Apostle Paul

Course No. 657
Professor Luke Timothy Johnson, Ph.D.
Emory University
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Course No. 657
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Course Overview

Coming to grips with Christianity means coming to grips with Paul. There is no figure aside from Jesus himself who is more important to the history of this world religion, and no figure from the age of the early church about whom we know more or of whom we have a more rounded view.

Historian Luke Timothy Johnson, the best-selling author of The Real Jesus, offers a fresh and historically grounded assessment of the life and letters of Christianity's "apostle to the Gentiles" in this 12-lecture series.

"One of the most fascinating, important, and controversial figures in the religious history of the West, Paul the Apostle continues to find champions and detractors, sometimes in surprising places," says Professor Johnson.

This course addresses many questions concerning Paul's embattled life and work:

  • Is Paul the inventor of Christianity or part of a larger movement?
  • Is he best understood from the Acts of the Apostles or from his letters?
  • Why does he focus on moral character of the community?
  • How do his supporters and detractors depict him?

You consider his letters to the Thessalonians, Corinthians, and Galatians. You explore his religious commitments as a member of the Pharisaic movement, his persecution of the Christian sect, the dramatic experience that changed him into an apostle, and his work as a missionary and church founder.

The Controversial Apostle

Controversy has always swirled around Paul. In fact, it began during his lifetime.

As a Pharisaic persecutor of Christianity who became one of its most vocal and active exponents, as a Jew who preached to Gentiles, and as a missionary and pastor who had to deal with a wide range of demanding situations across several decades and many miles, it is hardly surprising that Paul should attract a body of critics and defenders who are as numerous and intense as his stature is titanic.

The 13 letters associated with Paul, together with the large sections of the Acts of the Apostles that recount his missionary journeys, form the bulk of the New Testament. His writings—nearly all of which were set down and circulated before the Gospels were written—have been endlessly scoured as sources for Christian doctrine and morals.

A Passionate Poet of the Divine

Paul is an eloquent and passionate poet of the divine. His works are full of unforgettable passages, and his words have exercised an important influence on countless "ordinary" believers as well as theological giants such as Augustine and Luther.

Paul's personality has been endlessly analyzed. He is one of the great converters (or turncoats, depending on one's perspective) in history. Modern thinkers inclined to fault Christianity—Nietzsche, Freud, and George Bernard Shaw, to name three of the more famous—often save their most intense scrutiny for Paul, whose views on issues of morality, sex, and authority continue to be contentious.

The Heart and Mind of a Pastor

Yet amid all the controversy around Paul, we tend to ignore the things which most concerned him, namely, the stability and integrity of the tiny Christian communities to which he wrote his letters.

Professor Johnson aims to rectify this by focusing precisely on these letters to learn something about Paul in the context of early Christianity. After all, before Paul became a source for theology and a part of the canon of Scripture, he was a missionary and pastor. This leads to thought-provoking questions such as:

  • What were the problems with which Paul and his readers had to deal?
  • How did his letters sometimes create as many problems as they solved?
  • What clues to reading Paul can we get from recent research on ancient rhetoric?
  • In what sense is Paul a "radical," and in what sense does he mean his letters to have "conservative" implications?
  • What relation do Paul's preaching and writings about the risen Christ have to the Jesus whose words and deeds we read of in the Gospels?

As you join Professor Johnson in reading Paul's letters as individual literary compositions devoted to solving the urgent pastoral problems of the Christian communities he was nurturing, you begin to hear Paul's voice speaking to real-life situations and genuine crises.

A Portrait Drawn from Life

Such reading yields a picture of Paul that is far more complex than any stereotype, whether positive or negative. It is a portrait drawn from life.

You find a Paul who struggles to establish the authority to teach even in a community that he has founded (1 Corinthians), then finds its allegiance slipping away just as he is engaged in the greatest act of his career (2 Corinthians). You discover a Paul who writes to relieve a community's mind (1 Thessalonians) only to find that he has inflamed its imagination (2 Thessalonians).

You appreciate a Paul who seeks to realize an egalitarian ideal, and succeeds on some fronts (Galatians), but has only ambiguous results (Philemon) and undoubtedly fails (1 Timothy) on others.

You see a Paul who sets out to raise money for a future trip and ends up creating a theological masterwork (Romans). And you see a Paul who finds himself imprisoned, "an apostle in chains," yet who uses his very confinement to expand his witness and set forth his vision of Christ's church as a sacrament of the world's best possibilities (Colossians, Ephesians).

