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Segment 11: Paul, Caesar, and Sex
Having concluded that Paul was the real founder of what we call Christianity, Jennings takes a look at Paul's teaching as it relates to political, social, and ethical matters. Since the Caesars were called Lord and Savior and King, Jennings and his scholars conclude that Paul's titles for Jesus were political, not religious, in meaning and that they challenged the fast-growing cult of the Roman emperor. In contrast to the Roman gods, who looked and acted like the rich and powerful (and immoral) nobility, Christ-the "god" whom Paul preached-looked like one of the people, a despised, suffering, marginalized peasant. The gospel that Paul preached was revolutionary in its emphasis on love and community: Christians were like an extended family, caring for its own, reaching out to the unloved. Some of Paul's converts, though, took their freedom in a direction he disapproved, notably in Corinth. Paul's letter to the Corinthians reveals his "Puritanical" side as well as his tolerant, inclusive side. Paul not only condemned incest among the Corinthian believers, he advised them that although they were permitted to have sex it would be better if they didn't. Believing that the end of the world was immanent, Paul saw no point to getting married except to prevent sexual passions from leading Christians into immorality. (Witherington is allowed a soundbite on this subject but it doesn't offer an effective counterpoint.) Pastor Butts puts Paul's condemnation of homosexuality alongside his instructions for women to be silent and slaves to obey their masters-and he asserts that these policies came from Paul, not Jesus. Yet this same "Puritanical" apostle was the author of the very moving chapter on love in 1 Corinthians 13. Karen Armstrong resolves the tension for Jennings: Paul was not interested in doctrines and would not want to have his own teachings treated as absolutes today.
Given the many and contentious assertions made in this one segment, our response will have to be longer here than for any other segment.
Jennings's tendency to put too much stock in a political interpretation of Jesus gets him into trouble here. The titles of Jesus found in Paul's writings (and in the other New Testament books) derive from the Old Testament and were not chosen to represent Jesus as the anti-Caesar. It is striking that nowhere in Paul's writings does he ever refer to Jesus as king or emperor. The designations Lord, God, and Savior were all titles of Yahweh in the Old Testament, and Paul uses them of Jesus in contexts recalling those Old Testament associations (e.g., Rom. 10:9-13; Titus 2:13-14). Naturally, anyone and anything revered in pagan culture as divine would stand in some sort of contrast to the monotheistic God whom Paul said was revealed in Jesus Christ, but this does not mean that the divine designations he used of Jesus were intended as political statements. Paul's message was liberating, but it was not liberation theology. [...continued...]
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