Out of all of Christís apostles, Paul is the one who is known the best thanks to his letters and to Lukeís very vivid accounts in the Acts of the Apostles. He seems to us to have a passion for the Gospel, as shown by the proclamation that heads this article. Far from being ashamed of a message that sounds like a scandal to the Jews and folly to the Greeks (1 Co 1:23), Paul proclaims. it forcefully because <<it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: for Jew first, and then Greek>> (Rm 1:16). As a doctor of the faith and a pastor, Paul applies himself to revealing all the riches of the message and to forming living communities. His teaching and missionary lifestyle continue to be a certain guide for the task of evangelization that is incumbent upon the Church today. We will outline the major themes of Paulís preaching by showing how he, ever sensitive to the questions of the moment, tried to respond to them based on faith in Christ, the crucified one yesterday and the Lord today. In his apostolate there is nothing set but a zeal that is always on the watch to proclaim the Gospel where it has not still not arrived (2 Co 10:14s).
1. Paul, an apostle directly called by God
Paulís zeal is based on a direct call from God, an unexpected call, because in a first period Gamalielís disciple persecuted Christís faithful. A meeting on the way to Damascus changed everything through this decisive dialogue. <<ďWho are you, sir?Ē The reply came, ďI am Jesus, whom you are persecutingĒ>> (Acts 9:5)1 In these few words, we have in germinal form the whole doctrine that Paul will live: the mystical identification between Christ and his Church.
When reflecting later on this meeting that transformed his life, Paul would write this to the Galatians: <<But when (God), who from my motherís womb had set me apart and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal [apokalupsai] his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him to the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult flesh and bloodÖ I went into Arabia>> (Gal l:15-17). The polemical background is obvious: Paul has to defend his authority against the preachers who are Jewish sympathizers and accuse him of not being a real apostle because he persecuted the early Church and broke off from the Jewish practices the pagans he converted ...Having been chosen through grace, he must show that Jesus is not only the Messiah for the Jews, but also that he is the Son who came for all men. In carrying out his task as the apostle of the nations, Paul does not forget his racial brothers (Rm 9:1-5; 10:1). Complete faith in Christ the Lord and universalism go together.
2. Apostolic kerygma
In claiming his authority as an apostle, Paul does not isolate himself from the others, as the solemn proclamation addressed to the Corinthians shows: <<Now I am reminding you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you indeed received and in which you also stand. Through it you are also being saved...>> (1 Co 15:1). This is the Gospel of all the apostles as he says in the conclusion: <<Therefore, whether it be I or they, so we preach and so you believed>>. (1 Co 15:11).
Before specifying the content of the Gospel, some remarks are called for about the word itself. While the noun euangelion and the verb <<to evangelize>>(euangelizesthai) occur very frequently in Paulís Letters,2 they nonetheless belong to the basic Christian vocabulary. Mark is a good witness to this. In a few words he sums up Jesus' first preaching in Galilee in this way: <<This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospe>> (Mk 1:15).3 According to Matthew, it has to do with the Gospel of the Kingdom of God (Mt 4:23; 9:35; 24:14), the good news that in the end God is going to establish his Kingdom on earth by driving back Satan who is responsible for menís alienation. This good news has its roots in the Old Testament, especially in the second and third parts of Isaiah.4 According to Luke, at the time of Jesusí first preaching in Nazareth, Jesus comments on this text: <<The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor...>> (Lk 4:18 quoting Is 61:1s). Paul also relates the Gospel to this prophet because he quotes this text with regard to evangelization: <<How can people preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ďHow beautiful are the feet of those who bring (the) good news!Ē>> (Rm 10:15 quoting 52:7). As the fulfillment of Godís plan, the Gospel in Paul is centered on the paschal mystery: <<For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised [egegertai] on the third day in accordance with the scriptures; that he appeared [ophth?] to Kephas, then to the Twelve>> (1 Co 15:3-5).
