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14.  Paul

14-1 The Conversion Of Paul / Saul || 14-2-1 Paul And His Brethren || 14-2-2 The Weakness Of Paul || 14-2-3 Paul: A Character Study || 14-3 The Preaching Of Paul || 14-4 Saul Changed To Paul || 14-5 Paul's Relationship With Jesus || 14-6 Paul And Christ  (1) || 14-6-1 Paul's Use Of The Gospels  || 14-6-2 Paul's Quotations From The Gospels: Statistics || 14-6-3-1 Paul's Quotations From The Gospels: Analysis And Implications || 14-6-3-2 Inspiration: The Human Factor || 14-6-3-3 The Enigma Of John's Gospel || 14-6-3-4 The Nature Of The Gospel Records || 14-6-3-5 Memorizing Scripture || 14-6-4 The Supremacy Of Christ || 14-7 Paul And Christ (2) || 14-7-1 Paul's Use Of The Gospels: Further Observations || 14-7-2 Paul And The Parables || 14-7-3 Paul's Use Of The Sermon On The Mount (Mt. 5 - 7) || 14-7-4 Paul's Exposition Of Gethsemane || 14-7-5 Paul And The Characters In The Gospels || 14-7-6 Paul In The Gospels || 14-7-7 Paul And John The Baptist || 14-7-8 Saul, Paul And Stephen || 14-7-9 Following Elders || 14-7-10 Connections Between The Gospels And Epistles: Observations || 14-8 Paul's Heroes || 14-8-1 Paul And Moses || 14-8-2 Paul And King Saul || 14-9   Paul and Corinth || 14-10 Paul And His Weak Brethren || 14-11 Paul's Thorn In The Flesh || 14-12 Paul's Shipwreck  || 14-13 Paul’s Self-Perception || 14-14 Paul, Philemon and Onesimus || 14-15 Chronology of Paul’s Life

14-2-2 The Weakness Of Paul

Why wasn't Paul's great and increasing love to Corinth, Colosse and Laodicea (and probably many many others) appreciated and recognized? No doubt it was partly because true love for one's brethren is often expressed in the type of spiritual concern which they find somehow obnoxious and annoying. Yet I suggest another reason was because of the hardness of Paul's exterior, that iron in his soul which somehow always remained. He tells the Corinthians that he really does want them to respond to what he's saying, because otherwise when he comes he will appear " harsh" to them (2 Cor. 13:10 NIV). There are a number of examples of Paul's human side and possible pride flashing out:

- Consider  how Paul's argument with Barnabas and Mark would have been well known, seeing that a zealous brother always has his weak side paraded. Or the way he demands the magistrates to come personally and release him from prison, because they have unfairly treated him (Acts 16:37);

- or 22:25,28, where Paul seems to enjoy putting the wind up the soldiers by waiting until they had bound him for torture before asking, surely in a sarcastic way, whether it was lawful for them to beat a Roman citizen. The fact he asked the question when he knew full well the answer is surely indicative of his sarcasm. The chief captain commented, under his breath it would seem, that it had cost him a fortune in backhanders to get Roman citizenship. Paul picked up his words and commented, with head up, we can imagine: “But I was free born”- I was born a citizen, never needed to give a penny in backhanders to get it either. Surely there is an arrogance here which is unbecoming. And it was revealed at a time when he was in dire straits himself, and after already being in Christ some time. It may indicate that he was tempted to adopt a brazen, almost fatalistic aggression towards his captors and persecutors- what Steinbeck aptly described as “the terrible, protective dignity of the powerless”. One can well imagine how such a mindset would start to develop in Paul after suffering so much at the hands of men.

- Consider too his claim that he had lived in all good conscience before God all his life (Acts 23:1). The Lord Jesus Himself informs us that Paul kicked against the pricks of his own conscience (Acts 9:5). And in any case, Paul elsewhere says that his good conscience actually means very little, because it is God's justification, not self-justification through a clear conscience, which is ultimately important (1 Cor. 4:4 RSV). It seems Paul was aware of his weak side when he comments how despite his own clear conscience, God may see him otherwise (1 Cor. 4:4 RSV); and surely this was in his mind. So how true were Paul's words in Acts 23:1? It seems that he said them in bitter self-righteousness. Soon afterwards he changes his life story to say that he had always tried to have a  good conscience (24:16).

