Saturday, May 30, 2009

The apostle Paul - guest post on In Our Time

This is a guest post written by Jim Mowatt. Jim is a dedicated listener to history podcasts and the producer of one himself: Historyzine. Like myself Jim loves the BBC podcast In Our Time and when he expressed his enthusiasm about the latest edition, I was happy to find him ready to write about it on my blog.

In Our Time surprises and delights over and over again in that it brings to light so many subjects on the fringes of my consciousness and provides enough depth of discussion to draw me further into the topic. This time they've chosen one of the most important people in the Christian church and yet someone who the non religious (such as myself and the majority of other peoples upon the earth) have barely encountered. As I've stated I have no strong religious belief but I do have a fascination for spirituality and religion and this podcast drew me in and inspired me to read some of the writings of St. Paul and gave me enough context that I could appreciate them all the more.

The presenter, Melvyn Bragg introduces his guests John Haldane, Professor of Philosophy at the University of St Andrews, John Barclay, Lightfoot Professor of Divinity at Durham University and Helen Bond, Senior Lecturer in the New Testament at the University of Edinburgh and gives us these words: A long time ago, a man called Saul was travelling to Damascus when a light flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" Paul (Saul) was a Jewish Pharisee probably going to Damascus to find out more about these troublesome Christians. His job/devotion/whatever was to police the strict adherence of Jews to the codes which had been set down for them. There seem to have been much diluting of these codes and this, he felt, watered down the Jewish faith. Paul received his conversion of faith and was immediately energised spreading a message not only to the Jewish peoples (all the early Christians were Jewish) but also to the Gentiles. He travelled many thousands of miles setting up little cells of Christian peoples throughout the Roman empire and leaving us the legacy we have today of the 13 epistles in the New Testament of the Christian bible. If not for Paul then it is quite likely that Christianity would have been a minority offshoot of the Jewish religion but Paul felt that the death and resurrection of Jesus had heralded a new age where all that had been would be swept away and a new world would come into being. Paul felt that this offered a path to salvation for all the peoples of the earth through Jesus Christ and that everyone could be saved. I suspect that there were many arguments about this at the time. Paul, even though he seems to have been quite well respected for his knowledge of scripture was a latecomer to the Christian movement. His conversion followed soon after the death of Jesus but he never met him and was not one of Jesus' disciples. To the apostles Paul must have seemed more of an irritant than a help. They had met and lived with Jesus. They had heard his teachings directly and yet here was this man Paul who felt he knew better than they, the message from God.

Despite this Paul has had an enormous effect upon the Christian church and this podcast did briefly refer to the influence of Paul upon Augustine and Luther many hundreds of years later. I'm grateful to this podcast for encouraging me to look again at the writings of Paul and feel his passion and enthusiasm for his subject. It shows the power of the written word that even now, 2000 years later I can read his texts and almost see and hear him speak (OK, OK, I wouldn't be able to understand him in the original Greek). His voice is vivid and strong. When he remonstrates, cajoles and harangues the Galatians I reel before his onslaught as they would. I may disagree with much that he says but I respect his belief and enthusiasm. This is an excellent series. Long may it continue.

More Podcasts about Early Christianity:
Philip Harland and others.

More In Our Time:
Whale evolution,
Magna Carta,
BBC's In Our Time - always recommended,
Brave New World,
Rafael's School of Athens and the depiction of Plato and Aristotle.