Research Proposal: Apostle Paul Saunders, E.P

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Apostle Paul

Saunders, E.P. Paul: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Next to Jesus, the Apostle Paul's words and thoughts define modern Christian teaching. Yet the evolution of Paul's thoughts has been a subject of great contention amongst Christians. In his work Paul: A Very Short Introduction, author E.P. Sanders provides clarity to Paul's teaching of the gospels. Saunders suggests that more so than Paul's real articulated values in his authentic writings, today we only understand Paul 'through a glass darkly,' namely through the hermeneutic traditions of other theologians, most notably Luther, who made Paul a foundation of his new Protestant philosophy. Luther stressed that faith alone would justify the believer, not acts. Luther used this to argue against the teachings of the Catholic Church that emphasized ritual practices, rather than belief. However, to understand Paul's mission, argues Saunders, one must understand Paul within his historical context.

Saunders' approach is thus one of a Near East historian as well as a scholar of texts. The reason Paul placed such an emphasis on faith, for example, was because he identified himself as an apostle to the gentiles, and he was attempting to create a non-Judaic version of Christianity that was detached from the Mosaic tradition, yet still relied upon fulfilling the Mosaic covenant to justify its existence. Simply put, Paul did not believe that gentiles should have to be circumcised or keep kosher to be one with Christ, but many of his own cultural practices and believes about morality came from the Jewish tradition. Thus, although he was arguing for new ideas, he framed them within his own Hebraic understandings.

Saunders argues that the central conflicts within Paul's thoughts was the acceptance of the gentile Christian community, and the need to reform Jewish law within the context of Jesus' teachings, not an abstract conflict between thoughts and deeds and their relative worth within Christianity, as articulated later in Luther. Paul believes that Jesus fundamentally changed Judaism, superseding the law and circumvented the need for circumcision and following Mosaic dietary constraints. In his Letter to the Galatians, a Christian community with whom Paul has some fundamental disagreements, Paul argues that the Mosaic Law was necessary to keep good or in line until the coming of Christ, but now there was no need for the law, given that humanity was justified through Jesus. Christians, presumably like the Galatians, who were gentiles but observed Jewish practices were not simply doing something unnecessary, but were actually, in their actions, denying the real change that Jesus had incurred in the world.

Paul was not above making creative use of scripture to explain one's justification before God through the spirit, not through the law or Jewish ethnic ritual practices. Ironically, Paul was "not concerned with the meaning of the biblical passages in their own ancient context" although Saunders certainly is about Paul's writings, as he determinedly locates Paul within his historical context of a Judaism in flux, torn between different movements, and a Roman Empire that was searching for a new sense of ideological self-definition. Jews and gentiles were more apt to embrace 'cult' religions, which was what Christianity was in its day, than they had been ever before.

This rationale was how an Apostle to the gentiles, although he came from a Jewish background, could deny the need for circumcision with the coming of Christ even though it had been necessary before. However, on matters of sexuality Paul was less flexible and more apt to see Jewish teaching as morally correct. In his Letter to the Romans, which was likely written after Galatians, according to Saunders, Paul's non-Roman morality becomes more evident and also the conflicts between his… [END OF PREVIEW]

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