Paul has been called the architect of the Christian church, despite Jesus forming its foundation and substance. But, Paul gave it shape. There are many arguments about who wrote first, the synoptic authors, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, or Paul, but most scholars acknowledge that the earliest of the epistles was written first.
Paul never spoke of the birth narratives or the parables and miracles of the ministry portion of Jesus’s life, though he was undoubtedly aware of them, having heard of them from the disciples and other followers. We can probably attribute any omission by Paul to the nature of his epistles, typically written to Christian groups that included non-Jewish Gentile and typically in response to questions or problems. We don’t have copies of the letters he was responding to, often leaving us in the dark as to what question or problem he was addressing. Still, Paul’s letters have been used as the basis for Christian theology for two millennia.
Paul often drives me nuts. There are many times I wish Paul had an editor who had taken the letters in hand and simplified them; however, Paul didn’t have an editor as good and with as generous in understanding what I am trying to say as mine is. I assume Paul wrote in the style of the time, attempting to cover all possible permutations of his statements so that nobody could misunderstand.
There are times when Paul is crystal clear, standing solidly on the belief that we are all brothers and sisters and that none of us should pass judgment on each other. The first scream we usually hear when this statement comes up is that of course, we have to judge; we can’t let criminals, terrorists, and thugs get away with their crimes! Those TEAPOT (terrible, evil, awful people over there) are out to steal what we have, and that can’t be allowed!
Many people fail to remember that we often pass judgment because we are different than others are. Even if our skin is different in tint, our blood is still red, and our organs function in the same way as everybody’s. We are all children of God, even though we worship in different ways, call God by different names, and have different customs and languages. The fight during Paul’s time was that the Jews wanted to exclude the Gentiles because they had other traditions, beliefs, and diets. Paul argued that stumbling blocks such as the Jews put up were contrary to Jesus’s teaching about loving one another, doing kindness towards others, and helping those who needed aid of any kind.
Paul takes many verses to spell it out, but in short, “Love God and your neighbor as yourself” covers a large block of what Jesus taught. “…(F)or we will all stand before the judgment of God…”, “So then, each of us will be accountable to God (Rom. 14:10d, 12).”
Paul may drive me nuts periodically, but there are times he seems to have hit the proverbial nail on the proverbial head. It’s simple. And it is probably why so many people flocked to become members of the group that practiced this radical form of life. Not everybody did, and many today do not, but it is a reminder of the fundamental teaching of Jesus for those of us who do follow Jesus. Don’t put blocks in front of those who can’t step on or over them. It wouldn’t be good to do that to an older person or a small child. It wouldn’t even be suitable for anyone to have a block put in their way when all they are trying to do is live life from day to day, safely, securely, and happily.
I’ll be considering this section of the epistle for some days yet. I’ll try to write more clearly and concisely than Paul, but with the same sort of answer to an unknown question. It’s the Christian thing to do.
Image: Saint Paul Writing His Epistles, attributed to Valentin de Boulogne (1591-1632). Painted ca 1618 – 1620. Located at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston object ID: 20223 . Found at Wikimedia Commons.