This week, I decided I would try to make friends with Paul. Let’s call it research — as you may know, I’m trying to write a book about how we might read the Bible. (I’m supposed to be doing that writing right now.) But, it’s not really research. It’s a personal longing to try to make peace with this significant Christian historical figure who I can’t help but feel a little betrayed by. After all, there are some pretty harsh words in a letter attributed to him about women. I don’t respond well to cover your head and be quiet. I have things to say. Thankfully, I learned in seminary that these words did not actually belong to Paul. Of the fourteen letters that are attributed to Paul, scholars believe that only seven of those letters were actually Paul. Those seven letters include: 1 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Romans, Philippians and Philemon.
The problem that met me this week when I decided to tackle the words in the epistle lesson for my sermon was what to do with those other seven letters. They’re in the Bible. They’re part of the canon. I have to figure out a way to be in relationship with these words. There must be some way to understand these texts in a way that makes them accessible. There must be a way that I can relate to these words without dismissing them because they belittle who I am as a person. That may seem harsh but it’s honest.
When I was in seminary, my preaching professor had us read Barbara Rossing’s The Rapture Exposed so that we would find new meaning in another frustratingly misused New Testament text. It worked. I found a new relationship with the words in Revelation to John. With this model, I decided to try to read my way into a new relationship with Paul. I’ve been pouring over Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan’s The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Visionary Behind the Church’s Conservative Icon. I’m only half way through — but Borg and Crossan don’t disappoint. I’m grateful for their words. I’m even more grateful that they inspired me to find the truth in Paul’s words that I do embrace. When I was writing my ordination paper, I kept coming back to these words:
As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:27-28, NRSV)
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35, 38-39, NRSV)
These are sacred words I want to keep. I don’t want to throw away all of those words with these. I want to find some way for these words to apply to my understanding of the love of Christ. I haven’t figured it out yet. I’m only halfway through the book and who knows if it will solve all my angst about Paul. I can only hope. And yet, in the very least, I’m grateful for a good book — and those people that write faithful words that capture my imagination.