No Acolyte of Rome

Paul the persecutor
Was a mean and sinful man.
Jesus hit him with a blinding light,
And then his life began....

I'm not one to fret when rockers like the Rolling Stones put the apostle Paul's name to music ("You'll Never Make a Saint of Me," from the new Bridges to Babylon album). I do wish their take on the apostle weren't so dismayingly familiar, however. Sure, Paul—like Augustine of Hippo, who also gets play in the song—is supposed to have had amazing brushes with the divine; but those events, so the song implies, are the fuzzy old Flannelgrams of Sunday school lore.

In fact, the Stones, poor old dears, can't muster a fraction of the existential passion that the real apostle from Tarsus would have thrown into a chorus of "You'll never make a saint of me." It's too bad the Stones aren't keeping up with the latest news. Right now the "historical Paul" is enjoying a tremendous renaissance in biblical studies. Those debates, at least in my eyes, are far more intriguing than the well-publicized fuss over the "Jesus Seminar," and they bring out the real drama of the flesh-and-blood saint's life and work.

Convert or Prophet?

A 1963 essay by Krister Stendahl, then a professor at Harvard Divinity School and later the Lutheran bishop of Stockholm, launched the modern "Pauline renaissance." Stendahl ably showed that modern Christians were far more apt to press Paul into the mold of our own religious sensibilities than to discipline ourselves to learn from him.

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 1998
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