Thursday, August 13, 2009

Paul: A Change in Life Direction 2

I thought I'd switch with Friday's Paul post, since I'm working on getting through Philip Jenkins' Next Christendom at the same time the Contexts of Ministry class does.

So here is a second installment of chapter 2 of my writing project, Life Reflections on Paul's Writings. The first installment of the chapter is here.
... Paul at some point became a Pharisee. Perhaps his family, even though out in the Diaspora, maintained some connection with Jerusalem. Perhaps he moved to Jerusalem to reconnect with that "Hebrew of Hebrews" part of his past. He begins to study with Pharisees.

Acts 22:3 says that Paul was instructed at the feet of Gamaliel. Does Acts mean that Paul apprenticed as a Pharisee with Gamaliel? We know of two principal "schools" of Pharisee at this time, the school of Hillel and the school of Shammai. Jewish tradition came to consider this Gamaliel to be the grandson of Hillel and thus a "Hillelite." [1]

Paul's own descriptions of his pre-Christian self, however, sound more like a Shammaite than a Hillelite. [2] Gamaliel's speech in Acts 5 sounds exactly like a Hillelite. He argues fatalistically. God will take care of the situation. The Sanhedrin need not take any action against the apostles, because God will sort it out.

This is not Paul's approach, to say the least. Paul seems to have served the Jewish ruling council in Jerusalem, the Sanhedrin, in tracking down and arresting certain Christians. The apostles themselves do not seem to have been the target of Paul's persecutions. It was rather Greek speaking Jews like Stephen and Philip that seem to have been Paul's targets. It is quite possible that their understandings of Christ were more radical than those of the Aramaic speaking believers in Jerusalem. We notice that when the Hellenists were scattered in Acts 8, the apostles are able to stay put (Acts 8:1).

It has been very convenient to stereotype the Pharisees as hypocritical legalists, and quite possibly many were. This is certainly the dominant picture that we get from the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew 23 is a major critique of Pharisees who do not practice what they preach. Matthew tells its audience that the Jews should obey the Pharisees because of their authority as the bearers of Mosaic authority (23:2). But it criticizes them for not following their own teaching (23:3).

At the same time, we should bear in mind that the other gospels are not as harsh or dismissive, especially Luke-Acts. It has long been suggested that Matthew might present the Pharisees more starkly because they were hostile and in power at the time this gospel was written in the days after the destruction of Jerusalem. By contrast, Acts 15:5 speaks of Christian Pharisees and 23:6 calls Paul a Pharisee in the present tense. Thus Luke-Acts does not seem to view Pharisees as so diametrically opposed to believers.

We cannot be entirely sure of the origins of the Pharisees, although they clearly emerged in the mid-second century BC. Some consider them the heirs of the hasidim or faithful ones of the Maccabean revolt, individuals who chose to die rather than battle on the sabbath. Their name perhaps means something like "separated ones." Perhaps the goal was to keep the Jewish Law so well that God would restore Israel as a nation and usher in a golden age.

We thus need to make a careful distinction between someone who is very strict or detailed in their lifestyle and legalism. Legalism is when a person likes rules simply because a person likes rules, rules for their own sake. But someone might also live a strict life out of genuine devotion to God. We would be wrong to call such a person a legalist. Surely numerous Pharisees fell into this category, individuals like Nicodemus who lived a strict life out of true devotion to God.

It is hard to know what Paul's motivation was in persecuting these early believers. Did he think that by his zealous acts he was working toward the political restoration of Israel? Psychologically was he battling a stereotype someone might have made of him, a certain kind of "liberal," Greek speaking Jew that others might at some point have accused him of being? What exactly was it about the Hellenistic believers that he found so threatening in particular?

We do not know the answers. For example, did Paul himself detest believers for theological reasons but have authority to arrest for political reasons? Did some in power consider Hellenistic Christians subversive to their authority? It does not seem likely we will know the answers to these questions while we are on earth.

[1] It is the nature of tradition to make connections of this sort, to take what little is known of the past and connect it. A Clement in Philippians 4 might be connected to a Clement in Rome fifty years later, simply because in what little has survived from that time two people had the same name. We simply do not have sufficient evidence to know whether Gamaliel was truly the grandson of Hillel or not.

[2] One finds an excellent treatment of these issues in N. T. Wright's, The New Testament and the People of God, (Minneapolis: Fortress, **), **. And to give a third book of fifty to read on a path to master Paul, a great introduction is Wright's What Saint Paul Really Said (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, **).


John said...

Perhaps the demonization of the Pharisees was not Jesus' intention, but a misreading by his followers?

