So then, the question remains, are the writings of Paul a stumbling block for many of today’s Christians? From my last three postings I have laid out what I believe to be the case that many of the doctrines of modern day Christianity have resulted from an improper reading and interpretation of many of Paul’s writings. I also laid out a case that Paul was indeed a unique individual, brilliant in his knowledge and understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures, Judaism, both the Oral and Written Traditions, and the significance of Yeshua’s sacrifice. That all said, it would seem then that the problem is not with Paul and his work, but with the readers of Paul’s writings?
Consider: Paul was a Jew, a Pharisee, trained and expert in both the Oral and Written Laws. He was zealous for the Law. He even persecuted the budding Christian movement in the region. He wrote his epistles in the first century a few years after his conversion. None of his original manuscripts exists today, as he composed them some 2000 years ago. He moved around in Jewish as well as Gentile circles. Many, if not most of the converted Gentiles were Jewish proselytes (prior converts to Judaism who followed the Law of Moses).
Let’s consider a major factor whenever we read Paul’s writings. Paul’s writings were typically “letters” addressed to a specific congregation of believers or individual followers of Yeshua. So Paul wrote to his recipients with a specific purpose and subject matter in mind. It is probably a fair bet that the only individuals who actually could appreciate the full meaning and purpose of Paul’s letters was Paul himself, and the recipients of the letters. It is very conceivable then that without a clear understanding of the issues, circumstances, individuals, history, culture, etc. being addressed by Paul in his writings, that clear and full understanding of what Paul is writing about is difficult, if not at times, impossible to achieve.
Have you ever attempted to watch a movie or read a book (one’s you’ve not seen or read before), starting from the middle? By starting in the middle you will have divested yourself of all the pertinent background and information necessary to understand the full story. How easy is it to develop an improper understanding of what is going on? How easy is it to confuse characters and situations and circumstances? It isn’t until you either go to the beginning of either movie or book, or someone gives you a detailed explanation of the circumstances you missed that you are able to gain the full understanding of the work; your chances of misinterpreting the story is significantly, if not entirely, diminished.
I contend that the same principle exists with the writings of Paul and the other Apostles. Add to this Paul’s brilliance and complexity of writing, the average Christian is often doomed to having a misunderstanding of Paul’s they are reading. It isn’t until Christians are willing to understand the fullness of Paul’s situation and intentions that he or she will understand the writings of Paul. The interesting thing is that no other time in history has so much information available for the average Christian to tap and gain that needed understanding. This information is mostly free of charge and readily accessible on the internet. But why do most Christians seek to avoid the extra work learning the truth of what Paul was really saying?