Theology of Paul

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Paul gives two different accounts of the source of his theology. In Gal. 1:11-12 he insists that he did not receive it from men but "through a revelation of Jesus Christ," referring to his experience on the Damascus Road. But in I Cor. 15:3-8 he pictures himself as simply passing on the tradition he had received about Christ's atoning death, burial, and resurrection. Some scholars (e.g., Drane) maintain that two different Pauls are speaking in these passages: the former an enthusiastic individualist, whose theology was based on the immediate inspiration of the Holy Spirit; the latter an older, more sober Paul, whose individualism has been curbed by the experience of conflict and the need to come to terms with the other apolstles' understanding of the faith. Others (e.g., Bruce) argue that Paul's acceptance of the radically new tradition about Jesus, in opposition to "the traditions of my fathers" (Gal. 1:14), was a direct result of the Damascus Road revelation, so that the one complements the other.

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Either way, it is a problem to know why Paul presents the gospel in terms so different from those which Jesus himself used. For instance, why is "justification by faith", scarcely present in Jesus' teaching, so prominent in Paul's, and why does Paul virtually ignore Jesus' great theme of the kingdom of God? Plainly Paul felt himself empowered, as an apostle of Christ, to speak in his name (II Cor. 13:3) under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 2:12-13, 16) in ways in which the earthly Christ had never spoken. IN fact, his thought is fantastically creative combination of elements drawn together, under the orchestration of the Spirit, from many different sources: from Jesus' earthly teaching (e.g., I Cor. 7:10-11; 9:14), from his own background in Pharisaism (e.g., Rom. 10:6-9; Gal. 4:22-26), from earlier Christian traditions (e.g., I Cor. 15:3-7; Rom. 3:24-25; Phil. 2:6-11), from secular Greek thought (e.g., Rom. 2:15; Col. 3:18-4:1), from his own insight (Eph. 3:4), and above all from the OT (Rom. 15:4; II Tim. 3:15-16). Opinions are of course divided as to whether Paul thus distorted the message of Jesus or not.

(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in December 1997.

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