Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Would St. Paul be an evangelical?

Considering several things that Paul never mentions, would we dismiss him as "irrelevant" because he didn't preach "our gospel"?

1. He never tells his converts to evangelize or "share their faith" with outsiders.
2. He never mentions hell.
3. He never mentions the virgin birth of Jesus.
4. He never mentions heaven as a reward for believers.
5. He never tells pagans they must "repent."

Even though we got our "four spiritual laws" and the "Roman Road" from Paul, given these lacunae could we still call him an evangelical?


JD said...

i've noticed these things from paul before, also. and the more i work them into my theology and practice, the more i come into conflict with evangelical theologians, whether through personal interactions or otherwise. makes you wonder how they would have handled paul straight-up, instead of through a 2000-year-old lens?

Darryl Schafer said...

Getting spunky in our old age, are we not? ;-)

JDTapp said...

Surveys find that non-Christians define evangelicals as people who are
1. Pro life
2. Pro lower tax rates.

Hard to fit Paul into those boxes as well.

Rodney Reeves said...


I've wondered the same thing; but then again how else do we read Paul except through a 2,000-year-old lens?


Who's old?


Your comment makes me wonder why Paul didn't address a common social problem in the 1st-century Roman world: child abandonment (their form of abortion). Most of these infants, left on the trash heaps, would be collected by slave traders for profit. Shouldn't Paul have said something like, "Since we are adopted children of God, reclaim the orphans who are destined for slavery"? Argument from silence, but still puzzling.

JDTapp said...

Very interesting. Did other early church writers address this practice?

Rodney Reeves said...


You've asked a question beyond my area of study (patristics!); off the top of my head, yes, I think some early fathers/writers mentioned the problem/challenge (maybe Didache and Epistle of Barnabas?). But the problem is nowhere addressed in Paul's letters.

jr. forasteros said...

What about Mars Hill? Doesn't Paul call for repentance there?

I know that's Acts, but it's also a place where Paul explicitly addresses pagans (unlike his epistles).

If we're willing to attribute the basics of the speech to Paul (are we?) then it seems like a call to "Repent and Believe" was part of his manifesto.

Not that any of that invalidates the main point of this post, which is excellent.

Rev. Spike said...

Mars Hill was clearly a redaction... okay, just kidding.

Just a few weeks ago I was reading someone (wish I could recall bc it surprised me!) who said that Mars Hill proved people could be judged based on the "light available to them". However that passage is so clear, "God used to overlook ignorance, but now..."

Shifting gears:

Taken on his own terms, Paul is a different animal.

But aren't we meant to read him through the lens of the cumulative witness of the NT.

Travis Marler said...

Hey Rodney, we haven't met, but I'm a friend of Darryl. I've been reading some of your posts through him.

Your question about why we don't see Paul addressing certain social issues of his time connects with something I have been thinking about the last couple years.

It has become so interesting to me that in evangelical circles, there is this idea that we know Paul *so well*. It wasn't uncommon growing up (and attending a ministry college) to hear people say things like, 'Paul thinks [fill in the blank]' How bold! To think we know someone so well who has been dead for 2000 years based upon (literally) a handful of letters he wrote...and those written to *another* group of people we probably know even less about, hehe. If, in 2000 years, people thought they knew me intimately based upon a few letters I had written, I would be infuriated, hehe.

Rodney Reeves said...


I must say I was thinking of Paul's letters when I listed these lacunae (in Ro. 2 he writes of the need of his kinsmen to repent and speaks of pagans who "do the law instinctively").

But, even during the speech at the Aeropagus, I would say Paul didn't call the pagans to repent in the way we would have expected, i.e., you need to repent of your sins. Rather, Paul speaks of repentance in terms of changing their minds (from ignorance to belief).


Yes, the entire counsel of Scripture should inform our theology. But, of course, that's not what I'm talking about here.

Rodney Reeves said...

Good Point, Travis, esp. since Paul had no idea that what he had written would become our Scripture one day.

JD said...

clearly we can only read him through such. my question, more precisely, was how would evangelicals read him if they were receiving his letters fresh? if they were the first one reading them? which leads to this, and something i've also wondered for a long time: how much of our practices and beliefs in our churches are the result of 2000 years of history? or even 500 years of history? would paul have been received as well as he has been if we didn't have 2000 years of accretion on top of his writings? just some random thoughts...

JDTapp said...

Do you think Paul really didn't know his writing would be considered Scripture? I know some people hold 2 Peter 3:16 as evidence for Apostle words at the time being considered scripture:
"as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures," (emphasis mine)
Do you think it's incorrect to say that Peter was referring to Paul's writings as scripture?

Rodney Reeves said...


No, Paul had no idea his letters would be considered scripture. If he did, why didn't he keep/pass along all of his writings?

Peter "may" have considered Paul's writings "scripture" but that's not saying Paul did. But, I'm not sure even Peter was referring to Paul's letters as "scripture." The word means "writings," and may apply to both "Scriptures" and "Christian writings." Remember, in Paul and Peter's day, the "Scriptures" had not been collected as a complete canon. What the "scriptures" were depended upon the synagogue you attended (some had one collection, others had another). In other words, there was no "Hebrew Bible" in Jesus, Paul, and Peter's day.

JDTapp said...

Thanks for the response. I ask because there was a discussion on this in Sunday school last week (based on a John MacArthur study on the importance of the written word).

Sort of on topic, I've often wondered what Paul would think about so many American Christians today obsessed with sports. I wonder what it was like in his time, kind of like I wonder about the parallel of child abandonment then and abortion today. I wrote this thought about 2 years ago. I also wrote this bit today. Wonder if you have ever had similar musings?