When Jesus Needed A Genius

1024px-rembrandt_harmensz-_van_rijn_-_zelfportret_als_de_apostel_paulus_-_google_art_project

Men who produce works of genius are not those who live in the most delicate atmosphere, whose conversation is the most brilliant or their culture the most extensive, but those who have had the power, ceasing suddenly to live only for themselves, to transform their personality into a sort of mirror, in such a way that their life, however mediocre it may be socially and even, in a sense, intellectually, is reflected by it, genius consists in reflecting power.

~Marcel Proust


On this day, January 24th, church liturgy celebrates the conversion of Saint Paul.  So who was this man?  Well let’s put it this way – Jesus called various types of men for various tasks, all the way from fishermen to tax collectors, but when He needed someone to write at least 13 of the 27 books in the New Testament, He had one specific genius in mind.

First, he was a highly educated Jew who was raised with a heart for God and a mind for scholarship. Second, he was a man living in a time when the Greek worldview dominated culture and thought. Since Alexander the Great, Greek had become everybody’s second language, like English today.

The world in his day was a busy place. London was founded in AD 43, and in AD 50 a great pyramid was constructed in Teotihuacán, Mexico – just eight years before Buddhism was introduced into China.  As N.T. Wright points out, you only have to read a few pages of Paul’s younger contemporary Epictetus to sense that, though they would have disagreed radically in several beliefs, they shared a common language and style of arguing. He makes fruitful use of the language and imagery of the pagans while constantly infusing it with fresh content.

It was Paul’s extensive education and training that brought him to what he thought was his purpose in life – the persecution of the church.  All of that changed when he met the Logos – Jesus Christ.  And what was Jesus’ message to the accomplished man of great achievement?  You are now ready to begin.

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2 Corinthians 11:1–12:10

Oh, that you would bear with me in a little folly—and indeed you do bear with me. For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it! For I consider that I am not at all inferior to the most eminent apostles. Even though I am untrained in speech, yet I am not in knowledge. But we have been thoroughly manifested among you in all things.

Did I commit sin in humbling myself that you might be exalted, because I preached the gospel of God to you free of charge? I robbed other churches, taking wages from them to minister to you. And when I was present with you, and in need, I was a burden to no one, for what I lacked the brethren who came from Macedonia supplied. And in everything I kept myself from being burdensome to you, and so I will keep myself. As the truth of Christ is in me, no one shall stop me from this boasting in the regions of Achaia. Why? Because I do not love you? God knows! But what I do, I will also continue to do, that I may cut off the opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the things of which they boast.

For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works. I say again, let no one think me a fool. If otherwise, at least receive me as a fool, that I also may boast a little. What I speak, I speak not according to the Lord, but as it were, foolishly, in this confidence of boasting.

Seeing that many boast according to the flesh, I also will boast. For you put up with fools gladly, since you yourselves are wise! For you put up with it if one brings you into bondage, if one devours you, if one takes from you, if one exalts himself, if one strikes you on the face. To our shame I say that we were too weak for that! But in whatever anyone is bold—I speak foolishly—I am bold also.

Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I. Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness—besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.

Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation? If I must boast, I will boast in the things which concern my infirmity. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. In Damascus the governor, under Aretas the king, was guarding the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desiring to arrest me; but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and escaped from his hands. It is doubtless not profitable for me to boast.

I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord: I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven. And I know such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. Of such a one I will boast; yet of myself I will not boast, except in my infirmities. For though I might desire to boast, I will not be a fool; for I will speak the truth.

But I refrain, lest anyone should think of me above what he sees me to be or hears from me. And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Dig Deeper

Art: Self-portrait as the Apostle Paul by Rembrandt in 1661.

It is now in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

This is Rembrandt’s first and only self portrait in the guise of a biblical figure. The manuscript and the sword projecting from his cloak are Paul’s traditional attributes. Like the other apostles Rembrandt painted in the same period, Paul too is a real, everyday person. By using his own likeness here Rembrandt encourages a direct bond with the saint.

Literature and Liturgy – Saint Paul

The ‘Apostle of the Gentiles’. Born during the first years of the Christian era, the future St Paul, originally ‘Saul’, was a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, a native of *Tarsus in Cilicia, said by Acts to possess Roman citizenship. He was brought up a *Pharisee (Phil. 3:5, Acts 26:5) and perhaps had some of his education at *Jerusalem under *Gamaliel (so Acts 22:3). This life in Judaism (Gal. 1:14) gave him his trust in God, experience of the Law, and a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures, as well as his methods of arguing from Scripture. As a Jew of the *Diaspora he spoke and wrote Greek and shows some knowledge of rhetoric. Within a short time of the Crucifixion, he came in contact with the new ‘Way’ of the followers of Jesus, apparently in Palestine, and persecuted the Church (1 Cor. 15:9, Gal. 1:13). Acts 7:58 represents him as present at the martyrdom of St *Stephen, and 9:1–2 as authorized by the High Priest to arrest converts in *Damascus. As he drew near he was himself converted.
F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford;  New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 1243.

