Paul’s letters give valuable insight into how he viewed the Gospel, God, and Jesus Christ. He wrote to his followers via the letters, on how to act and live by obeying God’s Law. Within his words, he emphasized the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and His resurrection, in order to show how the Law of God could overcome the Law of man. Furthermore, he used the cross and the resurrection because that is how he came to know Jesus, not through the history of Jesus mentioned in the Gospel.
Paul emphasized greatly the resurrection of Jesus and the cross in his teachings and letters. Examples of mentioning resurrection and the cross come from Galatians 6:14, NIV: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world,” and Galatians 5:24, NIV. Paul barely mentions Jesus’ work and activities before His crucifixion. Even though the Gospel discusses Jesus’ healing, preaching, and disciple making, Paul centralizes in addition, focuses on the resurrection and the cross because of how it influenced him as person among other reasons. Perhaps one of the reasons behind his perspective is his lack of experience with the earthly Jesus. He did not witness Jesus before his resurrection nor did he know of many people who knew Christ. His main access into Christ and His teachings came from the Hellenistic communities, not from the actual first circle of disciples.
Paul instead relied on his own faith of Christ rather than recalling Christ’s history. The faith stems from his own religious experiences with Jesus Christ as a risen Lord. He also viewed the Law through the viewpoint of the Cross of Jesus, thus rejecting Pharisaic comprehension of the Law as form of salvation. His understanding of the Law pertains to both affirmation and negation of the Law through the perspective of the Cross of Christ. To begin examining Paul’s reflection concerning the Law, he states the Law covers the atonement for sin; salvation comes from the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Paul was raised and chose to be a strict Pharisee. That meant through one’s own moral efforts, one could prove to be acceptable to God. Through these teachings and the overall political climate he lived in, dealing with Roman domination, and his desire to restore purity of Pharisaical belief and religion, he had to formulate is own understanding of God and Christ. Jesus’ death thus acted as a way to deal with the issue of sin and how it affected one’s relationship with God. Paul enables for distinction between the Law as it meets those in corporeal form, achieving self-righteousness and the Law as a means of salvation, a norm of life. The Law of humans, in a legalistic perspective, condemns, but the Law brought on by Christ’s death frees from the condemnation of human Law. When Christ died for the sins of humanity, this provided the starting point for whatever came from learning from the cross.
The cross for Paul becomes personally meaningful (Galatians 3:13, NIV). For Paul, Jesus died not just for good people, but for the sinners as well, for people like him before his conversion as a way to save Paul. Paul was a persecutor, a blasphemer, but in his belief in Christ, he became reborn. The cross meant a second chance at life and became the main revelation. Therefore the subsequent resurrection of Jesus Christ, added to that. To repent is to unite and identify with Christ and His resurrection. Resurrection of Christ thus symbolized baptism and the burial of one’s old way of life, embracing the new. “Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4 NIV) and Romans 6:3-4 also mentions suffering as a means to baptize and through Christ’s resurrection, a person can too, live a new life.
In conclusion, Paul understood Jesus through a perspective of death and resurrection. This was how he was converted. He learned about Jesus after He died not during His life. His upbringing played another role in his use of the cross and the resurrection because he saw the Law as a form of salvation, which meant seeing Jesus’ sacrifice as a way to save the people from original sin. Paul also took Jesus’ sacrifice personally and viewed it as an opportunity to transform from his old ways to embrace the news ones, with God.
Authors, V. (2008). Holy Bible (NIV).
Polhill, J. (1999). Paul and his letters. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman.
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