I’m studying the book of Romans this year with a group of women from a wide variety of age groups, races and religious denominations. It does my heart good to see the body of Christ in all its jasper and carnelian glory. (See The Throne of God.)
However, studying Paul’s letters in any setting with any group, listening to everyone-but-me speak of Paul with glowing affection and adoration, I can’t help but wonder:
Who died and made Paul God?
We evangelicals tend to treat Paul as though he is a deity. We do. I was in a blog comment discussion once with a guy who actually wrote, “Paul was God.” To be fair, what he meant was that Paul’s words are on par with God’s. But are they?
Paul wasn’t a prophet – he didn’t speak forth the very words of God. He was a missionary, a church-planter. A flawed, human church planter. And though he had some really good things to say, he wasn’t any different than the flawed human missionaries and church planters you might know.
Everyday Christians who do not do the good they want to do, but the evil they do not want to do. Continually.
I have often wondered when this evangelical love affair with Paul began and now, thanks to my Bible study notes, I think I know. It began with Martin Luther:
“When I learned how the justification of the sinner proceeds from the free mercy of our Lord through faith… then I felt born again like a new man,” Luther wrote, … “In very truth, this language of St. Paul was to me the true gate of Paradise.” – J.H. Merle D’Aubigue, The Life and Times of Martin Luther (Chicago: Moody Press, 1958), 55-56.
“Later, Luther called Romans ‘the chief part of the New Testament and the very purest gospel.’ He taught that ‘every Christian should know it word for word, by heart, [and] occupy himself with it every day, as the daily bread of the soul.’” – Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1976), xiii.
Purest gospel? Purer than the gospels written by those who actually lived with, served with and sat at the feet of Jesus for three years? Of those who recorded His actual words. In red letters?!
If it all began with Martin Luther, I can see how the adoration of Paul would be foundational to being an evangelical, to being born-again. No wonder I feel like the kid yelling, “The emperor is naked!” among crowds who are admiring his new clothes.
Pointing out human flaws in Paul’s logic, pointing out his sometimes defensive posture and his convoluted writing style makes me highly unfashionable. Leprous even.
But then, take a look in my closet and you will see that I’ve never been all that concerned with fashion.
Why does it rile my soul?
Because I think it does harm to the church to look at Paul’s writing through such a (falsely) rosy lens. It insults my intelligence when Bible commentators twist themselves into pretzels trying to make sense of Paul’s baffling words in order to preserve the idea of his perfection rather than just telling it like it is: Paul was human and humans get defensive, try to please everyone, misquote their sources, embellish when trying to win an argument and just plain misspeak.
The church would be healthier if we were allowed to point out the elephant in the room. Isn’t ignoring the elephant the thing that makes a family dysfunctional?
Telling the truth would also make church a lot more appealing to those who say they are too intelligent for church as well as to those who, like me, notice a bit of nakedness but feel pressured to pipe down, dress up in good Christian clothes and pretend.
I have a lot to say about Paul, whom I actually like in many ways. It’s not his fault we put on these unfortunate glasses.
If you want to know more about Paul and me, type “Paul” into the search bar at the top of this blog and scroll away. If you’re about to throw 2 Timothy 3:16 at me, type “The Inerrancy of God” into search and read, read, read. 🙂
In the meantime, I’ll keep the belt of truth buckled firmly around my waist.