Updated: Feb 4
I watched a video of a presentation made of a talk presented by Nicholas Thomas Wright (N. T. “Tom” Wright), the retired Anglican Bishop of Durham (Scotland). The Right Reverend is a New Testament scholar and the author of several books, several of which go deeply into explaining the Apostle Paul’s writings. The speech he made was at the University of the South and it addressed how he saw Paul as a teacher of Christian Theology. He called Paul the “inventor” of Christian Theology, teaching Jews and Gentiles how to “think” in a new way they had never known before. He said Paul took what Jesus accomplished and expounded on that.
I got the impression that N. T. Wright has a much greater grasp of Paul than he could pass on to an audience of seminarians (mostly), in 90 minutes. After all, his introduction included him saying he had written a book about Paul, which he then added was so thorough it became a two volume set. So, from his vast personal knowledge, only small bites of that could be expected to be released, in order to limit a presentation to one thread of thought. This lecture was focused to how Paul taught a new way of thinking about one’s faith in God.
I possess little knowledge of Paul, in comparison to that which N. T. Wright possesses. I do not challenge his expertise, or his piety as a bishop. I see his life’s work as a model for which all Christians should aspire. We all should be writing volumes of work that state our findings on scripture. It shows one is serious about one’s faith in God and Christ.
If one wants to be a lawyer, simply by expressing belief in legal matters will not bring one the ability to pass a bar exam. Therefore, if you want to be Christian, then you should dedicate your life to learning what Jesus did (the Gospels), what was prophesied about Jesus (the Old Testament), and what was the result of Jesus’ coming into the world (the Epistles). N. T. Wright has obviously done the work required to be recognized as an authority on Paul, and he speaks in that manner.
Paul, who N. T. Wright called the inventor of our Christian Theology, can be seen as a Paul the intellectual. In some sense, one can hear N. T. Wright speak about Paul and one then imagine a man who observed and recalled what a successful Apostle did [Paul himself, as well as his travel associates and other Apostles], then he wrote down that experience, as words in letters he sent to inquiring minds left behind.
N. T. Wright said that the “how” of Paul’s bringing about a new way of thinking – meaning Paul’s explaining “how” one must “think” with a transformed mind – was accomplished by his writing epistles. N. T. Wright said he did not think Paul planned the text of his letters, but he did not haphazardly write whatever popped into his mind either. It must have been a combination of both; and, that says (without directly saying), “Paul was filled with the mind of Christ while writing.” The end result was planned to be as it was, well before it was inked. That means Paul was less attempting to teach “how,” as much as his intent was to either prepare or confirm the receiver’s state to an advanced level of the Holy Spirit, as information saying, “You will understand this when your mind has been transformed.”
Realizing that subtlety makes the statement: Paul did not invent anything that had not long before been intended, as everything was planned by the mind of God, the Father of Jesus Christ. One should presume that Jesus likewise thought what Paul wrote, before Paul became Christian and then wrote it. The reason one can make that presumption is Paul had the mind of Christ, through the epiphany of “seeing” Jesus as the Messiah, and then having his own mind transformed to a new way of thinking by the Holy Spirit.
So much of Paul’s writings is what so many common Christians find difficult to grasp. Explaining it is equally difficult. Scholars debate Paul up one side and down the other, with the mere fact that debate takes place means there is a lack of complete understanding among those professing to be Christians. Due to this depth of discussion usually only taking place within an educational setting, and not in parking lots or public arenas, implies that debaters of Paul need to be more intelligent than the common folk. Elite Christians are those who can discuss Paul without sweating. That view only keeps Paul more enigmatic and frightening, rather than warm and inviting. Paul should be seen as the reflection of what the common Christian should become.
Every true Christian should recognize how he or she is a re-embodiment of Paul, in at least one state of his life – either as Saul or as Paul. Unlike the disciples who followed Jesus around Judea and Galilee, Paul never knew Jesus in the flesh (and neither did anyone alive today). Unlike the first Apostles, who were all Jews directly prepared by a resurrected Jesus to receive the Holy Spirit; Paul was initially named Saul, a Jew who severely persecuted those who professed belief in Jesus as the Messiah, after Jesus had died, resurrected, and ascended. Saul was one Jew (a Pharisee, I imagine) who was misguided by his religion (like most Christians today); but Paul was one Jew who heard the voice of Jesus and became blind to the physical world. In that sense, all Christians represent the Saul persona, before they stop seeing through human eyes and begin seeing in a new way.
