realm which cannot accommodate the perishable bodies of this present life <1 Cor. 15:50>.

The assurance that the faithful departed would be present at the Second Coming of Christ was a great comfort to Christians whose friends and relatives had died. But the question of their mode of existence between death and the Second Coming remained to be answered. Paul's clearest answer to this question was given shortly after a crisis in which he thought he faced certain death <2 Cor. 1:8-11>.

Paul answered that to be "absent from the body" is to be "present with the Lord" <2 Cor. 5:8>. Whatever provision is required for believers to enjoy the same communion with Christ after death as they enjoyed before death will certainly be supplied <2 Cor. 5:1-10>. Or, as he put it when the outcome of his trial before Caesar was uncertain, "To live is Christ, and to die is gain," for to die would mean to "be with Christ, which is far better" .

The church as a whole and its members as individuals could look forward to a consummation of glory at the Second Coming of Christ. But the glory is not for them alone. In a vivid passage, Paul describes how "the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God" . This will liberate it from the change and decay to which it is subject at present and allow it to obtain "the glorious liberty of the children of God" . In man's first disobedience brought a curse on the earth. Paul looked forward to the removal of that curse and its replacement by the glory provided by the obedience of Christ, the "second Man" <1 Cor. 15:47>.

This prospect is integrated into Paul's message, which is above all a message of reconciliation. It tells how God "reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ" <2 Cor. 5:18> and calls on people to "be reconciled to God" <2 Cor. 5:20>. It proclaims God's purpose through Christ "to reconcile all things to Himself,... whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross" .

Paul and the Message of Jesus. Some critics charge that Paul corrupted the original "simple" message of Jesus by transforming it into a theological structure. But the truth is completely otherwise. No one in the apostolic age had a surer insight into Jesus' message than Paul.

A shift in perspective between the ministry of Jesus and the ministry of Paul must be recognized. During His own ministry Jesus was the preacher; in the ministry of Paul He was the one being preached. The gospels record the works and words of the earthly Jesus; in Paul's preaching Jesus, once crucified, has been exalted as the heavenly Lord. Jesus' earthly ministry was confined almost entirely to the Jewish people; Paul was preeminently the apostle to the Gentiles. Paul's Gentile hearers required that the message be presented in a different vocabulary from that which Jesus used in Galilee and Judea.

The gospel of Jesus and the gospel preached by Paul are not two gospels but one-- a gospel specifically addressed to sinners. Paul, like Jesus, brought good news to outsiders. This was the assurance that in God's sight they were not outsiders, but men and women whom He lovingly accepted. In the ministry of Jesus, the outsiders were the social outcasts of Israel. In the ministry of Paul the outsiders were Gentiles. The principle was the same, although its application was different.

Paul's achievement was to communicate to the Greco-Roman world, in terms which it could understand, the good news which Jesus announced in His teaching, action, and death. Paul did not have before him the gospels as we know them, but he knew the main lines of Jesus' teaching, especially parts of the Sermon on the Mount. This teaching was passed orally among the followers of Jesus before it circulated in written form. If Jesus summed up the law of God in the two great commandments of love toward God and love toward one's neighbor, Paul echoed Him: "All the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself' "; (also ).

Paul's Legacy. Paul was a controversial figure in his lifetime, even within the Christian movement. He had many opponents who disagreed with his interpretation of the message of Jesus. In the closing years of his life, when imprisonment prevented him from moving about freely, Paul's opponents were able to make headway with their rival interpretations. Even though Asia had been Paul's most fruitful mission field, at the end of his life he wrote, "All those in Asia have turned away from me" <2 Tim. 1:15>.

In the following generation, however, there was a resurgence of feeling in Paul's favor. His opponents were largely discredited and disabled by the dispersal of the church of that city shortly before the destruction of Jerusalem in A. D. 70. Throughout most of the church Paul became a venerated figure. His letters, together with the gospels, became the foundation of the Christian movement.

Paul's liberating message has proved its vitality throughout the centuries. Repeatedly, when the Christian faith has been in danger of being shackled by legalism or tradition, Paul's message has allowed the gospel to set man free.

The relevance of Paul's teaching for human life today may be brought out in a summary of four of his leading themes:

1. True religion is not a matter of rules and regulations. God does not deal with men and women like an accountant, but He accepts them freely when they respond to His love. He implants the Spirit of Christ in their hearts so they may extend His love to others.

2. In Christ men and women have come of age. God does not keep His people on puppet strings but liberates them to live as His responsible sons and daughters.

3. People matter more than things, principles, and causes. The highest of principles and the best of causes exist only for the sake of people. Personal liberty itself is abused if it is exercised against the personal well-being of others.

4. Discrimination on the ground of race, religion, class, or sex is an offense against God and humanity alike.

(from Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary)

(Copyright (C) 1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers)

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