Cherry Picking Paul

6 Jun 2017

By Fusi Mokoena

 

Paul the miracle worker or Paul the theologian?

We often say, like attracts like. We tend to gravitate towards those we deem like-minded, simply because we have things in common. But have you ever thought how this could be true even with bible characters? People like certain characters in the bible more than others, and although you don’t often hear why that is the case, I tend to believe one of the reasons is because there are certain traits of your character that reflect that bible character, sometimes their ruthless attitude, or their sense of compassion and mercy.

Reading Paul:

Many people like the apostle Paul. The obvious reason could be because he wrote so much of the New Testament, so in a sense you can’t ignore such a character. But for many it’s because they like certain things about him. They are impressed by certain things he said or certain things he did. I would like to draw you attention to two qualities about Paul that I believe are so relevant in how many of us see him. The reason for this exercise is to try and help us see that these two qualities do not have to be seen as opposed to each other and it is time for us to reconcile them back together and only then would we be able to understand Paul.

Paul the miracle worker:

If you read about Paul in the book of Acts, it’s easy to conclude that Luke is trying to report to us about Paul as the miracle worker. The man was bitten by a very venomous snake and yet he shook it off and nothing happened to him, he prayed for someone’s handkerchief and they got healed. Rightly so, we look at this and we say; “Wow God did some extraordinary miracles through this man.” But if we stop there, and we start seeing Paul as just the miracle worker, we start only relating to him that way, then we could easily miss so much of what he stood for, which I believe is more than just miracles (although they are very important of course).

Paul the theologian:

If you read Paul’s letter to the Romans, you can very quickly come to the conclusion that apart from Jesus, the writer, that is Paul, is the best theologian that ever lived. The book is loaded with theological truth. Some scholars even believe it was a summary of his theology. The book deals at length with subjects like justification, grace and election, again I could on.

Any attempt to deny these two qualities about Paul limits our understanding of scripture. I want to submit to you that choosing one without the other creates imbalance. Believing he was either a miracle worker or a theologian can be unhelpful. I have to say, I’ve come across this challenge myself. Sometimes you hear people say;  “I’m not interested in understanding theology, I just want to heal the sick and cast out demons” or you hear some say; “Those miracles were for Paul’s days, now we have the bible, we don’t need them anymore”. I fail to see how we can come to either one of these two arguments.

Fitting it all together:

I would like to suggest that in order to not confuse scripture, we ought to learn to embrace both. For those of us who love the miracles Paul did and are drawn to them, it’s time for us to adjust by investing more in the word and growing in our theological knowledge. This way we will not only do miracles but also testify to the omnipotency of God in the miracles. We will be able to proclaim the sovereignty of God and the victory of Christ as we heal the sick and cast out demons. For those of us who are always wearing our theological hats, I’d encourage us to step out and not just say the things Paul said but also believe God can do through us the things he did through Paul. Only this way will we be able to reconcile these two powerful qualities. Let us find that balance and let us avoid cherry picking.

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