Do you ever go sleep (I have always wondered where you go when yo go to sleep) thinking about a problem, or some other thought that you have been worrying like a puppy with a new chew toy?
Well last night I did just that, I was thinking as I went to sleep " Now how I do I translate into words what the Apostle was thinking at the start of his ministry to the average believer or the occasional passer by looking for the latest gossip. Now we all know that there are no average believers as Garrison Keiller says about lake Woebegon residents " Welcome to Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average."
So with that in mind I suppose that I should start at the beginning and all you advanced theologians can slip down to the kitchen and pour yourself a cup of Irish tea (or coffee) and run back up stairs just in time for the good stuff.
Paul brags that he was "Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee;" (Php 3:5 KJV) And if you remember you Hebrew history,.Benjamin was one of the two tribes which remained when the ten tribes revolted under Jeroboam, and, with the tribe of Judah, it ever afterward maintained its allegiance to God. The idea of Paul is, that he was not one of the revolted tribes, but that he had as high a claim to the honor of being a Jew as anyone could boast. The tribe of Benjamin, also, was located near the temple, and indeed it has been said that the temple was on the dividing line between that tribe and the tribe of Judah; and it might have been supposed that there was some advantage in securing salvation from having been born and reared so near where the holy rites of religion were celebrated. If there were any such derived from the proximity of the tribe to the temple, he could claim it; for, though his birth was in another place, yet he was a member of the tribe.
In this tribe stood the city of Jerusalem, and the temple of the Lord; this tribe retained the true worship of God with Judah, when the ten tribes revolted and worshipped the calves at Dan and Bethel, and returned with Judah from captivity, when the others did not. And the apostle was not only able to make himself appear to be of the stock Israel, but could name the tribe to which he belonged, which many of the Jews, that were of one, or rather of the ten tribes, were not able to do, and may be his chief reason for mentioning this circumstance.
An Hebrew of the Hebrews; not so called only because he could trace his pedigree from Abraham the Hebrew, or understood, and could speak the Hebrew language, which the Hellenistic Jews could not, or was an illustrious one among them, but because both his parents were Hebrews; he was an Hebrew by the father and mother's side both; he was a genuine Hebrew.
As touching the law, a Pharisee - "In my views of the law, and in my manner of observing it, I was of the straitest sect" Paul is saying here. The Pharisees were distinguished among the Jewish sects for their rigid adherence to the letter of the law, and had endeavored to guard it from the possibility of violation by throwing around it a vast body of traditions, which they considered to be equally binding with the written law. Paul here says that whatever advantage could be derived from the most rigid adherence to the letter of the law, was his.
So the picture that we have to begin with about Paul is that a strict no compromise Jew, no room for any change at all. So what happen to Paul to make him the Radical that we first see? And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. (Act 9:3-5 KJV)
Death walked upon the Damascus Road. Death breathing out itself¨Cdeath incarnate. Death threats, death wishes, death edicts, death indictments.
And death met life¨Cand death died! Saul, Saul, look upon me. Behold, life not death. Saul, Saul, look upon me! Behold, resurrection-life not a shroud of grave cloths. Saul, Saul, look upon me! Behold, acquittal¨Cnot accursed. Saul, Saul, look upon me!
And Saul sees! Saul sees the resurrection face to face. Saul of Tarsus, Pharisee, looks upon the resurrection from the dead. Saul of Tarsus, Pharisee, looks upon the first-born from the dead. Saul of Tarsus, Pharisee, looks upon the firstfruits of them that sleep. Saul of Tarsus, Pharisee, looks upon the justified. Saul of Tarsus, Pharisee, can be Pharisee Saul of Tarsus no more! The end of the age has come upon him and he has been translated out of death into life.
The resurrection of the dead was the turning point. The turning point between the present age and the age to come: the turning point was marked by resurrection. Pharisee Saul had been trained to look for the resurrection of the dead as the mark of transition¨Cthe transition to the end of the age. The Pharisee longed for the appearance of the Messianic era and the resurrection from the dead at the end of the world. But on the Damascus Road, Saul of Tarsus, Pharisee, looks full into the glorious face of resurrection. It is the risen Messiah who meets him. On the Damascus Road two thousand years ago, resurrection appeared and a Jewish Pharisee became a a follower of Jesus of Nazareth. .
The transformation of unbelieving Saul is found in the resurrection apocalyptic. J. Christian Beker of Princeton is right this far¨CPaul's gospel begins in apocalyptic. But another Princetonian long before Beker recognized that¨CGeerhardus Vos called it the Pauline eschatology. It is this encounter with the risen Christ which transforms Saul. It is this resurrection apocalypse¨Cthis Christophany¨Cwhich brings about the great reversal from death to life.
I suggest that the transformation in Saul the Pharisee may be found in the eschatological transformation which occurred in the resurrection of Christ. The eschatological meaning of the resurrection apocalypse makes it clear that the end of the age has come forward. If Christ be risen from the dead, the eschaton breaks in! And Saul has seen its glory.
