The apostle Paul is seldom as brilliantly insightful as in his description of New Creation’s community in the fourth chapter of his letter to the Ephesians. The portrait of this new humanity as a body that responds to the direction of Christ as its head is redolent with ethical implications. It is a stirring picture, to say the least, but one that is at the same multi-layered in that way which both begs for and repays careful analysis. (more…)
Archive for September, 2008
At the core of the apostle Paul’s self-understanding stands his calling to enlighten the nations regarding Yahweh’s intention to bless them. Indeed Paul seems to evoke the language of the book of Isaiah’s enigmatic ‘servant of the Lord’ when he speaks of how he invests his own life in this almost startlingly non-Jewish mission.
Paul believes himself to be the custodian of a mystery hidden in the secret counsels of God until Paul’s own historical moment. At that time, his argument runs, what was hidden was made clear. Paul’s job is to illuminate the nations regarding the good news that Yahweh’s redeeming obsession tracks itself out in their direction, intends to gather them into its embrace, and even sets its sight on renewing the whole creation until it cannot keep itself from bursting into praise. (more…)
The apostle Paul has few compunctions about mixing metaphors, particularly when straining for descriptors of God and his redeemed people. In the second chapter of his letter to the Ephesians, he weaves together metaphors of citizenship and temple construction. When read against the background of the Hebrew Bible, this is not an unlikely amalgamation of images. Temple, after all, is shot through with communitarian and nationalistic overtones. Citizenship, in the same context, always means belonging in a community that worships this god or these gods and not some other. (more…)
A strong theology of creation permits Paul—like the recorders of the Bible’s wisdom traditions—to trace the way of things by long, thoughtful observation. Even in a letter shot through with reflection upon the spirit-flesh dichotomy, Paul is simply to describe with organic language and as both promise and warning the way things work:
Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up.
Paul mines what are to him the evident continuities in life with pastoral intent. He does not want the Galatian Christians to forge with their attitudes and behaviors a future that turns out to look smell not like blessing but rather like a curse. His desire for them is that they should invest life and energy in projects and a way of life that cultivates the soil that gives—eventually and enduringly—a sustaining harvest. (more…)
For a man as determined as he is to safeguard the Christian’s freedom from any moral and legal encumbrance that does not align itself with the logic of Jesus’ cross, the apostle Paul is shockingly severe with regard to those who breach moral boundaries:
I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
The apostle makes this fear-inspiring warning with regard to those who practice ‘the works of the flesh’. Paul bifurcates the existential energy available to humankind. For him, there are just two: spirit and flesh. (more…)
We have only scarce evidence regarding the shape of Paul’s personality, yet his temperament must have exuded a certain feistiness. It was doubtless an unpleasant thing to discover that one had crossed him. What looks from this distance like an irascible edginess must not be taken as a transparent defect but rather linked, at least in part, to his impassioned jealousy for ‘the nations’ or ‘the gentiles’. When he articulates his own vocation in the letter to the Galatians, he defines it in these very terms, sketching out the boundaries of an embassy ‘to the nations’ that stands over against, say, Cephas’ calling ‘to the circumcision’. (more…)