Paul the Mystic? Defining encounters.

The only thing that really captured me from Borg and Crossan's book on St Paul, which I read whilst I was in Devon, was their descriptions of Paul's very experiences of Jesus and the spirit, the idea of Paul the Christian mystic, so today, whilst fellow first years are in 'Church and Ministry' module, I will read Dunn on 'The religious Experience Of Paul and The Pauline Churches'. What a privilege. (Dunn, J., D., G., Jesus and the Spirit', SCM, 1975).

'...Here we have Paul's own words, the letters, and not poems or manuals of discipline, or philosophical treatises, we gain an insight into the mind and experience of the author such as no other literature of the time affords'. (para 36 intro).
I have always hesitated at Paul's:

1 Cor 15:8 Last of all, as to someone untimely born , he appeared also to me.

This is because it always reminds me of that line from Macbeth where Macduff is described as 'from his mother's womb untimely ripped.' This early account of a caesarian always fascinated my GCSE class. So obviously I wondered what Dunn might have to say on this front. He notes also its comparisons to Shakespeare's play and obviously Shakespeare knew his Bible, unlike your average GCSE class today.

Dunn feels that with the phrase 'last of all', Paul is indicating that the last resurrection appearance was his. He describes how this is debated but points out also that causing greater debate is the word 'ektroma' which means 'abortion'. I must admit I had always thought that Paul was lamenting his late birth, for if he had been born earlier he might have been with the other apostles who spent time with the resurrected Christ. But the word 'ektroma' denotes early and not late birth. Dunn wonders whether it might therefore convey the suddenness of Paul's conversion before he was really ready for it (mind you, isn't that an experience of many of us?). Dunn goes on to explain that ektroma denotes the RESULT of premature birth rather than the manner. There is perhaps even the suggestion that Paul is hinting at his monstrous appearance, remember that 'thorn in the flesh' which scholars have always wondered about. Perhaps Paul is suggesting that Jesus Christ appeared to him last of all, someone monstrous. Whatever the case I am beginning to realise that this Paul whom I have always imagined to be so greatly admired by the churches to whom he preached, much like our modern day Billy Graham, might have in actual fact, apart from the security which he had because he was in Christ, was actually quite an insecure chap who wasn't always well-received by the churches and was talked about in hushed whispers by people who even disputed his apostleship. Somehow it feels kind of ironic that the man who has caused indirectly such questions to be raised over the apostleship and ministry of women, suffered much the same kind of pain that women have suffered who have heard God's call down the ages.

It is almost as if Paul is at pains to explain that the resurrection appearance of Christ is something very unique to him. He ranks it alongside that of the earliest witnesses:

1 Corinthians 15:5-8 (Today's New International Version)

5 and that he appeared to Cephas, [a] and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

Dunn is most convincing when he relates the sense of Paul's almost aborted birth or premature birth to the sense that the conversion happened too soon, rather than too late, which might be what the 'last of all' seems to convey'. Paul had not matured in the faith, he had instead been converted prematurely. But without it, this premature conversion, he would have been too late for this last resurrection appearance which was to be his, for so it had been destined by God. Dunn describes:

'All the apostles' had already seen Jesus and been commissioned by him (1 Cor. 15:7); only by premature birth was Paul enabled to join the apostolic circle before it finally closed. In a note, Dunn describes how at the time of Paul's claim it would have been unlikely 'that resurrection appearances were thought to be ended or the circle closed...otherwise his claim would never have been accepted.'

I like the way that Dunn explains how Paul deliberately refrains from using the word 'vision' to describe his encounter with the risen Christ and I was disturbed by Crossan and Borg's implication that it was some kind of vision. I must go back and look at what they said exactly.

Paul says 'I saw' (1 Cor. 9:1) from ὁράω (horaō) (to see) (with the eyes). This happened in the past because it was that definitive act, that first encounter with the risen Christ which was important, despite all the other spiritual experiences since, this was what qualifies him as an apostle. In 1 Cor 15:8, we have this word again to indicate seeing with the eyes, ὁράω (horaō). Here it is used to express how Christ 'appeared'.

In 2 Cor 12:1ff, this experience of the risen Christ on the road to Damascus is differentiated from the more ecstatic experiences here.  His was an experience of the physically resurrected Christ as compared to the more pneumatic Christ; the Christ 'the life-giving Spirit' (p.103).

Different scholars have conjectured differently though as regards this 'seeing'. Crossan and Borg will argue that Paul perceived with his mind. Dunn describes how W Marxsen comes to similar conclusions. However, in Biblical Greek the sense is very much visual perception, so it is worth not being too persuaded by Crossan and Borg with their very rational explanations of what they thought Paul was encountering.

More another time.
Popping off to 'Images of Early church Fathers' lecture, for a break ;-)

What worked as a definitive act or encounter in your journey? Mine was being knocked off my feet by the awesome presence of God through his Holy Spirit at Alpha a few years ago. I was determined that that sort of thing didn't happen until it happened to me. That moment changed my life. Praise God.


James F. McGrath said...

Thanks for posting on this. I think you may be taking your linguistic point too far, perhaps. It is certainly true that Paul's language of "seeing" does not in and of itself indicate that his experience was "visionary" in nature. The description in Acts is interesting, since in at least one place it suggests that those with Paul may have seen something but not the figure with whom Paul was speaking. But we should perhaps expect Acts to depict the experience as having a "tangible" component, since both Luke and John, late in the first century and presumably in response to docetism, both add references to physical components of the encounter with the risen Jesus (including eating) where such details were not part of the tradition previously. And so historically speaking, we are still left with the possibility that the experiences that gave rise to Easter faith were of a sort that we today might categorize as "visionary".

Rachel Marszalek said...

Thanks for dropping by James. I have been finding Dunn's book (The Spirit of Jesus0 very interesting, especially because of the way that it focuses on Glossolalia and the charisma in general, I am fascinated by the way in which God works in ways which can not be rationalised by human thinking, in the sense that these experiences are super - natural. Very exciting. Because I speak to God in my 'angel language', as my children have come to call it, it is good to read an academic like Dunn dealing with this phenomenon exegetically because a lot of the stuff out there on manifestations is often quite glossy and superficial.

Where do you stand on these things? I'm having trouble defining the vibe of 'Exploring our Matrix' - perhaps I need to read some more of your stuff.

James F. McGrath said...

Well, reading more of someone's stuff often gives a better sense of where they are coming from! :)

I came to a personal faith in a Pentecostal church, and now am a member in a Baptist one. And for what it's worth, I studied with Jimmy Dunn, whom one of his other students once described as "a Reformed Methodist with Baptist leanings and Pentecostal interests".

Rachel Marszalek said...

I'm definitely getting the 'pentecostal interests' thing coming through, which I love - excellent - 'study buddy' to the great Jimmy himself - how fab!

Yes I'll add you to my blog roll - do you think you are 'Church and Bible' or Bible and Church' for my categories?

James F. McGrath said...

I'll make sure you're on my blogroll too. Presumably "Bible and Church" will work, unless you have "Bible, Church and Sci-Fi" category...

Rachel Marszalek said...

Hi James
Could you fix this link Mayer, "The Women Should Keep Silence In The Churches" on your Paul and the Early Church page? I am looking into some of your Butler stuff.

Thank you very much

James F. McGrath said...

I fixed the link (I had to use archive.org as the original document is gone). Thanks for drawing to my attention that the link wasn't working!

Rachel Marszalek said...

Thank you James - that's brill
God bless


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...


A little background reading so we might mutually flourish when there are different opinions