Understanding Paul, part 4

Read Romans 1:1-7

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“HERE IS MY GREETING IN MY OWN HANDWRITING—PAUL.” (1 Corinthians 16:21 NLT)

PWPaulInPrisonIf you have ever gone through high school or college you will most definitely remember that there were strict rules and regulations set to avoid academic dishonesty. When it came to test taking you weren’t allowed to be sitting too closely to anyone else, there was no talking allowed, and if you even dared to look over at someone else’s desk,  your grade would be forfeit. When it came to writing research papers, those rules and regulations got even stricter. You had to work on your own, you had to cite every idea you paraphrased or quoted, and your work absolutely had to be your own. In other words, stealing the paper from the internet or someone else writing the paper for you in your name would be unacceptable.

While these standards hold true today, they are relatively new in the world of academia. It used to be common practice that students of great teachers would continue on the legacy of their teacher by writing new material in that teacher’s name. This was both a way to show honor toward one’s teacher; however, it was also a way of lending credibility and authority to one’s own teaching. One of the most famous examples of a student doing this is Plato, who wrote a series of “dialogues” wherein he wrote as the great philosopher. This was so common place and accepted that we even have a pithy statement that highlights the practice, “Mimicry is the best form of flattery.”

An even greater example of this being done is in the case of the Apostle Paul. Traditionally, Paul is credited with writing Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon. Some even credit him with writing Hebrews, but that contention is rejected by most theologians and scholars across the board. What’s more, Paul’s ministry is detailed in the book of Acts which was written by the same person who wrote the Gospel of Luke. Some of the details are consistent with Paul’s own account, others are not exactly the same. Even more than that, Paul’s authorship is in dispute over Colossians and 2 Thessalonians and most mainline theologians reject Pauline authorship in regard to Ephesians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus. There are a number of reasons why these letters are disputed, including difference of style, structure and a lack of the central, theological components that were so vital to Paul.

What is likely is that someone who was either taught by Paul and/or who was from one of his communities wrote these letters, giving him credit for the authorship and lending authority to it as well. Whoever the people were that wrote these letters, they were writing from within the Pauline tradition, even if their views sometimes opposed that of Paul’s. What’s more, whether or not Paul wrote them does not take away from them being authoritative as the communities that they were written in and, eventually, the Christian church as a whole found divine authority within them.

It is impossible to have a full discussion on Pauline authorship in this limited space. There’s lots of scholarship on both sides of the authorship dispute. What I am hoping to impart here, is that there’s more to reading and interpreting the Bible than just simply reading it. It is absolutely important to our faith that we do read it as a part of our spiritual discipline; however, it is equally important to understand who’s writing, to whom they are writing, and the various contexts surrounding the writing. Once that understanding has been attained, it is then possible to apply the texts in ways that are both true to the intent of the author and transformative to us in our context. Next, to conclude this series, we will look at the authentic letters of Paul and gain an understanding of what he felt was vital to being Christian.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better.” (Philippians 1:21-22 NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, as I discipline myself in reading the Scriptures, also give me wisdom and discernment so that I may understand and apply it. Amen.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s