We can become like Paul if we choose to see the new way of thinking correctly. Paul, whose blindness was replaced with an ability to see through the mind of Christ, was touched by the disciple Ananias in order for this transformation to occur. Jesus called the disciple Ananias and Ananias responded, “Here I am.” Ananias was then filled with the Holy Spirit to speak, as Jesus, to Paul. In as much as Saul changed to Paul at that time, Ananias changed too, from disciple to Apostle. It takes an Apostle to make an Apostle, and only the Holy Spirit can make an Apostle. As such, all true Christians must see how the person they were before being filled with the Holy Spirit is nothing close to resembling the person they transform into.
In the question and answer session that followed N. T. Wright’s speech, the dialogue led to the complexity of Paul’s letters. Some have been led to doubt Paul as the author of some of the letters bearing his name, presumably due to the change in writing style; but the consistency found in all is the long strings of words, making for long sentences in verse. N. T. Wright said that style challenges scholars to figure out where punctuation, parentheses, quotation marks and bracketing are needed, just to make an unbearably complex text become readable; and, even then, the letters retain complexity. Wright went as far as to imply that Paul may have dictated his letters to others so fast that the recorder did not have time to write down helpful notes with the text. However, this complexity is not a sign of intelligent wisdom, such as that a normal human being possesses. Instead, it is a sign of a human being possessed by the mind of true wisdom.
Reading Paul certainly is not easy. Admittedly, the times I tried to read Paul’s letters when I was younger (not often), I came away holding my head. However, that changed after I began a quest that has me attempting to explain the writings of Nostradamus, whom I see as a prophet of Christ, and who wrote in very long “sentences.” Reading Paul requires patience and a willingness to sip his words and savor the flavor, like one would do with a fine wine. Unfortunately, too many Christians want their readings fast and dizzying.
My understanding of Nostradamus has not come from reading a book on “how to understand Nostradamus.” It comes to me out of the blue; and from that I have seen a new syntax appear. That sense of inspiration has made it possible for me to see the meaning of Paul’s words more clearly, because Paul’s long sentences are just like those of Nostradamus. Since I evolved my understanding of Nostradamus, I have been led to read the Bible with eyes that see in a new way. That has made me able to more clearly understand the meaning of the words of the Prophets, Psalms, and the Pentateuch, again because meaning comes to me. I can explain it as coming due to my ability to make sense of the enigmatic poems and letters of Nostradamus; but that sounds like everything has been a planned educational pursuit.
I have not been taught how to understand any of this, through going to classes that passed out literature, gave homework assignments, and required that I attend regular lectures that state, “This is how to understand (fill in the blank), beginning with step one ….” The same voice that comes to me, leading my thoughts, saying, “Look there,” or “Look here,” is the same voice that I imagine came through all of those words written by all Biblical authors. The similarities of “syntax” (or lack thereof) mean Paul wrote in the language of God. Paul wrote “in tongues,” just like all the prophets, including Nostradamus.
Paul told us that speaking prophecy (“speaking in tongues”) is a gift of the Holy Spirit. So too, he wrote, is the ability to decipher prophecy (“fluency of those speaking in tongues”). So, Paul was writing as one having experienced the gifts of the Holy Spirit, sending letters to those who had also experienced them. Because they had also experienced the gifts of the Holy Spirit, they could understand that which has widely been confusing and enigmatic. Because the verbiage still bears an aura of importance and power, difficult to follow epistles continue to attract those who are seeking to personally know that presence. Thus, Paul was not teaching “how to think in a new way,” as much as he was thinking in the new way, for other who did the same, but trying to read them the old way only caused confusion.
This means Paul comes across as teaching Christian Theology; when in reality that school of thought makes more sense to those who are bystanders and have no idea what the Holy Spirit means. Christian Theology then becomes a list of what to do, when to do it, how often to do it, and where seems most beneficial to have all that done, taught by the learned to the unlearned. Christian Theology, rather than simply “being Christian,” has become, “Because Paul wrote “this,” we believe … even if we can’t explain what “this” means.”
