Hey, Paul; You Talkin’ to Me?

modern-paul

What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away. 1 Cor 7:29-31

From this writing (among some of his others), it sounds as if St. Paul thought the end of the world was near. If that was the case, then Paul had no idea that his words would be preserved for thousands of years and presented by the church as the Word of God.

So then, why do we assume that when Paul is  writing to people in the early church  – when he answers those unknown questions that were put to him – why do we assume that he is also talking to us, today, in 21st century America?

For sure, there is good stuff in Paul’s writings.  There is much to learn from what he has to say and a lot of his advice is well worth heeding, even 20 centuries later. But some of what he says just doesn’t make sense to our post-modern ears. Until we stop trying to make this first century square Jewish peg fit into each succeeding generation’s ever shifting cultural inputs, trying instead  to see Paul for who he was, when he was and where he was – then we are destined to find  ourselves bogging down over his words, words that he never intended for our ears.   I doubt if  Paul would ever have imagined his letters causing  so much trouble for us, especialy as he likely didn’t even think there would ever be an ‘us’.

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  1. #1 by logiopsychoambrosiaivorytowerpath on March 26, 2009 - 11:11 pm

    Okay, so let’s revive Paul–

    An orthodox Jew who made tents, and in his spare time, he wrote letters to churches.

    Have you ever slept in a canvas tent? Stinko-city.

    Have you ever met a real desheveled academic? Double Stinko-city.

    How about an orthodox Jew with an unkempt beard and with questionable hygeine?

    That’s the reality of Paul. He’s not a nice and clean guy in a searsucker suit, carrying a Scofield Reference Bible (Sorry Mike Warnke) and passing out Chick tracts.

    Picture a guy with a pocket filled with feather quills; wearing an ink-stained toga, living among a bunch of stinky vellum and without doubt, stacks of scrolls and piles of letters and codices cluttering up his tent (and later, his “own rented house”).

    • #2 by Christian Beyer on March 27, 2009 - 6:35 am

      Sure. It can be productive to try and see what these icons were ‘really’ like, and attempt to see their world as they might have.

  2. #3 by Steve B on March 27, 2009 - 4:09 am

    Uh..the “Steve” is not the “Steve B.” Thus, the “B” at the end, to avoid confusion, unless of course the other Steve’s last name is Brown, or some such, and he starts adding his last initial to his sig, and then things get ALL sorts of screwed up.

  3. #4 by Steve B on March 27, 2009 - 4:10 am

    Just asking, but if we can so readily discard Paul’s teachings as culturally biased, does that not give us the latitude to reinterpret the “Thou Shall Not Kill” provision, and support the Death Penalty without pause?

    • #5 by Christian Beyer on March 27, 2009 - 6:33 am

      Sorry for the mix-up. Have you ever considered ‘Steven’ or ‘Stephen’, to avoid confusionin situations like this? 🙂

      Again, I am not suggesting that we ‘discard’ (as in remove from the Bible) any of Paul’s teachings, that we just take them with a grain of cultural and historical salt. A lot, maybe in most, of what he says speaks to the universal and timeless qualities of Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection.

      Even if “thou shalt not kill” was rooted in the tendencies of a cultural epoch (when in fact it is quite the opposite – killing was (and still is) acceptable to most people under certain circumstances- that admonishment has been said to ban murder – something that may not define capital punishment. And it is a repeated theme in scripture that is a whole heck of a lot more important than whether or not a woman can be a senior pastor in the SBC.

  4. #6 by Joshua on May 3, 2009 - 7:28 pm

    Was just browsing the web and I randomly came across this post.

    Christian Beyer, you are incorrect.

    From this writing (among some of his others), it sounds as if St. Paul thought the end of the world was near. If that was the case, then Paul had no idea that his words would be preserved for thousands of years and presented by the church as the Word of God.

    You speculate. In 2 Timothy 4, Paul is discussing his imminent departure (i.e. death), and talks about how false teachers will arise, and what Timothy needs to do (“preach the word” etc.) Paul does mention “the appearing” and “that Day” but before this can happen, the false teachers must arise (and, the son of perdition must be revealed, 2 Thess. 2:3). So it is clear that Paul indeed considered the days to be short (knowing that no one can know the exact Day), but he considered the days to his death even shorter.

