catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 2, Num 20 :: 2003.10.24 — 2003.11.06


The history of Saint Paul

It's hard to imagine what Christianity would be without the apostle
Paul, and because we can't think of the faith without Paul's
contribution, it's hard to gauge what exactly his contribution was.
Some have suggested that Paul is second only to Christ in determining
the course of Christian history. John McRay is one of them, and his
book Paul: His Life and Teaching explains why.

Though God himself commissioned Paul to take the gospel to the
Gentiles, Paul had many trials to overcome, first his own background as
a Pharisee and then persecution throughout the Roman world as well as
resistance from Jewish believers. Much of the setting for Paul's work
is difficult to understand from the pages of the New Testament, but
through years of research and archeological study, McRay sets the stage.

McRay begins by telling us about the Roman world and Tarsus in
particular, a city of half a million on the Cydnus River. Part of the
Diaspora, Paul's early years were very different from those living in
Palestine. Without the feasts and sacrifices, a different theology had
arisen among Jews who could not live as the Old Testament prescribed.

Throughout his ministry, Paul maintained his identity as a Jew. He
called himself a Pharisee long after his conversion, and McRay explains
that Paul never gave up his Jewish identity, insisting on the Jew's
right to live ethnically as Jews while practicing the Christian faith.
He also insisted that Gentiles, though not required to live by Jewish
law, are grafted into the Jewish "tree," which was the birth of
Christianity. His view is hard to understand today when most Christians
are not Jews, but throughout Paul's ministry, he always preached to the
Jews first, seeing them as the "trunk" of the tree onto which Gentile
believers were grafted.

McRay shows Paul's dealings with the churches he started by
traveling chronologically through his life. It is fascinating to see
him recreate the birth of the church 2,000 years ago. As readers enter
into the context in which Paul wrote his epistles, much of the New
Testament comes into clearer focus. For example, in Paul's arguments
against requiring Gentiles to follow the Jewish law, McRay says Paul
urged Jews not to "turn back" to the elemental spirits by accepting the
law. McRay explains that the elemental spirits Paul refers to are the
same traditionally referred to as idols. "This clearly implies," McRay
writes, "that the Jews were under bondage to this "elemental spirits"
just like the pagans were in their idolatry!" McRays says that
according to Paul, legalism is a form of idolatry.

Paul is organized to begin with Paul's life including his
conversion, travels to Arabia, and his three missionary journeys. McRay
then moves on to Paul's writings and theology. For those interested, Paul provides a good read and is enriching in its history and theology.

your comments

comments powered by Disqus