Perhaps most provocatively, Professor Johnson parts company with much modern scholarship by arguing that Paul, though he may not have literally written any of his letters, should nonetheless be considered the true author of all.

"The only requirement for this course is the willingness to journey along with Paul as he thinks his way through the problems he faces," says Professor Johnson. "The payoff is learning why Paul has had such an enormous influence, and why he remains a vital force in the religious life of millions, a living voice whose summoning words sustain Christian communities to this day and subvert all tendencies to reduce Christianity to a form of religious routine."

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12 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    An Apostle Admired and Despised
    What makes Paul the most important, most controversial, and least understood figure in earliest Christianity? Why does he have so many intense supporters and detractors? How should we understand his distinctive experience, the issues he faced, his way of thinking, and how all these affected the Christian religion? x
  • 2
    How Should We Read Paul?
    We must face three critical issues. The first is "personality or rhetoric?" Do we seek the psychology of Paul or an understanding of his letters? The second is "genius or tradition?" Is Paul the inventor of Christianity, or is he part of a larger movement? The third issue is "where is the real Paul?" Do we follow the Acts of the Apostles or his letters? And, among the letters, which are "really" Paul's? x
  • 3
    Paul’s Life and Letters
    By using the few extant sources critically, we can reconstruct Paul's career, at least in outline. In this framework, it is also possible to locate some of his correspondence that now forms the main basis for our knowledge of Paul and describe the main literary features of his letters that are important for their interpretation. x
  • 4
    Problems of Early Christianity
    Because Paul's letters respond to specific situations, they are irreplaceable sources of knowledge concerning the problems experienced among the first urban Christians. This lecture provides an overview of the issues that Paul had to wrestle with in his letters. x
  • 5
    First and Second Thessalonians
    These letters, dating from around 52 C.E., represent the earliest extant Christian literature. Although some scholars contest the authenticity of 2 Thessalonians, the two letters are best read as stages of Paul's response to a single crisis in a local church concerning expectations about Jesus' return and the last days. x
  • 6
    Life in the World—First Corinthians
    Paul's surviving correspondence with the Corinthian church reveals the real-life problems of a local church and Paul's view of his own mission. The Corinthians cannot agree on much of anything, whether the topic is food or sex or who gets to speak in the assembly. Paul tries to get them thinking less about their rights than about living in right relationship according to "the mind of Christ." x
  • 7
    Life in Christ—Second Corinthians
    This letter contains some of Paul's most personal, painful, and profound reflections on the meaning of ministry, which he sees as a process of self-emptying for the sake of others. Paul sees Jesus as the model for such a reconciling way of life, and asks the Corinthians to join him in freely imitating that pattern. x
  • 8
    Life and Law—Galatians
    One of the fundamental issues facing the first Christians—the connection between Christ and the law of Moses—surfaces with particular sharpness in Galatians. In this passionate yet rigorously argued letter, Paul insists on a vision of life empowered by God's spirit and shaped by the pattern of Jesus' faith and love. x
  • 9
    Life and Righteousness—Romans
    A magisterial argument concerning God's ways with the world, Romans is Paul's theological masterpiece. Presenting an orderly exposition of the "good news" as Paul proclaimed it, Romans has affected the course of theology in the Western church more than any other New Testament writing. x
  • 10
    Fellowship—Letters from Captivity
    Philemon, Colossians, Ephesians, and Philippians seem to have been written while Paul was in prison. Taken as a group, the letters share a concern for fellowship, especially when all-too-human tensions threaten to deface the ideal of equality and unity in Christ. Ephesians stands as the best expression of these concerns and the Pauline tradition's most mature reflection on the meaning of the church. x
  • 11
    History and Theology
    Most scholars today think that the three letters to Paul's delegates (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus) were written pseudonymously after Paul's death and, when read not as real letters but as a fictional correspondence, reveal a stage of development in the organization of early Christianity. This letter makes a case for a different approach to reading these three epistles. x
  • 12
    Paul’s Influence
    Paul's letters have always been read aloud in worship, which is how he meant them to be used, and how they have continued to shape Christian awareness. Whatever his weaknesses, Paul still challenges his hearers to live more thoughtful and faithful lives as followers of the risen Jesus, and Paul's powerful voice subverts all reductions of Christianity to mere religious routine. x

