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Segment 13: The Death of Paul and the End of the World
In the final segment of the documentary, Jennings recounts the stories about Paul's death. Once again, he reports that Paul believed that the world was about to come to an end. He wonders what it would have been like for Paul to go to Rome and tell the people there that their mighty empire was about to fall. Jennings expresses astonishment that the little man from a distant province could lay the groundwork for the small Christian movement to become three centuries later the official religion of the Roman Empire. According to tradition, Peter and Paul were both executed in or near Rome when Nero had Christians in Rome executed for a fire he reportedly started. According to these same traditions, Paul was beheaded. Jennings then visits his last tourist trap, the Church of the Three Fountains, so called because supposedly when Paul's head was cut off it bounced on the ground three times and opened up three fountains. According to Jennings, Paul died mistakenly thinking that the world was about to come to an end. In the last letter we have from Paul, he reports, Paul says that "the end is nearer now than when we first believed." As Paul's expectation proved incorrect, Christianity had to undergo even more changes to accommodate the continued delay in Christ's return.
We have already commented on the condescending nature of Jennings's reporting on tourist traps and the ignorance of the pious. We have also already addressed more than once the more serious matter, the allegation that Paul mistakenly thought the world was about to come to an end. The statement that Jennings attributes to Paul is a misquotation; what Paul says is that "salvation is nearer to us than when we believed" (Rom. 13:11). Nor is this statement from Paul's last known letter. Philippians and Philemon are undisputed letters of Paul written after Romans (about AD 60), and many nonconservative scholars also acknowledge Colossians and Ephesians as also written by Paul around AD 60. (We acknowledge that mainstream scholarship denies the Pauline authorship of the Pastoral Epistles, though on questionable grounds.) In any case, Paul was not asserting that the Roman Empire was about to fall and the end of the world was about to happen. Again, Paul was speaking about an overlapping of two ages. The "night" of the age of sin and death was passing and the "day" of the age of love and life was approaching (Rom. 13:12). However long it takes-and Paul offers no speculation on the question-from that time on they were living in the receding shadow of the night. While he could not say how close they were, he knew that "salvation is nearer." That is all anyone can know until the day of final salvation actually arrives.
One other point is worth noting: Paul's teaching that the age to come could arrive at any time (like a thief in the night, as he says elsewhere) and that Christ's followers should live in its light has strong affinities and connections with the teaching of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels (Matt. 24:42; 25:13; Mark 13:33-37; Luke 12:35-40; 21:34-36; see also 1 Thess. 5:2-7). Here is another reason to question the attempt to drive a wedge between Jesus and Paul.
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