7-3 Paul's Teaching Style
Paul speaks to the Galatians in human terms, alluding to the pagan concept of “the evil eye”: “Who cast the evil eye on you?” (Gal. 3:1 Gk.). He rejected the superstitions of “the evil eye”, and yet he uses the phrase in writing to them. Clearly Paul and the inspired writers wrote with a certain freedom, not scared that they might be misinterpreted, but using contemporary language freely.
Mary was the first to see the risen Lord (Mt. 28:1; Lk. 24:10;
Jn. 20:1). But Paul speaks in 1 Cor. 15:5 as if Peter was the first
witness of the risen Jesus. From his other writings and practice,
it’s evident that Paul wasn’t simply ‘anti-women’. But here he’s
surely making another concession to weakness- for in the first century
world, the witness of a woman wasn’t acceptable. And so Paul speaks
of the first man who saw the resurrected Lord, rather than mention
Mary. Paul graciously speaks of some brethren "who are of the
circumcision [party]" as his "fellow workers unto the
Kingdom of God", noting that they are "men that have been
a comfort unto me" (Col. 4:11 RV). The circumcision party understood
things very differently to Paul- he is ever arguing against their
position, showing that circumcision profits nothing. And yet these
brethren whom he here refers to were still acceptable to him as
fellow workers, and he even took "comfort" from their
fellowship. I find that a beautiful example of how tolerance can
be practiced; despite the fact Paul was right and they were wrong,
the simply reality that they were mistaken on this point, he could
still work with them and be encouraged by them. He didn't reason:
'If you don't agree with me on this point, well, we're not working
together, that's it, goodbye, I can take nothing positive from you
by way of fellowship or encouragement'. In fact we could read the
AV translation as implying that although Paul had many fellow workers,
out of them all, the ones who were a personal comfort to him were
these brethren who were of the circumcision party: "Aristarchus...
Justus, who are of the circumcision, these only are my fellow workers...
which have been a comfort unto me". Paul also wrote to the
Thessalonians how their faith was a comfort to him in his "distress".
And yet he goes straight on to say that he plans to visit them in
order to "perfect that which is lacking in your faith"
(1 Thess. 3:7,10). I find this so wonderful. Their faith was imperfect-
and yet Paul all the same rejoices in what faith they do have, and
can speak of "all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before
God" (1 Thess. 3:9). Yet we are all too easily discouraged
by the immaturities we notice in others' faith; instead, in a world
where the majority don't truly believe, we need to focus on the
positive in our brethren and rejoice in it, rather than holding
them to some ideal standard which we claim to have in our own mind
or understanding or perception. For when compared against the spirituality
of our Lord, we are ourselves so miserably imperfect.
Paul’s positivism is a wonderful thing to study. When he met people believing in “the unknown (Gk. agnosto] God”, he didn’t mock their agnosticism. He rejoiced that they were as it were half way there, and sought to take them further. His position regarding the Sabbath and observance of the Law is a prime example of his patient seeking to bring men onward. There is no lack of evidence in the NT that the Lord’s sacrifice precluded the need to do these things. And yet Paul and the Council of Jerusalem made concessions to the Jewish brethren who couldn’t bring themselves to accept the Truth in these areas, in the hope that continued practice of these things within the context of the Christian community would make them see for themselves that they were inappropriate. Paul says that Sabbath keeping is a matter of personal conscience (Rom. 14:1-10), even though elsewhere he argues so forcibly that to do this is to return to the weak and beggarly elements. Here, as with the demons issue, there was a clear concession to some degree of human non-acceptance of Divine truth and the implications arising from it. It seems that although the Law was done away by the cross, by the time of 2 Cor. 3:7,11 it could still be spoken of as “that which is being done away” (RVmg.). There was a changeover period allowed, rather than a bald insistence that acceptance of Christ and the meaning of His death must mean that the old Jewish ways were dropped instantly.
Meat Offered To Idols
Paul’s whole position about meat offered to idols reflects the fact that he recognised that there would be some believers who still could not escape the sense that the idol is really something to be feared, that in some sense it is alive and accepting the sacrifice offered to it, even though the believer in the other half of his brain knew full well that idols are nothing and there is only one true God. We all know this, Paul reasons, and yet some still can’t escape their sense that the idol is there, and that if they eat meat offered to it they are fellowshipping with it, even though it doesn’t exist. Our tendency would be to be hard on such a person, insisting that they cannot worship the true God and yet also have this sense of the idol. And yet Paul knew that there is a dualism within each of us; we can still have a sense of the false even whilst we believe the true. One of the most spiritual and doctrinally conservative sisters I ever knew once admitted to me that for many years after her baptism, she had retained the belief that her unbelieving mother was in heaven as a departed soul, even though she knew and taught the very opposite. And yet the Lord is more gracious than many of us seem to be to this feature of our nature. Within Romans, Paul stresses how Abraham was “not weak in faith” and must be the pattern for our spirituality (4:18-21). And yet he also teaches: “Him that is weak in the faith receive ye…”, clearly alluding to how Abraham was not weak in faith. Thus, he is surely saying, although Abraham’s faith is out pattern, yet receive those brethren who evidently don’t rise up to that level. We must focus on the positive in our brethren. John , writing to ecclesias clearly falling away both morally and doctrinally, could rejoice that he “found certain of thy children walking in truth” (2 Jn. 4 RV).
Paul’s general attitude was akin to that of his Lord, in that he was not hyper careful to close off any opportunities to criticize him. This fear of and sensitivity to criticism is something which seems to have stymied our community. He says things like “I am a Pharisee” (Acts 23:6), not “I was a Pharisee and now repudiate their false doctrines”. Having explained the truth about Holy Spirit gifts, Paul comments: “But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant” (1 Cor. 14:38). This recalls his comment in 1 Cor. 11:16 about head coverings: “But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God”. Paul seems to allow for the possibility of some in the church remaining in disagreement with his inspired teaching. His desire, it seems, was to state Divine truth and not to cause division in the ecclesia by insisting that all he said about these procedural issues in church life should be enforced at all costs. Considering he was inspired, this is quite some concession.