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THE Pauline theology is an entirely new phenomenon on the soil of Christianity. In the early Church at Jerusalem, isolated theological propositions had been set up which had arisen in the course of reflection about Jesus and in controversy with the Jews. They spoke of the Son of God and of the Messiah, of the wonderful call of Jesus and of His vicarious death. But nowhere do we find even the feeling of the necessity for any clear co-ordination of all these thoughts. The Jews—even the learned Jews—never felt any desire to build up systems of doctrine. There never existed any systematic theology of the synagogue. The Rabbis taught the explanation of single passages, the comparison with other passages, the formation of syllogisms, and also the allegorical method of exegesis. The expositions of St Paul in Rom. iv. and Gal. iii. are good instances of Jewish methods of exegesis. As soon, however, as St Paul leaves the ground of Scripture his methods are no longer rabbinical. He would not, however, really have been able to learn anything even from the 224learned Jews of Alexandria. All his knowledge of Greek philosophy did not make a philosopher of Philo after all. His business is biblical exegesis after the manner of the Rabbis, only from the point of view of the Greek teachers. At all events, St Paul was so imperfectly acquainted with Greek philosophy itself, that it had no influence over him, and that which he created in his theology is no philosophy either.

St Paul’s education at the feet of the Rabbis certainly proved to be of great importance for him. Here he learned to know and understand the Sacred Book, learned rabbinical methods of interpretation, and many thoughts and conceptions of contemporary Jewish theology. Henceforward he could command the resources of a trained jurist. His later doctrines as to the annulling of the law and justification by faith are proof of this. Here it is that he heard men speak of Adam, of the Fall, of the death of all men. In fact, generally speaking, his interest in sin and the avoidance of sin first awakens in the school of the Rabbis. It is probably to the same source that he owes his initiation into apocalyptic mysteries. One single circumstance, however, should warn us against forming an exaggerated estimate of this rabbinical influence; it is the use St Paul makes of the Septuagint. He takes no interest in the Hebrew text. In his arguments he uses words of the Septuagint to which nothing corresponds in the Hebrew. The influence of his masters cannot therefore have extended very far.

The decisive factor in the genesis of St Paul’s theology was his personal experience, his conversion on the road to Damascus.


Henceforward his estimate of things was an entirely different one. All that had before seemed to him great and important, was now of little worth. He saw everything in a new light. His whole being was radically changed. Rarely, indeed, has such an entire alteration taken place in any man. Previous to his conversion, the law had been his chief delight; he had been contented with himself and vainglorious; he had found himself without fault, and trusted optimistically in his own strength. Afterwards arose the consciousness that he had been Messiah’s enemy and persecutor of the cause of God. Hence mistrust and even condemnation of the whole of his previous life. Then the crucified Jesus had been a fanatic and a blasphemer, overtaken by a just punishment; now this same sufferer on the cross was the Messiah, the Redeemer, the Son of God. So decisive an experience, producing such an entire reversal of all values, was bound to become an unparalleled incentive to thought and inquiry. To think now meant to re-think. The convert’s first duty, the first point that he was bound to clear up for himself, was that during the whole of his previous life he had been pursuing a wrong course, and that now he was in the right one. Paul changed his previous thoughts so entirely that it is lost labour nowadays to attempt to trace his course back to the ideas which he entertained before his conversion. In fact, we are completely ignorant as to what ideas he exactly had at that time. One thing alone is certain, that he abandoned those which he had and buried them out of sight. The apostle had one theology and one alone, and that is a Christian one. Each single word of his epistles 226flows from his Christian consciousness. There is no natural theology for him personally, no presupposition of sin, death, and the judgment which preceded his knowledge of Jesus. It was the knowledge of Jesus, on the contrary, which dictated to him the shape and fashion of all his presuppositions. If, in spite of this, we appear to derive a contrary impression from whole portions of his letters, then this is to be traced to the second source of his theology—his apologetic interest.

For he that was converted in so violent a fashion is now missionary to the Gentiles. The judgment is near at hand: his task is to save out of heathenism as many as are predestined to salvation. The theology which is presented to us in his letters is neither that of the Jewish Rabbi nor yet that of the convert of Damascus reflecting on his previous and his present state, but it is that of the missionary. What he did was not merely to turn his thoughts to account for the practical aims of his mission, but, as far as we know them, he formed them during and for his mission. St Paul’s line of thought may best be termed Christian missionary theology from an eschatological point of view. Why else should he have employed the Greek language and Greek forms and conceptions, and thrust the really rabbinical train of thought so completely into the background? Or why else, again, should he have attached so great an importance to conversion, which divides, or ought to divide, the life of every Christian into two halves? But if the Pauline theology is a missionary theology, then it is the theology of an apologist, the first great system of Christian apologetics—compared with 227which all the apologetic thoughts of the early Church at Jerusalem are but as modest preliminaries.

In the next place, the great twofold divisions of this system of apologetics is the result of St Paul’s peculiar position between Gentiles, Jews, and Judaizing Christians. It is first a theology of redemption the basis of his missionary preaching to the Greeks; and secondly, anti-Jewish apologetics—the defence of that same preaching against Judaizers and Jews. His theological work, however, is not exhausted in his tireless efforts to seek and to save the lost and to beat back the foes from without. He aims likewise at a theology for mature Christians. He seeks to penetrate to the depths of the thoughts about God contained in the Holy Scriptures and in the revelation of Christ. It is a Christian gnosis which has penetrated even into the world of spirits and into the divine mysteries. We must now attempt to present these three great facts of his system of thought separately, though they frequently, of course, intersect and blend with each other.

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