 

Further Reading

  Bryan, Christopher. Render to Caesar: Jesus, the Early Church, and the Roman Superpower. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
  Collins, Raymond F. First Corinthians. Sacra Pagina, Vol. 7. Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1999.
  Cranfield, C.E.B. On Romans and other New Testament Essays. New York: T&T Clark, 2001.
  Danker, F.W. 2 Corinthians. Augsburg Commentaries on the New Testament. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1989.
  Dunn, James D.G. Romans 1–8. Word Biblical Commentary 38A. Dallas: Word, 1988.
  ———. “The New Perspective on Paul.” Pages 183–214 in Jesus, Paul and the Law: Studies in Mark and Galatians. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1990.
  ———. The Theology of Paul the Apostle. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998.
  ———. Beginning from Jerusalem. Christianity in the Making, Vol. 2. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009.
  Dunn, James D.G., and Alan M. Suggate. The Justice of God: A Fresh Look at the Old Doctrine of Justification by Faith. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994.
  Elliot, Neil. Liberating Paul: The Justice of God and the Politics of the Apostle. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2006 [1994].
  Gathercole, Simon J. Where is Boasting?: Early Jewish Soteriology and Paul’s Response in Romans 1–5. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.
  Hock, Ronald F. “The Workshop as a Social Setting for Paul’s Missionary Preaching.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 41 (1979): 38–50.
  Kim, Seyoon. Christ and Caesar: The Gospel and the Roman Empire in the Writings of Paul and Luke, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008.
  Kaminsky, Joel S. “Israel’s Election and the Other in Biblical, Second Temple, and Rabbinic Thought.” Pages 17–30 in The “Other” in Second Temple Judaism: Essays in Honor of John J. Collins. Edited by Daniel C. Harlow, et al. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011.
  Ladd, George E. Gospel of the Kingdom: Scriptural Studies in the Kingdom of God. London: Paternoster Press, 1959.
  Moo, Douglas J. The Epistle to the Romans New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996.
  Packer, J.I. “The Wretched Man” Revisited: Another Look at Romans 7:14–25.” Pages 70–81 in Romans and the People of God. Edited by Sven Soderlund and N.T. Wright. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999.
  Riesner, Rainer. “Pauline Chronology.” Pages 9–29 in The Blackwell Companion to Paul. Edited by Stephen Westerholm. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishing, 2011.
  Sanders, E.P. Paul and Palestinian Judaism. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977.
  ———. Paul: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.
  Schreiner, Thomas R. The Law and Its Fulfillment: A Pauline Theology of Law. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993.
  Seifrid, Mark A. “The ‘New Perspective’ on Paul and its Problems.” Themelios 25 (2000): 4–18.
  Stendahl, Krister. “The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West.” Harvard Theological Review 56.3 (1963): 199–221.
  Thielman, Frank. From Plight to Solution: A Jewish Framework for Understanding Paul’s View of the Law in Galatians and Romans. Leiden: Brill, 1989.
  Watson, Francis. Paul, Judaism and the Gentiles: A Sociological Approach. Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series 56. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986.
  Weiss, Johannes. Der este Korintherbrief. Meyer Kommentar 7. 9th ed. Göggingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1910.
  Westerholm, Stephen. Perspectives Old and New on Paul: The “Lutheran” Paul and His Critics. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004.
  Wright, N.T. The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994.
Anthony Le Donne, “Paul the Apostle,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).

6 thoughts on “When Jesus Needed A Genius

  1. Sometimes Paul comes across as arrogant and sometimes as self-righteous. But it would have taken a tremendous amount of character, education, and training to fulfill the role God in mind for Paul, and since he accomplished so much so brilliantly, I can make allowances for his strong personality. His faith and commitment to Jesus are certainly unparalleled.

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  2. Paul (Saul) was certainly a profound scholar and a devout Jew. As I recall, he was a member of the Sanhedrin, so his knowledge and devotion to God was beyond reproach, but off base originally. Even with his deep knowledge of the scriptures and his devout lifestyle he persecuted Christians (stoning of Stephen) because he believe them to be wrong. It wasn’t until his personal experience with the living Christ that his eyes (and heart) were opened to the fullness of the scriptures. Jews did not, and many still do not, proselyte their faith. You have to ask them to share it. His turning into belief was profound and absolute and completely contrary to his understanding of the scriptures, but it was perfect. In hindsight, I often think about God’s perfect choice of Paul just like God’s perfect choices in my life. They are often misunderstood in the current setting, but found to be perfect in hindsight. I have to look backward to see that God is moving personally and perfectly in the lives of believers just like He did with Paul. The walk of faith continues.

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