Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Key to Understanding Paul's Epistles

Hermeneutics is supposed to be a static concept of there being one true way of understanding any document. It becomes dynamic, however, when interpreters advance their own bias or fail to derive the correct context by which the document was written. Liberal theology is an example of advancing one's bias while classical ecclesiastical theology has many examples of failure to derive the correct context.
This principle applies to the writings of the apostle Paul. Classical theologians misunderstand concepts of predestination, foreknowledge, sanctification, gifts of the Spirit, healing, etc mainly because of one particular erroneous assumption about Paul.

Whereas it is true that Paul does a great exposition on the concepts of salvation including justification and sanctification, election and other concepts, one must remember that when Paul wrote his epistles he NEVER in his right mind would nor could assume that his writings would eventually be cannonized and considered part of God's progressive revelation. In his mind, Scripture was none other than the Jewish Scriptures which is the Christian's Old Testament.

Paul was also aware of the contents and teachings of the Jesus even if the gospels were not fully written at that time. Paul had the unique capacity of being educated in a Hellenized world but still retaining the Jewish frame of mind since he was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin as well as being educated under the Rabbi Gamaliel. Hence, in Paul's mind, he was simply advancing perspectives on particular aspects of the Way that could be comprehended by a Hellenistic frame of mind and vocabulary.
In other words, Paul knew and was conscious that he was simply explaining the Jewish Scriptures and Jewish concepts of redemption and deliverance in the light of the birth, death, resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ.

For example, when we discuss Pauline concepts of justification, we should realize that his explanations are another angle to man possessing the "righteousness that exceeds that of the Pharisees" that Christ taught on the Sermon on the Mount. We then can connect that the "righteousness of God" imputed to man in the book of Romans is simply another way of restating Christ's statement or another perspective on Christ's teaching.

When Paul discusses Sanctification in the book of Romans, one must realize that he was simply explaining Christ's concept of SHOWING, displaying or demonstrating the "righteousness that exceeds that of the Pharisees". Recall that Christ did say on the sermon to "let your light shine before men..." or that "You are the salt of the earth..." or "you are the light of the world". These are all similar concepts restated through the perspective of different angles on the same concept. Paul actually echoes Christ's teaching that God is not concerned at what we do or say as much as He is concerned about what we are. That we are supposed to be transformed Kingdom citizens (born-again, remember?) and our new self in terms of behavior, values and character should NATURALLY manifest itself .

There are many other concepts which are Pauline perspectives on the same issues that Christ and the God of Israel have explicitly discussed previously. So to truly understand and interpret Pauline writings is to realize this context, that Paul was conscious that his writings were not inspired Scripture but another way of looking at old Jewish concepts in the light of further revelations and clarifications based on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.

Of course, modern scholarship has determined that Paul's writings were in fact inspired but this was NOT in the consciousness of Paul during his writing periods. Compare this to the Jewish prophets who were very clear that their words were spoken in behalf of God.

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