It’s a risk to ask if God behaves badly in the pages of the Old Testament, a question asked by David Lamb in his book God Behaving Badly, and it’s the same to ask with Mark Strauss about Jesus Behaving Badly, but there’s less risk to ask with Randy Richards and Brandon O’Brien about Paul Behaving Badly. But some get nervous here because they fear that one is getting near irreverence toward Scripture, and then the come back that Paul, after all after all after all, was not God. To affirm Scripture is not to affirm everything said or done by the people in Scripture.
We encourage you to stay with us while we investigate the case against Paul…. Some may feel we’ve been unfair to him or that we’re abusing Scripture or being irreverent. We assure you that our motives are pure. Bear with us. When it is done, we think you’ll be satisfied (9-10).
Randy and Brandon have what is typically called a “high” view of Scripture; they believe it and teach it but think the case against Paul deserves a good hard look. Which they do.
Many today love, love, love Jesus but they have problems, problems, problems with Paul. Many, thus, will welcome a hard look at Paul.
What are their problems? Here is Brandon:
I (Brandon) understand where Paul’s opponents were coming from. There was a time while I was in college that I didn’t much care for the apostle Paul. I believed his writings were Scripture, that they were true and divinely inspired, so I didn’t question whether Paul was right about the theology he propounded. But, boy, did he rub me the wrong way. He struck me as arrogant about his superior spirituality. … In the words of Paul, I heard the arrogance of a handful of church leaders I knew, each of them insisting they were “God’s man” and that their opinions were therefore divinely inspired. Disagree with me, I could easily imagine Paul saying, and you’re disagreeing with God (12).
Matters became more complicated for each of us when, deeper into our theological studies, we discovered that there is no shortage of people who totally reject Paul’s perspective on the Christian life. We thought Paul was arrogant, but others believed he was a misogynist and that his view of women was responsible for generations of gender inequality and the patriarchal subjugation of wives and daughters. We thought he was insensitive, but others considered him a racist and antiSemite. The charge certainly seemed to stick since Christians have quoted Paul to justify their persecution of Jews and the enslavement of Africans and their descendants in America. We felt he failed to embody the meekness and gentleness of Jesus. Others claimed he had invented Christianity. Jesus went around preaching, “The kingdom of heaven is near.” Paul preached about blood and faith and resurrection. Some learned critics argued Paul’s emphasis on sin and atonement departed radically from Jesus’ simple gospel of peace and forgiveness. Not only that, they claim, but this departure from Jesus’ teaching was no accident. The preeminent Jesus scholar Albert Schweitzer wrote of Paul, “If we had to rely on Paul, we should not know that Jesus taught in parables, had delivered the Sermon on the Mount, and had taught His disciples the ‘Our Father.’ Even where they are specially relevant, Paul passes over the words of the Lord” (13-14).
The stakes are high.
We are, however, willing to admit that the charges against Paul have merit. We cannot merely harrumph and dismiss charges of immorality, misogyny and racism as trivial. So what we propose to do in the remainder of this book is to put Paul on trial as people have done for two thousand years. E Each chapter compiles the common charges against Paul—that he was rude and arrogant, a chauvinist and racist, a prude and a homophobe, a hypocrite and a twister of Scripture (15).
Reading Paul is a challenge: (1) we get his letters and not those to whom he is responding; (2) we bring to Paul our own beliefs, and (3) sometimes Paul offended his contemporaries on things we are offended by too while other times he offends us and other times he offends both us and his contemporaries. Another problem is that for some — Augustine and the Reformation are only partly responsible here — Paul is on a pedestal of almost deity.
The authors want to “humanize” Paul.