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Your professor

Luke Timothy Johnson

About Your Professor

Luke Timothy Johnson, Ph.D.
Emory University
Dr. Luke Timothy Johnson is the Robert W. Woodruff Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Emory University's Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, Georgia. Professor Johnson earned a Ph.D. in New Testament Studies from Yale University, as well as an M.A. in Religious Studies from Indiana University, an M.Div. in Theology from Saint Meinrad School of Theology, and a B.A. in Philosophy from Notre Dame Seminary in...
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Apostle Paul is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 97.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Paul is a very divisive character in Christianity. The lecturer is in the pro-Paul camp but doesn't hide the controversies surrounding his life & works. Regardless of where you stand on Paul, this course gives a good analysis of his writings. Well worth the listen.
Date published: 2018-09-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent This surprises me with its candid review of Paul as a petson and an apostle. Very worthwhile for both tne beginner and someone who considers themself to be well read on Paul. Great insights.
Date published: 2018-08-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thorough review I bought this after being disappointed in the New Testament course. This course erased my disappointment. The subject was well researched and the delivery was clear. I learned a lot.
Date published: 2018-07-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic learning experience I bought this course so I could learn more about the New Testament and Paul's writings and influence on early Christianity. I was very pleased with the content of the course and the fact that this scholar's ideas on authorship of the texts differed from others I've listened to previously. He presents his opinion in contrast to the majority of modern day scholars, stating why he suggests we read Paul as the author of all the texts in the Pauline canon. I've listened to several Great Courses, and I must say that so far, this has been my favorite.
Date published: 2018-06-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Held My Interest I'm on my second listen (started immediately after the first) and I'm still finding it very interesting..I'm sure I will listen to it again..I have courses that are a couple of years that I haven't finished the first time. I will be getting more by this professor.
Date published: 2018-04-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Perfect bland of science and theology TLJohnson is a masterful teacher. I lead scripture discussions. Having his background to understand what Paul meant both then and now is priceless. His knowledge is encyclopedic and his teaching is lucid. I've already shared his material.
Date published: 2018-04-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Apostle Paul More than what I expected.......gave me a deeper insight about him, providing more background and I especially liked the way his letters were matched up with the different chapters of Romans.....gave me a deeper look into the man, his work and how he addressed the people he preached to......have recommended this course to many, especially those were I attended church.......thank you for such a great subject matter and will look forward to others.....
Date published: 2017-12-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Dr. Luke Timothy Johnson Altered My Views of Paul Many reviews of TTC’s religious courses (especially the negative ones) seem to reflect the reviewer’s opinion of the lecturer’s perspective of that religion. Therefore as a disclaimer I am somewhere on the secular humanist/agnostic/atheist tract, depending on the day and hour, and am also intensely interested in religion and theology. This is my second course by Professor Johnson, the first being “Great World’s Religions: Christianity” that I found to be descriptive, factual, outstanding and not at all prescriptive. With this as background I approached this course with high expectations. Dr. Johnson did not disappoint. In his very first lecture, he nailed why I viewed Paul the way I did, as I have always considered Paul as the person that gave Christianity many of the concepts that I dislike. And on the flip side he articulated clearly many of the reasons that my religious friends find compelling about the Bible and Christianity. The first lecture for me was interesting and not at all off-putting, as Professor Johnson (though clearly a Christian himself) simply lays out why people view Paul the way they do and how he is going to approach Paul in this course. Most of the rest of the course consists of considering Paul through his letters, along with some discussion of the early church during Paul’s life. I think that a recent reading of these letters (and Acts) will be of great benefit to anyone taking this course, although certainty not necessary, as Professor Johnson is a skilled presenter and his structure and logic are easy to follow. The second lecture deals with the difficulties in how to read and view Paul. This lecture provided me with much food for thought and was the beginning of why I began to view Paul in a much more positive light. To cite only one example, it had never occurred to me that Paul was writing from a rhetorical (in the classic sense) perspective and not necessarily a theological one. And that he was often responding to specific problems at specific churches. Dr. Johnson acknowledges many of the conflicts found in Paul’s writing and