I have been particularly interested in the first generations of the Church, those immediately following Jesus’ death and resurrection. The most prominent individual during this period is undoubtedly Saul of Tarsus, who later became known as the apostle Paul.
Paul is a very interesting figure. It has been said that Jesus founded Christianity, but Paul founded the Church. He poured his life into his missionary journeys, starting churches, and writing letters to Christians across the known world. Many of his letters are now included in our Bibles. We literally have accepted them as gospel.
But consider a quote from Saving Jesus from the Church, by Robin Meyers:
“We know that Saul of Tarsus, who never met Jesus, became the apostle Paul through a completely mystical experience and seemed to care nothing for the earthly teachings of Jesus, only his “adoption” as the Son of God through the resurrection. Not only did he alter the nature of the gospel from a story to an argument, but his letters and those written by others in his name are the earliest Christian documents we have, written long before the gospels.”
If it weren’t for the fact that the other apostles eventually accepted Paul as a true apostle with corresponding authority, it would be easy to question whether his writings even belong in our Bibles. I have noticed that Paul hardly ever refers to Jesus’ life on earth or his teachings. In fact, not only had he never met Jesus, it seems that he had little contact with the eleven disciples who had actually walked with Jesus. And he apparently did not have benefit of the four gospels yet either. So he preaches about Jesus as Son of God and Savior, but includes very little of the teaching that Jesus gave the world directly.
In my own Bible reading I need to go back through the gospels, and then through the writings of Peter and John. I want to make sure that I understand the teachings of Jesus and how they have been incorporated into Christian faith and practice, aside from the extraordinary influence of Paul.
This post can also be found on my other blog at http://pathsofchristianity.com/paul/