This is the fourth part of a six-part series about an imaginary journey to an Episcopal seminary where I ask hard questions about Christianity and priesthood. Without twenty-first-century answers, I may have to drop out. You can find Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here.
This week, I’m attending my first class about the letters of Paul and the other New Testament epistles. I have never understood the letters of Paul. I find them boring, disjointed, and full of material that I don’t and won’t believe. I can’t wait to hear the professor’s take on Paul.
The professor starts the class by saying Paul most likely wrote only seven of the thirteen letters attributed to him, and even some of those contain non-Pauline material: 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Philemon, Philippians, and Romans. All the other letters are of dubious authorship, and they were written for a world that existed almost two thousand years ago, when women were property, children were expected to obey, slavery was acceptable, and God had his son executed—none of which relates to me.
I have no interest in going to a church that insists on telling me how bad we are and even call us wretches in hymns like “Amazing Grace.” I see Creation as positive and people as good, even those on death row who have made bad choices. All of us started as good.
I want the church of the future to promote inherent goodness, not inherent badness. I want to hear Jesus’s messages about agape and how it can make life rich and fulfilling.
I think I’ll bring that up in class and watch everybody’s reactions.
In one of the adult education classes at my church, the rector pointed out that Paul was never a Christian, even though so much of our Christian theology is based on his far-fetched ideas. He was a well-educated Pharisee who developed a new form of Judaism that stated the Messiah had come. Many Jewish folks didn’t like that idea. I don’t either.
Paul then invented more nonsense like an imminent Second Coming. We’re still waiting!
His biggest invention was the notion of Jesus as the sacrificial lamb that took away our sins, which makes God a child abuser. As one of my friends facetiously says, “It was a waste of a good Jewish man because sin is still running rampant. If you don’t believe that, watch the six o’clock news.”
My question to the professor is this: “Why are the letters of Paul even in the Bible? He was a homophobe, sanctioned slavery, put women down, expected total obedience from children, and invented a Jesus who never was.”
Jesus is my Christ, not Paul. I want to relegate Paul to the ancient history books and promote unconditional love.
Wait until the professor hears this idea: Some versions of the Bible include apocrypha, which Dictionary.com defines as “writings . . . of doubtful authorship or authenticity.” Maybe the letters ascribed to Paul, all the other New Testament epistles, and especially the book of Revelation should be considered apocrypha rather than Biblical canon.
So many of Paul’s letters fuel prejudice and misunderstandings. I would never be a Christian, much less a priest, if my faith was based on any of them.
Why can’t we use modern theologies instead of fourth-century nonsense to guide our twenty-first-century faith?
I wonder how I’ll do in this class. My gut says I probably won’t do well.
What does your gut say? Or do you want to withhold judgment until after my next class on systematic Christian theology?
Saint Paul Writing His Epistles, attributed to Valentin de Boulogne, is in the public domain.