v33no3and4y1978ocr.pdf [article]

The apostle Paul has always been a problem for the Church, for theology, and for preaching. If someone says that Paul is not a problem, then we can probably guess that they have not understood all of Paul. The problem is such that one could almost write a history of the Church as a seriesofattempts to approach, understand, and apply Paul to the current situation, with a diversity of solutions arising. The basis of the problem is the contradictory features of Paul's epistles. He is agonizingly
more » ... ecific at many points, speaking to situations which have long since passed and which we today cannot fully reconstruct, yet at other times he can speak with a universal flair. At times he appears to be the first systematic theologian, yet at other times his thought seems so difficult to organize that we conclude he was certainly not systematic, and only in a general sense a theologian. At one moment his thought is logically evolving out of stated principles; at the next moment he makes a quick appeal to a religious or even a non-religious authority to state his case. At times he upholds all of the social distinctions of the Roman Empire and, without qualification, puts them forth as the abiding norm for Christian faith; at other times he totally repudiates and seeks to overthrow the secular structures through the Christian community. The underlying problem is fundamental: there are two Pauls. One is the radical, antinomian, libertarian Paul who calls for a total freedom from all forms of oppression and domination in the world, with divine love and Christian koinonia replacing the strife of the world. The other Paul is the arch-conservative and reactionary. This is the Paul who preaches total subservience to God, which is interpreted then as a total subservience to the powers of evil: slave masters, men, and Caesar. Without exception woman is to obey her husband, women are to be silent in the church, the slave is to obey the master, homosexuals are cast out of the community, and only the WCTU is left worthy of heaven. The radical Paul preaches an absolute justification by grace through faith alone; the reactionary Paul compiles a list of good deeds for people to imitate. The radical Paul has a vision of history where there is no more social distinction, where the class conflicts between Jew and Greek, slave and master, male and female have been resolved, and where loving unity is the norm. The reactionary Paul says to accept the world the way it is, not expecting things to get better: be glad, if you are a slave, that at least you are "in Christ." The radical Paul has been an important source for most reforms of the institutional church; the reactionary Paul has been an important source for those seeking to protect the church from any reform. 1 However, despite the occasional gains by the radical Paul, the reactionary Paul is alive and well, and has been exposing his head with greater ferocity in recent years. The United States could conduct genocide in Vietnam, without opposition by the institutional churches, because the words of Romans 13 echoed in everyone's ears. The civil rights movement had to wrestle with that text as well, and also with the fact that, for several centuries, it was Paul who gave the central theological justification for the inhuman crimes of American slavery: slaves are called to be slaves, and slaves they should remain! More recently, the contemporary women's movement found Paul to be a major obstacle, and more recently still there has been renewed concern to explore Paul's RICK HORDERN ,s a Ph.D. candidate at Union, in Systematic Theology. He is a former editor of Podium.
doi:10.7916/d8-gey2-ew04 fatcat:hrgg26zdsvgfbga5vy6xwaqg4y