“What Saint Paul Really Said
Published 20 Apr 2017
The incident in Damascus road recorded in Acts chapter 9 was about Saul’s encounter with Jesus Christ. Verse 2 tells us that Paul obtained letters of introduction to the synagogue in Damascus from the Jewish High Priest so he could “arrest” the followers of Jesus Christ there to bring them back to Jerusalem for prosecution in view of their turning away from Judaism.
The significance of the Damascus road experience for Saul as implied in chapter 2 (Saul the Persecutor, Paul the Convert) was Saul’s realization of his spiritual condition. This is seen in his statement in Romans 10:2 in which he affirmed to the Christian believers in Rome the spiritual zealousness of the Jews although theirs is not based on the knowledge of God. Paul confirms this realization in I Timothy 1: 15 in which he said “…Jesus came into this world to save sinners. I am the worst of them.” The importance of the Damascus road experience for Saul was the spiritual transformation that he has undergone from being ‘Saul the persecutor to Paul the convert and later Paul the missionary.
The incident in the Damascus road was truly meaningful for him because of the corresponding consequences on him about his intension to harass the followers of the “Way of the Lord.” He was in darkness for three days (He became blind), He was then sent to a Christian believer named Ananias to receive back his sight, and finally, Ananias confirmed to him that it was Jesus who sent him to restore back his sight. Apparently, all the questions in his mind during the three days in darkness were all answered by this confirmation, and as per words of Jesus to Ananias in Acts 9:15, Saul becomes Jesus’ apostle to the Gentiles.
On the question about the misunderstanding of euangelion or the Gospel in the modern church, chapter 2 (Saul the Persecutor, Paul the Convert) reflected the historical issues about the praise “live-and-let-live” which traced its origin from two great Jewish teachers during the Herodian period namely the Shammai who imposed strict practices and Hellel which follows a lenient position (#)e argument on whether to be strict or to be lenient caused serious misunderstanding on the concept of euangelion of the modern church as both sides breed followers which had continued the arguments. Saul belongs to the strict group and it was this strictness that led him to seek permission from the Jewish High Priest to persecute the church. The misunderstanding of euangellion in the modern church however, As Wright sees it, is seen in the way the Gospel is understood by the church. Wright claimed that during first century, the Gospel could refer both to a message proclaimed by mouth and to a book about Jesus of Nazareth. For Wright, understanding the Gospel in our own context is a misunderstanding of the Gospel. The gospel according to Wright is supposed to be a description of how people get save and not the way we interpreted what Jesus has done for us. Although these things might be true, Wright argued that it overlooked the fact that the Gospel is not all about spiritual matters. This concept is also illustrated in Paul’s usage of euangelion
Paul’s usage of the term euvangelion was highly connected not only to the Hebraic/Jewish background but also to the Graeco-Roman backgrounds. According to Wright, the word euangelion (Gospel) and euangelisthai (to preach the Gospel) are Hebrew Scriptures in Graeco-Roman usage. The problem with this according to Wright was that it follows that Paul can either be a Jewish Thinker or he had merely borrowed his fundamental ideas from Hellenism. Apparently, the Graeco-Roman background of Paul’s usage of the term was the context by which the New Testament Church was born. It was a time they were both under the political dominance of the Romans and the intellectual influence of Greece Paul’s usage of the term euangelion it self was a Greek influence as the term was a Greek word. Euangelion for Paul means proclaiming the message of salvation. That is, to rescue those who believe the message from the oppressive rule and from the influence of the Greeks towards freedom in Jesus Christ, as he stated in Gal. 5: 1.
As we read the word in Paul’s letters, these backgrounds could impact the meaning of the word in the context of slavery, sins, and freedom. Euangelion or the proclamation of the message of salvation, that is the gospel of Jesus Christ, could set free from those bondages those who believe deep in their hearts that Jesus Christ is their Lord (Romans 10: 9). The bondage of sin and death is the greatest impact the term that we can see in Paul’s letters.
The Four-fold euangelion concerning Jesus as identified by Wright include Jesus’ victory over principalities, the liberating effect of the death of Jesus on both the Jews and Gentiles from the enslaving force of the elements of the world, the culmination of his great act of obedience by giving up life on the cross that replaced the reign of sin and death with grace and righteousness, and finally, it is the announcement of royal victory.
The victory of Jesus over principalities according to Wright was the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham that he will undo the evil in the world. In this way, Wright argues that by overcoming the powers of principalities, God fulfills his covenant with Abraham. The liberating effect of Jesus’ death that replaced the reign of sin and death with grace and righteousness means that Jesus fulfills the Isaiahnic prophecy. Because of this, Jesus death as Wright claims addressed is capable to address the spiritual need of the Gentile. The culmination of his great act of obedience how ever ushered in a new standard of living and a way of obedience to God. Finally, what Jesus has accomplished on the cross. Finally, the announcement of the Royal victory recognizes not only Jesus Kingly office but it also extol him as the Lord.
What, according to Wright, does this have to do with 1st century Jewish
monotheism? How is it understood in light of that monotheism?
While the announcement of Royal victory recognizes Jesus Kingly office and extols him as Lord, Jewish of the first century insist that there can be no king but God who is YHWH of the Old Testament. According to Wright, the first century Jewish monotheism dwells on the belief on God, the God of Israel who is the God of the whole world and that all the other gods were nonsense and blasphemous. While the first century monotheism emphasized on the coming kingdom of God on earth, they also believe in the resurrection. Thus, in effect, the gospel about Jesus were not only unacceptable to them, it was blasphemous and deserves condemnation, and there can no announcement of the gospel which is in the context of Wright speaks either of the announcement of the victory in war, the birth and ascension of an emperor on the throne. Wright asserts that “the world of Paul’s audience knew of the gospel as a message about someone, most likely a king or emperor, who had won a great victory, Paul however addressed his world that new king, a new emperor, a new Lord has come.
This is understood in the light of the first century monotheism in such a way that he identified himself as a good Jewish style monotheist. In presenting the gospel of Jesus in the light of monotheism, Wright says Paul was inviting readers to see Jesus as “retaining his full identity as the man Jesus of Nazareth, but within the inner being of the one God, the God of Jewish monotheism” (p. 65).
How is Jesus now understood by Paul in light of his Jewish monotheism?
Paul began introducing Jesus by citing Galatians 4:8-11 in which Wright says “those who have believed the gospel of Jesus have come not just into new knowledge of God, but within the saving scope of the love of God. Paul understood Jesus in the light of Jewish monotheism as a distinct person which in the essence of God. Paul did not claim that Jesus is the one true God but he claims that Jesus was equal in essence with God as he stated it in Philippians 2. Thus, while Paul was extremely aware of the theological consequences of the new teaching about Christ particularly of the term gospel, yet Paul was able to establish his unique understanding of Jesus. He is the son of God which is equal in essence and nature with God but is distinct from God, one God in three persons.
What is “the Spirit,” then, for St. Paul? How is that understood in the context of St.Paul’s monotheism?The Spirit for Saint Paul is one of the three persons of the One God which is equal in essence with the Sn and the Father. Wright pointed out that Paul remains completely “a Jewish style monotheism; but the one God is now known as God, Lord and Spirit; or Father, Lord, and Spirit or, God Son and Spirit” (p. 75). According to Wright, “The one God, the creator, had now been made known in and as Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified and risen messiah, the Lord of the world. The Spirit is equal with the Father and the Son in essence. Thus, One God in three persons.
- Bible (TEV)
- Wright, N. T. What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity?Michigan: William B. Eerdsmans Publishing