Paul is Still Pretty Fiery, But Starts to Balance Out (Part 2 in The Growth and Maturation of St Paul)
After laying out my hypothesis in Part 1, today's post explores the next three letters Paul wrote: 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Romans.
If you missed it, go read this first and get a sense for my hypothesis: St Paul, over the course of his three-ish decades of Christian ministry, actually, you know, grew and transformed and matured.
First Letter to the Corinthians: Stop Being Awful
When you go on to his next couple letters to the Corinthian church, not only do you still have super-intense Paul, but you get a version of Paul that is hyper fixated on a kind of purified moralism.
Some of his main concerns to the Corinthians is that they clean up their act, that they stop misbehaving so much. He’s very critical of their lifestyles and pleads with them to knock it off. In a similar fashion to the Thessalonians, he tells them to not even associate with those among them who are sexually immoral, greedy, a drunk or a swindler, or who still worship false gods.
Now I’m not suggesting Paul was off base here. By all accounts, Corinth was a hot-bed for some pretty egregious behavior (it was the Vegas of the day). And as I’ve taught before, Paul was essentially a church-planting experimenter. There was no guarantee that these new communities were going to work, seeing as how they were sociological experiments of mixing Jews and Gentiles together. So I can understand Paul’s efforts to be like, “Yo, people, I really need you to figure this stuff out. Because I gotta show that these churches can work! And y’all are messing it up, big time. Seriously, stop living in the same kinds of ways you lived before you converted to following the Ways of Jesus. The Kingdom of God is supposed to bring about real, tangible change in your life, and I’m just not seeing it yet.”
Just as I said last time for Galatians, I’m not suggesting that these letters are all negative and judgy. For instance, 1 Corinthians 13 is a glorious exposition on the beauty of Love, and there are some really tender and compassionate moments as Paul tries to shepherd this community from afar.
What I’m trying to locate and then suggest is that, mixed in along with Paul’s pastoral heart in these early years of his ministry, was residue from his fundamentalist Pharisee days. He still seemed to occupy a worldview that was informed by us/them, right/wrong, good/bad thinking. Which, again, isn’t all that surprising considering the trajectory of many (most?) people.
It is often through aging (40+) that we start to mellow out, recognize that the world isn’t as simple or black-and-white as we once thought, and things like compassion and kindness start to take more hold of our hearts.
Second Letter to the Corinthians: Can’t We all Just Get Along?
What we call second Corinithians is probably more like third Corinthians. Scholars surmise that between 1st and 2nd, there was another letter, a pretty harsh and even more severe letter than 1 Corinthians. But we don’t have that, instead we have 2 Corinthians, in which Paul seems to back off from his tone (even being apologetic for how harsh he was) and takes a different path and tact this time.
Listen to this tender moment in the second chapter,
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