I've read a number of books on Paul in the past year and am currently reading a Bruce Chilton book on him. I am struck by how random it seems the currents were that shifted and moved into what became Christianity in its many forms and ways.
Paul was an extreme devotee of the Pharisaic ways, studying in Jerusalem to become a Pharisee for probably about 4 years. He was thoroughly a true believer. He was extremely one pointed, excluding all other possibilities. Then he had a vision and believed himself a new Moses who was to take the message of Christ to Gentile, non-Jews. This flew in the face of everyone involved in Judaism and The Way of Christ at the time, it was even abhorrent to them. They all had stayed within Judaism and stayed in the synagogues. Paul had a strained relationship with James and Peter, and they sent him out of Jerusalem, as he was stirring up big controversy. He was in Nabatia for some time and made the ruler extremely angry. He wrote about his many internal conflicts and seemed to not consider himself a worthy being. He was beaten, chased, imprisoned, shunned and treated with utmost disrespect. It is thought that he was killed by Nero around 64 C.E.
Yet, in the end, Paul's view prevailed. It is said that Augustine was the most influential Christian theologian in the first thousand years of Christianity. Paul's words converted him. He based a lot of his theology on translations and mis-translations of Paul's authentic and non-authentic letters. Paul was simply writing to different groups in different cities, advising them on their situations. I'm sure he never thought his letters would become scriptures. I'm sure that after his death, his disciples never thought their letters written in his name would ever become scriptures either.
It was a messy, confusing, frightful time in the 1st century. A wide array of thought, of groups, of teachings whirled around. There was almost total illiteracy (estimated at least 95%). There was extreme poverty. There was no science. There was a violent and brutal Rome in charge.
Emerging from this chaos, I think it is no wonder there are to this day so many ways to interpret what it means to be a Christian. I don't suppose there will ever be unity on this either. I do wish all those who endeavor to follow Christ would emphasize his teaching of Oneness, forgiveness, generosity, kindness, prayer and honoring the sacredness of all. Maybe the details are not so important. Maybe the big picture is actually bigger and more meaningful to our walk on earth.
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