|No, no, that's starting to make sense! Change it!|
Two thousand years later Paul's letters have been pored over, each word and phrase studied, scrutinized and exegeted, to an extent unprecedented in ancient literature. The rule of thumb seems to be, if you think you've understood Paul, you haven't. But don't take my word for it, here's what Nicholas King, a British Jesuit scholar, wrote in the introduction to his 2004 translation of Romans: It is, he says:
“...very hard going, and the translator faces a formidably difficult task. A single phrase in Romans 5:12, for example, may have as many as eleven different meanings, and the jury is still out on which of them best suits the context.... At times, I have to say, I have despaired of making Romans intelligible to a modern reader.”The crazy thing is that it's non-Christian scholars, including Jewish New Testament experts (now there's poetic justice!), who seem to have the best handle on the prickly apostle. Paul, it turns out, has been misread from at least Augustine onward. Was Paul anti-Torah? Did he eat the first-century equivalent of ham on rye? Probably not.
So if Paul was such a genius, brimming over with revelatory insight, how is it that he wasn't able to pass on those insights in any coherent form? What on earth did the Roman Christians - many of whom would have been illiterate - make of his letter to them when it was first read aloud ? How much of it did they - could they - understand? They didn't have the benefit of reading it for themselves at their leisure, it was read to them, everyone scratched their heads, and then it was apparently forgotten. In our hyper-literate age when everyone has a New Testament, and probably a selection of translations to draw on, are we any the wiser? How much do we really understand, even after reading it again and again?
Did Augustine? Luther? Calvin? Barth? or Herb Armstrong for that matter? Can you really expect to extract a meaningful, consistent theology from what are largely polemic, rhetorical writings?
It would be sheer arrogance to think that any of us has heard, or ever will, the definitive word on either Paul or his gospel. One suspects he himself kept moving the goalposts.
And you have to wonder whether the apostle is sitting up there somewhere, laughing.
Adapted from a 2010 posting