Jesus came into town a country preacher without credentials. He came intending to impact the whole range of Jewish society from the foreigners (scraps for the dogs), the poorest (have mercy on me), the women (who touched me) the unwell (your sins are forgiven...take up your mat) the wealthy (hurry and come down I must stay at your house) the educated elite (you must do one more thing) all the way up to the Roman overlords (you say so).

While he is addressing all of these he is engaging each on their level, and in their context. What would his message be to the educated and pious Pharisees? Go deeper! Seek to live out the spirit of the laws more than the letter (you have heard it said...but I say).

Moreover, to engage in serious theological debate Jesus must speak with the most theologically trained, and that would be the Pharisees. He does so not to show them up (unless they were so misguided as to wish him harm) but to challenge their thinking, to push them toward thinking about the Kingdom an what Kingdom living entails.

The Pharisees were not necessarily Jesus' enemies, nor were they evil per se, but, in a sense they were Jesus' very necessary partners in the process of theological explication.


Anonymous said...

I think an unbiased reading of Mt 23, even cursory, will dispel any notion that Jesus despised "legalists". He railed against the Pharsisees because of their hypocrisy not their high view of the Mosaic Law.

As with Paul, Jesus holds the Law in high esteem but warns against majoring in the minors and being blind to one's own failings and need for forgiveness.

It is indeed unfortunate that we have elevated the possibly rhetorical Rom 3:20 above everything else in the Bible which says obedience to God's Law is a good thing.

Matthew Perri said...

[sing it to the tune of "Rapture" by Blondie]

I'm Boss Paul, the Pharisee
My hypocrisy's plain for the world to see
I travel the land and travel the sea
to make a convert who is just like ME

"All have sinned" - we know that's true
but it never means ME - it only means YOU
My sins are all theoretical
"I'm the worst of sinners"- but don't ask where

To be more like Jesus is what some strive
except for me - I've already arrived
I'm the perfect model since the road to Damascus
What were Paul's sins? Don't ask us!

I justify everything I do
If I testify about myself it MUST be true
I'm the only man in all history
whose testimony doesn't need two or three

If I did something it MUST be right
Don't use the Scripture to shed any light
Don't do as I say, do as I do
and then you can be a Pharisee too.

Matthew Perri said...

Which is the most important?
Jesus was asked twice, by two different men, the same basic question about which is the most important or greatest commandment in the Law. Here is how Jesus answered that question:

“One of the teachers of the law… asked him [Jesus],
‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “ is this: ‘Hear, of Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than THESE.” [Mark 12:28-31, Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Leviticus 19:18]

…an expert in the law, tested him [Jesus] with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’”

Jesus replied: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these TWO commandments.” [Matthew 22:36-40, Deuteronomy 6:5, Leviticus 19:18]

But in contrast with Jesus, Paul the Pharisee didn’t know the greatest, most important, first commandment according to Jesus. Paul made up his own rule. Paul wrote:
“The entire law is summed up in a SINGLE command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” [Galatians 5:14, Leviticus 19:18]

And again, Paul wrote:
“He who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not covet, and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this ONE RULE: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” [Romans 13:8-10, Leviticus 19:18]

Jesus said it’s TWO commandments, with the greatest, most important, first command to
.1) first, love God with everything you’ve got, and
.2) second, love people.
Paul said no, it ONE commandment- to love people.

This is very similar to The Beatles- “All you need is love. Love is all you need. Love, Love, Love.” (In other words, the second commandment, the love of man, without the love of God. Love as me, myself and I define love to be, and continuously redefined by sinful men.)

In essence, it is also the same principle as what Eve did in the Garden of Eden, forgetting about the Tree of Life, which is the first tree in the middle of the Garden, and instead referring to the second tree as “the tree that is in the middle of the garden.” [Genesis 3:3 & 2:9 2:17, 3:24]

Kind of like the Pharisees with Jesus, who were pushing the false idea that we can consider ONE commandment in the Law, alone in isolation, to be “the greatest commandment in the Law.”

Or like today, false teachers in the Chrislam – Purpose Driven - Seeker Sensitive – Emergent – Liberal - Ecumenical - New Age - world church movement pushing the false idea that the ONE RULE is “Loving God and Neighbor together.”

The Lord God Jesus the Jewish Messiah, Son of Yahweh the Most High God of Israel, said:
“All the Law and the Prophets hang on these TWO commandments.”
Not one. TWO.

Sometimes, Paul was wrong. Jesus is always right. I’m following Jesus.

Matthew Perri said...

Here are answers to 2 common objections:
.a) What about the so-called “Golden Rule”?
Jesus spoke the 3 chapters of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7, including 7:12. Jesus didn’t make PART of this one verse out of context into “The Golden Rule” or “one rule.” Jesus did not use the term “Golden Rule,” it’s simply a tradition of men. The sentence begins with “So” in the NIV and Amplified Bibles, and “Therefore’ in the NASB and King James Bibles, which ties 7:12 to the previous sentences. So 7:12 cannot stand alone as One Commandment.