thinking and is not at all dogmatic about single issues or single lines, but rather takes a holistic perspective. He explains the importance of Paul in developing the early church, bringing Gentiles into the fold, making the church accessible to all. This despite Paul’s views on non-Jews in general. Dr. Johnson admits that he is in a considerable minority of Biblical scholars in considering that all of the letters attributed to Paul really do belong to him. He presents a somewhat tortured chain of logic to arrive at the conclusion that even if Paul had not personally written some of the letters, they were at the least dictated or approved by him in much the same manner that a Presidential address is the Presidents, not the speech writers. I do not have the necessary educational background (can’t read Greek, for example) to have a reasoned opinion on such arcane matters, but even so this idea has some appeal to me. Just as Dr. Ehrman’s contrary opinion on Paul not writing all of the letters now under his name, seems quite reasoned (another Professor to recommend). I take these courses to have my views expanded and sometimes challenged. This course and Professor Luke Timothy Johnson have done both. I am still considering some of what was presented, a considerable achievement in only 12 lecturers.
Date published: 2017-12-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course; Highly Recommended The first audio lecture was a bit sensational, disperate, but better stuff follows. The lectures that follow and the presentation style I appreciated more, appropriately at an undergrad level. As a believer myself, its hard to ignore one's bias as one approaches Christian studies, but I felt the lecturer approached controversies of scripture fairly. I've attended Sunday School and read the Bible for most of my life and learned something new in each lecture. Dr Johnson has a great sense of humor. Though all scholars have their differences, I would say that he was similar to NTWright. I am definitely interested in other subjects by this professor. Anyone interested in Paul will not be disappointed. As far as value goes, wish I could give 10 stars.
Date published: 2017-11-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great topic. Not dogmatic. Explains his views clearly. Does not impose his theology on the listener.
Date published: 2017-11-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Dr. Johnson's courses are superb. No discussions of Hebrews kept it from being a 5 star
Date published: 2017-10-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I am enjoying listening to this study while taking a car trip.
Date published: 2017-08-31
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Bible not taken literally Sorry I ever purchased this - he neither accepts Paul's vision - and even questions Paul's calling. He ignores the collection of tithes and offerings.
Date published: 2017-08-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enjoyed course Great course. Professor respects Pauline authorship and the historical conservative view of Paul. Really liked his view of Galatians 2:20 and it is "the" faith of Christ, not faith in Christ that makes someone a Christian.
Date published: 2017-06-15
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Divisive and not theological In L1 Professor Johnson's states that he approaches Paul not as a theological source but as "...a teacher of early Christian communities". One might think that what the teacher Paul was teaching was theology. But for Johnson, Paul's theology is too problematic to teach [L1]. Yet Paul's own view of his life was theology. Per Galatians 2:20: "...I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God." Paul's secondary tasks included dealing with various church problems. Johnson wants us to evaluate Paul's secondary task and ignore his primary task. Lawyers call this a "straw man" logical fallacy: the target's case is made weaker than it actually is. Ignoring theology and concentrating on Paul's churches becomes a pointless exercise convincing us only that human beings are fallible - which we already knew. Ancient history expert Prof Ken Harl in "Origins of Ancient Civilization" takes a more academic approach and does not criticize secondary tasks. He notes that the "They (the Jews of Paul's historical period) are human figures struggling with the task before them." Harl also notes that the Bible is not a history text though historical events are portrayed. How then does one evaluate "The Apostle Paul"? After listening to the course, I approached the guidebook "quantitatively". My method was to underline information that was A.) Probably agreeable to agnostics in one color; B.) Probably agreeable to Christian apologists in a second color. For example, an agnostic might be more likely to agree with the phrases: "Paul's erratic, if not sick, psyche..." or "Paul had the misfortune of becoming memorialized as Scripture" or "If (the biblical book of) Acts is correct...". Christian apologists might be more likely to agree with: "These ... aspects of Paul...continue to subvert all reductions of Christianity to mere religious routine." My quite fallible "quasi-scientific" final scores were: A.) >> B.) PRO: If your worldview is antagonistic to Christianity, you might enjoy Part III of Lecture 12 and many of the straw man character assassinations. If you are a Christian you might enjoy parts of L 11 and parts of L12. CON: 1) The course contradicts itself. Its stated scope is: " We read Paul...as the catch-as-catch-can moral instruction of new communities." It is telling that Johnson later [L12] contradicts his Scope by admitting Paul was teaching theology AND that Christian theology cannot be reduced to religious routine (like the "catch-as-catch-can moral instruction" subject of this course). 2) The course is listed as a theology course, but its scope states: "Paul's theology is too problematic to teach". Perhaps it should be listed as a social studies or a history course of Paul the "...teacher of early Christian communities". SUMMARY: Critiquing Paul's human struggle is off target and a straw man argument. We see in L12 that this course also fails in its attempt to dissociate Paul from Paul's theology.
