Friday, August 19, 2016

The 2016-17 Horizons Bible Study "Who is Jesus? - a continuing review- "According to Paul"

Picture by Stephen Larson
In the Presbyterian Women’s Bible study, Who is Jesus? What a difference a Lens Makes, in lesson five, “According to Paul,” the focus is on Paul’s theme of a crucified and risen Jesus. Yes, the cross and the resurrection are two of Paul’s important themes. As author Judy Yates Siker states “Paul’s lens, first and foremost, is the cross, and that resulting portrait is not focused on the life and teachings of the Jesus of the Gospels but rather is focused on the risen Christ.”

Toward the end of the lesson Siker writes:

“From Paul’s perspective the cross is at the heart of the Gospel message, for it reveals a God who embraces humanity in all of its sinfulness and redeems humanity through the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The cross reveals a God who so identifies with human suffering and the pain of humanity’s own inhumanity that, in Jesus, this God takes on the power of sin and the power of death, and transforms it all into life abundant (Rom.5-6)”

Siker goes on to quote Romans 5:6-8, a beautiful picture of God’s redeeming love. I applaud her words in this section on page 55 of the lesson.

However, even in this lesson Siker continues to split apart the New Testament’s views of who Jesus is. She tends to place too much emphasis on scholarly debates about the text which tends to muddy her good words about the good news which women need to hear. In this lesson there are two debates about the text that Siker uses

The first is her decision to exclude several books which traditional views, until the nineteenth century, have attributed to Paul. The books are 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Colossians and Ephesians. Ephesians is an interesting case. I believe most conservative/evangelical scholars would certainly include Ephesians as one of Paul’s letters. In the Dictionary of Paul and His letters, all of the above books are attributed to Paul.

In the book’s piece on Ephesians, the author, Talbot School of Theology professor Clinton E. Arnold, affirms Paul’s authorship noting that Professor Ralph P. Martin, one of the book’s editors does not agree. It could also be noted that Marcus Barth in his Ephesians commentaries also attributes Ephesians to Paul.

If Siker had accepted the book of Colossians as a Pauline letter she could have also underscored Paul’s magnificent Christology. As Peter T. O’Brian writes, “Colossians has much to say about the importance of the gospel, the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, especially as Lord in creation and author of reconciliation (Col 1:15-20.).” [1]

The other scholarly debate that Siker uses in this study is the idea that Paul seems to have nothing to say about the life and teachings of Jesus. As she put it if we only had Paul to read we would only know, “born of a woman (Gal. 4:4) of the lineage of David (Rom. 1:3) born under the law (Gal 4:4), had a group of followers (1 Cor. 15:5), died on a cross (Phil 2:8).”

Siker does give some good reasons for Paul’s seeming silence about the life and teachings of Jesus, that is, he was after all writing letters to address the problems of the various churches. But she also adds that “some scholars argue that Paul did not know very much about the historical Jesus.” (She leaves the door open to the reader to choose their preference.)

This divides the risen Lord from his incarnation when there really is no division. If Paul knows the risen Lord, he knows the Jesus who lived and ministered on earth. His letters develop the theology that is formed out of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul’s ethics, as he guides the churches and individual Christians, grow out of the teachings of Jesus.[2]

If liberal scholarship did not so easily pull the various books of the New Testament apart but read the text as a whole the problems would not be so great. One could believe Paul and see him and his letters in the contexts of Luke’s writings in the book of Acts. Paul’s letters should undergird Acts and Acts affirm Paul’s letters. One could simply accept the biblical fact that Paul knew the apostles and other Christian leaders who knew Jesus during his ministry on earth.

I have not written much about the suggestions for leaders at the end of each lesson. They are written by Dr. Lynn Miller. Both Miller and Siker at the end once again bring up the idea of a different Jesus because of different author’s perspectives. Speaking of Paul’s words about redemption and the cross, Siker, at the end, writes, “No, this is not the same portrait of Jesus we saw in the Gospels, for Paul’s lens is a lens of the cross.” And Miller in suggestions for leaders writes:

Paul’s letters to specific communities ‘bear witness to the challenges of applying the gospel message to new and changing circumstances.” What are todays changing circumstances and who is the Jesus that can speak to those circumstances?”

That is a question with the aroma of apostasy.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)

[1]Peter T. O’Brian, “Letter to the Colossians,” Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, A compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship, Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, Daniel G. Reid, editors, ( Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press 1993).
[2] For a compelling argument against Paul having little knowledge of the earthly Christ and his teaching see, J.M.G. Barclay, “Jesus and Paul,” Dictionary of Paul.