.b) What about the so-called “Great Commission”?
Jesus spoke the words recorded in Matthew 28:18-20, including “make disciples of all nations.” Jesus never used the term “Great Commission,” it’s simply a tradition of men. Yes I agree it’s a commandment given by Jesus, it’s not optional, and it applies to us today. We need to carry this out, with our own God-given abilities and talents, using the skills, and circumstances we have. But we don’t need to put words in the mouth of Jesus, we can let Jesus speak for himself, and we can listen to Him – and obey Him.

Evangelism is part of the Second Commandment given by Jesus, to Love people. Evangelism is not the most important commandment, and it isn’t the entire Second Commandment. So if our priorities are “The Great Commission and the Great Commandment,” we have our priorities upside down and confused, and we are not listening to the voice of Jesus. Never mind what Paul said. Let’s listen to the voice of Jesus first, and get our priorities straight.

The people who will protest most loudly against this truth are the modern “Pauls:” traveling evangelists, speakers, writers, abusive absentee mega-church pastors, Crusaders, and self-appointed “apostles” like Paul, who find it “profitable” to “be like Paul” rather than follow Jesus the Jewish Messiah.

Matthew Perri said...

What were Paul’s specific sins as a Christian? Here are 5 to get the discussion started:

.1) Paul’s boastful conflicting false testimonies, exaggerating and making things up about his conversion experience in Acts 22 & 26, compared to what actually happened (recorded by Luke in Acts 9).

.2) Paul lying to the Ephesian elders saying he was “compelled by the Spirit” going to Jerusalem, when in truth he was clearly disobeying God. [Acts 19:21 - 22:21]
3) Paul exaggerating his ministry in Ephesus claiming it was “3 years night and day with tears” when really it was 3 months in the synagogue and 2 years daily in a lecture hall.
[Acts 20:31 vs Acts 19:8-10]

.4) Paul abandoning the Church in Corinth after a year and a half for no obvious reason, and going off on another long trip, mostly on his own, without appointing anyone else in Corinth as overseer, or giving anyone else any specific authority in the Church in Corinth.
[Acts 18}

.5) Paul acting as an abusive absentee overseer / pastor to the Church in Corinth years after he abandoned them, and clinging to all power and claim to control of money and all aspects of the church ministry, while he was hundreds of miles away teaching full-time in his own school in Ephesus. [1 & 2 Corinthians.}

Paul is the “model pastor” for many modern “Pauls” like;

a) Bob Coy, who still owns all the assets and controls all the money at his cult known as Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale, in spite of his recent resignation as “Senior Pastor” there due to adultery with multiple woman and other major sins that he still has never specifically admitted to personally.

Greg Laurie, the Boss of a wide-ranging personal cult empire that generally goes by the name of “Harvest.” Greg lives in Newport Beach, commutes by helicopter, and exploits the very large church he founded in Riverside from a distance, while he does his own thing in Orange County and travels around wherever he feels like, building a personal business empire with himself as the center, not Jesus.

Matthew Perri said...

“What is an Apostle?”
part 1
Here is the answer based on the original sources:
The words and actions of Jesus and the Original Apostles in the text of the New Testament.

.1) Gospel of Mark – time lag between being appointed and being sent
“Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve – designating them apostles – that they might be with him…” [Mark 3:13-14]

Three chapters later,
“Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits.” [Mark 6:6-7]

.2) Gospel of Luke – time lag between being appointed and being sent
“One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: Simon…..” [Luke 6:12-14]

Again three chapters later,
“When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.” [Luke 9:1-2]

.3) Gospel of Matthew – which is organized by theme, not necessarily in chronological order.
“He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal disease and sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon…” [Matthew 10:1]

Without any clear time reference, continuing on the theme of the Apostles, Matthew does record “These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions…” [Matthew 10:5] Matthew never said that the Apostles were “sent out” immediately after being appointed. If we didn’t also have the clear records in Mark and Luke, it would be a fairly logical assumption that Jesus sent them out right away, but it would still be just an assumption. In this case, that assumption would clearly be wrong. The Twelve Apostles were absolutely NOT sent out right away after being appointed Apostles, according to Mark chapters 3 through 6, and Luke chapters 6 through 9.

So being an Apostle of Jesus involves being sent by Jesus, yes. But that isn’t the only meaning, or even the first and primary meaning. The first thing was “that they might be with Him” personally, together, for His entire earthly ministry, from the time of John the Baptist until Jesus rose to heaven. Jesus poured his life into the 12 Apostles for 3 ½ years very personally training them to be the leaders of the church, and Jesus chose Peter as first among equals.

