Imagining the Apostle Paul

When you think of the Apostle Paul, what sort of contemporary job or career or social station do you imagine him occupying?

Do you see him as an executive person, an administrator?  Does he wear business casual, shop at a department store, play golf, drive a sporty 4-door car, and live in a leafy suburb?

Is he a hipster?  Does he listen to indie bands, own a record player, get his clothes at the thrift shop, hang out at his local coffee shop, and live in a house he bought with a bunch of friends in a rundown neighborhood?

Our image of Paul shapes how we read him and how we express his central concerns.

So, what do you think are dominant images of the apostle?  How do you imagine him?

13 thoughts on “Imagining the Apostle Paul

  1. lamehousewife

    Mmmm…I’ll have to think about that one…
    The first thing that came into my mind was a Franciscan friar, like the ones I have met recently. I can’t see him being career minded, just vocation driven, a drive that is embodied in meekness, gentleness, concern for others while also being very protective of the weak… Okay, that’s just what came to me. We are starting to see more of these brothers and sisters around lately, and it really just makes me feel so happy! There is just something about the Franciscans, the Poor Clares, the Little Sisters of the Poor–JOY! Thanks be to God for these precious gifts! Thank you for giving me something good to think about…God bless…

  2. David M. Greer

    personally? i see him as a campaign adviser that’s become more successful than the candidates he advises. like a karl rove. someone that thinks the candidate can’t win without the adviser’s advice and counsel. that the adviser’s message, while still true to a large majority of the candidate’s message, has taken on a life of its own…and he *likes* it…and the voting public that supports the candidate likes that part of his message even more than the candidate’s original message. yeah, i think that sums it up pretty close for me.

    1. timgombis

      Very interesting, David! Sounds like a pretty cynical take–Paul as manipulator, behind-the-scenes puppet-master? That’s not an uncommon conception, certainly.

      1. David M. Greer

        i’ve become a fan of paul as i’ve matured spiritually, but i still process him through the gospels, which leaves me rejecting some of his more controversial beliefs.

        i wanted to stay with your premise of what would his job be if…

        i see someone in paul, who came to believe that his message rivaled his master’s…and the people listened to paul (and continue) just as the people came to hold rove in higher regard than his employers.

      2. timgombis

        I do think that’s a good move, reading Paul through the Gospels. In fact, the canonical logic commends that reading strategy. But I’d see more continuity between Jesus and Paul rather than discontinuity. And where they’re seen to diverge, I just wonder if that’s where the church has domesticated Paul or perhaps learned to mis-read him.

      3. David M. Greer

        i couldn’t agree with you more regarding agreement vs. divergence between paul and Christ. that’s been a part of my process of maturing.

        …and here is the crux of my divergence: mainstream evangelical/fundamentalist christianity sides with paul over Christ on important 21st century issues of faith. specifically, the role of women in ministry (nay, the role of women in society) and the role of glbt people in the community of faith. paul takes a stance on both issues where Christ is completely silent.

  3. S Wu

    For years I found myself talking to Christians in different circles about Paul. There seems to be two main popular views about the apostle and his theology.

    First, he is more or less like a middle-class person who preaches justification by faith and enjoys fullness of everyday life. He has a purpose. he gives money to the poor. He is a pastor and an effective leader. He is the ideal model for the Christian life.

    The second view is quite different. It goes something like this. For too long our theology is dominated by Paul. We should read more about Jesus. Jesus talks about the kingdom of God, which is the real stuff. Paul’s doctrine of justification and atonement is not as helpful.

    Of course, these views are distorted visions of Paul.

    1. timgombis

      Yes, that first one is very common here in the States among conservative evangelicals–except for him giving money to the poor, of course. But Paul is seen as an “effective” pastor, good administrator, powerful leader, etc., and he sure does have ‘purpose!’

    2. timgombis

      I should add that the common conception of him as having certainty and ‘purpose’ is to overcome our own doubts and uncertainties of life. So, Paul becomes something of a super-hero who is very like us, but also is the bearer of our hopes for what our Christian lives might be like.

  4. Patrick

    I see Paul as a gentleman who had been on the top rung of his society and threw it away to serve Christ. So, when I see Paul I see maybe the single most humble human ever.

    The guy was dependent on his fellow believers who often thought lowly of him and even when they did not, they were a persecuted class of people. So, I see him as economically bereft of much.

    He probably lived with very little and was pleased to.

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