It wasn’t long ago when if fellow-Christians disagreed on an issue we argued about whether we were rightly understanding Paul or Peter or whoever. Now you don’t have to do that. Even if you know you know what Paul meant you simply say, “He was wrong!”
For example, the disagreement over whether women may function as bishops/elders in Christian assemblies continues. Until very recently we argued over the meaning/setting/implications of, say, 1 Timothy 2:8-15; 1 Corinthians 11 & 14. Now we don’t have to do that. We just say, “Yes, I understand what he said but he was wrong!”
I heard one speaker recently, say with emphasis that Paul “was wrong on slavery! He was wrong!” Since he didn’t explain himself I still don’t know what it was that Paul was “wrong” on in relation to slavery. The speaker did go on to tell us that Paul was wrong on slavery, because “he couldn’t conceive of a world without slavery.” Make sense of that if you can.
That means Peter was wrong also though I can’t be sure what Peter was wrong on. I wonder if Peter was wrong in the same thing and for the same reason Paul was wrong on whatever it was that Paul was wrong about “on slavery”.
The speaker assured us in that understanding way that since he knew Paul was wrong!! on slavery (whatever that means) that we might understandingly think Paul was wrong about “sexual orientation” and “on women” and such. But if Paul was wrong on slavery, our speaker set us free to think, we might well think he was wrong!! about various forms of homosexuality in Romans 1:18-29; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 not to mention adultery and such.
The speaker didn’t say that he thought Paul was wrong on the homosexual issue but he obviously (his tone was very understanding) understood that others might well feel Paul was wrong on that, the way he said Paul was wrong!! on slavery.
Still, if I say Paul was wrong on slavery I won’t make a lot of enemies—bless me slavery not a big issue in this national neighborhood. Had the speaker come right out and expressed as his own view that, “Paul was wrong on homosexuality!” that would have been another matter altogether. To say “You might think Paul was wrong on the sexual orientation issue” gives the speaker “freedom” to move. But I strongly tend to think (I’m open to correction) that those who listened to the speaker knew exactly what he was doing and that, on the whole, they would have more respect for him had he just come right out and said, “I say Paul was wrong on the issue of sexual orientation. What he had to say about ‘sexual immorality’ was wrong!”
But no, the permission that he, in that understanding tone, gave to his hearers (young students, Sunday school teachers, struggling Christians pressed by the cultural/societal drifts); “You might well draw the conclusion that Paul was not only wrong on slavery he was wrong on many other things.” (The speaker didn’t use those words; they’re what I understood him to be saying.)
But we need to remember (a couple of our speaker’s sentences suggested this) that Paul and the most of the pagans/non-Jews were shaped by the synagogue so it should not be surprising that Paul would cling to synagogue teaching and teach that to his converts; but it’s old stuff that should be left behind (some are telling us today). But if our speaker is right it isn’t only “old” and synagogue stuff; it’s wrong!! So it isn’t just Paul. It isn’t just Paul and Peter, it’s the OT synagogue stuff as well. Oh dear. You start with Paul and before you know it everybody is under suspicion.
Actually, it’s worse than that. Where our speaker starts is with the Bible he read a couple of verses from. It’s a Bible he sits in judgment on. It makes no difference to our speaker what Paul might say or might not be saying. This man knows what Paul says and tells us Paul is wrong!! (Of course it’s always nice to know that a big name like Brueggemann and some of your colleagues agree with you.) And every text comes “under suspicion”—judged by our speaker. It isn’t just Paul.
I thought this interesting also. Our speaker was assigned Romans 1:16 (a gospel text, we were assured) and somehow we ended up hearing that Paul was wrong!! on slavery and that it would be understandable if we thought he was wrong on many other things. Our speaker said he knew Paul was right on “the gospel” (fancy that!). Wonder how he knows that? He read Romans 1:16-17 thought it certainly gospel but in 1:18 Paul lost his way in saying that Gentiles suppressed the truth they knew by the material in 1:19-31(2). But that gets tricky. Paul was right in saying idolatry and polygamy were wrong, then he is wrong in slating homosexuality and then he’s right in condemning malice, envy, murder, heartlessness and such. Makes you wonder.
In 1:22 Paul speaks of people “professing themselves to be wise they became fools.” When I was younger I used to hear a lot about the “noetic effects” of sin; I don’t hear the phrase used much these days but I’m pretty sure Romans 1:22 is not wrong!!
I’m not completely ignorant about the benefits of the fairly recent literary and semantic approach to Bible study but I can’t claim to be well-read in the literature or the practice of its benefits. But I’m currently convinced that theology has its fashions as well as its fads. I would suspect it must give a person a real buzz to see him or herself among the well-heeled in the latest fashion, having read the most recent publications, don’t you know? I’m not persuaded that that’s a bad thing but I think for some people it’s more dangerous than for others. Sin comes at us in keeping with our inner-wiring and vulnerabilities (that statement needs developed) and being out there as a leader in a small pack would be a real test (especially if you’re always addressing the young and/or inexperienced), I would think.
