Lecture 11: Acts - Theology
Lecture: Paul: Theology
I want to go next to talking about the theology of Paul, and areas in his life that were affected and were not affected by this conversion. Some people would say that when Paul met the Lord on the road to Damascus, everything changed in his life. Well, yes and no. A lot of things didn’t change. You might say, “Well, his whole belief system was shattered.” But that’s not true, either – parts of his belief system were shattered. You have to remember that Christianity is not an anti-Judaism; it is the fulfillment of Judaism. And therefore, the Bible of the early church continued to be read, and continued to be studied, and continued to be believed. I list here areas that are not really affected a great deal by Paul’s conversion:
• When you think of his doctrine of God, he still believed that God was one: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, strength, and mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Do you think that changed? No, he still believed God was one.
• The God of the Bible was the creator of all things. Paul still believed that. That’s very different than some of the Greek religions which argue that since the world is evil, any god that created the world had to be an evil, lesser deity. Paul never believed that. God was the creator. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” – that’s what the Bible says [Genesis 1:1], and that’s what he continued to believe. That God was holy and sovereign over creation – he didn’t stop believing this – none of those things changed.
• His attitude towards creation and the world – he never switched and said that the world was eternal, as the Greeks would do. No, he always believed God created the world; God was the one who placed the stars in the heavens, and sun, moon, and light, etc.
• As to his view of humanity, or what we call “anthropology”, he still believed that humans were created in the image of God. That’s his Bible, that’s what he was always taught, and his Bible remained the same – those things didn’t change. He believed that humanity was fallen in sin. He believed in Adam having sinned. In Romans 5:12 (and following), he talks about Adam, “As by one man sin entered the world, and death by sin, and so death passed unto all men, because all have sinned.” Any view you have of the nature of man – bi-partite (body and soul), tri-partite (body, soul, and spirit) [these are systematic theological concepts]– that was the same for Paul both before and after. I don’t think that changed at all.
• As to sin, its origin from Satan and the fall, how it entered the world; the nature of sin, that it corrupts and brings death – that still very much remained. His understanding of revelation, how God had revealed himself in the acts of the Old Testament in history – he still believed that, and could still talk about that. He still believed the events of the Old Testament; that the Old Testament was the word of God, scripture was still the same. So, a lot of things.
• His view of redemptive history – that God had uniquely called Abraham. There’s a sense of calling – that he made a covenant with Abraham and his people. That the people of Israel were God’s chosen people, that there was a future age coming, a messianic age, that there would be a spirit coming in that age. He continued to believe all that. How can Christianity be the fulfillment of the hopes of Israel if he believes everything different than Israel believed after he became a Christian?
• At the salvation, he believed there was a need for righteousness. Now, how righteousness would be obtained changes, but there’s still a need for righteousness.
• He believes that sin is expiated, covered thru sacrifice. He is taught that, and now he sees yes, but through THE ONE and supreme sacrifice.
• His hope remains the hope of the resurrection – as a Pharisee that never changes.
• He believes in a future judgment.
• He believes in an ethic, much the same. He still believes in the Ten Commandments. He says that we’re not under the law, but he still believes in the Ten Commandments, and the ethical keeping of those commandments.
So, actually, Paul’s theology has a lot in common after his conversion with before his conversion. He is not saved into a new religion; he is saved into the fulfillment of the promises of the Old Testament. And so, lots of areas would remain essentially in common. However, there are areas which changed, and let me share those with you:
• One area that was greatly affected by his conversion would be his Christology. He believed in the coming messiah, but that Jesus was that Messiah, [his belief in] that changed radically. He denied that. If he had believed that before, he would not have been persecuting the church. Now he believed that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. Why? What happened there? Well, he meets Jesus on the road, and he also knows that that’s what the Christians were proclaiming, and what the Christians are proclaiming is right. So, that Jesus is the Messiah – that becomes clear. I think already at his conversion, an understanding of Jesus’ divinity begins to take shape. Because, when you read in the Bible a voice that speaks from heaven, angels don’t speak from heaven, and humans don’t speak from heaven; God speaks from heaven. And his first response to the voice is, “Who are you, Lord?” (That’s the Greek word used to describe Yahweh in the Old Testament – kurios). So a voice comes from heaven, and he says, “Who are you, Lord?”, and the voice says, “I am Jesus.” So you have a divine voice speaking to him from heaven, and that voice identifies himself as Jesus. The fact that the early church had been calling Jesus “Lord” as used in the Old Testament, indicates that this title is appropriate for Jesus. So I believe that the deity of Jesus is already beginning at his conversion, as he encounters the voice from heaven – that the divine nature of Jesus becomes clear to him. Now I am not saying that immediately he could recite the Nicene Creed. That development is still future. But he’s far more on the path of that creed than on the path of a unitarian religion. So when he meets Jesus and that voice speaks to him, he knows he’s the Lord and he has a divine quality.