Date published: 2017-03-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Apostle Paul This is an excellent book. I learned so much about Paul and his times. I had never examined Paul's epistles this way, with this kind of detail interpretation. This subject could be highly complex at times but the professor made it sound like 'look for the common sense' in things in order to understand this man. Paul commitment to the work of bringing people to Jesus overshadowed the commitment of other apostles. I used to think that Paul of Tarsus had such an unfortunate life, This course made Paul more human, wiser and the most effective of all the disciples. Great course, great job!
Date published: 2016-10-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Apostle Paul An excellent audio series of 12 lectures on the life and work of the Apostle Paul by Dr. Luke Timothy Johnson, of Candler School of Theology at Emory University. Well suited for the inquisitive lay person. Highly recommend!
Date published: 2016-06-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Torah-knowledgable Benetictine Except for nod to political correctness in the last lecture, a former Benedictine monk speaks to Paul’s life and letters. He claims he is in the academic minority who believes the letters are authentic but gives both the evidences pro and con. He teaches about Judaism at Emory, and his interleaving Torah-specific vocabulary in describing Paul’s letters fit the context well.
Date published: 2016-03-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Thoughtful treatment of the key early Christian I liked Prof Johnson's other courses on the history of Christianity, and wanted to learn more about Paul, clearly one of the key early Christians and founders of what became Christianity. I enjoyed this course. It's detailed and not for everyone, but it's well done, with good analyses of many of Paul's letters that became part of the New Testament, and the evolution of Paul's thinking. I also found it fascinating to hear about the financial dealings of Paul and the various early Christian churches with which he interacted around the Mediterranean, and the vignettes about Paul's personality.
Date published: 2015-10-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This professor was eminently fair and well informe I am not particularly a fan of St. Paul. I was really relieved to learn that some of my opinions about St Paul were not based on the facts about him. This professor presented the facts well.
Date published: 2015-08-29
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Like listening to a Southern Baptist preacher Unlike most Great Courses lecturers on religion, Prof. Johnson makes no attempt to be objective about Christianity. He never prefaces a statement with "In the Christian tradition," or "According to the New Testament." Instead, he states as a fact that there is one true God, that Jesus was resurrected, etc. He is very close to being a fundamentalist who believes in an inerrant bible. He admits that the great majority of biblical scholars believe that Paul did not write some of the letters attributed to him in the New Testament, but presents his own convoluted theory, based on no historical evidence, that Paul did in fact author all of the letters. That being said, the course was of some interest and was worth listening to.
Date published: 2015-07-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Most informative, very thoughtful!!! The course is outstanding! Professor Johnson covers a breadth and depth of material/ideas about St. Paul that compelled me to think about Paul differently, while triggering me to think differently about my own faith. Great course for anyone seeking a balanced approach to St. Paul and looking to foster a new mindset for him/her self. Thanks Professor Johnson!!!
Date published: 2015-02-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from St. Paul The course content is very good and well presented. The course guide does not format well on my iPad screen and I have to constantly scroll to the right to read the entire content. In addition, the guides in the past were capable of being saved into ibooks app on my iPad. so not only can't the guide be saved, it is difficult to read. Finally if and when I purchase another course in the future, it will only be on sale. If you check your records I purchase an audio course of St. Francis of Assisi a while back and paid full price, which was around $85, then less than a month later it was on sale for $15.
Date published: 2015-02-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Worthwhile course I give Prof. Johnson generally high marks for this series of lectures. His style is a bit of an acquired taste, but i found him to be enthusiastic, articulate and entertaining. He can be a bit emphatic in advancing his own views without fully identifying or discussing alternative interpretations (a problem for those bringing less prior knowledge of Paul to the course), but overall i view this as a minor criticism. Although short, the course is weighty, and the treatment of the material is not superficial. Be prepared to focus on and think about each lecture, as the lectures do build from one to the other. I think the audio version of this course is entirely adequate. Particularly at the sale price this course has been recently offered, this course is well worth your investment of money (and time).
