‘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.