After introducing Paul as the Jewish rabbi formerly known as Saul of Tarsus, Jennings indulges in more inane interviews: this time we learn about some of the sites claimed by religious organizations as the exact place where Paul had his vision on the road to Damascus. While conversing with the curators of these tourist traps, Jennings asks them what they think of the theory that Paul's conversion was a gradual process, rather than a sudden, dramatic change as the Bible reports. The responses are about as shallow as one would expect, but then, since no factual basis for the speculation about a gradual conversion is ever offered, so is the question. All we are told is that sociologists have shown that conversion usually is a process. Here again, the statistical norm is turned into an inflexible law of nature, a kind of scholarly game that if played consistently would homogenize history beyond recognition. At the end of this segment, Jennings informs us that after his conversion Paul believed that the end of the world was imminent.
There is so little factual argument or evidence offered in this segment that hardly any rebuttal is needed. We have Paul's own testimony that his conversion was the result of Christ's appearance to him during the time that Paul was out persecuting Christians (1 Cor. 15:8-9; Gal. 1:13-24). In the absence of arguments to the contrary, Paul's testimony is enough to settle the matter.
The claim that Paul thought the world was about to end is repeated throughout the rest of the program but never really explained. The real problem here is a lack of appreciation for the cultural context of Paul's theology. Paul never expressed the belief that the final judgment on mankind was about to happen or that Christ's return would take place within a very short period of time. The closest he ever came to using the expression "the end of the world" was in his statement that the events of the Old Testament should be read as examples to instruct us "upon whom the ends of the ages have come" (1 Cor. 10:11). But notice that here Paul is not speaking about an "end" that is close to happening but about "ends" of "the ages" (both plural) that have already come. Paul's language here reflects his rabbinical theology, adapted to the revelation of Jesus as the Messiah. The rabbis held that the Messiah's coming would usher in the age to come, including the general resurrection of the dead. Since Jesus was the Messiah and had himself died and risen from the dead, Paul realized that in a sense the "age to come" had already come. The present age, one characterized by evil (Gal. 1:5), was already giving way to the age of righteousness and peace. How long this overlap between the two ages would continue, Paul never says. He leaves open the possibility of the consummation coming in his lifetime, but does not affirm that it will.
In This Entry
About This Page: