In the book of Acts we have an overview of the apostle Paul’s life and ministry. And it is here that we should look first before we try to understand his letters. The apostle Peter writes,
“There are some things in them that are hard to understand…” 2 Peter 3:16 (ESV)
If Peter so cautions us, it will behoove us to take care when reading Paul’s letters, else all manner of odd ideas and theology may (and has) arise.
One of the main things to look at is how Paul represented himself when he was on trial. How did he view himself and what did he say about himself? Here are a few of the things he said in reference to himself:
“believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets…” Acts 24:14 (ESV)
“Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the Temple… have I committed any offense.” Acts 25:8 (ESV)
“…saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.” Acts 26:23 (ESV)
“It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.” Acts 23:6 (ESV)
Also, when Paul arrived in Jerusalem, prior to being arrested, the elders of the church asked him to join in a vow several brothers had taken. Why? (See Acts 21:17-26).
“Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the Law.” Acts 21:24, spoken by the elders to Paul.
In other words, many people, both Jewish followers of Yeshua (Jesus) and those not following Yeshua, were accusing Paul of no longer following the Law of God. Yet he said, and emphasized (the vow), that he continued, and always had, followed the Law!
This must be remembered in reading and interpreting his letters!
Paul’s message was, and is, “explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus (Yeshua), whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ (Messiah).” Acts 17:3 (ESV) parenthesis mine. And this message was to both Jew and Gentile, and it enraged both sides.
This leaves the question of just what did Paul teach the gentiles?
Do you think that Paul told the Gentiles that the Law of God no longer applied, or do you think Paul was telling them something else? If something else, what?
The next post will deal with Paul’s overriding message is throughout his letters. After that we can deal with specific letters and ideas.
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