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Thursday, September 10, 2009


Paul on His Best Day[1]



              Dr. Dodd in his book says, “The purpose of this book has been to explore problems that Paul’s letters present to a...(post)[2]...modern reader, to raise awareness of how our cultural context affects our interpretation of the Bible, and to encourage a conversation with Paul and his interpreters” (p. 157). Dr. Dodd goes on to say that Christians have for the last nineteen hundred and fifty years found Paul’s thoughts difficult to understand- even the author of 2 Peter and early Christians who were his peers!

              The analytical toll that has been devised by Dr. Dodd to help us better understand Paul’s words is a “bridge” which is utilized to cross over into the cultural context of the “FCMW” in which Paul and these Christians to whom he was speaking lived. This analytical device produces a five-way conversation- a conversation between us, other readers, Paul and his original readers, and the Holy Spirit. This bridge is exceptionally helpful because the chasm that lies between the Hellenistic culture of the Greco-Roman period and that of the present post-modernistic era is more than vast.

              It seems as though Paul stirred up controversy and various degrees of opposition most everywhere he went. There were those who questioned his Apostleship for a variety of reasons. Jewish Christians who could not accept his non-legalist approach to Jewish law and customs as it related to the Gentile Christians. There were Jews and Pagans who practiced physical violence against him because they adamantly disagreed with his views, the civic controversies that stemmed from those views, and the threats to their livelihoods that his teachings provoked. Sometimes it was even difficult for the early Christians to understand what Paul was saying! Then there were those who twisted and distorted everything Paul said out of their ignorance and instability just as they did with the scriptures of the Old Testament. Because Paul’s writings were considered “authoritative”- by direct (Rhema) revelation- at this very early stage of the Church, they must be paid attention to and analyzed very carefully with in a context that consists of numerous variables.

              I can certainly identify with Martin Luther when he said of his own journey, “In the scholastics I lost Christ but found him again in Paul”. I am firmly convinced that Paul’s conversion experience and its radical affect on him is the best evidence for the Resurrection of Christ. One of the counter intuitive paradoxes with Paul’s thinking is expressed by Karl Barth[3], a major German theologian of the twentieth century, when he said, “If we rightly understand ourselves, our problems are the problems of Paul; and if we be enlightened by the brightness of his answers, those answers must be ours” (p. 1). Therefore, Dr. Dodd is correct in concluding when he says, “Paul, though sometimes puzzling, is not always a problem”. In fact, he seems to be the correct solution to all the problems that arose in the early church and that continue to arise today! I agree with Dr. Dodd that the key to understanding Paul’s thinking and the meaning of his writings can be found in their Christ-centered nature. Dr. Dodd understands, as I do, that Paul’s life, thought, and ethical views are based upon his understanding of  life “in Christ” (p. 158). Paul obviously understands who Christ is and what He has done for us through his foundational instructions to the early converts. Paul’s teaching is Christ-centered! Dr. Dodd explains that social ethics did not play an important role in Paul’s world. Therefore, Paul as a missionary extraordinaire was hyper-pragmatic in subordinating social ethics to his obsession to make the resurrected Christ known. Dr. Dodd says, “This was his determining factor and justifying means” (p. 159). Paul adamantly believed that within limits the Gospel should be proclaimed to all by doing whatever it took to accomplish this Commission! Many of Paul’s social imperatives were methods utilized to accomplish his missionary ends- “...often questions of strategy and etiquette rather than principle” (p. 159). Paul’s corollary mission statement as conjunctive to “Christ crucified and resurrected” is “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection” (Phil 3:10). As Paul Tillich[4], the twentieth century theologian, said, “To the [person] who longs for God and cannot find him; to the [person] who wants to be acknowledged by God and cannot even believe that he is; to the [person] who is striving for a new imperishable meaning of his life and cannot discover it- to this [person] Paul speaks” (p. 13). At the core, all that Paul has to say is anchored in the timeless and transcendent truth of Christ as God’s plan for our redemption. Dr. Dodd concludes by expressing his desire that our conversations with Paul will connect all of us with the more...”important and timeless conversation with the One for whom Paul lived and died” (p. 160).

              In my opinion, I believe Dr. Robert Banks[5] continues on where Dr. Dodd ends his book. Dr. Banks takes Dodd’s thesis much further and in doing so makes it significantly, much more clear and understandable not only what Paul meant but also what predicated much of what he had to say in his epistles/letters. Dr. Banks is correct in his assessment of Paul’s writings when he says, “ was through interaction with the society about him, as well as involvement with his communities, that Paul came to hold the views expressed in his letters, not through theological contemplation removed from the cut of every day life...‘where the rubber-met-the-road’[6]... in the earliest Christians lives” (p. 6). One would be well advised to thoroughly read, study, and contemplate Dr. Banks’ magnificently crafted book in order to grasp a much deeper and superior understanding of Paul’s thinking and writings as primarily revealed through the Pauline Letters and as secondarily manifested in the Act’s.











[1]  Dodd, Brian J. The Problem with Paul. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996.

[2]  My insertion of the word, post.

[3] Barth, Karl. Romans. London: Oxford University Press, 1933.

[4] Muggeridge, Malcolm and Vidler, Alec. Paul, Envoy Extraordinary. London: Collins, 1972.

[5] Banks, Robert. Paul’s Idea of Community. Boston: Hendrickson, 1994.

[6] My words

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