“I was given a thorn in my body because of the outstanding revelations I’ve received so that I wouldn’t be conceited.” (2 Corinthians 12:7)
For the most part, I’m glad good ole boy Paul, the apostle once named Saul, was ambiguous about his “thorn in the side.”
Paul believed that thorn was a prickly gift from Satan, and prevented him from being conceited. It punctured the balloon of his vanity; it was the discarded banana skin threatening his next step; it was the “angel” on a shoulder reminding him of his foolishness even as the “devil” on the other side encouraged him to brag about his Christ-inspired revelations and Godly experiences.
Professional and amateur scholars* have wondered about Paul’s thorn for centuries. What was his “problem?” Continue reading →
“The gods of this age has blinded the minds of those who don’t have faith so they couldn’t see the light of the gospel that reveals Christ’s glory.” (II Corinthians 4:4)
Paul likely never read a capital “G” Gospel.
The mercurial apostle lived and died before the second and third generation of believers began to circulate the manuscripts of what were eventually named Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John.
Paul, who wrote the earliest words of the Christian Testament, knew the Torah. He knew the prophets and their longings, all meticulously inscribed on parchment. Those writings, including the Psalms memorized for worship, were Paul’s reference points for the stories of faith that were written, taught, and proclaimed.
And yet he also had a story. Paul’s small “g” gospel tale was the good news, the light in the darkness.
In the reading of Paul’s letters, both the ones scholars are confident he wrote (like the Corinthians’ correspondence), and the ones likely written by others (like Ephesians), he offered meager glimpses about himself: a devout Jew, a trained Pharisee, his place of birth, and a location when the voice and vision of Christ knocked him senseless and knocked a sense of Christ into him. We also read of his travels across interconnected Roman roads, of his preaching and imprisonments, and always his correspondence. Always! And yet, how much do we know? Continue reading →
“We preached God’s good news to you, while we worked night and day so we wouldn’t be a burden to you . . .” (I Thessalonians 2:9)
Seminary professors taught me that I Thessalonians represented the New Testament’s earliest writing. Paul’s letters to Thessalonica occurred years before the four Gospels were even started. Revelation wasn’t a glimmer in John’s feverish dreams when Paul conveyed his thoughts to the city by the Thermaïkos Gulf. Though Romans is the first of Paul’s New Testament letters, I recall learning (thanks again, long-ago seminary professors) that the murky decisions creating the Christian canon positioned Paul’s writings on length: from longest to shortest. The Greek community read Paul’s sparse notes as much as a decade before the Romans received their wordy epistle.
But I could be wrong. What do I know?
In the years since seminary, I’ve preached and taught and baptized babies and octogenarians and complained about district superintendents and took leaves of absences and married hundreds of men and women and buried hundreds more and attended 2,437 meetings and stumbled into a campus ministry position and started a new church and held hands in countless hospitals and had 5,692 people tell me they appreciated my swell offer to serve on a committee but no-thanks-not-this-year and became a hospice chaplain and sat by rented beds in living rooms as tearful sons bathed dying fathers and weary wives dribbled morphine into their husband’s open, parched lips and led youth through confirmation classes and hiked with kids as young as 7 and adults as old as 70 and all of them—wise and foolish, giddy and afraid—experienced mountains for the first time.
So, while being preoccupied with the minutia of my modest ministry, maybe a passel of professors have discerned that the Book of Hebrews or John’s Gospel was actually written prior to I Thessalonians. Perhaps Romans was first in the batting order of Paul’s letters because it’s been discovered—since I survived seminary—that a drunk monk in 400 CE rearranged a dusty scroll and moved Romans from last to first. Continue reading →