I’ve been reading about Paul. You know, that Paul. What has struck me from this reading is that if he weren’t in the Bible rational people would likely think Paul was writing nonsense. Getting into the Good Book is a big score, for sure, but a close look at what this particular apostle wrote does raise eyebrows, as well as questions. Over my editing years I’ve discovered quite a few methods of dealing with the saint from Tarsus, but what they really point to is the elephant in the room—we don’t really know what Paul was on about. A few basic facts stand out: the Paul of Acts doesn’t match the Paul of the authentic letters, and although Paul never met Jesus he became the architect of much of Christianity.
There’s a reason that I focused my doctoral work on the Hebrew Bible rather than the New Testament. Still, it remains fascinating to look closely at Paul’s claims. At some points he sounds downright modern. Like a Republican he declares that he can be tried by no human power. Specially selected by God himself, he can’t be judged by the standards of normal people. This is dangerous territory even for those who eventually end up in the Good Book, especially since it wasn’t written as an abstraction, but to a specific readership in a specific place dealing with specific issues. Galatia wasn’t the same as Corinth. The issues at Philippi weren’t the same as those in Rome. Yet, being in Scripture makes all his musings equally inspired.
The more we learn about Scripture the more difficult it becomes. Perceptions evolve over time, and we know nothing about how various books were selected. There are no committee minutes. We don’t even know the committee’s name or if it was ad hoc or standing. With repeated and long-term use these books became Bible. Take Paul’s letters—it’s virtually certain that we don’t have them all. He makes reference to letters that we don’t have. What might he have written therein? Is part of divine revelation missing? The discovery of other gospels and many contemporary religious texts to those that made the Bible cut raises questions that can only be resolved with the category “inspiration.” Christianity isn’t unified enough to add any more books, although some sects do nevertheless. Paul is very much like that—an example of not being subject to human trial. For a founder of a major religion we know surprisingly little about him.