The NIV translation inserts the heading “Matthias Chosen to Replace Judas” for the passage Luke wrote in Acts 1:12-26]. The NIV headings were not part of the original text, and sometimes they can be misleading, but in this case I believe the heading is right on.

Jesus and the Original Apostles knew what an Apostle is better than anyone else in the world. Why is this a strange idea? Why do so many people frequently attack and tear down and dismiss the Original Apostles, particularly Peter, as if they were all incompetent, stupid, and wrong in so many ways, and they didn’t even know what an “Apostle” was? The answer to that question is, they have been listening to the voice of Paul, rather than the voices of Jesus and the Original Apostles.

Matthew Perri said...

Part 2
As we consider the question “what is an Apostle”, we should carefully listen to the words of the leader that Jesus personally appointed as first among the Apostles, and trained personally for 3 ½ years, Peter.

“It is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” [Acts 1:21-22]

Neither Paul, nor James, nor Luke were with Jesus and the Apostles the whole time, so they were not qualified to be a “witness with the Apostles of Jesus’ resurrection”, which is what it means to be an Apostle. Matthias was qualified, appointed, and later recognized as part of The Twelve. No one except Judas ever lost his apostleship.

Responding to a question from Peter,
“Jesus said to them:
…you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” [Matthew 19:28]

We cannot prove that Judas was present at that time, and we cannot prove that Matthias was absent at that time when Jesus spoke those words. Even if Judas was physically present, as we all realize now, he was not a true follower of Jesus. And even if Matthias was physically absent at that particular occasion, Jesus is still establishing the basic qualification for having one of the twelve thrones as being “you who have followed me,” not someone who will follow Jesus in the future, like Paul, James, Luke or anyone else in the world.

At the Last Supper, Jesus said to His Apostles:
“You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred on one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” [Luke 22:28-30]

Was Judas present when Jesus spoke those words? Even if someone wants to be argumentative and say we can’t prove that Judas wasn’t there at the time, we certainly can’t prove that Judas WAS there. Judas obviously didn’t stand by Jesus in his trial, as the whole world knows. But that was the requirement Jesus gave to “sit on thrones:” “You are those who have stood by me in my trials.” “You”, speaking to His 11 Apostles who had been walking with Him faithfully for 3 ½ years. Not others in the future who will follow the risen Jesus Christ. Notice that at the Last Supper, when Judas lost his throne and Matthias was definitely absent, Jesus chose to speak of “thrones” rather than “twelve thrones” as he had previously.

The Apostle John recorded about the New Jerusalem,
“The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” [Revelation 21:14]

The Apostles are 12 faithful eyewitnesses who walked with Jesus during His entire earthly ministry, and Matthias is the 12th. That’s the short version of my definition of “what is an Apostle.”

Matthew Perri said...

The Evangelical "Mexican Hat Dance"

Sin is always specific, not general.
The "Hat" is, "What were Paul's sins?"

The music starts, with a cheery blast of trumpets in a melody that is familiar to most North Americans- the “Mexican Hat Dance.” (The national dance of Mexico, taught in Mexican public schools since 1921, and officially named “El Jarabe Tapatio.”)

A couple in rather elaborate traditional costumes begins the dance. The man throws his huge sombrero hat on the floor, and the couple dances around it, but never steps on the hat. (The “Hat” is, “what were Paul’s sins?”) Here are the basic steps- (there may be one or two other basic steps, but they are very similar to these.)

What were Paul’s sins?

STEP 1) Paul said; “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man.” [1 Timothy 1:13]
(Response- Those were Saul's sins, before Jesus called him. What were Paul’s sins as a Christian? )

STEP 2) Paul said; “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners- of whom I am the worst.” [1 Timothy 1:15]
(Response- Sin is alwasy specific. What were Paul’s specific sins as a Christian? )

STEP 3) Paul said; “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” [Romans 3:23]
(Response- Again the same question; What were Paul’s specific sins as a Christian? )

STEP 4) Paul said; “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.” [Philippians 3:12-13]
(Response- They say third time's a charm. Same question; What were Paul’s specific sins as a Christian? )

STEP 5) Paul said; “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do- this I keep on doing.” [Romans 7:15-19]
(Response- One more time! This is getting boring. Same question; Specifically, what were Paul’s specific sins as a Christian based on specific verses of the Bible? )

STEP 6) LOOP- REPEAT steps 1 through 5, until your dance partner gives up, the audience gets bored, or the music stops. The rule is- never step on the “Hat,” just keep dancing around it.