Foundations of Paul's Theology

Paul had perhaps the most dramatic conversion experience in the New Testament, if not in the whole of human history.  He was going to a town to try to kill off a movement, and then all of a sudden the person who he says is not the Messiah appears to him.  That by itself would have been a revelation to Paul.  This was literally his come to Jesus moment.  After his conversion he had to learn the ways of Christianity and that was done through revelation.  In Galatians 1:12 Paul writes, “For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” [1] The very center of Paul’s Gospel was the revelation of the risen Lord as revealed to him on Damascus road.  The center was Christ died and he rose from the dead three days later according to the scriptures.  Bruce writes. “This was henceforth the heart of his gospel: he owed it to no witness on earth but to that ‘revelation of Jesus Christ’.”  [2]  Part of this revelation was Paul’s always referring to the church as a body.  “This may go back to the implication of the risen Lord’s complaint: ‘Why do you persecute me’.” [3] Here Christ is including us in his body and we find this in the letters of Paul where he asked is a hand better than a foot and so forth.    This was a huge thing for Paul to grasp.  In his old life he had to maintain the status quo.  In Christ an “existence in which social, racial and other barriers within the human family were done away with.” [4]  In short we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, and need to accept each other as such no matter where we come from or what our past was like.  In Christ we are a new creation, and the difference between Jew and Gentile no longer mattered.  This would help prepare him for all of his great work with the Gentiles.

We are told in scripture that during the fifteen days in Jerusalem Paul met with Peter and James.  Peter was head of the Apostles and James would later become head of the church in Jerusalem.  Of all the people that Christ appeared to after his resurrection he names these two by name.  Paul writes in 1 Corinthians  15 5-7, “And that He appeared to Peter, then the twelve, then He appeared over five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.  The he appeared to James, the to all of the apostles.” [5]  Also in Galatians 1:18-19 Paul writes, “Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to confer with Peter and remained with him for fifteen days.  But I did not see any other of the Apostles, only James the brother of the Lord.”  [6]  This may sound elementary, but we know because the greatest missionary/evangelist in the history of the Christian church told us so.  If we do not believe him we may as well not believe anything he wrote because we are calling him a liar.

Similarities and differences between tradition and revelation in Paul’s gospel certainly do exist.  Paul received many things by way of tradition.  Some of those things are the following:  “Account of words and actions by the historical Jesus, and guidelines and principles of Christian conduct.”  [7] During his fifteen days with Peter and James they no doubt discussed everything that the Christ said, did, and preached.  That was the only way he was going to get his Christian theology base down pat.  Without these fifteen days we may not have the New Testament that we have today.

Works Cited

[1] Galatians 1:12

[2] Bruce, F. F.  Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free.  Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977, 87.

[3]  Ibid, 87.

[4]  Ibid, 87.

[5] 1 Corinthians 15: 5-7

[6] Galatians 1:18-19

[7] Bruce, F. F.  Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free.  Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977, 86.

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