Date published: 2015-01-18
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not what I expected I expected more of Paul's theology to be explained. This course tended to be a history with a lot of discussion over authenticity of authorship. Johnson did give a detailed explanation of Paul's objection to a requirement that Gentiles be circumcised.
Date published: 2014-11-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from #2 WHY IT IS IMPORTANT TO STUDY PAUL: Very few people will argue that the most important figure in Christianity is Jesus. The second most influential figure, however, has to be Paul. No less than fourteen out of the twenty seven books in the New Testament are attributed to Paul in one way or another; some believed to have been written by him, some believed to have been written in his name (or forged) pseudonymously, and one – Acts of the Apostles – written with him as one of the two central characters. He was the first Christian Theologian, setting up some of the most profound infrastructures in Christian doctrine and ritual. Up to Paul’s time, Christianity was primarily focused on convincing other Jews of the apocalyptic news that the Day of Judgment was coming within their generation. In a pivotal realization that would change Western civilization forever, Paul understood the new faith not to be exclusively for Jews. In his opinion, the Jews had rejected God’s messiah, and in turn God had rejected them. Paul therefore focused all of his intense energies on converting Pagans around the Mediterranean to Christianity. There is nothing in the Historical Jesus story that gives us a hint that this is what Jesus had in mind. Without this paradigm shift, Christianity would probably have remained a sect within Judaism, it would never have gained the following that it did, and there would have been no Christianization of the Roman Empire. It may well have died out as the Jewish Sadducee and Essene sects had. In many ways it was Paul who “invented” Christianity as a religious movement. Paul, through intense missionary efforts, established numerous young churches and communities (similar in nature to radical democracies), consisting primarily of converted Pagans. He was to serve as their moral teacher, illuminate to them the right way to understand the Christian faith, and be their “administrator”. This was achieved by one of three methods: preferably - Paul would visit the communities personally. If this was not possible he would send one of his delegates (Timothy or Titus). As a last resort – if he could not visit personally or send delegates, he would send letters with his instructions, or sometimes try to convince them of his way of thinking. It is these letters that form most of the thirteen Pauline letters in the New Testament. PAUL’S HUMANITYE: Jesus is attributed to having been a divine being, the son of god or even god himself; sent to Earth to bring salvation to man-kind. Paul, in stark contrast - is extremely human; he gets angry, he changes his mind about matters, he feels threatened about other Apostles getting access to his communities and bringing about changes in their beliefs. He is constantly involved with money: raising money for his churches (letters to the Corinthians and Romans), defending himself against accusations of fraud (Corinthians), and bringing money he has raised to the impoverished church in Jerusalem, hoping that this will help bring a conciliation with them. He is not totally consistent in his teachings to his church followers. He is very polar - things can either be the way he believes them to be, or wrong. A good example is his view of Christianity. Being a devout Pharisaic Jew, he starts out by being a fierce persecutor of Christianity - finding it blasphemous. One day, however, he has a vision of Jesus and becomes utterly convinced that Jesus is God. On the other hand, he establishes deep, intimate relationships with the believers in the churches that he establishes and serves as their moral teacher and leader - a very human relationship. In his letters to the Galatians, for example, Paul is incensed when he finds out that other Apostles had gotten it into his follower’s heads that they should be circumcised if they are to follow Jesus. Paul writes to them that to follow Jesus, all they have to do is to believe in Jesus’ resurrection. In his opinion, It is only the Jews who have to follow the Jewish rules. Professor Johnson used a fantastic analogy to demonstrate Paul’s view: in Paul’s view, the Jewish laws are for the Jews like an iron lung – if you need it you can’t live without it; but if your lung is healthy why would you even think of using and iron lung?! The Pagans have a healthy lung… Paul, being the earliest Christian writer (having probably written earlier than when the canonical Gospels were written), would be the first to raise an anti-Jewish tone that will haunt Jewish-Christian relationship for millennia to come. PROFFESOR JOHNSON: This is the second course I have heard given by Professor Johnson, the first being “Jesus and the Gospels”. In this course too, I have utterly enjoyed his teaching style. The lectures were clear and well structured, and he foresaw which of the points he was trying to make were more difficult, and took more time and effort to explain them. Most importantly, the lectures were extremely interesting and fun to listen to. Professor Johnson does not hide the fact that he comes from a perspective of faith. In the course “Jesus and the Gospels” this was very obvious, and in fact, gave the whole course an interesting perspective. The approach was from a literary, or cultural standpoint rather than a historical one (unlike the courses given by Professor Ehrman for example – also highly recommended). In this course, perhaps because the books of Paul are less about faith and more historical in nature, this is less pronounced. Overall the course is very valuable and I am very glad I decided to hear it.
