|Paul en route to the 3rd heaven: "Is one of you blokes called Moroni?"|
It is interesting to reflect on something that Paul says in his letter to the Galatians. He emphasized that his message, his gospel, is not of human origin.
What is his gospel? He doesn't tell us in so many words, and although we may be able to deduce what it is from his letters, I think this is worth noting, and not considered often enough.
His gospel, the message he proclaimed, is something he says emphatically was of divine origin. And that is something he never had written down.Whatever Jesus might have meant by "gospel of the kingdom", it's clear Paul's understanding is, to use the mildest of descriptions, somewhat expanded. Not only that, but uniquely his.
In fact, the consistent message Paul gives is, follow me, me, me.
Paul an apostle - sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father... Gal 1:1a
For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. Gal 1:11-12
Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. 1 Cor. 11:1
But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we have proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! Gal 1:8And yet, despite making grandiose claims for himself and his gospel, Paul - as McGrath notes - never actually gets down to spelling it out in his letters. An oversight or a strategy? At best, to put things as positively as we can, it's implicit rather than explicit.
Grandiose personal claims you say? Surely not humble old Paul?
It is necessary to boast; nothing is to be gained by it, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a person in Christ [a round about way to refer to himself] who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven - whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. And I know that such a person - whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows - was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. 2 Cor 12:2-4How's that for a claim for legitimation via revelation. But, sorry folks, y'all don't have sufficient clearance to hear the details, but take it from me, I know stuff you poor schmucks have no idea about - and I ain't telling.
This gospel, says Paul, didn't come down the chain of authority from the other apostles, the guys who knew Jesus up close and personal. No, it came by revelation. To Paul. Just Paul. Specifically Paul.
Just as Joseph Smith had things revealed to him, and the prophet Muhammed. Ellen White had the gift of prophecy bestowed on her. I once chatted with an elderly lady in the Dugger faction of the Church of God who confided, with all due humility, that God revealed "wonderful things" to her. Indeed, she'd been permitted to actually behold the sea of glass mentioned in Revelation 15:2.
It's not hard to be sceptical about Joseph Smith's claims (unless you're a Mormon), or any of the others. But Paul? Surely not Paul?
Then again, why not?
James McGrath writes: "And so what we have from Paul are his own writings, and what he insisted was not merely his own creation he did not write down."
Now there's a conundrum.