Thursday 2 October 2014

Paul: The Measure of the Man

There has been an awful lot of rubbish written about Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles. Apologists wax eloquent about his theological genius and depth of insight into the human condition. Augustine, Luther and other worthies have cast their own mantle over his shoulders in order to convince lesser mortals that it is in fact Paul's mantle that covers theirs. Countless tomes have been written, gallons of ink spilled, in a thousand attempts to make sense of the great man's letters.

Spiritual depth and genius, however, are perhaps not the most obvious explanations for Paul's "impenetrability". After all, as it's clear from his own writings, the apostle was a cantankerous old coot. Perhaps he was just incoherent, much like a fickle politician on the hustings, making up policy according to whim. It certainly has been suggested.

Or perhaps there was method in his madness, though not of a particularly flattering variety. Enter Gerd Lüdemann.

Gerd Lüdemann
Lüdemann has, I think, got the measure of Paul, and he's not at all intimidated. Being a German professor, he's written some typically dense studies on the apostle that don't exactly make for light reading, especially for the non-specialist. But in his latest slim volume for Polebridge Press, The Earliest Christian Text, he gets straight to the point.
We encounter in Paul a tremendous degree of self-consciousness and self-importance; his emphatic statement that he was superior to many of his contemporaries in observing the law is not only a reflection of his Pharisaic sense of superiority, but also has a basis in his character...
It comes as no surprise that Paul dominated his communities by insisting on his wishes and authority and requiring the compliance of others. His claims of apostolic authority reinforced his sense of infallibility and often led him to bully any who disagreed. As one would expect, he thus gained devoted followers among docile members but also repelled many who were not easily swayed.

More comments on The Earliest Christian Text later.

Available on Amazon: The Earliest Christian Text


  1. Sounds like one I'm going to want to read - I Thessalonians is an interesting book. I've always thought that Paul's writings reveal a man that was very insecure about his position and authority within the Church - He often tries too hard to seem otherwise.

    1. In your blog you recently characterized Genesis as allegorical - yet you embrace Pauline soteriology, so what do you make of the dilemma Corky raised in previous thread?
      ".. the new idea of evolutionary creationism doesn't work either because it makes Genesis purely an allegory and Adam a metaphorical first man. There would be no purpose or need for a second Adam because allegorical metaphors can't commit original sin.."

    2. If the story of Adam represents the beginning of humanity (and that humanity's decision to reject God's definition of morality), then I fail to see how that would interfere with Paul's analogy. Christ still clearly represents a new beginning for humanity - a second beginning. In other words, while an allegorical metaphor may not be able to commit original sin, the humanity that "he" represents was certainly capable of doing so (and I would say clearly did and have continued to do). Hence, in this philosophical construct, a "second man" is still needed.

    3. Christian apologetics/damage control, amazing.

    4. A condescending observation, but how does that further the conversation (or were you simply attempting to cut it off)?

  2. The way I see it there were like two churches existing. One church taught righteousness and salvation by the works of the Law, (Cephus, James and John). The other church taught righteousness and salvation by grace without the works of the Law, (Paul). I think this contention continued all the way up to the time of Marcion when the church of Cephus, James and John were forced to take on the doctrines of Paul to hold onto their congregations that were turning to Marcion in droves.

  3. All this analysis and one question remains: Did Paul really exist?

    Or did the Catholics under the direction of the Emperor invent him from word-of-mouth fables carried forward by superstitious illiterates?

    Answer that and we'll know a lot more about the New Testament.

  4. It looks like according to Scripture, Paul spent 10 years or more in Tarsus.

    A lot of people view Paul as being like Gerald Waterhouse, constantly on tour and not staying in any particular church for any length of time. Apparently, that was not the case with Paul, even though he did have 3 missionary journeys.

    If more people were aware of this, it could very much color their view of him.

    ... again... if he existed.

  5. Firstly, I note that Ludermann did not cite any text in support of his opinion that Paul was "self important." However, permit me quote a text that says he wasn't thus: "By the grace of God I am what I am"(1 Corn.15:10).

    Secondly, all wise men are self conscious! Note the words of Socretes; "Man know thy self." And Paul was inspired to write: "Examine yourselves, whether you be in the Faith; prove your own selves. Know you not your selves, how that Christ be in you, except you be reprobates?"(2 Corn.13:5). Many that were in WCG have failed to answer that question, because they were reprobates!

    Anyone who doesn't understand his thoughts and behaviours is destined to live a life of wickedness and misery!

    1. That sounds like bad news for you, Tom.