Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Apostle Paul's Role in NT and Christian Faith

I was wondering if you could give some historical/theological background and explanation to Apostle Paul's special role as the early Christian authority whose application of and exposition for much of Jesus' teachings (and OT teaching as well, as it is 'fulfilled' in Jesus' teaching and life), inform such a large part of the practical living out Christian life today? Perhaps including issues like: is there significance that Paul ended up writing most of the NT (or the other way around in terms of causation) though he was not one of the Twelve who lived with Jesus; how Paul distinguished between things that were "[he] and not the Lord" and "the Lord, not [he]"; what would distinguish Paul and a later Christian who also had a vision of Jesus and who decided to write similar homilies, explanations, and applications (since Paul's conversion experience was highly personal, one of the criteria used to determine the likely historicity of a spiritual encounter, as with Jesus' resurrection appearances)?


Daniel Kim said...

There are a lot of questions in one post, which does not bode well for a coherent discussion, so we'll try discussing it in small chunks.

Q: Is there a significance in Paul writing so much of the NT even though he was not one of the Twelve?
A: Well, I would say it doesn't really matter that much that he was not one of the Twelve, because Jesus did appear to him. I would argue the contention that his vision was some kind of a subjective vision. The other soldiers heard "something", but they didn't know what it was. So it was more than just a subjective vision. (What was it exactly? I don't know.. but we can at least say that it would be misleading to say that it was an hallucinatory vision). The reason why so much of the NT was written by Apostle Paul was that God chose him to be an apostle to the Gentiles. And since he did a lot of traveling and wrote a lot of letters, it ended up being a big chunk of the NT. Regarding why the other apostles mainly stayed in Jerusalem, I'm not sure.. if you read Acts, though, it seemed like they were a bit too tied into their Jewish constituency.

Liberal theologians try to make a big deal out of that and say that Christianity is Apostle Paul's religion, but I think that is way overstated. Apostle Paul kept in touch with the Jerusalem church, and he checked with them about the core message of the gospel and were accepted by the Jerusalem church (Galatians 1:18-2:10), and even on finer controversial points like circumcision, apostle Paul conferred with the Jerusalem church and came to an agreement, at least with the leaders (Acts 15).

Of course, there were controversies that seemed to be in contention between the Gentile churches and Jewish churches (such as food sacrificed to idols, etc.) so it's possible that Apostle Paul's own understanding of these cultural issues might have been forming as things were unfolding. So it's possible that Paul's theological interpretation on the purpose of the OT laws might have differed from some of the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. But those differences (which are not irreconcilable contradictions) amount to small differences in perspective (sort of like how the 4 Gospel writers provide 4 different perspectives on the same event), and they definitely do not merit the conclusion that somehow Paul totally reinterpretted the life of Jesus. And the existence of different perspectives does not threaten the validity of the New Testament at all.. It's kind of like how the book of Matthew focuses in on the OT fulfillment of Jesus, while Luke focuses on Gentile missions of Jesus, while John focuses on the personal aspects of Jesus. These differences do not merit the conclusion that the Gospels are therefore invalid.

Anyway, wanted to stop there and see if there are any followup questions or clarifications needed.

Hope I made some sense. I invite you to please continue asking for further clarification. I've gotten questions like this before, where some people have a hard time with the fact that the "Word of God" would have different personal perspectives in them... and feel like somehow that would threaten the bible's claim that it is the Word of God. For a discussion on the robustness of Divine Inspiration of the Bible, please take a look at: Divine InspirationI hope to get more time to answer these questions more in depth. If you want to have a face-to-face discussion, you can sign up for my office hours to ask these questions at www.acts2fellowship.org

Daniel Kim said...

Perhaps a little more clarification is due..

Perhaps we can make better sense of Apostle Paul's experiences when we recognized that he witnessed the post-ascension Christ. It WAS something physical, as the other soldiers heard the sound, and I would suppose that they were trying to figure out what was happening. But it's true that it wasn't the same kind of witnessing as what the disciples saw.

Also, I would like to ask for a clarification on what you think are the significant "differences" that you would think Apostle Paul made in Christian doctrine that would be different from what the original Twelve would have said.

Dan Kinder said...

It seems like the two primary questions here are:
1) Why should most of the NT have been written by one man?
and 2) How can we know what he has written is really the God-breathed word, as opposed to the writings of someone else who has had a similar conversion/revelation?

Concerning the first question, I think having an intellectual like Paul(a well studied man, despite his tent-making occupation) write most of the NT makes perfect sense. He is familiar with both the good and bad theologies and philosophies of the world, and clearly has a keen eye for distortions that are made of the bible. I think suggesting that the aspects of the NT that Paul covered should have been covered by more authors would simply be out of a desire to make the NT seem more convincing as truth, due to multiple attestation, but there are other reasons to take it as truth.

This brings us to the second question, about what is and isn't God-breathed. Though it's a broad topic that also delves into inerrancy, Normal Geisler points out, in one of his short articles, four of the main ways we can tell what has God's 'fingerprints' on it. Scripture is most likely God's word if(and the following is mostly verbatim from the article):
(1)It was written by a prophet of God, such as Moses(Exodus 4:1-9) or Paul(1 Corinthans 9:1)
(2)It was confirmed by the acts of God(Hebrews 1:1;2:3-4) or it tells the truth of God known from other revelations and facts(Deuteronomy 18:20-22)
(3)It has the power of God to edify(2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12)
(4)It was accepted and collected by the people of God

These are fulfilled both by Paul's writings and the other books of the NT, making them all pretty darn convincingly scripture.

Some extra references if you want to go find out how the books of the NT fulfill these standards:
Eph 2:20
2 Co 12:12
Heb 1:1; 2:3-4
Lk 1:1
1 Tm 5:18(citing Lk 10:7)
2 Pt 3:16

Steven C said...

Daniel, I just wanted to thank you for making this resource available. There are a lot of tough questions out there, and this forum is a great place not only to have questions answered, but also to be exposed to other people's questions that I might not think about on my own.

Just wanted to say thanks and keep up the good work!

Daniel Kim said...

Thanks for the comment. That's exactly what I was hoping to provide through this forum. From what I experienced in Christian apologetics, it helped me a lot for me to learn the "range" of questions that were out there. Just to hear all the different ways that people can ask questions (even though they might be different angles of the same question) was extremeley helpful and challenging for me personally.