Monday, 5 December 2016

Did Paul Knew He Was Writing A Holy Scripture?

How fairly can a Christian answer this question? Paul in fact was writing a letter, an occasional letters containing instructions, but he never knew that in 325 C.E at Nicea it will become part of the canonized Bible or the Holy Scripture.

You might know that in ancient Greek there are no capital or lowercase letters. The word used here is γραφαί (accusative γραφάς) which means simply “writings, documents, letters”. To translate this as “Scriptures”, with capital “S”, is a manipulation of the text.

Dr. Marvin Meyer[1] said on Paul’s letters, “These were personal letters. They were occasional letters that address the needs in the very churches. And if Paul had any idea what people would do with his letters in term of theologizing on basis of them, he would have been lot more careful when he wrote them”.[3] Thus, the Christian view has never been and could not be that the biblical books are to be place in a class apart from all other (including Christian) writings and labeled “Holy Scripture” on the grounds that they are “more inspired” than other literature. Does “more inspired”, as the expression has been used by some moderns, mean “more inspiring”? If so, who is to judge whether the Epistle of St. Jude or the Book of Esther is more inspired than The Pilgrim’s Progress. Discussion on the “Degrees of Inspiration” is subjective and unprofitable.[3]

However, let's not forget what Paul claims:

Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—and all the brothers who are with me...—Galatians 1:1-2a (ESV)

Meanwhile, Paul occasionally makes reference to teachings that are his opinion:

To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her.—1st Corinthians 7:12 (ESV)
He also talks in that letter several times of passing on things that were handed to him. For instance:

Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you.—1st Corinthians 11:2 (ESV)

We can extrapolate that Paul has three levels of communication:

1. Traditions, whether oral or written down, that Paul holds in high esteem,
2. Rules or commands that are his opinion, and
3. Words that he did not designate in either category.

Since his words in category #3 are often strident, it would seem odd if Paul did not claim to have some authority from God. And if he has authority from God, what he writes might rise to the level of Scripture. On the other hand, Paul shifts without much fanfare from polite greetings to deep theological discussions to almost motherly advice to rich spiritual poems to attacks on his opponents to complex apologetic to friendly salutations. These happen all in the space of a single letter!

The evidence does not comport well with the popular assumption that when the writers sat down to put God's Word to papyrus, they were ceased by the Holy Spirit and copied down exactly what the Lord dictated to them. At least in Paul's case, that doesn't seem the most appropriate model.

Paul's model of inspiration

Paul does at times refer to his own writings. An prime example is:

I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me.—1st Corinthians 4:14-16 (ESV)

Even more striking is this transition for talking about what Paul himself does in his ministry and the traditions about head coverings, the Lord's Supper, and spiritual gifts:

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.—1st Corinthians 11:1 (ESV)

By Paul's model inspiration tends closer to what the church now calls Apostolic Succession or, less anachronistically, Rabbinical Judaism. But where Saul the Pharisee traced his semikhah to Moses the lawgiver, Paul traced his apostolic authority to Jesus the law fulfiller (see Matthew 5:17). Paul sees himself as a vital link between the Christ and his spiritual children.

It would also seem that Paul claimed spiritual authority via the Holy Spirit:

But, as it is written,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”

—these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.—1st Corinthians 2:9-10 (ESV)

Paul certainly intended his readers to take his letters seriously. But we can't know if Paul anticipated the creation of the New Testament nor can we know if he expected his letters to be represented in it.

[1] The author of the Gnostic Bible.
[2] Taken from the documentary film “Banned frpm the Bible” by History Channel.
[3] Alan Richardson, Christian Apologetics (London: SCM Press Ltd), 208

Puanthanh Marc Gangmei

Freelance Web Designer

MetaQuery is maintain by Puanthanh Gangmei. He love to talk about religion and is a geek who believes that one of the greatest ways to reflect God’s character is through creativity.


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