Date published: 2014-08-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent and Invaluable Course St Paul is one of the most influential figures in Western history and indeed all human history given the pivotal importance of his life and letters to Christianity. The course gives very clear insight into his life, his Damascene conversion and then the critical role he played in establishing Christian communities in the Near East and indeed Europe. Professor Johnson masterfully weaves a narrative that looks at groups of letters within the 13 letters that are attributed to Paul in the Bible. The course permits analysis of how Paul dealt with early church community conflicts including the vitally important issues of the interaction of Mosaic Law and faith in Christ. Professor Johnson makes it clear that he is very much a traditionalist and highlights the fact that prior to 1800 all of Paul's letters were treated as genuine. In fact, despite scholarly investigations that now leave 7 of the 13 letters as "undisputedly" written by Paul, Professor Johnson makes a powerful exhortation to set out ways in which it is possible to view all 13 as emanating from Paul. It is an intriguing and thought provoking thesis. Lecture 11 in particular is captivating in the way he challenges the very wide consensus that the pastoral epistles -Timothy I and II and Titus- are pseudonymous; he argues that by placing these and all the letters in their situational contexts and taking into account recent understanding of the conventions of Greek rhetoric- known to Paul- the letters can indeed be viewed as authored by Paul. Lecture 12 is a whistle stop and tantalising tour of the influence of Paul in Christianity over the past 2000 years from the time of Gnosticism to Karl Barth. And that lecture 12 encapsulates the only disappointment for me about this course. It is simply far too brief. The Teaching Company have a 24 lecture course on Luther for example and given the sheer pivotal importance of St Paul over the past 2000 years-including on Luther himself- it seems that this course should have been at least 24 lectures too. If this course were expanded to this length I would buy it immediately. In any event for a birds-eye overview St Paul this is a deserved 5 star course and highly recommended.
Date published: 2014-07-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Seeking to Understand... Audio download. Not being a particularly religious person, I have recently become curious as to the basis for the tenants of the christian religion, as well as the other major mystical cults through history. Since Paul is responsible for writing a large portion of the New Testament, and Prof Johnson is an engaging and well-spoken lecturer, I figured that these lectures would serve me well on my search. I was only slightly disappointed. I understand that, in the context of Paul's time, the Hebrew world was an unsettled one, with many looking for change from the sometimes rigid laws of the Torah. And that the teachings of Jesus might have suggested to many that there might be a way to at once obey the 'law' yet find more forgiveness for (sometimes unintentional) digressions. Paul, being the Jew that he was, sought ways to not so much convert but to include the Jews to a new religious point of view....offering a forgiving god rather than a wrathful god. To the pagans he offered structure and community. So he is responsible for the formation of Christianity and authored much of the New Testament. It seems to me that much, if not all, of his writings represent the thought and philosophy of Paul, using Jesus as a foil or mouthpiece to establish his morality. This tactic was employed by several others later in history, notably Mohammad and Joseph Smith, with astounding success. And the preoccupation of Paul's letters dealing with circumcision was as interesting then as it is today. Recently a friend who was considering that procedure as part of his upcoming religious revival asked me, rather sheepishly, if I had had that experience (and was it that bad)...I kindda shrugged and said that when I had mine I couldn't walk for a year. I neglected to tell him that I was 9 weeks old at the time. Good lecture series...buy it on sale and pay attention. You will not be disappointed. Hope that helps.
Date published: 2014-05-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Tough Course but well worth it! I have listened to this course 3 times and each time I gain new insights. It's tough at first, but keep at it and you'll be very glad you did. Professor Johnson is fantastic! I just bought another course he did because I so enjoyed and learned from this one.