    Furthermore, Paul ascribes divine authority to himself many times over (e.g. ending of Romans; 1 Cor. 14:37; Galatans 1:11-12), and Peter (Jesus’ appointed rock of the church, Matthew 16:18) refers to Paul’s epistles as Scriptures (i.e. equal to the Old Testament) in 2 Peter 3:16.

    Thus, we have Jesus appearing directly to Paul, we have Jesus’ representative Peter calling Paul’s epistles Scripture, and in those Scriptures Paul claims divine revelation and authority. This is self-binding. If you deny Paul, you deny Jesus Christ.

    And concerning your attitude of cultural relativism, the reasons Paul gives for some of his more controversial writings — such as not allowing women to teach or even speak in church, or requiring a head covering — are not cultural reasons. After saying that women must be silent in church, Paul says this is a commandment from the Lord (1 Cor. 14:37)! After saying that women must have a head covering, he doesn’t say “because it is our cultural custom” (he shows sensitivities to customs in other places, 1 Cor. 9:20), he says, “because of the angels” (1 Cor. 11:10).

    You just don’t know the Scripture. The words of Paul concerning you: “This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.” Ephesians 4:17-19

    • #7 by Christian Beyer on May 3, 2009 - 11:12 pm

      “You just don’t know the Scripture”

      Joshua, this a typical response, and with all due respect, a typical cop-out. I would imagine that I know the Bible at least as well as you, it’s not that big of a book. And yes, I do speculate. As do you (unless you have a direct line to God).

      I could say that you do not know your history, because it seems that you are insistent that we must rely on the Bible and the Bible alone to help explain what it is the authors of the Bible were trying to say. But we haven’t talked long enough for me to make that assumption.

      Besides, for Paul to claim that his words were inspired by God (you may think the same for yourself or for others at times, and perhaps rightly so) does not mean that all of Paul’s opinions and advice were meant for anyone other than those he was speaking to at the time. It likely means that his words have an inspiration that comes from having an understanding and acceptance of Jesus’ Gospel message. Or do we think that God spoke directly to Paul? Or maybe it was the angels who were offended by bare headed women who were coaching him?

      As for Peter’s remarks about Paul’s writing, I think he was making more of a point about how some people tend to distort what Paul had to say, perhaps twisting his words to suit their own particular mindset, as they often do with other writings. Precisely the point of my post (although I wouldn’t think of using words like ‘ignorant’ or ‘unstable’, as the NIV has Peter using).

      Thanks for stopping by. And in keeping with the spirit of scriptural tit-for-tat, I’ll leave you with (what might be) Paul’s words concerning you:

      You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Romans 2:1

      Call me lewd, unclean and greedy, will ya? 😉

      • #8 by Joshua on May 4, 2009 - 3:53 pm

        Christian (Beyer, that is), it is “a typical response, and with all due respect, a typical cop-out” for you to misuse Scripture again, particularly one about judging.

        There is evil judgment spoken of in Scripture – Romans Romans 2:1-3; James 4:11-12

        And there is righteous judgment compared with evil judgment in Scripture – Matthew 7:1-5 (note v. 5); John 7:24

        And there is one statement by Paul that spiritual people judge all things – 1 Corinthians 2:15

        Using Romans 2:1 as if it obliterates every other Scripture is clearly a misuse, “cherry-picking” as it’s called. Besides, the verse speaks for itself. It is talking of an evil judgment (“you who pass judgment do the same things”).

        And yes, I do speculate. As do you (unless you have a direct line to God).

        Speculation is not profitable. Are you suggesting that the truth cannot be known? I do not believe that. If I read something in the Bible I’m more than just a bit inclined to believe it. That is not speculation. And, what I have is not a direct line to God, but what I do have is described in 1 Corinthians 2:16.

        I could say that you do not know your history, because it seems that you are insistent that we must rely on the Bible and the Bible alone to help explain what it is the authors of the Bible were trying to say.

        Yes! 2 Timothy 3:16-17

        Besides, for Paul to claim that his words were inspired by God (you may think the same for yourself or for others at times, and perhaps rightly so) does not mean that all of Paul’s opinions and advice were meant for anyone other than those he was speaking to at the time. It likely means that his words have an inspiration that comes from having an understanding and acceptance of Jesus’ Gospel message. Or do we think that God spoke directly to Paul?