- To address the Sanhedrin as “brethren” has been described as “almost recklessly defiant” (William Barclay, Ambassador For Christ p. 132). The usual address was: “Rulers of the people and elders of Israel”. But Paul instead treated them as his equals.

- Having started on the wrong footing by this statement, it was perhaps this arrogant mood which lead him to curse the High Priest as a " whited wall" (23:3-6). It seems to me that Paul realized his mistake, and wriggled out of it by saying that he hadn't seen that it was the High Priest because of his poor eyesight- even though Paul would have recognized his voice well enough. Another possibility is that " I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest" is to be read as Paul claiming that he didn't recognize this high priest, as Christ was his high priest, therefore his cursing was justified. But he thinks on his feet, and suggests that he is being persecuted only because of his belief in a resurrection- with the desired result ensuing, that there was a division between his accusers.

- Paul's appeal to Caesar seems to have been quite unnecessary, and again it seems to have been the outcome of bitter exasperation and almost pride:  " I ought to be judged" , as a Roman citizen..." no man may deliver me..." , " as thou very well knowest" ; the response of Festus seems to be appropriate to Paul's arrogance: " Hast thou appealed unto Caesar? Unto Caesar thou shalt go" (25:10-12). The word used to describe Paul's " appeal" is that usually translated " to call on (the name of the Lord)" , perhaps suggesting that this was whom Paul should have called in, not Caesar.

- Even " Believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest" (26:27) suggests that Paul in full flow, even shackled and in prison clothes, had a fleck of arrogance and aggression in his presentation.

- Paul seems to have recognized this hard exterior which he had: " I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness" (2 Cor. 13:10).

- “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city” (Acts 21:39) seems rather proud, especially when we learn that Tarsus was famed for being a proud city. She inscribed upon her coins: “Tarsus, the Metropolis, First, Fairest and Best” (W. Barclay, Ambassador For Christ p. 25).

- " Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean; from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles" (Acts 18:6) seems to also be a flash of unspirituality. For later, Paul realizes that he may be condemned if he doesn't preach the Gospel; he realized that he perhaps wasn't free of his duty of preaching. Yet for all his " from henceforth I go unto the Gentiles" , Paul still preached to the Jews (Acts 18:8; 19:8); which would suggest these words were said in temper and perhaps unwisdom. He himself seems to recognize this when he wrote to Timothy at the very end of his life of how we must with meekness instruct those who oppose themselves (2 Tim. 2:25), whereas his own response to those who “opposed themselves” (Acts 18:6) had been to say, without meekness, that he was never going to ‘instruct’ Jews ever again.

- F.F. Bruce has observed: " Something of Paul's native impetuousness is apparent in his epistolary style...time and again Paul starts a sentence that never reaches a grammatical end, for before he is well launched on it a new thought strikes him and he turns aside to deal with that" (Paul: Apostle Of The Free Spirit, Exeter: 1980, p. 456). His style is exemplified in 2 Cor. 5:17. The Greek text here is a sentence in which there are no verbs: “If anyone in Christ- new creation”. It is as if the thrill of it leads him to just blurt it out.  And observe that this was to be found in a man of extraordinary culture and intellectual ability. By perceiving this tension, the passion behind his style is thereby accentuated the more. Likewise consider how in Galatians Paul uses so many negatives, as if his passion and almost rage at the false teachers is coming out: “an apostle not from men…the gospel preached by me is not man’s gospel…nor was I taught it…I did not confer with flesh and blood, I did not go up to Jerusalem…I do not lie…Titus was not compelled…to false brethren we did not yield…those ‘of repute’ added nothing” (Gal. 1:1,11,12,16,20; 2:3,4,6). The way he says “Ye have known God, ir rather, are known of God” (Gal. 4:9) seems to indicate [through the “or rather…”] a very human and passionate touch in his writing, as if he was thinking out loud as he wrote(1).

