Let me preface this by saying the following:
I have a fairly limited blog audience. 2, 3 at most. Of that vast throng of 3, at least 2 are deeply faithful Christian fellows whose posts are absolutely fantastic to read even when I don't necessarily agree, or, as is more often the case, have the slightest clue what they're talking about. (Hi Stan and Ben)
More often than not, it's somewhat akin to a quantum physics professor explaining string theory to a 1st grader. Yes, I know what string is. However, I don't think that is a qualifying factor to be in that discussion.I am not a learned fellow when it comes to the bible and the heaps of theological theory and discussion of the last couple millenia. So this post is the opposite, the 1st grader musing on string to the learned professors. Therefore I am on incredibly thin ice in writing this, but there's something that's always made me wonder about Paul...
Paul, or, Jesus's Pen Pal
Paul...so this Paul guy....he never actually meets Alive Jesus, he claims that Jesus appeared to him in a vision on a road trip post-resurrection. He then becomes the Stephen King of the bible, cranking out letters like nobody's business, some suggesting that he usually used a scribe to write most of the stuff down for him. I had to wiki him (see what I meant about biblical study?) to get the right number, but 14 epistles are attributed to him in the bible. 14!! Over half of the New Testament books...by one guy! That seems like an inordinate amount of influence for a single person. For this is compounded by the content; he's not just saying "Jesus did X, Jesus said Y", he's saying "this is what it MEANS/this is what you should DO". Since so much of modern Christian thought seems to derive from his interpretations/inspirations. And given how much of modern society is built around Christian theology, that makes him one of the more influential people in the last couple millenia. What he says makes up more books of the New Testament than the Gospels and actual direct quotes from the big J. Furthermore, scholars dispute (as scholars are apt to do) the authorship of about half of Paul's epistles, some going so far as to suggest that some of the epistles rode in on the coattails of having had Paul's name erroneously attached to them. I'm sure there are Paul fanboys who will take me to task on this. But wow...it just seems weird that the bulk of the books of THE BOOK for a religion are (potentially) authored by one guy interpreting the teachings of another guy he never met while that guy was teaching. factoring in the potential that some of those books may not have even been written by Paul, but slipped in with his name on them, then you have a situation in which you have a goodly number of parts of the Bible written by guys once or twice removed from the guy they're interpreting.
That blows my mind.
I don't write this to cast doubts on anyone's faith, or to try to prove a point, or put forth conspiracy theory. It's just an interesting thing to me, having been raised in a small town church where the teachings were simple, and direct, to really contemplate the history behind the Bible as a document, and the influences it has.
One of the concerns I always had in various journies of faith is the potential for pollution by human hands and human interests. I am certainly not someone of the conspiracy theory mindset that believes possibility = probability= fact. But given that the modern church, with a vastly greater array of societal checks and balances against it, still manages to monumentally flub up now and then (televangelists, catholic altar boy scandals, preachers preaching hate/bigotry/etc,) there's something that doesn't sit right with me in assuming that past church institutions, who racked up abuses in other aspects (no one expects the Spanish Inquisition!) were suddenly pure as the driven snow in terms of maintaining doctrinal integrity. Especially when they had motive and opportunity to nudge things to serve their interests.
I know many would say it was divine providence/guidance/protection, and that whatever made it into the Bible is untainted. I am not saying it is untrue..I am not qualified to make that argument...I'm talking about how it is perceived by folks like me who aren't coming in with the automatic, unquestioned assumpition that the Bible is unimpeachable as the Word o' God. Given the variety of interpretations existing now, and the willingness of different sects to promote their own interpretations, it at least FEELS unlikely (divine intervention notwithstanding) that the Bible made it through the initial years, official formulations, and countless translations of translations by folks with direct reasons to alter it to serve their purposes, without having things nudged here and there.
Paul really stands out to me as an example of the controversey, because, damn, he had a HUGE impact on how the early church got shaped. To me, he's symbolic of this issue with Biblical history (of the book iteself, not history as recounted in the Bible)...it's somewhat murky as to who wrote what, how it got accepted, why other things didn't get accepted, and to how it may have been subtly or not so subtly altered in the mean time.Having been on both sides of the fence, this seems like it's a point that Christians need to really understand when talking about the Bible with those who have doubts...If someone already doesn't have faith, I'm not sure how effective the assumption of the bible being untainted is at selling your point. Essentially, "You should have faith because of the teachings of this Book. And you should have faith in the Book because the book says you should, even if there's the appearance of the potential of impropriety...like one guy who never met Jesus writing (maybe) half the books of the New Testament, and, oh, yeah, the millenia of the human institution of the church potentially having its way with the Book"
That has to be a hard bridge to get someone to cross...to ask them to make a leap of faith not only in belief in a deity, but in belief that the deity's handbook hasn't been influenced by us silly humans who have had opportunity and motive to do so, and who have shown in this person's life that they are as fallible as the rest of us. Essentially a leap of faith that divine intervention occurred in the past, even though it doesn't seem to be occurring in the present. Maybe you guys, Stan and Ben, can comment on how you deal with that issue, how you see it. Like I said, just interesting to me, not a critique of Christian faith. I'm curious how those who evangelize/witness deal with this..
In any case, Paul remains the poster boy of this concpet for me. If any one person embodied the potential for influencing, purposefully or not, how we interpret the original teachings, it's Paul.