Others have suggested that the change in Paul may be traced to a religious experience. He was prone to mental visions, you see, and he experienced a vision of Jesus. It was actually an hallucination created by a conscience burdened with remorse¨Cremorse for treating Christians so mercilessly. Others have suggested that Paul's transformation may be traced to his moralistic fervor. From his youth, Paul was taught to keep the law. He tried. Oh, how he tried! But he could not. On the other hand, Christians seemed to have a righteousness apart from the law. Torn between the two, Paul finally gave in to Christianity on the Damascus Road. Still others have argued that contextual factors produced the change in Paul. The members of the Religionsgeschichtliche Schule (history of religions school) maintain that Hellenistic or Jewish cultural factors finally triumphed on the Road to Damascus and Paul converted.
No! hallucinations do not produce a theology anchored in a new creation. The new creation is a pivotal aspect of the Pauline theology; pivotal because Paul felt it. At a real place in history, at a real time in history, a real historical change occurred in Saul of Tarsus because the Lord of the new creation really appeared to him and transformed him. Paul was made a new creation by the very person who brings the new creation to history.
No! moralism and cultural factors do not produce a theology rooted in the dawning of the resurrection-age. The age of resurrection had arrived, right before his eyes. What Paul had formerly dismissed as preposterous because it was to be delayed until the last day of history¨Cthat was now a reality in the midst of history. Paul experienced resurrection now! Before the last day, here and now, resurrection appears to him. The Messianic era of life for the dead has begun. And Saul¨CSaul the Pharisee¨Cwho had been dead in trespasses and sins; Saul is seized by the resurrected Jesus and raised up together with him. Paul had experienced the resurrection; on the Damascus Road, he had been raised from death to life. Saul's living death is behind him: the persecution, the blood-letting, the threats, the indictments, the hatred¨Call these are put to death. Nailed to death; buried to death. Saul the Pharisee dies on the Damascus Road. Jesus puts him to death. And he who is the firstfruits of the dead raises up Saul. He who brings the age of resurrection brings Saul into that age and Saul lives. "When we were dead in transgressions, [God] made us alive together with Christ . . . and raised us up with him . . ."
The Servant of the Lord appeared on the Damascus Road. The bond-slave of God breaks forth on the Damascus Road. The one called from his mother's womb; the one named while he was in his mother's belly¨Cthis one appears on the Damascus Road, Ebed Yahweh¨Clight to the nations; salvation to the ends of the earth. The Servant of the Lord appears on the Damascus Road and he is salvation to the Gentiles.
The servant of Satan walked on the Damascus Road. Bond-slave of the prince of darkness; drudge of the Devil¨Centhralled with enmity, murder, cursing, bloodshed. Commissioned with the ministry of death.
The servant of Satan walked on the Damascus Road and the Servant of the Lord met him and Satan fled. The bond-slave of that dark prince was emancipated. He became indentured to a new lord, to a new master, to a new Dominus. From henceforth, Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, enthralled with joy, peace, love . . .
The transformation in servitude is complete¨Cthe reversal is reversed. The great eschatological Servant of the Lord transforms this Pharisee to become his servant. From his mother's womb, he has called him; now in the fullness of time (yea, begotten out of due time), he commissions him. The Servant of the Lord sends his servant to the nations¨Cto the Gentiles. And this Pharisee, now become apostle, goes forth as light to the Gentiles. A commission of life and immortality brought to light through his gospel.
I was ask recently by one of my students the difference between James and Paul. To which I responded that one needed to look at who they were addressing in their letters. James to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad , and Paul to the God worshiping pagans. For him, God -worshipers were not pagans but were lacking in the the understanding of what was faith.. And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin. (Rom 14:23 KJV). For Paul it was these neither jew-nor-Gentile, who most needed God¡¯s help, Christ program, and his ministry.
Which explains, 1) Why his pagan readers were able to understand the Jewishness of letters after all they were after all God-Worshipers well versed in Judaism long before they heard of Paul. 2) It also explains the hatred from both the Jewish and Pagan contingents and their opposition to Paul. For Paul was "stealing" the God-worshiping supporters of the synagogues. 3) It explains why Paul would attack the works without faith which is how he would have characterized the God-worshipers and any Jew that would have found them acceptable.
It was these things the concept arose from not democratic values but family values. The same things that Jesus taught and demonstrated, Paul after his Damascus road experience, began to understand what God showed in the Garden of Eden, that we are all family, For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:26 KJV) The best example that I can give to to read is in the little book of Philemon. Where Onesimus a little servant runs away from his master Philemon and to Paul where Onesimus becomes a believer and now sent back to his master as a family member. (Read this little book) and you will understand that Jesus and Paul were on the same page. That the Kingdom of God was not sometime in the future but NOW For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:26-28 KJV). Equality did not mean everyone getting the same amount, but rather everyone getting what they needed-everyone getting enough.
The first Face (Phase) of Paul was that Paul & Jesus too for that matter was a radical!
Next time we¡¯ll take up another Phase (face) of the Apostle Paul.