- Paul was clearly told by the Spirit that he “should not go up to Jerusalem” (Acts 21:4). Yet Paul chose to go up to Jerusalem, with the Holy Spirit warning him against it in every city he passed through (Acts 20:23; 21:11). What are we to make of this? Was a spiritual man like Paul simply out of step with the Spirit on this point? Maybe- in the light of all we've seen above. It’s possible to get fixated on a certain project and ignore God’s clear testimony. Or it could be that Paul knew the Lord well enough to realize that although God was telling him what would happen, he could still exercise his own love for his brethren to the maximum extent. For it was for love of his brethren and his dream of unity between Jew and Gentile that he personally took the offerings of the Gentiles to the poor saints in Jerusalem.

- 2 Cor. 7:11-15, when properly translated, perhaps reflects Paul at his angriest and most abrasive: “I robbed other churches [an exaggeration!], getting money from them to be a minister to you! the truth of Christ is in me- I swear that this reason to be proud will not be stopped as long as I work in the area of Achaia! You ask me why do I do this? Do you think it’s because I don’t love you? God knows I do! It’s because what I do- and I am going to go on doing it- shuts up some people who are trying to pretend they are as good as we are, those fakes! Such apostles are treacherous workmen. They deck themselves out as apostles of Christ and it’s no wonder people are fooled… but they’ll get what’s coming to them!”(2). Even through the barrier of words, time, culture and distance, the abrasion of Paul in full-flow comes down through the centuries.

A Desire for Human Acceptance

A case can be made that Paul's visit to Jerusalem and insistence on preaching to the Jews when he was directed to the Gentiles is all an example of his weakness. God is eager to work with us, even if we chose to work in fields or ways which He would ideally prefer we didn't. But why was Paul so obsessed with preaching to Jews when he kept suffering for it; why did he insist on going to Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit warned him in every city of the consequences? I would suggest that as an orthodox Jew, the blessing and acceptance of the culture in which he had grown up meant more to him than it should've done. He so wished to persuade Jewry as a whole that Jesus was indeed Messiah because this would've legitimated him in the view of his native culture- a culture he would've surely done best to not seek acceptance and legitimacy from, seeing he had it in Christ. His insistence on raising a significant financial offering from Gentile churches like Corinth was perhaps because he thought that hard cash would convince the Jerusalem eldership to bless his planned mission to the ends of the Roman empire. He explains in Rom. 15:23-25 how he intended to travel East, to Jerusalem, and then retrace his steps Westward. If he had just gone to the Gentiles and disregarded the need he felt for human legitimacy, many of his problems and sufferings may never have happened. There is of course no doubt that God worked through those experiences and decisions, just as He does with us when we choose to diverge from His ideal intentions, despite still serving Him. 2 Corinthians seems to indicate that Paul had a hard job raising the funds from the Gentile ecclesias anyway, and he ended up damaging his relationship with the Corinthians. Significantly, when he finally arrived in Rome, Acts 28 indicates that the Jews there had not heard anything from Jerusalem about Paul, i.e. legitimizing him. So the plan didn't work; and there is a pregnant silence about any actual cash handover occurring in Jerusalem when he arrived there. One wonders whether he had to spend the funds financing his prison stay, and therefore Felix hoped for a bribe from Paul at that time (Acts 24:26), often calling him to discuss the option of paying a bribe. Clearly at that time Paul was perceived as having cash in hand.


(1) Understanding the way Paul breaks off into another theme and then resumes is the key to understanding some of the more difficult passages in his writings:

" Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare [his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say] at this time his righteousness" (Rom. 3:25,26).

" For this cause I, Paul [the prisoner of Jesus Christ... there is a parenthesis of 13 verses, then he resumes: For this cause] I bow my knees" (Eph. 3:1,14).

" But if I live in the flesh [this is the fruit of my labour...nevertheless to abide in the flesh] (this) is more needful for you" (Phil. 1:22-24; think and read this one through!).

(2) D.L. Dungan’s translation, in The Sayings Of Jesus In The Churches Of Paul (Oxford: Blackwell, 1971) p. 37.