Wednesday, 12 October 2011

The Teflon Apostle

Some of the hard questions we're unwilling to ask about Jesus, we may be prepared to ask about Paul, the man who, in those early years following the crucifixion, picked up the ball that the original disciples were fumbling with, and ran off with it.

Yet most of us don't. Paul's writings, in fact, are often used to “overrule” the sayings attributed to Jesus.

In New Zealand Jim Veitch is a well known figure in field of religious studies.  A professor at Victoria University in Wellington and a member of the Jesus Seminar, he is an advocate for an unvarnished portrait of the apostle to the nations.
“In one sense the problem we have with Saint Paul is similar to that which we have with Jesus. Both are elusive figures of history who have become hidden in the folds of human piety and devotion, and encased in doctrine and belief...”
In the third chapter of Rediscovering the Apostle Paul Veitch calls for a quest for the historical Paul, over the objections of all those who have smoked one too many theological joints.
“The church is probably no more interested in a truly historical Paul than in an authentically historical Jesus. To discover the truth about either – let alone declare a no holds-barred, uncensored version of it – threatens and intimidates the church and its congregations.”
“Theologically, Pauline scholarship is at the center of the church's search for identity...” 
Reason, perhaps for “the persistence in trying to resolve these matters theologically and not historically.”

Veitch briefly surveys the great and the good who have already passed this way; Baur (who “tried to penetrate behind the smokescreen of the sainthood of Paul to the real individual”), Schweitzer, Bultmann, W. D. Davies and E. P. Sanders. What is needed now, Veitch writes, is “an open and honest search for the Paul of history.”

The theologically-minded will scream, pound their fists and pout at a suggestion like this. Either, like Veitch, you're hard-wired to want an objective vantage point on matters like these, or you're hard-wired to run off into the sacred wilderness where the imagination can take full flight, spawning demons and dogma, and where “the full armour of God” is coated in reality-repelling Teflon.


  1. You're right. I'm theologically minded, and I'm screaming. That someone so (presumably) clever, as a University Professor, should waste their time in a search for the historical Paul, maddens me. We know next to nothing about Paul, surely he could write his book on a postage stamp, if he bought a commemorative issue and wrote small?

  2. Hey, at least Paul wrote stuff and Jesus didn't. You would think that the apostle would have been well known throughout the Empire, if the Acts and the Pauline writings were any indication. But no, not even Josephus ever heard of him.

    But, maybe that's just me, because I never have figured out how Paul preached to Jews in Rome for two years after the Jews had been expelled from Rome years before Paul ever got there.