        Paul had actual revelatory experiences in the same vein as the Revelation of John. 2 Corinthians 12:1-9. This is NOT the same as merely “having an understanding and acceptance of Jesus’ Gospel message.” And how would this understanding and acceptance come, anyway? “For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:12).

        As for Peter’s remarks about Paul’s writing, I think he was making more of a point about how some people tend to distort what Paul had to say, perhaps twisting his words to suit their own particular mindset, as they often do with other writings.

        This is according to your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5) but not according to what it plainly says. You should not lean on your own understanding, or trust in yourself. You should literally be insecure about and untrustworthy of your own heart. “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength” (Jeremiah 17:5).

        I don’t know if you’re greedy, but if you teach that you can disobey God’s Word, then you are certainly lewd and unclean.

  5. #9 by Christian Beyer on May 4, 2009 - 6:06 pm

    Joshua, this is what I would expect from someone who’s blog is devoted to the idea of righteous judging. But how can you be so sure that your judgment is righteous and not evil?

    And I am glad that you picked up on the ‘cherry picking’ of scripure, because that is precisely what you do when you toss Bible verses out there to prove your point. None of that works or is accurate. All of scripture must be taken in context, of the surrounding scriptures as well as the time, the place, the man (or woman) who wrote it and their historical audience. I tossed that line at your from Romans, as I said, in keeping with the spirit of ‘dueling scriptures’. But I agree that it is a complete waste of time.

    Of course, you speculate on the meaning of scriptures. You have to because it is obviously not as clear as many of us might like. (2 Corinthians 12:1-9 is a perfect example). Truth can be known and it is revealed in scriptures (among other places) but in order to perceive this truth one need not accept all scriptural details as facts, or as being applicable to us today.

    Now, I take seriously those words of Jesus (and Paul) who commands us not to judge. By promoting human judgment of others, aren’t you being disobedient? Are you maybe just a bit lewd and unclean yourself here? Personally I don’t have any reason to think so, but if you believe what you are saying…watch out for that beam!

    • #10 by Joshua on May 4, 2009 - 7:59 pm

      Asking me how I can be sure that my judgment is righteous and not evil is the same asking me if I am sure of my salvation. I don’t have a license of election, or a Get Out of Hell Free card, all I have is my life to examine and the Word of God to examine it against. I believe that I am keeping God’s commandments (1 John 2:3), so I believe that I have a right to judge spiritual things (1 Cor. 2:15).

      I do take criticism seriously because I criticize people all the time. So, if someone criticizes me, I’m obligated to examine myself the same why I demand others to examine themselves. But, for this to happen, you need to be showing me from Scripture how I am cherry-picking those verses. You gave one verse about judging; I gave several, so right now it is perfectly reasonable for me to believe that I am right. And if you don’t give me a reason to believe otherwise (i.e., a Scripture reference that proves me wrong), how are you helping me with empty words? Show some love (Lev. 19:17-18) and rebuke me in righteousness.

      There are some Scriptures that are indeed hard to understand, particularly in Paul’s writings (2 Peter 3:16), but as that verse says, it is the unstable and unlearned who twist what is written. That doesn’t mean the truth can’t be known (2 Peter 3:18). It is known by those who have the spirit of understanding (Isaiah 11:2). Jesus promised the Helper, He helps people understand the Scriptures (e.g. John 14:26).

      Now, I take seriously those words of Jesus (and Paul) who commands us not to judge. By promoting human judgment of others, aren’t you being disobedient?

      No because I don’t take Jesus’ words out of context. His full discourse on judgment reads:

      Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

      Actually, the next verse may be somewhat connected as well: “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces” (v. 6, an example of a dog/swine whom you have heard of would be Benny Hinn). If you didn’t judge anyone at all in any way, how would you know who’s a dog or a swine? Everyone judges every day… it’s a fact, there is no way not to judge people. Jesus is simply placing a godly regulation on a necessary part of our existence.

      You also seemed to have forgotten (in an extremely short time) John 7:24. That is Jesus talking.

