Chapter 2 of A Bird’s Eye View of Paul examines Paul’s own experience of ‘the Road’ – the one to Damascus that is.
I’m enjoying this book – very readable, concise and focused on the big stuff.
Bird sketches two Pauls:
1. The pre-Damascus Road Paul
– a pious and blameless Pharisee
– appalled at the message of a crucified messiah. A nice line, ‘the cross is offensive to Jews because a crucified Messiah implies a crucified Israel.’
– opposed to worship and adoration being given to Jesus.
– zealous for the purity of the law as a boundary marker of Israel’s holiness – and willing to kill to maintain it. To suggest that Gentiles could enter the elect people of God without becoming Jews and keeping Torah was to threaten Israel’s very identity.
2. The post Damascus Road Paul
Whatever exactly happened on the road to Damascus it turned Paul around completely.
He did not ‘convert to Christianity’. He converted to an entirely new way of understanding Israel and God’spurposes for his people. He becomes a key leader in the messianic sect within Judaism, with the specialised task of including precisely those ‘sinners’ / Gentiles that he had fought so hard to exclude.
– his view of Jesus (Christology) utterly changed: – he was not a failed or false Messiah, he was the Lord, the Son of God.
– his view of salvation (soteriology) utterly changed:- he came to see the curse of the cross not as a shameful failure, but at the very centre of God’s salvific purposes.
– his view of the future (eschatology) utterly changed:- before he believed in a future resurrection where all God’s faithful covenant keepers would be vindicated. Now God had vindicated his Son through whom the end of the ages had come (1 Cor 10:11). The future had broken into the present. The Spirit had been poured out as a seal & deposit of the future new age (2 Cor 1:22; 5:5: Eph 1:13-14).
– his view of the Law utterly (nomology!) changed:- before he believed the Torah marked out the people of God, obedience to the law was the basis of future vindication. Now he believed that faith in the Messiah was the basis of justification or vindication. Jesus was the ‘end of the law’. Life in the Spirit fulfils the Law.
– his views about the church (ecclesiology) utterly changed:- previously he had persecuted the heretical messianic sect. Now he understood it to be the very body of Christ whom he had been persecuting. And just as radically, if faith in the Messiah defined the people of God, Gentiles could enter in without having to obey the Torah.
Something dramatic and life-changing happened on that Road. He was the least likely convert imaginable. He did NOT think all this through and decide to follow Jesus. No, his changed thinking came after his unexpected and un-sought-after experience of meeting the risen Christ.
As Bird says
‘a ferocious force had seized him and turned him inside out, upside down and spun him round a dozen times … the grace-event killed Saul the Pharisee and birthed Paul the apostle.’
It not only changed Paul, it changed the history of the world.
A tangential thought on conversion sparked by those 5 areas of Paul’s changed thinking. If you are Christian who had a conversion experience from someting to Christianity, what were the key things that changed in your thinking? Any in common with Paul or are they quite different?