As I near the end of What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity?, I have been struck with a perfectly sensible tension. I find that I want to read the Bible, in this instance Paul, from a fresh standpoint that does not take account of previous scholars who have misconstrued Paul. We have made him into a Jew who though the Torah was all about works righteousness. We made him into the poster child of the Reformation, declaring that faith alone saves us.
The bottom line is that I’ll never know how much the church has obscurred Paul. In addition, I find it hard to get past my own cultural preconceptions and the disconnect I feel when he talks about the pagan world, Jews, Greeks, Romans, etc.
On the other hand, I find that I am deeply indebted to the work of the church throughout history. The historic church has an important voice in how I read the Bible today. I must allow theologians from the past and present to speak to me and offer their own perspectives. Of course I’ll never truly escape them anyway. I am at my present place only because others have gone before me and set the course.
And so I wonder, how do we balance our indebtedness to the past with a healthy quest for new insights?