To have people look at me and whisper to one another, just loud for me that strains his ear to hear, “They broke the mold when they made that one, eh?” would that not be a thrill? I’d have to control my swagger, of course, and smilingly speak at my own expense; if you can fake humility you have it made.
Some still claim it as true but I don’t know if they’re right or wrong. They say that pride is the “original sin” from which all others rise. Romans 1:22ff has been used to support the view. Sometimes I think I can see it in a very thinly disguised swagger. I think God does a magnificent job if he keeps a scholar (or a wanna-be scholar) humble.
But pride isn’t the only danger; society has always tested the Church. Precisely because we shouldn’t be anti-culture it’s a real test to live in a culture and withstand what we know is corrupt in that culture. Like a slow tidal drift we can be carried out into what is way above our heads. I’m certain that God speaks to us in life as well as in Scripture but I think the Bible has been uniquely superintended by the Spirit of God and as soon as we become its judge, talking our way through it, dismissing this, denying that, pitting our own experience against the experience of called and commissioned eye-witnesses of God’s glory and of those who had discourse with them then the final authority becomes culture/society and if we believe Fish, there’s no text at all other than the one we create while we read. Then a fearful thing happens, we’re left without a moral compass.
I’ve wandered a bit, have I not? Not too far I hope. The speaker I was telling you about said, “Paul showed shockingly little interest in the historical events of Jesus’ life.“ No explanation—just the claim (an old claim). What do you suppose that means?
Yes, I know Paul didn’t write like Matthew—John. But what does the phrase suggest? What’s the first thing that came into your mind on reading the phrase? Paul didn’t quote Jesus all over the place. He didn’t tell his readers about incidents that would be rehearsed audibly by Christians in their meetings before they were committed to writing in the Gospels. We get that! But why the phrase he was “shockingly” uninterested? The speaker wanted to go on to say (repeatedly) that Paul said only three things: “Christ died, God raised Him and He’s returning.” That’s it; that’s all; that’s Paul’s gospel. That’s all Paul was interested in. Really?
So I take it that Peter was “shockingly” uninterested in Christ’s historical life. I take it that James was also “shockingly” uninterested in the earthly events of the Lord Jesus. Nether of those two said much of anything about Jesus’ earthly ministering.
“What I meant was…” the speaker would no doubt say, “that Paul so nearly doesn’t mention them at all because he was dealing with church problems and such in his epistles.” Why he didn’t say that is a mystery. Instead he said: “Paul showed shockingly little interest in the historical events of Jesus’ life“?
What the speaker wanted to do was reduce Paul’s “gospel” (he said) to three statements! Christ died, God raised Him and He’s returning.” That’s it, that’s all, he said.
Not a word about the Incarnation of God, not a word about His historical life that enabled Him to offer Himself as a spotless sacrifice. Not a word about Pneumatology (about the Lord Jesus making Himself present in His Body by the Holy Spirit! That’s not part of Paul’s gospel? Paul’s gospel didn’t include “life in the Spirit”? Didn’t include the truth of the indwelling Christ who by His Spirit produces the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:19-26)!
And we’re supposed to take this man’s word that Paul is wrong in anything?
The Spirit of Christ which was in Paul led him to write Galatians 5:19-26 about the fruit of the Spirit and he slated sexual immorality (among other things) as evil but our speaker casts doubt on Paul’s teaching on sexual orientation! Sigh.
I’m just about finished. But I have to say when I sit for a moment and reflect on the matter it startles me. Even on a surface consideration. Here’s this speaker and here is Paul. Paul, whom the speaker concedes got the gospel right (can you imagine that?), Paul one of the most (maybe the most) influential missionaries and theologians in human history and this speaker dismisses him on the one hand as wrong!! and patronizes him on the other with, “Well, you got the gospel right.” Is that not startling?
And then, he grants permission to young students, Sunday School teachers, people wrestling with how they are to respond to the Holy Spirit in respect to the fruit of the Spirit over against the works of the flesh—the speaker grants them permission to tell Paul he is wrong!
It’s never only one writer/speaker! Once you attack Paul you’re compelled to attack others and then more and then the entire Book. Then we who talk so much about “Post Modernism” or “Post Liberalism” or post something else find that we’ve never really left the Enlightenment. The Gospels come under fire and we’re left again with a gentlemanly Jesus who just wants us all to be happy and live as we wish as long as we don’t hurt anybody. I wonder how long it would take for us to look at Paul again and say he was wrong!! about the gospel as well?
We have these red letter Bibles. It’d be interesting to see what the Bible would be like if our speaker were now to color it! What if our wise speaker now produced a version of the Bible? Xing out the statements he knows are false! I wonder how Romans 1 and Galatians 5 would fare? Or have him set aside the Bible we have and write one for us in light of his wisdom. Can you imagine?
Imagine the Jim McGuiggan Bible rather than the one we have.
God deliver us!