PAUL AND HIS TIMES

When Your World Flips and Splits

When Your World Flips and Splits

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (the first of Paul’s writings)
© Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved

Before there was any written Gospel there was Paul.
When the canon of Christian scripture
was put into a fixed order
it was done by supposed
documentary importance
rather than chronological order,
giving the impression of a fixed set of ideas.
But they are actually a changing story
that can show the progression
of how early Christians
grew in their understanding
of Jesus.
10 years younger than Jesus,
Paul was a Roman Citizen,
and a Pharisee.
Luke claims Paul
studied under the great Rabbi,
Gamaliel in Jerusalem.
Paul was knowledgeable in Roman
as well as Jewish law,
was well versed in
the Greek style of rhetoric,
and while he never actually met Jesus,
he had studied enough about
the Movement Jesus began
to know it was clearly opposed
to the strict Pharisaic
understandings designed to keep
Jewish societal edges intact
and cultural uniqueness inviolate,
and needed to be stopped.
He was an aggressive anti-Christian.
About five years after
Jesus’ crucifixion,
Paul had a conversion experience while
on a journey to Damascus
where he planned to persecute Christians,
and was won over to the Christian Way.
Paul went on from there as a true believer,
founding small communities
that followed the Way of Christ,
and the new movement
to which he had been converted.
What he proclaimed was
all from word of mouth learning.
There was nothing written down yet.
The Gospels would come 30 – 50
years later.
The immediacy of the Resurrection story
of which Paul writes in this text
was a story that had been believed
by those left
when Jesus was killed:
that there would be a second
coming in their own lifetimes.
By the time Paul was writing,
that story had already morphed
and the second coming
was being pushed
back to sometime off
in a distant future.
His new-found ministry
was to non-Christians rather than Jews.
Many of the Christian-Jews
disliked his inclusion of non-Jews
into their movement
and worked to stop him.
There is a plasticity
in the Christian Scriptures.
An ebb and flow and growth
of story and telling and information
that is organic and in constant change.
The writings of each generation,
are for that particular generation
and its own peculiar needs.
Paul’s writing is to the communities he founded.
They are situational,
or topical.
His theology has been termed,
occasional theology,
or theology that is aimed
at a particular occasion
and never intended
to be a universal statement,
though, sadly,
it is used many times in that manner.
We can find hope in Paul’s writings—
think if it as prescription
as opposed to proscription,
and as such,
and to the chagrin of
biblical literalists,
should never be considered binding.
The writings of Paul
are good instruction
to the First Century
churches he founded,
but seriously problematic
as doctrine-fodder
in our own time.
We, now, should be,
like Paul,
writing situational theology
for our own particular time
and our own peculiar needs.

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