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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

14-6-3-5 Memorizing Scripture

To learn a Gospel is a possibility. I knew two English Christians who could recite all four of them. One, admittedly, was an intellectual of above average ability. The other: a school caretaker who read his Gospels in a council flat on a rough South London estate, with an unbelieving wife. After our Sunday School lesson, we'd always put Jimmy to the test. " Go on Uncle Jimmy, Luke 10" . And out it came. " John 2" . Word perfect, as we followed in our Bibles. Jimmy, beloved Sunday School teacher, I salute you, for your unfeigned love of our Lord Jesus, and for your inspiration.  Between them, those two brethren answer all the excuses. Got too much in your mind already because of your job and profession? Harry did it, here and now in the twentieth century; and Paul did it in the first. Too much of a simple soul, not your kind of scene? Jimmy did it, Cockney accent and all. And so did Peter. Yet my sense is that none of them set out to do it. They ended  up like that because they loved their Lord, and therefore the word of His grace. It was sweet, truly sweet, to their taste. My point is, quite simply: it is possible, if you want to, here and now in this life, amidst the hustle and bustle of London, Toronto, Moscow, Jo'burg, Nairobi, Manila, Hong Kong... amidst the slow, steady life of a Devon village, the petty gossip and  small talk of a small town in the Baltics, or in rural Ontario, or an isolated Siberian village. It is possible, for every one of you. And for me too. 

As a digression, there is evidence within the text of the NT, in addition to church tradition, which would suggest that memorizing Scripture was a common feature of the early believers:

- " Wot ye not what the scripture saith of Elias...?" (Rom. 11:2) suggests that Paul expected them to know this passage. " What the Scripture saith" rather than " what is written" might suggest that they learnt these passages by heart and spoke them out loud, probably because the majority of the early believers were either illiterate or had no access to the manuscripts.

- A passage in Ps. 118 is referred to in Lk. 20:18; Acts 4:11; Eph. 2:20; 1 Pet. 2:6-8. One wonders if this was a proof text which the early believers would have known by heart. And one wonders likewise about Psalm 2- it is referred to so often.

- The early believers remained devoted to the instruction (lit. 'doctrinizing') given by the apostles. This might suggest rote learning.

- The twelve gave themselves continually to " the ministry of the word" (Acts 6:4); using a phrase used in contemporary literature to describe how the synagogue minister made pupils memorize Scripture texts. Hence Paul reminds the Ephesians to " remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said..." ; not, 'how it is written' (for the Gospels were in circulation by this time). He jogged their memory of one of the texts they ought to have memorized (Acts 20:35).

- The letters of Peter and John are likewise shot through with allusion to the Gospels, conscious and unconscious. Peter uses Scriptures like Ps. 110 and 118 in exactly the same way as he heard the Lord use them (Acts 3:34 = Mt. 22:44; Acts 4:11; 1 Pet. 2:7 = Mt. 21:42). A list could be compiled for Peter's allusions to the Lord as I have for Paul's. It may be that Peter's difficult reference to the spirits in prison (1 Pet. 3:19) is a reference to Is. 61 in the same way as Christ used it in Lk. 4:18. This point is meaningless without an appreciation of the extent to which Christ's words featured in the writing and thought of Peter.

- The Old Testament as well as New is written in such a way as to encourage memorization, although this is often masked by the translation. There are several devices commonly used to assist in this. Not least is alliteration, i.e. similarly sounding syllables: Pantote Peri Panton (1 Thess. 1:2);  Polymeros kai polytropos(Heb. 1:1); hautee protee entolee (Mk. 12:30); aphtharton amianton amaranton (1 Pet. 1:3,4). In 2 Tim. 3:2,3 nearly all words end in (-oi), the masculine plural case termination- when it would surely have been possible to construct the sentence in another way. " We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced (orcheesasthe); we have mourned unto you and ye have not lamented (ekopsasthe)" (Mt. 11:17) could be dynamically rendered: 'We piped for you, and you never stept; we dirged for you, and you never wept" . It has been pointed out that if some NT passages are translated into Aramaic, the common language of the day in first century Israel, there would have been ample encouragement for memorization. Thus: We preach Christ crucified (mishkal), unto the Jews a stumblingblock (mikshol), and unto the Greeks foolishness (sekel), but unto them that are called...the power (hishkeel) of God and the wisdom (sekel) of God" (1 Cor. 1:23,24). The device of acrostic Psalms (9,10,25,34,37,119,145) and the use of acrostics in Lamentations and Esther would likewise enable the reciting of them. The repetition of the same word at the beginning of successive sentences is yet another such feature (Dt. 28:3-6; 2 Sam. 23:5; Jer. 1:18; Hos. 3:4; 1Cor. 13:4; 2 Cor. 2:11; Eph. 6:12). The same phrase is also sometimes repeated at the beginning and end of a sentence with the same effect (Ex. 32:16; 2 Kings 23:25; Ps. 122:7,8; Mk. 7:14-16; Lk. 12:5; Jn. 3:8 Rom. 14:8 Gk.).  

Alfred Edersheim (The Life And Times Of Jesus The Messiah) and J.W. Wenham (Christ And The Bible, Tyndale, 1972) give examples of how even quite ordinary Jews in first century times could quote large sections of the Old Testament verbatim.

It was expected that the disciples of rabbis memorized their teaching, and there's no reason to doubt that the Lord's disciples, both those who immediately heard Him and those who subsequently became disciples of their invisible Heavenly rabbi, would likewise have memorized the gospel records of His words. This would account for the way they are arranged [Mark especially] as series of 'pericopes', small bite-sized sections which lend themselves to memorization. This would explain how Paul can use technical terms for handing on a tradition (paradidomi, 1 Cor. 11:2,23) and receiving it (paralambano, 1 Cor. 15:1,3; Gal. 1:19; Col. 2:6; 1 Thess. 2:13; 4:1; 2 Thess. 3:6); and of faithfully retaining the tradition (katecho, 1 Cor. 11:2; 15:2; krateo, 2 Thess. 2:15); matched perhaps by John's insistence in his letters that the converts retain that teaching which they received "from the beginning". And so it wouldn't at all be unreasonable to expect that the early Christians memorized a Gospel, perhaps the one they had been taught by the initial preacher of Christ whom they had encountered- be it the account of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. Jesus was a wandering rabbi, and "a rabbi was usually someone who had ordered his own teaching into a mishnah (a memorized "repetition") for his disciples to commit to memory nand repeat" (1).

(1) Bruce Chilton, Rabbi Paul: An Intellectual Biography (New York: Random House, 2005) p. 82.