Countless studies of this text have appeared. Let us limit ourselves to a few remarks. First, the use of the traditional vocabulary well anchored in Jewish teaching. Paul takes up formulas that are at the basis of the preaching of Kephas and other apostles, including James. From a historical viewpoint, we might say, <<Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate>>, an event which many saw and which is recounted in the gospels. By using the word Christ, Jesusí messianic dignity is stressed. The scandalous death of the Messiah is nonetheless in conformity with the Scriptures: think in particular of the fourth song of the Servant of Yahweh (Is 53).5 The addition of <<for sins>>. declares the value of that death because as a real sacrifice for sin, it puts an end to the sacrifices of the Jerusalem Temple.
Christís death is inseparable from his resurrection which also took place according to the Scriptures. In the Christian tradition, two formulas alternate to express the mystery of the resurrection.6 According to the first formula attested to in 1Co 15:4, the Father reawakens his Son from the silence of the tomb: <<[We] believe in the one who raised (egeiranta) Jesus our Lord from the dead? (Rm 4:24). According to the second, Christ was raised [anest?] from among the dead (1 Th 4:14). The Risen Christ lets himself be seen [ophth?]7 by the ones he has chosen as his witnesses. The verb used evokes Godís apparitions in the Old Testament, and especially the apparition to Moses who was charged to deliver his brothers from slavery in Egypt. For Paul, the vision of Christ and the mission are inseparable: <<Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?>> (1 Co 9:1). Paul experienced the vision on the way to Damascus as a revelation (Gal 1:12). In that era, many Jews were striving for Godís great intervention that would put an end to an excessively long period of misery. Let us quote one prayer from Ecclesiasticus: <<Hasten the day, remember the oath, and let men tell of your mighty deeds...>> (Sir 36:10). We can read the same impatience in the Psalms of Salomon written after Jerusalem was taken by Pompeii (63 B.C.). In Qumran, the Essenians were preparing the way of the Lord in expectation of the great Day. John the Baptist would invite his listeners to convert before the Hour of Judgment (Mt 3:7-10). It is not at all surprising that the first Christian community was expecting Christís triumphant return to be at hand. Marana tha is the most ancient Christian prayer (1 Co 16:21), a supplication that must be translated as <<Our Lord, come>>, as in Revelation 22:20.
It is not surprising that when Paul was still blinded by the splendor of his encounter with the Lord he invited the first faithful to share this expectation. His first letter written around the year 50, the First Letter to the Thessalonians, attests to this. Once they converted to the living God, the former pagans had to <<await his Son from heaven, whom he raised [egeiren] from (the) dead, Jesus, who delivers us from the coming wrath>> (1 Th 1:10). This same letter offers an evocation of the parousia (1 Th 4:14-17) in which the ceremonial of a sovereign's entrance into the city and the evocation of the theophany of Sinai are combined. As to Paul, he really hopes to be present at the great feast: <<Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air>> (1 Th 4:17). For everyone, the living and the dead, the definitive encounter will take place: <<Thus we shall always be with the Lord>>.
The expectation will extend beyond the forecasts and so even Paul will have to soften his preaching8 by emphasizing the current bond that ties each of the faithful to Christ. In this change of perspectives, what is the doctrinal core that ensures continuity?
3. The Gospel of the Cross
Christís resurrection does not pertain to the realm of what was believable for the Greeks. Luke shows this at the time of Paulís stay in Athens: <<When they heard about resurrection [anastasis] of the dead, some began to scoff, but others said, ďWe should like to hear you on this some other timeĒ>> (Acts 17:32). In the First Letter to the Corinthians, the apostle quotes the apostolic kerygma to prove that if Christ is risen as <<first fruits>> (1 Co 15:20), we too will rise again. The head is inseparable from its members by reason of the baptism that grafts believers on the life of Christ (Rm 6:1- 5).
In that same Letter, Paul has to develop nevertheless the message of the cross and he insists upon the most paradoxical formulas: <<For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with the wisdom of human eloquence, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning>>. (1 Co 1:17). Although the community of Corinth was mainly made up of people from a low station (1 Co 1:26-31), it also had well-off merchants like Chloe, Aquila and Priscilla, and even notables like Erastus, the treasurer (Rm 16:23). For the Greeks who loved fine speeches, a certain Apollos who came from Alexandria appeared to be more attractive than Paul whose speech was harsh and forceful. The division into clans constituted a great danger: <<Is Christ divided?>>, Paul protests (1 Co 1:13). The unity of Christ gives foundation to the unity of the Church. It is necessary to be united to the authentic Christ and not to an image that conforms to human desires (2 Co 11:4). Far from dissimulating the ignominy of the cross as some were tempted to do, Paul is tireless in presenting the paradox of the supreme humiliation: <<For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified>> (1 Co 2:2). In view of the worldís pride, God decided in fact to choose what is weakest in it: <<For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength>> (1 Co 1:25).
