What changed for Paul?

Caravaggio Conversion of St PaulOne of the fascinating questions that keeps popping up when you read the NT, is this: once he was a believer in Jesus the crucified Messiah and risen Lord …

‘What changed for Paul?’

If you are someone who is a Christian and reads the NT, I bet you have some sort of framework for answering that question – whether you have ever put it into words or not.

You can’t say ‘Nothing’ and get a pass! If nothing changed then Paul’s whole life and teaching become incomprehensible.

No, there was significant change; dramatic change if you will.

There have to be good reasons to do what Paul did …. to shift from persecutor to being persecuted; to travel all over the known world regardless of danger and opposition – and eventual death. To leave a promising career.

Did Paul repudiate his Jewish faith?

Is it right to call what happened on the Damascus Road a ‘conversion’?

How do you think Paul would have filled out a census questionnaire under the ‘Religion’ box? Would he have ticked the box ‘Jew’ or put something else in there?

Did Paul imagine being the catalyst for a new religion of Christianity, founded on, but a distinct faith from, Judaism?

Did Paul envisage the church replacing Israel? Is it right to use words like ‘replace’, ‘supersede’ when it comes to Torah / Israel? Paul was the missionary to the Gentiles who he welcomed into the people of God on an equal basis with Jewish believers. Did this mean that he had rejected Israel?

Did his view of who God is change? Did his understanding of Jesus and the Spirit change his theology of God’s identity and character? And more – how did his experience of God change?

And a big one over which ink continues to flow, what changed in his attitude the Law? On the one hand, he has some very negative things to say about the Law [Torah] that marked out the Jewish faith and revealed the will of God for his people (Gal 5:4 for example – trying to be justified by the Law means being alienated from Christ and detached from grace.) Yet on the other hand, he affirms the Law. Galatians 3:21 “Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not!”

Or did he only have a really tough line on some strands of Judaism of his day – like the Pharisees from which he came or the (Christian) Judaizers in Galatians trying to force Gentile believers to take on the Torah and be circumcised?

Or was Paul just inconsistent and all over the shop? (Some have said so, I don’t think so)

How significant was Paul’s own experience on the Damascus Road for explaining the dramatic life which followed? What changed there?

How did his view of the future change in comparison to his previous beliefs?

These are the sorts of questions that are the hub of Pauline studies and why books upon books continue to be written about Saul of Tarsus. But they all are a sub-set I think of the bigger question in the title of this post.

As you may guess I’ve been enjoying doing some reading on Paul. I’m just listing the questions – there are many different answers and theories as you’d expect since Paul didn’t write (as far as we know 😉 ) a detailed self-reflection journal on his ministry practice.

I hope to discuss some ideas in other posts – but for now, what do you think? Can we get a list going? What for you are the key things that changed for Paul?

Comments, as ever, welcome.


Israel through a Christological lens (2)

BethlehemOK, what follows is a theological sketch.

‘Israel’ needs definition: I’m here talking about God’s elect people, his promise to Abraham and his choosing of Jacob and his descendants and their identity and calling to be his holy people, faithful to the covenant and Torah.

When we come to consider the identity of ‘Israel’ today, we must do so through a Christological lens. For this is how the NT is written – it is fundamentally a theological reflection on the significance of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus in light of Israel’s story as told in her scriptures.

Jesus is Israel’s Messiah; the king who announces and demonstrates in power the that the kingdom of God has come; his healing of the sick, raising of the dead, purifying lepers and casting out of demons are all signs that the eschatological rule of God is here in the present. Jesus is the anointed Son of God, the fulfilment of all the hopes of Israel. He alone brings forgiveness and salvation.

Jesus re-enacts exodus around himself; the baptism – Spirit- temptations narrative highlights that he is God’s beloved Son are all strong echoes of Exodus:  (passing through water followed by 40 days in the desert). Jesus chooses 12 disciples; he reforms or reconstitutes Israel around himself. He is even the fulfilment of the Torah – obedience to God is measured in faithful response to his teaching. He is the one with the authority to reinterpret and apply the Torah (Mt 5-7). For John he is the eternal Logos.

Jesus explicitly announces judgement on the Temple. It would be replaced by worship centered on the resurrected Lord (1 Cor 8:6). He is one greater than the Temple (Mt 12:6). John tells of Jesus who is the temple (Jn 2:19-21). Luke records in Acts 7 how the significance of the Temple is relativised in light of the coming of the Righteous One; “the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands”. And in the eschatological vision of the New Jerusalem in Revelation, the temple is not a building but the presence of God and the Lamb.

The exalted Christology of the NT reinforces the picture of Jesus, the Lord, the one greater than Solomon, greater than David, the very presence of God himself having come to his Temple in the holy city. He comes a suffering servant, to die for the world.  The entire book of Hebrews is a Christological reflection on how Jesus far surpasses anything or anyone that has come before  – including priesthood, temple sacrifices, prophets like Moses and the tabernacle.

In his resurrection, Jesus is the vindicated Son of God. It is the risen Lord who sends the Spirit, fulfilling the hope of the OT prophets like Joel. It is through faith in Jesus that the gift of the life-giving Spirit is received. Life comes in him, not through the Torah. A new community of the Spirit is formed in Christ – a community, the household of God, that stands in continuity with Israel. Those in Christ are a new creation (2 Cor 5:17)  – whether Jew or Gentile it does not matter. It is the Spirit-filled community which is the temple of the living God (2 Cor 6:16).

Israel is reconstituted around the Messiah; Jews, Gentiles, men, women, slave and free are one in Christ (Gal. 3:28). Food laws are relativised (Mk 7:19). In other words, the boundary markers of Israel are redrawn and widened. Paul’s writings grapple with this theme in depth. Those in Christ are children of Abraham and heirs of the promise. The Torah is good but could not give life: its very purpose is fulfilled in the coming of the Messiah. Its commands are kept by life in the Spirit (Rom 8:4).

So it’s clear that there are deep themes of both continuity and discontinuity from old to new covenant; issues revolving around the relationships between Israel, Torah, land, Temple, church; Spirit, Messiah.

How do you put those relationships together?

Your answer to that question will shape how you see (among other things) the status of modern day Israel.

Comments, as ever, welcome