Paul of Tarsus

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PAUL OF TARSUS

PAUL OF TARSUS (d. c. 65 c.e.), the "Apostle to the Gentiles." The sources for Paul's life and doctrines are in the New Testament – in the Acts of the Apostles and in the seven Pauline epistles known to be genuine (which are the oldest part of the New Testament). The Epistle to the Hebrews does not even pretend to be written by Paul, the three so-called Pastoral Epistles (the two Epistles to Timothy and the Epistle to Titus) are pseudepigrapha, and there are doubts about the authorship of the Epistle to the Ephesians, the Epistle to the Colossians, and the second Epistle to the Thessalonians.

His Life

Paul was a Jew, born during the first years of the common era. His original name was Saul, and he was a native of Tarsus in Cilicia and possessed Roman citizenship, but according to Jerome (De Viris Illustribus, ch. 5), his family originated from Giscala (Gush ?alav) in Galilee. This may explain his adherence to the Pharisaic form of Judaism (Acts 26:5) and his studies in Jerusalem, where, according to Acts 22:3, he was a pupil of Rabban *Gamaliel the Elder; however, neither his Jewish nor his Greek learning was extensive or deep. Initially, he was a fanatical persecutor of the Christians and, according to the account in the New Testament, he was sent to Damascus on the authority of the high priest in order to arrest any Christians that he found there and bring them to Jerusalem for trial; on the way he had a vision of *Jesus, and he converted to Christianity and was baptized in Damascus.

He made three missionary journeys, converting gentiles to Christianity and founding Christian communities. He visited, among other places, Cyprus, Asia Minor, and Antioch; he went to Greece and stayed for a long time in Corinth, and later spent two years in Ephesus in Asia Minor. It was from Greece that he set out for Jerusalem, together with delegates from the churches of Asia and Greece, carrying contributions that had been collected to relieve the poverty of the mother Church of Jerusalem.

Paul was not the first to preach Christianity to gentiles, but he was the most important of these missionaries. The first followers of Jesus formed a group within Judaism, and gentile Christians became a serious problem for the mother Church. Finally, it adopted the position that the Mosaic Law was not to be imposed upon them (Acts 15) and permitted Paul's mission to the gentiles (Gal. 2:6–9). But not only did Paul refuse to restrict his activities to gentiles, he also strongly opposed the observance of all Jewish practices in his gentile Christian communities. The complexity of the situation became evident during Paul's last visit to Jerusalem. He had in his previous missionary activities already been persecuted by gentiles as well as by Jews, who were well aware of his teachings. So it began to be said in Jerusalem that he was teaching "the Jews who are among the gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs" (Acts 21:21). Although the leaders in Jerusalem succeeded in appeasing the local community, Jews from Asia instigated violent riots against Paul when he visited the Temple. In the end, he was rescued by Roman soldiers, who put him under protective arrest; he spent two years in detention in Caesarea and was then sent for a decision on his case to Rome, where he passed a further two years in custody. According to a well-established tradition, he was slain there during the Neronian persecution of Christians.

His Attitude toward the Jewish Law

Although Paul's assertion that "no human being will be justified by the works of the law" (Rom. 3:20) can be understood in a broader theological and philosophical sense, what he was chiefly opposing was the Law of the Jews. Paul's concept that Christ's death abolished Mosaic Law cannot be explained as a new development of the eschatological idea which sometimes occurs in later rabbinic sources, namely that in the world to come the commandments will no longer be valid; of this idea there is no trace in his teachings.

Paul's attitude toward Jewish Law is extreme and cannot be explained as stemming only from his theology of the Cross. For him the old Mosaic covenant was "a dispensation of death, carved in letters on stone… a dispensation of condemnation… [which]… fadeth away," in comparison with the new covenant, which is the "dispensation of the Spirit" (ii Cor. 3:6–11). "For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression" (Rom. 4:15), and "all who rely on works of the law are under a curse" (Gal. 3:10–14).

Sometimes Paul's argument against the commandments of Judaism comes close to a rationalistic, liberal approach. Thus he says: "Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience, for the earth is the Lord's and everything in it" (i Cor. 10:23–26). But Paul's argumentation often goes beyond a purely liberal attitude and is not based solely on christological grounds. For him, there is no essential difference between the days of the week and the different kinds of food.

It seems clear from all his assertions that Paul's conversion meant for him liberation from the yoke of Jewish Law. The new covenant of Christianity was freedom from the law.

Paul could not say in so many words that Jewish Law had also ceased to have validity for Jews converted to Christianity, not only because he maintained that he who accepts the validity of the law and transgresses it is condemned, and because he did not want to shame the "weak brethren," but also because it was obviously unwise to provoke the wrath of the mother Church in Jerusalem. He thought, moreover, that "everyone should remain in the state in which he was called" (i Cor. 7:17–20). Although, for the purpose of winning over Jews to Christianity, he tended to "become as a Jew" (i Cor. 19–21), to the Jews themselves it seemed that he was unwilling to fulfill the commandments of the law in his private life.

Paul's numerous expressions of his attitude toward the law could not be fully accepted by later Christianity, since they imply opposition to all religious legal obligations; but, although he was not the only early Christian who, by abrogation of the Jewish halakhah, paved the way for the separation of Christianity from Judaism, his arguments against the Jewish way of life had a very strong impact upon the development of gentile Christianity. As the Apostle to the Gentiles and an opponent of the Jewish religious way of life, he aroused opposition from all groups of Jewish Christians, who were united in their polemics against him.

In contrast to Paul's hostile attitude toward the law, he always – with the exception of an anti-Jewish passage in his earliest letter (i Thess. 2:14–16) – showed a positive attitude toward the Jews themselves. He was certain that the election of Israel was not abrogated and that, after the gentiles had accepted the new faith, Israel would also become Christian, and so "all Israel will be saved" (Rom. 9–11).

bibliography:

W. Wrede, Paulus (Ger., 1905, Eng., 1908); A. Schweitzer, Paul and his Interpreters (1912); K. Barth, Der Roemerbrief (1929); W.L. Knox, St. Paul (1932); J. Klausner, From Jesus to Paul (1943); H.J. Schoeps, Theologie und Geschichte des Judenchristentums (1949); idem, Paul, the Theology of the Apostle in the Light of Jewish Religious History (1961); idem, Das Judenchristentum (1964); M. Buber, Zwei Glaubensweisen (1950); L. Baeck, in: jjs, 3 (1952), 93–110; A.D. Nock, St. Paul (1955); W.D. Davies, Paul and the Rabbinic Judaism (19552); A. Schweitzer, The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle (1956); S. Sandmel, The Genius of Paul (1958); G. Strecker, Das Judenchristentum in den Pseudoklementinen (1958); D. Flusser, in: Scripta Hierosolymitana, 4 (1958), 215–66; S. Pines, The Jewish Christians of the Early Centuries of Christianity According to a New Source (1966); G. Bornkamm, Paulus (1969); S. Ben-Chorin, Paulus (Ger., 1970). add. bibliography: J. Murphy O'Connor, Paul: A Critical Life (1998).

[David Flusser]