Book Plunge: In Search of Paul

Do Crossan and Reed find him? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

One of the most important lessons you can learn in studying is to read those who disagree with you. Too often, we have the idea that all of them can be liberals who dream night and day about how they can undermine the Bible and destroy the faith of some at every chance. In reality, when you read them, one can often find a seriousness to the Biblical text and get valuable insights in interpretation and in fact make special note of where they agree with you. Of course, I still think they are wrong in much in the long way, but we should listen to their voices as they can most easily question our own presuppositions.

In Search of Paul by Crossan and Reed is a book looking at the Roman Empire’s “gospel” in contradiction to the “gospel” that Paul taught. Both sources were claiming that there was a man who was deity and who was going to be the ruler of the world and usher in a new age.

They’re right too. Rome was indeed seeing itself in a position of restoring the world and shaping it the way it ought to be and the divine Caesars were bringing blessings to all people. This is probably why elsewhere Crossan has said that Mark 1:1 where it talks about the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus, the Son of God, could be translated as “In your face, Caesar.”

This is something I’ve used in my own apologetic. In the clash of these two forces together, neither one of them wanting to compromise an inch, it is a wonder that it was in fact Christianity that won out. How did a shameful traitor and blasphemer to YHWH (by the standards of the world) come to be the one that eventually even the Roman Emperor bowed a knee to, and this without the Christians raising a sword?

But that is another question for another time and those interested can pursue my writings elsewhere and find my answer.

To return to the review, Crossan and Reed also bank on a hypothesis that Paul in his journeys went most to the God-fearers. These were people who admired the Jewish worldview and believed in the Jewish God, but they didn’t follow through entirely. For some bizarre reason for instance, the men were hesitant to get circumcised. I can’t imagine why….

Unfortunately, this is what I consider the weakest part. It’s not really explained well and when it comes to Acts, the parts that go against the theory are deemed to be non-historical without any real argument. If they give one elsewhere, it would have been good to have seen a reference.

The authors ask why would Jews care about these God-fearers coming to believe in Jesus? They also ask why would the pagans have cared about some pagans becoming Christians. Actually, both of these questions are quite simple to answer.

Jews would care because this would go against the honor of God. They didn’t want people going around saying that the Messiah had come and that Messiah was a crucified criminal. It also didn’t help that the leaders of Israel were being blamed for this. If this went unchecked, then that would mean that God would surely come and judge the nation. They were in violation of the covenant and the new movement had to be stomped out.

Why would pagans care? Simple. These people would be deviants in society. “You’re not worshiping the gods or the emperor? You’re in fact proclaiming our gods are not real and that the emperor is not deity? If you keep this up, the gods and/or Rome will judge us!” Both groups had something to gain by going after the Christians.

Despite this disagreement, a good reader will learn much from this book. The story is also told with powerful descriptions of visiting the areas where the events took place in modern times. One gets to see how the Empire was growing alongside of Christianity and go through the letters of Paul deemed to be authentic and see how they could be translated in light of this information.

Another point of interest is that Crossan and Reed want to tie this in to modern America today. How are we like the Roman Empire and differnt from them? I found myself puzzled though in wondering what great message Jesus taught that was so unique that it is still here today from a non-Christian viewpoint. For Crossan and Reed, the impression is that it is about the end of violence, but this does not seem to be the main message of Jesus.

As NT scholars agree, Jesus’s message is the Kingdom of God and the message would then be that God has begun His rule and He has begun it in the person of Christ. The resurrection would be the vindication of that claim. (As well as providing forgiveness of sins.) This is the solution to the problem of evil. God is reworking this world and reshaping it by the spread of the Gospel.

Non-violence would be good, but to what end? Just so we can all get along? If Jesus’s message had simply been that we should love one another and avoid violence and live in unity, it is hard to imagine how it is that He would have been crucified. It must be something much more radical. This is the problem I have with Crossan’s Jesus every time I read about Him. He’s a nice guy. There’s nothing wrong with being a nice guy, but nice guys while they finish last, do not get crucified.

Despite these differences, I do encourage Christians interested in the historical Jesus and studying Paul to read Crossan and Reed’s work. It will be very eye-opening and reading a stance different from your own will help you inform yours.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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8 Responses to “Book Plunge: In Search of Paul”

  1. jamesbradfordpate Says:

    Being a nice guy, and teaching others to be nice guys, can be countercultural and challenge the status quo—-especially when the status quo is not particularly nice.

  2. Alex the Less Says:

    Call me a holdout about the “central message” that Jesus proclaimed being the Kingdom of God, it was the explicit message but the implicit message was shedding the blood of the New Covenant, therefore, primarily the high priesthood of Christ. This was the way to combine these offices (see Zech.6.12-13, 3.8).
    Sure a greater rule of God among all humanity was the outcome, but Amillennialism I am unconvinced of. A time still awaits a more external manifestation along the lines O.T. prophecies that fulfills “thy kingdom come” in the Return of Christ.
    Crossen and Reed have a point to some degree about non-violence as it was the affirmation by Christ of a central theme of the bible. I am not a pacifist militarily in national matters but the Crusades by Christians were horrific.
    Also, the point of the Roman empire bowing the knee, hardly. Rome supplanted the real vitality of Christianity by subsuming it into itself.

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