• He knows also that God has now revealed himself again in Jesus Christ and the preaching of the early church, and that what Stephen was saying must be true. So those aspects that he was most opposed to with regard to Stephen’s message, which would perhaps better prepare him than Peter, even to be the messenger to the Gentiles, has been affirmed. Because this God is the God of Stephen, who he persecuted. Now Stephen is beginning to emphasize that some of the things about Judaism are unimportant – the temple is not that important, circumcision is not that important, and probably those things which were so offensive to a zealous Jew (zealous for the law and for the distinctions of Israel) are now proved to be correct. And so, I think already now he’s beginning to understand the breadth of God’s revelation, and that this reaches out to the Gentile world as well.
• He sees redemptive history as a unity – the Old Testament now is being fulfilled in the new. (I don’t mean that the New Testament is written at this time, but I think it means that at this time, the revelation in Jesus Christ and the traditions about him are in harmony).
• The message to the early Christians that the kingdom of God has come, which Jesus proclaimed, and that he was undoubtedly very aware of, is also fulfilled – Jesus is risen from the dead.
• And that the Spirit that he proclaimed had come, must have come, because God has now confirmed all of this. He would not experience that yet, but all of this would have been understood by him as being part of the new revelation of God that had come in Jesus Christ.
• I have under salvation that he believed in a universalism – that salvation was for both Jew and Greek.
• And almost certainly, he would have been aware that the law is not able to save you. He kept the law; he was “blameless”; he was a man (according to Paul’s own understanding) that was very happy on the road to Damascus in the belief that God would be very proud of his zeal in keeping the law, and in persecuting those who do not keep the law. And suddenly he is made to realize that, far from keeping the law, he is God’s opponent. He is God’s enemy. And therefore, this way of keeping the law that he’d been raised in all his life would not save him any more. He’s a guilty sinner, and God by grace has not struck him dead; he has forgiven him. And so, I think Paul’s formulation and wording of the doctrine of justification by faith would still be future. His debates with opponents over that issue would help clarify it. But the heart of it is already there in his experience. How else can a person be justified, like me? One who kept the law but was an opponent of God, and on no basis whatsoever, now finds that God in his mercy forgives him, by grace alone. So the doctrine of justification by faith alone is already there.
• To other areas, ecclesiology: I believe that his understanding of the church as the body of Christ would no doubt take shape at this time, because notice the voice from heaven: “Who are you Lord?” “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Now we would normally expect something like “Why are you persecuting my followers?” But that’s not what the voice says. It says, “You are persecuting ME.” He’s persecuting the followers of Jesus, but when you persecute them, you persecute him. Because, he is so identified with his church that they are, in fact, his outworking – his body. They are in Christ. I think some of that already is found in his conversion in germ form, that way.
• Then, finally, I think some of the imagery that he uses would be obtained from that experience. If you look at 2 Corinthians 4:6, Paul says, “For it is God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” Well, can you think of how much that would fit Paul’s own experience? Where he is in the darkness not only in his pre-experience at Damascus, but especially thereafter when he is blinded, and in this darkness God has shown and given him light of the knowledge of Jesus Christ. So I think the imagery of that would also be found in this regard here.
This gives an overview of the beginning of Pauline theology as we know it in his conversion.