We find the same emphases in the Letter to the Galatians. Paul is astonished by their desertion (Gal 1:6), and their abandonment of the true Gospel when the crucified Jesus Christ was portrayed before their own eyes (Gal 3:1). Even though the letters do not give details about the events of the passion, it must surely be supposed that Paul had to recount, at least in its major outlines, the circumstances of an atrocious and ignominious death. Especially the celebration of the Lordís meal lent itself to this. While some Corinthians were temped to see it only as a joyful community meal, the Apostle protests strongly recalling the night the Lord Jesus was handed over: <<For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes>> (1 Co 11:26).
The lifestyle Of the Lord's envoys must correspond to his ignominious death. While some Corinthians wanted the ministers of the Gospel to take on the ways of the star rhetoricians of their times, Paul presented himself as fearful and trembling (1 Co 2:3); he refused the subsidies proposed to him and wanted to offer the Gospel gratuitously (1 Co 9:18). To the Galatians who were tempted to follow the preachers that were Jewish sympathizers, he dares to say: <<Let no one make troubles for me; for I bear the marks [stigmata] of Jesus on my body>> (Gal 6:18). There is no authentic preaching without an effort to conform to Christ. Paul will dare to write to the Corinthians, <<Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ>> (1 Co 11:1).
4. The Gospel of freedom compared to the Law of Moses
The progress of the evangelization among the nations would very soon raise some difficult problems. Jesus had not specified anything on this subject. Some of the faithful of Jewish origin thought that the converted ought to be integrated into Israel through circumcision: Wasn't this commanded as the sign of Godís eternal covenant with his people (Gn 17)? The Christians who did not accept circumcision would simply be considered proselytes in connection with the <<Holy>> community, but without belonging to it completely. The controversy soon became very acute. Some emissaries from Jerusalem preached circumcision to the Galatians and observation of the prescriptions of the Law of Moses regarding the Sabbath and the rejection of impure foods (Gal 4:10). For Paul, the decisive question had to do with <<the truth of the Gospel>> (Gal 2:25). It was a question of knowing how man is justified: <<Even we have believed in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified>> (Gal 2: 16). If Paul appears to be intractable and does not hesitate to criticize Peterís praiseworthy conduct, it is because of the centrality of Christ in the plan of salvation: <<If justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing>> (Gal 2:21). The decisive word is spoken: Would the cross be a chance happening? Or is it the hinge around which history revolves with, on the one hand, the time of the Law, a time of servitude, and, on the other, the time of the faith and freedom of the children of God? ?But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption? (Gal 4:4-5).
An incisive formula shows to what extent meditation on the cross transformed Paul: ?Insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me? (Gal 2:20). To his dear Philippians, who were also tempted by the preaching of the Jewish sympathizers, Paul evokes the greatness of the sacrifice which he had to permit: ?For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having any righteousness of my own based on the law but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God, depending on faith? (Ph 3:8-9).
Christís death and resurrection awaken the new creation (Gal 6: 15) characterized by life according to the agape that Christ brought by giving up his life for us (Gal 2:20). The Spirit changes our relations with God and our neighbor. The love of God expands in our hearts (Rm 5:4) and allows us to invoke God with Jesusí same words, <<Abba, Father>> (Gal 4:6). The agape prevents us from claiming freedom in an individualistic sense and prods us to put ourselves at each anotherís service (Gal 5:13). In view of the escalation between <<spirituals>>, Paul presents agape as the best gift of the Spirit (1 Co 13). So Christian agape gives value to being loved and breaks down the barriers. In a word, Paul preaches a responsible, a freedom, a freedom that takes the viewpoint of others into consideration and avoids scandalizing the weak (1 Co 8: 11-12). For Christ, one has to be able to sacrifice oneís rights in accordance with Paulís example: <<Although I am free in regard to all, I have made myself a slave to all so as to win over as many as possible>>: (1 Co 9:19).
