The Center of It All Ė The Theology of the Apostle Paul
by Bobby Bruno
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The theology of the Apostle Paul was built on a Jewish theology. Paul was a Jew through and through and believed in ďone God; one people of God; one future with God; one book from God; and one place to worship GodĒ according to David Capes, Rodney Reeves, and E. Randolph Richards (2007) in their book Rediscovering Paul (p. 257). Paul never departed from any of these five beliefs at any time in his ministry. He never told any Jew not to stop being circumcised, only the gentiles. He never told any Jew to believe in the Torah any less except for the fact that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law. At his salvation, Paul became a Christian, but Jesus never told Paul that he had to give up his Jewishness or Jewish roots to follow Him.
The center of Paulís theology was strictly Jewish. Paul believed that there was only one God of the universe that should be worshiped and honored. When the followers of Christ, through Christís own admission that He was the Son of God, began to worship Jesus, Paul fought hard against this other God who was not the God of his Fatherís because Jesus was being worshipped everywhere but in the Temple (p. 264). Paul believed that there is only one people of God and that was the Jews. When Jesus began to eat with Gentile sinners and non-pious Jews, He was inviting impurity into the mix which was not allowed by Jewish Law. Paul believed that only the Israelites had a future with God since they were the chosen people, hand-picked by God Himself. Lastly, Paul believed that there was only one book that was the truth as presented by Godís representatives over the years. No other book was to be read, studied, or spoken. The Torah was the true word of God.
Then Paul met Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus and everything changed Ė almost. No longer was the Jewish Law something to build good works on. No longer was God the Father the only holy and divine person in the universe. The old center of Paulís theology now had a new center Ė the glorified and divine Jesus Christ. Now the center of Paulís theology had to change to encompass the risen Jesus. Saul, who once killed Christians for sport trying to dishonor their god was now to become the most outspoken Christian of them all. This new center was now Paulís whole life which he gladly gave to proclaim the saving grace of God through His Son, Jesus Christ.
But what do the scholars say about the center of Paulís theology? Mark Pretoriuos, in his article ĎThe Theological Centre of Pauline Theology as it relates to the Holy Spirití says that ďThe ďcentreĒ of Paulís teaching, as it finds expressions in his writings, is his Christology and eschatology. With that said, however, it must also be noted that this centre is not the person of Christ in the abstract, but His person and work focused in His death and resurrection.Ē
Stephen Lawson, in his article entitled, ďThe Center of Paulís TheologyĒ, states that: ďAny attempt at articulating the center of Paulís theology must hold three elements in tension, Godís past, present, and future action. With this in mind, it is my contention that the center of Paulís theology is that the God of Israel, who is also the creator of the whole world, has acted decisively through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth to completely fulfill the covenant with Israel and therefore to offer a universal renewal of both covenant and creation. The present manifestation of this renewed covenant and creation is none other than the continuation of Godís action in Jesus through the Spirit-sustained ekklesia, characterized by the radical unmaking of all social, ethnic, and biological divisions through the communal recognition of Jesus as universal Lord.Ē
Another scholar Walter A. Ewell, editor of the Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology further states in an article entitled, ďPaul the ApostleĒ that: ďAgainst polytheism Paul insisted that God is one. Against stoicism Paul preached a God that was personal and accessible rather than impersonal and inscrutable. Against most pagan religions Paul presented a God concerned with social morality and personal ethics; God is not a cipher for a spirit experienced through rites of worship, ascetic denial, or mystical sensuality. Both Paul's example and his teaching affirm that God is to be feared, love, and served.Ē
Here we have three scholars who believe that Paulís theology is centered on three different areas. One writer says that Paulís theology is centered on who God is. Another says that Paulís theology is centered on Godís past, present, and future as it pertains to salvation. The last writer believes that Paulís theology is centered on Christianity and eschatology. Here we have three different approaches in the belief of what Paul was teaching.
For me, I believe that the center of Paulís theology is that of Christ and all that Jesus Himself taught while He was here on this earth. Many times in his letters, Paul spoke about Christís crucifixion and the crucifixion of every soul that believes in Him. For example, in 1 Corinthians 1:22-24, Paul stated that the ď Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of GodĒ (NIV). Also, in 1 Corinthians 2: 1-2, ďAnd so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucifiedĒ (NIV). Again, in Galatians5:24-25 we find Paul speaking of the crucifixion, ďThose who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the SpiritĒ (NIV). It seems that in all of his letters the crucifixion of Christ and the crucifixion of the flesh were very much on Paulís mind at all times.
Do we need to continue to find out what the center of Paulís theology was or was not? I for one donít believe we need to simply because Paul makes it very clear in all he wrote that, for him, the greatest thing that ever happened to the world was the death, crucifixion, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. When Paul met Jesus for the first time, he was crucified in his flesh and went on to give us the greatest writings of truth the world has ever known. The center of Paulís theology is God and His Son Ė killed, buried, risen, and glorified. What more could any life ask for? Ask Paul, heíll tell you.
Capes, D., Reeves, R., Richards, E. (2007) Rediscovering paul. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.
Elwell, W. (1997). Paul the apostle: evangelical dictionary of theology. Retrieved from:http://www.biblestudytools.com/ dictionaries/bakers-evangelical-dictionary/ paul-the-apostle. html
Lawson, S. (2012). The center of paulís theology. Retrieved from: http://stephenlawson.wordpress.com/2012/04/04/the-center-of-pauls-theology/
Pretoriuos, M. (2006). The theological centre of Pauline theology as it relates to the holy spirit. Retrieved from: http://repository.up.ac.za/bitstream/handle/2263/2916/ Pretorius_ Theological %282006%29.pdf? sequence=1
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