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The Letters of St. Paul: Great Truth or Grand Fiction?

Updated on November 20, 2010
"God loves a cheerful giver..." St. Paul
"God loves a cheerful giver..." St. Paul

Where would we be without them? Hmmmm, let's see...

"When you recognize that reality is a selective act of attention and interpretation--a selective act of perception--you become capable of consciously co-creating your life." Deepak Chopra

A short, perhaps not so sweet glimpse into the amazing career of the man who actually created Christianity: Paul

Did he actually write his letters? No, he didn’t. He had a scribe. That scribe was probably Luke, who is also credited with writing the Book of Acts.

The more important question: Did Paul actually say all those things that the scribe ascribed to him? Probably not. Scholars are now fairly certain that some of those letters were not even from the scribe.

Then what do we say about the Pauline Letters? Not a lot. I will say that there are some interesting points of view, a few good sentences worthy of repeating as quotes, and even a laugh or two.

And I will also say that these letters are not solid enough upon which to build any kind of absolute truth. Why?

Even if you give both Paul and his scribe the complete benefit of the doubt, it’s important to remember these two things:

  • Paul did not have the intention to create Holy Writ. He was simply writing letters to other groups of believers, admonishing them to stay the course. He used terms and ideas that were in context for the people of his time. (I would venture to guess that if you were to tell him today that his words are now considered the very words of God Himself, Paul would not only be flabbergasted; he'd be indignant. Rightly so.)
  • It was other people who decided that what Paul said was worthy of being called “God’s Word.” And these were decisions made by various and disparate groups who didn’t always agree on what Paul was trying to get across. Even while Paul was alive, he had to deal with rabble-rousers within the burgeoning Christian movement who wanted to retain old ways and old customs, like circumcision. They weren’t even called Christians yet. In fact, that term came from outside the community and was originally a term of derision.

No one knows for certain exactly who Paul was and what he ultimately wanted to achieve. Did he meet Jesus on the Road to Damascus? You and I were not there. We do not know. But the largest religion in the world owes its existence to this man, Paul. Of that much we can be certain.

Summary: Many of Paul’s letters are not actually from Paul but were probably forgeries written after his death. And the ones that have survived, both authentic and not, were made part of the Christian canon by the decree of people just like you and me. No one special, no one holy. Just people. And almost 400 years later.

I, for one, have decided not to base my relationship with The Source of All That Is (God, if you insist...) on the writings of Paul. I’m sure he meant well, I'll give him that much. And even his many editors may well have had the best interests of future generations of believers at heart, even if they did add and subtract from the supposed original letters for the next several centuries. But Paul was a person of his time. And that time has come and gone. I bet he would be the first one to agree with me.

So, unless you still believe in the subjugation of women and the divine right of kings, perhaps you, too, may want to say good-bye to those old letters or simply view them as amusing relics of millenia past.

St. Paul, no matter who you were or what you did or did not say, you certainly have made the last 1900 years very interesting. For that, I say thank you.

"Life does not turn out the way it 'should.' Nor does it turn out the way it 'shouldn't.' Life turns out the way it does." Tracy Goss, author


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