Monday, August 21, 2006

In Defense of St. Paul

In a presumably tongue-in-cheek comment on a Baptist church that cited the First Epistle to Timothy as grounds for dismissing a woman from a Sunday School teaching post she'd had for 54 years, Charles P. Pierce of TAPPED proposed a little radical surgery on the New Testament:

Life would be so much better for a lot of us folks of faith if we could just run St. Paul's sorry ass out of the New Testament the way they snuffed the Gospel of Thomas. Granted, the Book of Revelation has caused an awful lot of trouble, but it has the saving grace of being gorgeously written. Not so with the Bill O'Reilly of Tarsus.

Now there's plenty of precedent for proposals to expurgate troublesome bits of scripture. The great heresiarch Marcion wanted to get rid of the Old Testament along with three of the four Gospels. Luther expressed a desire to expel the Book of Revelation as "fundamentally un-Christian." And more recently, Thomas Jefferson published a "Bible" that junked all the "dogma" interspersed amongst the sound ethical teachings.

But before Mr. Pierce gets too far with his anti-Pauline crusade, he should be aware that there's a lot of doubt about the authorship of I Timothy. In fact, the late Fr. Raymond Brown, perhaps the preeminent New Testament scholar of recent years, suggested that about 90% of biblical experts thought that Paul did not write this epistle.

This scholarly consensus does not, of course, cut much ice with biblical "inerrancy" fans, including the offending Baptist church in question, since the (probable) anonymous author of I Timothy identified himself as Paul. As my own grandmother back home in Georgia used to say when I ventured my own youthful sandbox theories of religion: "The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it."

But given Paul's knack for allegorizing and reinterpreting the Law and the Prophets in the epistles, like Romans, that are indisputably his, I have a sneaking suspicion that despite his reputation as the favorite source for conservative abuse of scripture, Paul himself was no fundamentalist. And given his true legacy as the great and revolutionary advocate of Christian liberty, it makes little sense to consider him a conservative, either.
-- Posted at 9:26 PM | Link to this post | Email this post

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