Through Paul’s seven undisputedly authentic letters we glimpse Paul’s deepest convictions. Chief among these was his belief that the god of Israel, through the agency of his son, the risen and returning Messiah, was about to end history, raise the dead, defeat evil, and establish his everlasting kingdom (
Paul seems to have first encountered the new Jesus movement through a synagogue community in Damascus. His initial response was hostile: he “persecuted” these other Jewish apostles, though he does not say why or how (
Jewish apocalyptic traditions had long enunciated such a belief—namely, that when the kingdom (and/or the Messiah) came, the dead would be raised. This is the context within which Paul interprets Jesus’ resurrection: It signified that the general resurrection would shortly come (
But when would this larger resurrection come? Christ first had to return. Thereafter, defeating all the hostile cosmic powers ranged against God (including “the last enemy,” death, per
Paul’s letters are so early—from the middle years of the first century—that it is easy for us to overlook an odd fact: by the time that Paul wrote them, the kingdom was late. How had Paul maintained his apocalyptic convictions in the face of the kingdom’s (and the returning Messiah’s) ever-lengthening delay?
The way that Paul understood his witness to the risen Christ gives us our answer. God, revealing his son to (or in) Paul, he says, had thereby “called” him to “proclaim him [Christ] among the “pagans” (or “Gentiles”: the word is the same in Greek;
The pagan destruction of idols, the final turning of the Gentiles and even of their gods (
- Eisenbaum, Pamela. Paul Was Not a Christian: The Original Message of a Misunderstood Apostle. San Francisco: HarperOne, 2009.
- Stendahl, Krister. Paul among the Jews and Gentiles. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977.
- Sanders, E. P. Paul: A Very Short Introduction. Very Short Introductions. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.