N. T. Wright speaks of the new churches, which were replacing the old temples and synagogues. He spoke of “unity and holiness,” which Paul was urging upon those new churches. He imagined how each of Paul’s letters would have been read several times by the recipients, dwelled upon, reflected upon and discussed by the church members, so a group of early Christians would all come to agreements about what Brother Paul said to do. That was the mission of Paul, according to N. T. Wright: “To teach the world to think in a renewed Jewish fashion.”
Where this becomes misleading (and I do not presume to understand the mind of N. T. Wright) is a “church” cannot be defined as any individual group of people who have heard about Jesus as the Son of God, and who assemble around teachers to learn the meaning of Jesus. That was the old Jewish fashion. A new Christian church was not where onlookers and bystanders could go to be close to those who had learned to perform special tricks … like healing, disappearing, and accurately predicting the future … where being close to someone meant filled with excitement. Instead, a “church” was (and is still) as Jesus defined, “Where two or three gather in my name, I am there with them.” (Matthew 18:20)
This verse from Matthew says that a “church” is where the Holy Spirit is present in all who are gathered. Jesus is “there with them,” as the mind of Christ in each body of flesh assembled as a congregation of Christians. It is the marriage of Jesus and each one who faithfully commits to him, as one flesh. The “body of flesh” is more than buildings filled with human beings.
Because each body is the temple of the Lord, in essence, everyone filled with the Holy Spirit is independently an “almost church.” A “church” is completed by sharing one’s Holy Spirit-inspired wisdom with those who understand the same wisdom and can then share in return. It is more than a “school” of theology, where teachers speak and students listen to a voice that is external to them. It is a state of equal responsibility, where a “church” acts to shine a light, together, for others who live in a world of darkness. In the process of completing this “church,” the light that is emitted from multiple bodies filled with the Holy Spirit will attract others who are amazed and want to join in the church. These are the students who must learn the basics of faith in Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God, the Son of Man. However, they cannot be graduated members simply by enrolling. they must study, apply, and learn until that filling takes place; and, they are the ones who ultimately must determine when that happens (if ever).
I believe N. T. Wright understands this. However, when one has climbed to hierarchical heights within an organized religion (a subset of Christianity, with buildings called churches), one then has to be very careful how one tells the world about Paul. To know we all should be able to discern Paul without enrollment in a seminary could mean those sitting in the pews might start challenging those facing the pews. Such institutions could suddenly find itself with many less members, either from lost sheep or lambs becoming shepherds. People may ask, “Why would such an institution wait so long to figure this out?” Or, “When did it stop being the way it was and start being the way it is?”
It is my humble opinion that each and every true Christian has to be the “reincarnation” of Jesus, into a human body that simply goes by another name [usually]. The mind that comes along with that transformation is then not only capable of understanding the full meaning of all of the letters of Paul (indeed, the whole Holy Bible – including all the approved and rejected books considered holy), but capable of understanding the blessing of God, by knowing the voice and presence of God within [much more than without]. A ceremonial baptism by physical water does not bring this state about, as the “one baptism for the forgiveness of sins” is the baptism that comes upon an individual by the Holy Spirit. That pouring out of Spirit upon the flesh is what brings about a mind transformation, from the way the old you thought, to stepping aside so the voice of God can do the thinking for you.
Many claim to be baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit. A good test of whether this is true or not is simple enough. Ask yourself, “Do I have the ability to understand the epistles of the New Testament, without having ever gone to seminary or memorized someone’s book explaining biblical books?” Then, ask yourself, “How many letters like Paul have I written to help others be part of the new way of thinking?
Paul obviously can be deemed filled with the Holy Spirit, based on those tests. N. T. Wright seems to be able to make that claim too. I believe Nostradamus left a public record that speaks the same for him. In each of those examples (and also all of the Apostles and biblical authors), one could say the Jesus was with them all, guiding their thoughts as they wrote. Just as John wrote how Jesus is the alpha and the omega (Rev. 22:13), and “He was with God in the beginning” (John 1:2), every holy document written was stating what Jesus was thinking, while Jesus was ministering, before, during, and after that fact. So, that means Jesus taught Paul a new way of thinking, which Paul passed along.