Friday, January 21, 2011

Paul's Theology: A Brief Overview

Paul’s theology can best be described as being Christocentric[1]. Paul’s view was that salvation was found “in Christ” and the church is the body of Christ. This likely stems from his conversion experience on the Damascus road when Jesus asked Paul why he was persecuting Him? Of course, Paul had been persecuting Christians and was taken aback when asked this question. Paul realized that by persecuting Christians, he was also persecuting Jesus Himself! Paul realized that Christians are the living extension of Jesus.

Paul’s discussion of the work of Christ was mainly functional. The main point of in Paul’s message is that the work of Christ is the focal point of God’s plan of redemption[2]. By fulfilling the legal demands of the law, Christ eliminated the curse of the law.

To be “in Christ” is to be a part of the body of Christ with Christ as the body’s head. Such language is not surprising given the use of similar concepts by the Stoics[3]. For the Stoics, the universe could be thought of as a “body” with a large diversity of parts yet all working together in harmony. Such imagery would have been readily understood by Paul’s audience.

That said, it was not the Stoics that taught Paul to think of the church in such terms. Again, we must return to Paul’s conversion experience on the Damascus road. As stated previously, it was there that Paul came to understand that his persecution of the church was also persecuting Jesus Himself!

Any discussion of Paul’s theology must begin with his claim that his gospel came by revelation from Jesus Christ (Gal. 1:12)[4]. This obviously refers to Paul’s conversion experience on the Damascus Road (Gal. 1:16). Paul makes clear that his gospel did not come through a human being. Carson and Moo rightly point out that Paul’s gospel was a supernatural one and we must never forget this fact[5]. While the content of Paul’s gospel was from direct revelation from Jesus, the form Paul’s gospel took reflects a historical knowledge of the gospel events[6].

Paul also drew much from the law. Paul viewed the law in itself as holy, righteous, and good (Rom. 7:12)[7]. Paul viewed the law as the standard of righteousness of a holy God. Along the same lines, Paul owes much to the Old Testament which he knew so well. Of course, Paul always views the OT through the lens of Jesus’ fulfillment of OT prophets. This is interesting as one must assume that Paul’s Jewish upbringing must have played a large role in the development of his thoughts.

The question of Paul’s authority is a good one. Many claimed that Paul was not a proper apostle since he was not one of the original twelve nor had he been accredited by the original apostles in Jerusalem[8]. Paul’s response to this in Galatians is both strong and simple; he doesn’t need authorization from Jerusalem or anywhere else since he had himself had met the risen Christ on the Damascus road (1:10-2:21). In fact, Paul saw no difference, other than the lapse in time, between the risen Lord’s appearance to him and the other apostles[9]. Frankly, I couldn’t agree more with Paul’s assessment!


[1] Lea, Thomas D., and David Alan Black. The New Testament: It's Background And Message (2nd ed). (Nashville: Broadman & Hollman Publishers, 2003), 354.

[2] IBID, 356.

[3] Drane, John. Introducing the New Testament. (Oxford: Lion Publishing PLC, 1999), 382.

[4] Carson, D A, and Douglas J Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 370

[5] IBID

[6] Lea, Thomas D., and David Alan Black. The New Testament: It's Background And Message (2nd ed). (Nashville: Broadman & Hollman Publishers, 2003), 336.

[7] IBID, 354.

[8] Drane, John. Introducing the New Testament. (Oxford: Lion Publishing PLC, 1999), 297.

[9] Bruce, F. F. Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free. (Grand Rapids, MI / Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977), 145.

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