(12 lectures, 30 minutes/lecture
Taught by Luke Timothy Johnson
Ph.D., Yale University
Course Lecture Titles
01 An Apostle Admired and Despised
02 How Should We Read Paul?
03 Paulís Life and Letters
04 Problems of Early Christianity
05 First and Second Thessalonians
06 Life in the WorldóFirst Corinthians
07 Life in ChristóSecond Corinthians
08 Life and LawóGalatians
09 Life and RighteousnessóRomans
10 FellowshipóLetters from Captivity
11 History and Theology
12 Paulís Influence
Historian Luke Timothy Johnson, the best-selling author of The Real Jesus, offers a fresh and historically grounded assessment of the life and letters of Christianity's "apostle to the Gentiles" in this 12-lecture series.
"One of the most fascinating, important, and controversial figures in the religious history of the West, Paul the Apostle continues to find champions and detractors, sometimes in surprising places," says Professor Johnson.
Coming to grips with Christianity means coming to grips with Paul. There is no figure aside from Jesus himself who is more important to the history of this world religion, and no figure from the age of the early church about whom we know more or of whom we have a more rounded view.
This course addresses many questions concerning Paul's embattled life and work. Is Paul the inventor of Christianity or part of a larger movement? Is he best understood from the Acts of the Apostles or from his letters? Why does he focus on moral character of the community? How do his supporters and detractors depict him?
You consider his letters to the Thessalonians, Corinthians, and Galatians. You explore his religious commitments as a member of the Pharisaic movement, his persecution of the Christian sect, the dramatic experience that changed him into an apostle, and his work as a missionary and church founder.
The Controversial Apostle
Controversy has always swirled around Paul. In fact, it began during his lifetime. As a Pharisaic persecutor of Christianity who became one of its most vocal and active exponents, as a Jew who preached to Gentiles, and as a missionary and pastor who had to deal with a wide range of demanding situations across several decades and many miles, it is hardly surprising that Paul should attract a body of critics and defenders who are as numerous and intense as his stature is titanic.
The 13 letters associated with Paul, together with the large sections of the Acts of the Apostles that recount his missionary journeys, form the bulk of the New Testament. His writingsónearly all of which were set down and circulated before the Gospels were writtenóhave been endlessly scoured as sources for Christian doctrine and morals. A Passionate Poet of the Divine
Paul is an eloquent and passionate poet of the divine. His works are full of unforgettable passages, and his words have exercised an important influence on countless "ordinary" believers as well as theological giants such as Augustine and Luther.
Paul's personality has been endlessly analyzed. He is one of the great converters (or turncoats, depending on one's perspective) in history. Modern thinkers inclined to fault ChristianityóNietzsche, Freud, and George Bernard Shaw, to name three of the more famousóoften save their most intense scrutiny for Paul, whose views on issues of morality, sex, and authority continue to be contentious.
The Heart and Mind of a Pastor
Yet amid all the controversy around Paul, we tend to ignore the things which most concerned him, namely, the stability and integrity of the tiny Christian communities to which he wrote his letters.
Professor Johnson aims to rectify this by focusing precisely on these letters to learn something about Paul in the context of early Christianity. After all, before Paul became a source for theology and a part of the canon of Scripture, he was a missionary and pastor. This leads to thought-provoking questions such as:
* What were the problems with which Paul and his readers had to deal?
* How did his letters sometimes create as many problems as they solved?
* What clues to reading Paul can we get from recent research on ancient rhetoric?
* In what sense is Paul a "radical," and in what sense does he mean his letters to have "conservative" implications?
* What relation do Paul's preaching and writings about the risen Christ have to the Jesus whose words and deeds we read of in the Gospels?
As you join Professor Johnson in reading Paul's letters as individual literary compositions devoted to solving the urgent pastoral problems of the Christian communities he was nurturing, you begin to hear Paul's voice speaking to real-life situations and genuine crises.
A Portrait Drawn from Life
Such reading yields a picture of Paul that is far more complex than any stereotype, whether positive or negative. It is a portrait drawn from life.
You find a Paul who struggles to establish the authority to teach even in a community that he has founded (1 Corinthians), then finds its allegiance slipping away just as he is engaged in the greatest act of his career (2 Corinthians). You discover a Paul who writes to relieve a community's mind (1 Thessalonians) only to find that he has inflamed its imagination (2 Thessalonians).
You appreciate a Paul who seeks to realize an egalitarian ideal, and succeeds on some fronts (Galatians), but has only ambiguous results (Philemon) and undoubtedly fails (1 Timothy) on others.
You see a Paul who sets out to raise money for a future trip and ends up creating a theological masterwork (Romans). And you see a Paul who finds himself imprisoned, "an apostle in chains," yet who uses his very confinement to expand his witness and set forth his vision of Christ's church as a sacrament of the world's best possibilities (Colossians, Ephesians).
Perhaps most provocatively, Professor Johnson parts company with much modern scholarship by arguing that Paul, though he may not have literally written any of his letters, should nonetheless be considered the true author of all.
"The only requirement for this course is the willingness to journey along with Paul as he thinks his way through the problems he faces," says Professor Johnson. "The payoff is learning why Paul has had such an enormous influence, and why he remains a vital force in the religious life of millions, a living voice whose summoning words sustain Christian communities to this day and subvert all tendencies to reduce Christianity to a form of religious routine."
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