Q. I was pleased you emphasized that Paul was a difficult person to get along with in some ways. He was argumentative, had a temper, sometimes seemed to make snap judgments and later regret them, and yet at the same time he was passionate in a good way, loving and sacrificing for his converts. One never needed to say to him— ‘Tell me how you really feel Paul’. He wears his heart on his sleeve, and people keep stepping on that sleeve too! Humanly speaking, do you think that early Christianity would have been as successfully launched as it was, if Paul had been more like, say Timothy, or Barnabas, had been more of a temporizer or compromiser?
A. These ‘what if’ questions are fascinating but ultimately unanswerable. As I say in the book, most successful non-profit organizations begin because someone with vision and energy, and a resolute refusal to take ‘no’ for an answer, has kick-started them. Someone more cautious and careful wouldn’t have got things going.Q. At one point in your book, based on 2 Corinthians, you paint a picture of Paul having something of a dark night of the soul experience, or at least a deep depression. Do you think this is mainly because of his highly emotional personality, or was it just circumstances that got him down at that juncture in his ministry, being afraid he had been ‘running in vain’?
A. I think it’s all of the above plus things we don’t know directly about. I have taken the view – which is not certain but I think likely – that after the riot in Ephesus, where Paul seems to have got away with it, the ‘principalities and powers’ strike back and strike hard. It doesn’t take long by yourself in a prison with no amenities, with vermin around, little food and water, and perhaps persistent beatings, for someone to feel utterly crushed. We know from many letters that he did often ask himself the question of Isaiah 49, whether he had been ‘running in vain’; and though he basically knew the answer to that it must have seemed to disappear in the dark and the pain . . .