Archives For _Paul

“Wives: be submitted to your husbands as is appropriate in the Lord. Husbands: love your wives, and don’t treat them harshly or respond with bitterness toward them.

Children: obey your parents in every way. The Lord is well pleased by it. Fathers: don’t infuriate your children, so their hearts won’t harbor resentment and become discouraged.

Slaves: obey your earthly masters in all things. Don’t just act earnest in your service only when they are watching. Serve with a sincere heart , fearing the Lord who is always watching! So no matter what your task is, work hard. Always do your best as the Lord’s servant, not as man’s, because you know your reward is the Lord’s inheritance. You serve Christ the Lord, and anyone who does wrong will be paid his due because He doesn’t play favorites. Masters: treat your slaves fairly and do what is right, knowing that you, too, have a Master in heaven.” (Colossians 3: 18- 4:1, The Voice)

This passage (as well as similar ones in Ephesians and 1 Peter) is often cited as a confirmation that the Bible is pro-slavery and anti-woman. At first glance, that certainly appears to be the case. I believe a deeper look at what’s going on in this letter ( and in the letter to Philemon, which was written about the same time and addressed to a member of the Colossian church) will help us understand what is truly happening here. Continue Reading…

I ended the first post on this topic by noting that Paul wanted something better than freedom for Onesimus: he wanted Philemon to view Onesimus as a human being, a brother in Christ, a man of intrinsic value and worth. And if Paul could accomplish that, all forms of injustice and inequality would fade away. The best way to change a cultural mindset that accepts inequality, dehumanization, and injustice is to change the hearts of those who perpetuate it in all its forms. Continue Reading…

Though Paul’s letter to Philemon is often used to accuse Paul of supporting (or at least being okay with) slavery, the criticism misses the deeper purpose of this letter. Paul presented a radical Continue Reading…

Defending Paul

Anthony Weber —  January 8, 2012 — 1 Comment

When defending the Bible against critics, one must be prepared to answer questions on several fronts.  Were the documents written reliably?  Were they transmitted correctly?  Why were some books left out?  What happened to all the Gnostic books? And what is papyrus anyway?

Even if we answer these questions well, we are still left with another hurdle: the character of the writers.  Take Paul. Please.  Paul has managed to become a lightning rod for accusations of anti-semitism, homophobia, bigotry, anger, meanness, crudeness…. It’s the kind of list that would make South Park proud. Even if we show that the documents are inspired, reliable, and faithfully transmitted, what do we do with the topics?  And how do we explain writers like Paul?

I recently read Paul Among The People:  The Apostle Reinterpreted and Reimagined In His Own Time.   I know what you are thinking:  Thrilling title!  This book and a Wild Blue Premium Blueberry Lager, and my Friday night is planned!  Actually, that’s pretty much what happened for me.  I started reading last Friday night, Wild Blue in hand, and I couldn’t put it down (the book, that is).

The author, Sarah Ruden, is an intriguing person.  Equally at home among Quakers, Mennonites, and intelligentsia at Harvard, she has managed to find fans everywhere from Christianity Today to the Daily Beast. She is a pacifist who clearly articulates the Apostle Paul’s use of military analogies.  She is a social and religious liberal who willingly and generously engages social and religious conservatives.

Ms. Ruden is also a pleasure to read.  She has an extensive history in Greek and Roman literature, and she masterfully interweaves Paul’s writings with those of the most influential writers of his day. It’s a very different kind of analysis of the Bible, one that pulls more from the common culture that created the language than from the isolated words themselves.  Meaning is gleaned more often from historical records of parties and plays than from verb tenses (though she is at home there as well).

She goes out of her way to keep her focus very neatly defined within the targeted  texts, and by doing so carefully avoids much broader and even more volatile questions.  Perhaps this is good for the purposes of this book.

So why is Ms. Ruden defending Paul?

In the opening chapters, she establishes the basic thesis:  Paul “understood the lure of monotheism and of a consistently just and merciful God unlike any of the deities in the Greco-Roman pantheon; and he knew the beauty of a deeply ordered community, such as polytheistic ideology had never managed to produce…”

It appears the Paul-as-curmudgeon crowd overstated their case.  Paul actually offers a message of hope and liberation, not oppression and bigotry.   Continue Reading…