Gospel According to Paul: The Creative Genius Who Brought Jesus to the Worldby Robin Griffith-Jones
Griffith-Jones shows how, like the other Gopsel writers, Paul's writings are meant primarily to confront the reader with the compelling presence and message of Jesus. The aim is nothing less than
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A new look at Paul as the fifth evangelist, the brilliantly entrepreneurial witness to Jesus who brought his transforming presence and essential message to the world.
Griffith-Jones shows how, like the other Gopsel writers, Paul's writings are meant primarily to confront the reader with the compelling presence and message of Jesus. The aim is nothing less than dramatic personal transformation. He answers all the fascinating questions about Paul: was he the real creator/founder of Christianity, was he an antisemitic Jew, was he a homophobic gay man, did he regard women and slaves as second class citizens before God and the community, did he betray the teaching of Jesus and the original Jesus movement as a movement within Judaism? He rejects all these allegations as false and missing the real point of Paul's Gospel--the radical conversion of the reader, using every possible means to convey his extraordinary mesasge.
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The Gospel According to Paul
The Creative Genius Who Brought Jesus to the World
"Caught Up to Paradise"
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was invisible and unformed. And darkness was over the deep. And the breath of God was borne above the water. And God said, "Let there be light." And there was light.
The Beginning [Genesis] 1:13, Greek Version
"As I was going to Damascus, in the middle of the day on the road I saw from heaven a light shining around me with a brightness greater than the sun's."
The Mission [Acts] 26:1213
The story of this book does not start with Paul's conversion or with Jesus' death. It opens at the start of all things in The Beginning when God spoke over the chaos on day one of creation and said, "Let there be light." This is not the light of sun or moon, created on the fourth day, but the light with which God dispelled the darkness at the very start of creation with his first word of command. For six days, says the Old Order, God created. And when he came to the sixth day he said, "Let us make man -- adam -- in our image." And in his image he created him (1:2627). (The Hebrew word adam means "human being"; Hebrew has no capital letters.) Adam was the crown of creation. His heel, said rabbis, outshone the sun; far brighter still was his face. But Adam and Eve disobeyed God and were expelled from Paradise. At this Fall, said the rabbis, Adam lost the glory of God, and only at the last times will he recover it.
But humanity, once created in the likeness of God, did not lose that image at the Fall. This likeness fueled the thought and visions of the prophet and seer Ezekiel. Ezekiel is granted a vision of the chariotthrone of God. He writes cautiously of what he saw. At the heart of a dazzling light he saw the likeness of a throne. Upon this throne he saw the likeness as the appearance of a human being -- or of adam (1:26). God had made humankind in his own image and likeness; conversely, his own image would have the appearance of humankind. Here was the form in which a human, an adam on earth, could know just something of God. This was not a specific, individual person to be recognized as such -- that thought would have been grotesque and tantamount to blasphemy -- but, rather, the assurance that something of God is accessible to human knowledge. For like knows like; and we who are made in the image of God are offered just a glimpse in ourselves -- however sullied and distorted -- of that image in which we are made.
Paul too, centuries later, was a visionary, trained in the ways of the Jewish seers. He himself, he believed, was once taken up to the third heaven, to Paradise. On such a journey a seer would be shown the secrets of heaven; and as he drew nearer to the presence of God, the seer would be transformed into the glory of the inhabitants of heaven.
But the journey is for us less important than the long training that made it possible. This was an intense study of scripture and in particular of the visions recorded by earlier seers. Visions, that is, of the court of heaven and of the one seated on God's own throne who had the likeness as the appearance of adam. Paul journeyed to Paradise years after his conversion. The training, however, that would eventually lead to that journey had already borne fruit on the road to Damascus -- in the vision that changed Paul's life.
Enter the followers of Jesus. They were making grand claims for their leader. This Jesus too had been a seer -- and, as they would have it, far more than a seer. It would be one thing for Jesus to be a human who visited heaven and saw there the glory of God; quite another, to be an inhabitant of heaven who had visited earth to unveil that glory here among us. The first follows the tradition of unveilings familiar for centuries; the second turns that tradition upside down. Jesus' followers were already, before Paul, developing the second claim out of the first. There had been angels enough, in the Old Order, who implemented God's will on earth and represented him. These could offer a template against which to measure Jesus and refine claims made for him. But what status had this Jesus now that he had gone or returned to his heavenly home? Jesus' following was increasingly confident that Jesus' status was far higher than the status of any agent or subordinate. These followers seemed close to seeing in their leader a second, human god. The greater these claims for Jesus became, the more appalled and angry the visionary Paul would be. A seer squares up to the followers of another seer. Their abhorrent error must be fought at every turn.
Unless those followers were right. Unless the seer Paul must abandon every expectation vested in the appearance of adam upon the throne -- and see there the features of a particular individual Adam. Unless, more devastating still, the features were those of the false seer Jesus. Here is the core of the explosion in Paul's thought.
What happened, then, on the road to Damascus, when Paul was struck blind by a dazzling light and heard the voice of Jesus? This was no bolt from the blue. It was the result of many years' work. Intellect and imagination, nurtured and disciplined in the traditions of the seers, bore fruit in a single overwhelming insight. The premises and categories of the ancient traditions inherited by Paul had to be overturned. In defiance of all the conditions that made thinkable any thought of God, Paul was convinced that the one seated on the throne of God in a human likeness -- was Jesus.The Gospel According to Paul
The Creative Genius Who Brought Jesus to the World. Copyright © by Robin Griffith-Jones. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Robin Griffith-Jones taught New Testament for several years at Oxford University and is currently a visiting lecturer at King's College, London University. He serves in one of the most historic positions in the Anglican Church, that of Master of the Temple in London, the famous church of the Knights Templar (www.templechurch.com). Griffith-Jones is the author of The Four Witnesses (on the four gospels), The Gospel According to Paul, and The Da Vinci Code and the Secrets of the Temple.
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