The Letter to the Philippians develops the sameē teachings starting from a hymn to Christ: ?Though he was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance; he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross? (Ph 2:6-8). From this well known text, let us focus on the parallel between the two Adams. Just the opposite of the former who lost Godís friendship through pride, the new Adam, through his obedience, will obtain the reconciliation of all earthly and heavenly beings for the glory of God the Father (Ph 2: 11). In complete solidarity with us, sinners (Rm 8:3), Christ, who did not know sin (2 Co 5:21), leads us to renounce ego for adoration of the Father.
5. The Transmission of the Gospel
From the beginning of his apostolic journeys, Paul wants to create a missionary team. Even if collaborating with him was not always easy - Barnabas experienced it in a divergence regarding John Mark (Acts 15:39) - it would be wrong to portray the Apostle as a ?franc-tireur? of the Gospel. Among his most active collaborators we can mention Timothy, the son of a pagan father and a Jewish mother (Acts 16:1-2), and Silas/Silvanus, a faithful esteemed by the community of Jerusalem (Acts 15:22). Both appear in the address of the First Letter to the Thessalonians. Titus is the delicate and peaceful confidence man who will be capable of re-establishing relations between Paul and the Corinthians (2 Co 7:13). The couple Aquila and Priscilla, who were driven out of Rome, will welcome Paul in Corinth (Acts 18:2) and merit the greatest praise (Rm 16:3). On his last voyage to Jerusalem, Paul is accompanied by several disciples (Acts 20:4). And what can we say about Luke, the faithful doctor (Col 4:14), who reports so well on Paulís voyages? Attention to persons characterizes the great evangelizer that Paul was, and the long list in Romans 16 is the best indication of this.
Paulís last years are shrouded in mystery. The account of the Acts ends in Rome with the hope of a forthcoming liberation. The pastoral Letters (1 and 2 Timothy, Titus )9 let us get a glimpse at many moves before a new arrest that will lead to martyrdom towards the end of Neroís reign. For many reasons, most critics attribute the pastoral letters to a disciple who wanted to preserve the Pauline heritage while adapting it to new conditions. This entails first and foremost transmitting the deposit received faithfully and combating all the deformations of a presumed gnosis (1 Tm 6:20s). Te hchoice of ministers of the Gospel got his full attention. Beyond the qualities of a good father of a family (1 Tm 3:1-7), we will remember the following exhortation: <<Attend to the reading, exhortation, and teaching>> (1 Tm 4:13). The liturgy contributes to a right transmission of the faith. Among the beautiful hymns contained in the pastoral letters, we mention the following: <<Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David: such is my gospel>> (2 Tm 2:8).
<<Remember Jesus Christ>>: not a nostalgic memory that makes us regret the good old times, but an active memory sustained by the Lordís meal and celebrated in his memory until he comes (1 Co 11:26). A memory of Christ who gives up his body to the faithful so that in the Church they will become his Body, which is called to grow in love until it reaches its fullness (Eph 4:13-16).
<<I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting>>: more than any other apostle, Paul lived and taught this inseparable union between Christ and the Church. The deepening of the mystery of the cross encouraged him in his apostolate, and throughout many trials it enabled him to never fail: <<My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness>> (2 Co 12:9).
BONY P., Saint Paul, Paris, ?d. de l' Atelier, 1996.
1 The French text uses the TOB translation.
2 60 times for the noun and 21 times for the verb in the 13 Letters attributed to Paul.
3 Mark uses the word 8 times.
4 See Is 40:9-10; 41:27; 52:7; 61:1.
5 Is 53 from which an extract is quoted in Acts 8:32s at the time of the meeting between Philip and the eunuch of Ethiopia.
6 X. Leon-Dufour, Resurrection de J?sus et message pascal, Paris,ed. du Seuil, 1971, pp. 29-41.
7 The translation of the TOB is preferable: he. appeared.
8 CERFAUX L. (?Le Christ dans la theologie de saint Paul?. Paris, ed. du Cerf, 1952) had the merit of highlighting this point in
9 Cahier Evangile No; 72 (1990), Les Epitres pastorale by Cothenet E.
Data From : Omnis Terra, Mar. & Apr. 2008, p. 93-99.