Monday, December 14, 2015

A New Book On The Apostle Paul

AP: My book on the apostle Paul was published this year. The title is Guía para entender a Pablo de Tarso: Una interpretación del pensamiento paulino (Trotta, 2015), which translated means "Guide to Understanding Paul of Tarsus: An Interpretation of Pauline Thought." The book opens up with a series of questions. They are issues raised today by modern research on Paul of Tarsus that led to me to write this book. Here are the questions:
1. Has Paul been completely, or at least partially, misunderstood for the past 1900 years?  
2. Was Paul's thinking exclusively Jewish, despite the probability that he was born and schooled in the Greek world?
3. Did Paul abandon the  Jewish law? Or did he continue to live as a Jew, even externally, his whole life?
4. How should one understand the death of the Messiah according to Paul? As a vicarious sacrifice? As a payment to prevent imminent final judgment that would have lead to the condemnation of almost all mankind?
5. Is it possible to argue that Gentiles and Jews are saved not believing in Jesus Christ, but by imitating his acts of faithfulness?
6. Did Paul think that the Messiah of Israel was a mere human being, but that after his resurrection was exalted by God to divine status? ¿Did Paul destroy Israel's strict monotheism by suggesting the possible deification of Jesus? 
7. Did Paul profess the incorporation of all Gentile nations to Israel, or only a representative number of them?
8. Can it be argued that Jews in the Messianic age, inaugurated by Jesus, did not have to accept the Messiah of Israel? 
9. Did Paul defend two fundamentally different ways of salvation: one for the Gentiles through the Messiah; another, for the Jews, who did not have to believe in the Messiah?
10. Did Paul have a truly political theology?
The interpretation of Paul's letters is difficult primarily because such an endeavor is based on letters and not from more systematic discourses. From around A.D. 150 until about 1960, the interpretation of Paul's letters has basically experienced a consensus without major differences. From St. Augustine in the late fourth century to Anselm of Aosta (or Canterbury, where he was bishop) in the eleventh century, from Martin Luther and John Calvin in the sixteenth century, most have understood the letters as records of Paul ministry to the Gentiles as he preached a particular "gospel."The central idea of that gospel was as follows: With Christ came the the fullness of time. The end was approaching. It was necessary to incorporate the Gentiles with the "Israel of God," the only group for whom salvation was intended. But these Gentiles would be grafted in without them having to become Jews, that is, without having them keep the law of Moses. For the Gentiles the Mosaic law had no salvific function. In fact, the law had no such capacity even for the Jews once the Messiah came.

Such a "gospel" was received by Paul by direct revelation from God. According to this "good news," Jesus, the preexistent Son of God, was sent by the Father into the world, taking on human flesh, a descendant of David, to save the world, which was entangled in an inextricable knot of sins, unable to save itself. The world was rescued by grace through the vicarious sacrifice of Jesus, the Messiah. This was planned by God from eternity past. Jesus' death redeemed the sins of all men, thereby restoring the friendship between God and his beloved creature, the human being, and promising them a place in heaven if they place their faith, aided by divine grace, in Jesus' sacrifice on the cross.

Pauline theology, according to the consensus of centuries, was the result of Paul's "conversion" to a new religion, Judeo-Christianity or Christianity. For this reason, Paul renounced Judaism. He ceased to practice his Jewish faith. Pauline ideology represented a full-scale attack on the law of Moses, viewing the Jewish religion as legalistic and that all people, whether Jew or Gentile, could only be saved by keeping the law and, one day, stand the test of the final judgment based on their own merit and effort. The Jewish people unwillingness to accept the plan of God in Christ Jesus stands as a continued rebuke to the Jews as unbelievers. This theology of Paul is the beginning of antisemitism, which has significantly contributed to the persecution of Jews by Christians to this very day.

The modern interpretation of Paul, as the reader can guess given the initial questions (see above) and the traditional exegesis (as just described), are so divergent in some essential points that a reevaluation of Paul is in order. And so this new book on Paul.

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