Date published: 2014-02-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Contextual Gem! AUDIO DOWNLOAD This course has definitely enhanced my understanding of Paul and the early church. Professor Johnson’s focus on the context of Paul’s New Testament letters provides significant knowledge, insight, and appreciation that might otherwise be lacking if we simply read them on their own. He clearly shows how Paul’s letters employ ancient Greek rhetoric, the study of which is surprisingly recent in New Testament studies, which credibly explains what may otherwise appear to us moderns as peculiarities of arrangement and expression. (Because of this, according to Professor Johnson, the letters are best read out loud.) Professor Johnson uses this literary analysis and other criteria to address questions of authenticity, swimming against the scholarly current in accepting all 13 of the letters as authentic. Dealt with first are the earliest undisputed letters, proceeding through to the widely held pseudonymous pastoral letters. Professor Johnson is selective in discussing their contents: “This course approaches Paul as a teacher of early Christian communities, whose ‘thought’ is formed in response to real-life problems and is expressed through the rhetoric of individual literary compositions…We approach Paul as a pastor dealing with the problems of first- generation Christianity” (Course Guidebook, Page 6), and not psychologically or theologically, though he touches on these perspectives along the way. Professor Johnson contends, and successfully shows, that Paul though a polarizing figure is “…far more complex than the positive and negative stereotypes” (Page 1), and that important as he is in the early church, “…he does not really invent Christianity” (Page 7). This course really increased my knowledge and understanding of Paul and the early church. (I’m not sure, however, if I can agree that church structure in Paul’s time was comparable to that of a present-day “Elks Club”, as is suggested in the audio of lecture 12!) In addition to excellent discussions of the composition, contents, and authenticity of Paul’s letters, I found Professor Johnson’s final lecture captivating as he details how the letters made it into the Biblical Canon, and traces their impact over the centuries, notably on Augustine, Luther, and down to the 20th century’s theologian Karl Barth. Among the matters that struck me most, however, are Professor Johnson’s discussion of how Paul was later considered by the 2nd century church fathers as primarily a moral teacher, while the heretical Marcion and the Gnostics took to his theological statements, and latched onto his dualism and “world-denying asceticism.” Professor Johnson also tries to soften Paul’s comments on such matters as homosexuality and gender, but he is better on the latter. The interpretation that I found especially off-base is in the lecture on Galatians, in which Professor Johnson notes (approvingly in the audio, but in a seeming matter of fact manner in the Guidebook) that “A growing minority of scholars today argues that the correct translation [of “pistis Christou”, traditionally rendered “faith in Christ”] should be rendered “Christ’s faith”—meaning that the faith of the human person Jesus in God puts all people…in right relationship with God” (Page 34). A seemingly small matter, one might think, especially if one is not a Christian, but with great implications for those who are willing to accept it because it is the latest scholarship. Such interpretations, especially the emphasis on Paul’s radical egalitarianism, seem at times designed to make the course a bit more palatable for the progressive and politically correct (as is his use of BCE/CE). Fortunately, Paul is not so easily reducible to neatly fit today’s sensibilities! Especially telling, however, is Professor Johnson’s summing up of Paul’s enduring importance, based not on “specific propositions” but on “certain emphases that pervade all his letters”: “A. He takes his stand on the experience of the living God, who for Paul has been revealed most powerfully in the story of Jesus, because of whose death and resurrection, God’s power is at work to transform humans. Jesus as the pattern for a new humanity is a powerful and evocative claim. B. He pays little attention to the fate or fortunes of individuals, keeping his eye constantly on the moral integrity of the community. Paul challenges every form of individualism at the expense of common good. C. Despite his objection to philosophy, Paul is, from beginning to end, a thinker. His refusal to provide one-size-fits-all answers and his insistence that his readers also think through the implications of experience for behavior has enabled Christianity to remain a flexible and adaptable religious tradition that has engaged and continues to engage the larger world of thought and culture.” (Pages 52-53) These fine sentiments are tempered for me, however, by Professor Johnson’s position that Paul’s letters are of limited usefulness as a guide for Christians today because of the “historical circumstances” peculiar to Paul’s time and personal experience. He also contends that Paul’s weaknesses “turn out to be Christianity’s weakness as well” (Page 52). Included here most notably for Professor Johnson are Paul’s “random” comments on sexuality and views on slavery, gender, and non-Jews. In this regard, one must refer back to Professor Johnson’s own caution that “All interpreters approach Paul with an angle of vision that affects their reading” (Page 5). Despite these critical comments, I still believe this is a wonderful course and well worth the time. You may not agree with all Professor Johnson has to say, but he is a great lecturer, deeply knowledgeable on the subject, and, to say the least, thought-provoking. Where he may rub you the wrong way, you will find that he clearly states the reasons for his position. Though prior familiarity with Paul’s letters is not absolutely necessary, the course cannot be fully appreciated without reading Acts and Paul’s thirteen New Testament letters.
Date published: 2013-11-22
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