Guest / Limited Access /
The Paul We Think We Know
Saint Paul, 1610–12 by Peter Paul Rubens / The Bridgeman Art Library

Evangelicals feel a special connection with the apostle Paul. We shape our theology according to his thought, imitate his mission to evangelize, and pursue discipleship after his devotional practices. But our vision of him is loaded with misconceptions. Have we become more Pauline than Paul himself?

Last April in Christianity Today, Scot McKnight profiled "The Jesus We'll Never Know," describing the tendency of New Testament scholars to create a historical Jesus in their own image. We do the same with the great apostle. Like gazing into a mirror, we easily see our own reflections when we look at Paul.

Intense debates in Pauline studies over the past three decades have yielded fresh insights into Paul's thought and corrected some mistaken assumptions. If we want to be truly Pauline, we will have to take stock of these findings. Let us examine two longstanding misconceptions that have not held up under recent scrutiny, and then note one further way in which we tend to impose our evangelical values upon this apostle of Jesus Christ.

Salvation to the Jews

The misconception about Paul with the longest historical pedigree is that he was anti-Jewish. Many imagine that after his Damascus Road experience, Paul immediately rejected Judaism and embraced Christianity. They assume that in the first century these were two clearly distinguishable religions. Before his encounter with Christ, the thinking goes, Paul was wrapped up in a legalistic pursuit of salvation and was teaching others a similar philosophy. So great was his passion that he persecuted the Christians who taught salvation by grace through faith. After his conversion, everything changed. He embraced God's gracious salvation by faith in Christ ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

From Issue:
Read These NextSee Our Latest
Also in this IssueHarry Potter Is Here to Stay
Subscriber Access Only Harry Potter Is Here to Stay
Why the final movie is only the beginning of the Harry Potter phenomenon.
RecommendedThe Theology of Donald Trump
The Theology of Donald Trump
Four words that reveal what his followers really believe.
TrendingMy Encounter with Ken Ham's Giant Ark
My Encounter with Ken Ham's Giant Ark
A four-hour visit to the massive replica of Noah's boat left me with a flood of questions.
Editor's PickWhat the Magic Kingdom Reminds Us About the Eternal Kingdom
What the Magic Kingdom Reminds Us About the Eternal Kingdom
The happiest place isn't on earth...yet.
Christianity Today
The Paul We Think We Know
hide thisJuly July

In the Magazine

July 2011

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.