Monday, 7 October 2013

Book Review - Paul by Lucas Grollenberg

Paul by Lucas Grollenberg

London : SCM Press, 1978                            ISBN 0334012260

This book grew from meetings between a group of people who sat down to read and discuss the letters of St. Paul - Lucas Grollenberg, a Dutch Dominican Father, who led the group wrote the book as a non-technical (in a theological sense) introduction to Paul and his world - one that might help the average reader see the letters in a new light. I think he succeeds.

Using the Letters themselves, The Acts of the Apostles, and what we know of the places and church of the era from other sources, Grollenberg looks into the reasons Paul wrote, and the situations under which he wrote, the letters that appear in the Bible, and other letters that must have existed but are now lost to us.

St. Paul is seen very much as the father of the Church, but of course when he was engaged in preaching (in the 50s A.D.) there was no church, merely groups of believers scattered over the known world, more or less cut off from each other and working out how best to worship God. Grollenberg reminds us that Paul's letters are some of the earliest writings of the New Testament as the Gospels had not yet been written when Paul was on his missionary journeys.

Paul believed from the time of his conversion that the message of Christianity was for all the world, not just for the Jews. This was a very much vexed question at the time Paul was active, and we see the resultant discussions and fights over Gentile Christians in the letters. The main issue was to do with following Jewish Law - did Gentile believers have to become circumcised and follow the various Jewish dietary restrictions or not? Paul was firmly on the side of no, whereas other leading apostles including perhaps Peter himself veered more towards the yes side of the question.

Grollenberg discusses some fascinating portions of the letters where Paul seems to disagree with Peter and points out that Paul never knew Jesus personally - in fact he rarely discusses Jesus as a person in any of his letters. What we do get out of his letters is a picture of a man on a mission, busy, aware that the message he was imparting was of vital importance, and not afraid to make waves to try and get that message out to as many people as he could. In fact some of his letters were written while he was in prison. A frustrating part of the life of Paul is what we don't know about him - Grollenberg makes the point that some of the content of his letters, while it would have been obvious to the recipients, is quite obscure for the current reader - Paul was writing for a purpose, and the last thing he would have expected was to have his letters preserved forever the New Testament.

He was however, the first Christian writer to talk of a new covenant between believers and God, so in a sense Paul created the New Testament, and he certainly advocated a God of love and infinite mercy. He was apocalyptic too, with his belief that Jesus would return in the very near future, and this coloured a lot of what he had to say in the letters. Grollenberg shows us in this book how Paul was connecting into what were then current trends in Jewish thinking in much of what he wrote in this vein.

There are many other interesting points made in this book - Grollenberg is quite definitive in his view that Paul was married, and suggests that his fervent proselytising cost him his wife - with that in mind some of the letters throw a different light on him and his personality.

This book shines an interesting light on Paul and the times in which he lived. Worth reading for those of an enquiring Christian mind.

Cheers for now, from
A View Over the Bell

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