  6. #11 by Christian Beyer on May 5, 2009 - 12:07 am

    Joahua, in John 7:24 Jesus is telling certain religious critics of his that their ‘judging’ of his heart, based upon their rigid interpretation of the law, is hypocritical. He’s not encouraging them to continue to self-righteously judge others but to open their own eyes and see what’s really important.

    You are right. In Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount, everything Jesus says is inextricably tied together and should not be understood independently.

    When we continue to openly and verbally judge the spiritual behavior of others we are often quite unaware of where our own challenges lie, challenges that are often quite visible to those we are judging. Again, we come off as hypocrites and end up worse off then when we started. First remove that plank, Jesus says, then you can remove that speck in the others eye. There lies the problem. Once one plank is removed, there is another in it’s place. In fact, we can have no bigger plank than the one that comes from thinking we have finally become ‘plank free’.

    When we insist upon ‘evangelizing’ to those who are not interested we become annoyances and they will eventually lose their patience and turn upon us LIKE dogs or swine, especially if they can see that beam protruding from our holy eyes. We are not to think of them as dogs or swine; that type of condescending mind set rarely wins over any converts. And it poisons our heart.

    “it’s a fact, there is no way not to judge people”

    Sure there is a way. Just as there is a way to love all people. Or a way to forgive all people. How many times have I heard people say that this goes against human nature. But Jesus shows us a Way to rise above human nature. Not that anyone is perfect. But when we catch ourselves judging others, God will usually point out that our job is not to judge, but to forgive and to love. It helps to understand that no matter how holy or righteous we strive to be, we are really no better than the worst of humanity. “There but for the grace of God go I” is a pretty good mantra.

    • #12 by Joshua on May 5, 2009 - 1:42 am

      Ok, well it is clear that I have said what I needed to say and you will not be convinced. Through experience I’ve learned to stop here, though I should have learned from the Word of God much sooner (Proverbs 9:8). I just hope that you will beg God to reveal himself to you (e.g. Proverbs 2).

      • #13 by Christian Beyer on May 5, 2009 - 6:36 am

        Are you a fan of Jack Van Impe? This monster is chuckling. 😉

        Joshua, God reveals himself to all of us, every day. Like Brother Lawrence, we just need to be open to his presence. I hope that as you continue along your path that you will come to an understanding of God that will free you from the religious burdens of orthodoxy thereby permitting you that abundant life promised us. Don’t allow others to think for you.

      • #14 by Joshua on May 5, 2009 - 10:37 am

        Jack Van Impe and Brother Lawrence are false teachers

  7. #15 by Christian Beyer on May 5, 2009 - 12:21 pm

    Jack Van Impe? False? Heck, no. He is gen-u-ine – one of a kind. God broke the mold after he made him, brother.

    And Brother Lawrence never claimed to be a teacher. Just a cook. Never wrote a book, never gave a sermon.

    Is there anyone you consider to be an authentic teacher? Isaac Parker perhaps? Roy Bean?

    • #16 by Joshua on May 5, 2009 - 10:24 pm

      I’ve never heard of Isaac Parker or Roy Bean. According to Wikipedia they don’t appear to be preachers…

      Due to the unpopularity that preaching truth brings, it is very difficult to find “gen-u-ine” godly men. In fact, even those you think to be godly can later appear to be hypocrites. In the United States I know of one guy named Darwin Fish who does not lie about what the Bible teaches. There may be others but they’re unknown — probably too poor to afford managing a website. And historically, I know of none except those mentioned in the Bible. History is sandy ground, and I expect any honest preacher would quickly be silenced and forgotten.

  8. #17 by Christian Beyer on May 5, 2009 - 11:30 pm

    Well! We finally agree on something. I’m not too crazy about most preachers myself. As for Parker and Bean – I was jes’ funnin’ ya. They were both known as ‘hangin’ judges’. Get it? Judges?

    I agree that many ‘godly’ men and women are probably not too well known, not because their messages were squashed necessarily but because these people are so dang humble that we just don’t always notice them. They’re doing God’s good work but tend to keep their mouth’s shut while doing it. No fuss, no muss, just a lot of love and compassion. And your are right, they probably don’t have a whole heck of a lot of money. Something our more popular preachers don’t seem to have much trouble finding.

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