Paul's Ministry as an Apostle to the Non-Jewish Peoples: His Counseling to the Corinthians Concerning the Gifts and Manifestations of the Spirit
Other than Jesus, no other person is more misunderstood, misinterpreted, or misrepresented than Paul. He has wrongly been said to convert from his Jewish faith to the newly founded Christian faith while traveling to Damascus. This misconception has its foundations with a second century heretic named Marcion who had an extreme anti-Semitic attitude. He had a fervent dislike for the Hebrew Scriptures and even re-wrote parts of the New Testament writings to fit his anti-Semitic theology. Even though the leaders of the church excommunicated him in 144 AD as a heretic, his ideas still find their way into the church today, some 1850 years later.
It seems that Christians ignore Paul's own self-description. He describes himself as a Pharisee, proud of his Hebrew heritage. He discloses a great love for his own people and for the Torah. To Paul, Torah was the way of life. He studied the sources of his faith diligently and lived a faithful observant life. By viewing Paul as an observant Pharisee, many aspects of his teachings, concerning grace and law, are better understood.
By rejecting the Judaism of Paul, the church has adopted an anti-Semitism that echoes the teachings of Marcion. Paul's theology is rooted in Torah-true Judaism. His Pharisaism is clearly evident in his teachings concerning the resurrection of the dead and in his interpretation of the Bible. He shows extensive knowledge of Jewish Halakah. By accepting the fact that Paul never rejected his Jewish background and gaining insight into that background, one can open new horizons for interpreting his messages.
His Damascus road experience was not a conversion. It was a calling. He was called by the resurrected Messiah to be an apostle, carrying the message of The Kingdom of Heaven to a non-Jewish world. It was to these non-Jewish congregations that his letters were written, offering teachings and counseling in the ways of the G-d who lives. Here we will deal with one particular message in one of his letters.
I Corinthians 15 has become famously known as the "love chapter". It is, frequently, removed from its historical context and given new applications such as being read at weddings. Many fine Bible scholars have been perplexed by this chapter being sandwiched between two chapters dealing with spiritual gifts and manifestations of the Spirit. Even suggesting that it must have been written independent of the text and inserted at a later date. However, a careful analysis of the text reveals how closely connected the "love chapter" is to chapters dealing with gifts and manifestations of the Spirit.
These manifestations were commonplace in early Christianity. The Christian movement was characterized by the guidance of the Spirit. The book of Acts is replete with the workings of the Spirit and as the Kingdom message was taken to the non-Jews and congregations established, the manifestations were operable there also. At Corinth, however, it seems that these "gifts" were being misused and abused.
Paul's correspondence to that congregation deals with this problematic situation. Chapters 12 and 14 refer to the ministry gifts and their operation within the Body of Christ. Chapter 13 serves as a bridge between these two passages. It too makes numerous references to the gifts of the Spirit but above all points to a more excellent way. One key phrase in chapter 13, when properly studied, will give clear insight to the message presented.
In verse 12 Paul says, "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face". Here he is referring to the Hebrew Scriptures. Being familiar with Jewish thought can illuminate the meaning of the term "mirror".
Paul alludes to a specific passage in Torah that uses the same words as I Corinthians 13:12 as it describes Moses and the other prophets. The passage is found in Numbers 12:6-8 and in the Greek translation of the text the same word is used for "dark speech" as is used for "dimly" in I Corinthians 13:12. In Numbers 12:6-8 the Lord contrasts the difference between Moses and the other prophets. The difference being that with the other prophets the Lord makes himself known in "dark speech"(dimly) but with Moses he speaks mouth to mouth (clearly), which ensured him a clear word of prophecy. "Face to face" is the same as mouth to mouth. So, it is clear that Paul is referring to Numbers 12:6-8. Furthermore, another Rabbinic text makes clear what Paul means by the term "mirror":
Rabbi Judah bar Ilai, from the second century, quoted Numbers 12:8 in a similar discussion concerning Moses, the gift of prophecy, and the other prophets.
"…all the other prophets beheld prophetic
visions through a blurred mirror (lens) but
Moses beheld prophetic visions through a
polished mirror (lens) as it is said, "He
beholds the form of the Lord and speaks
with him mouth to mouth."
It should be noted that the mirror refers to a crude version of a lens that made far away objects clearer. This Rabbinic passage uses the term to refer to prophetic utterances and the giving of the Holy Spirit. The lens becomes an instrument or means through which the Divine will (will of G-d) becomes manifest. So, too, the gifts of the Spirit in I Corinthians 12 and 14 are instruments or means by which the local church provides ministry to those in need. Although, because of the human element, they are like unpolished mirrors (lenses) through which the people behold the Lord.
Self-interests were motivating the congregation. Though the manifestations were given for the common good, the Corinthians were exploiting them. Jealousy and other human weaknesses had caused genuine concern for the needs of others to fade.
Paul sends pastoral counseling to his brothers and sisters. These spiritualities were not given to exalt one person over another. Chapter 13 is the pivotal point of Paul's message. Love, as a fruit of the Spirit, must be the guide of the other manifestations. This makes the gifts of ministry through the Spirit seem like beholding the Lord clearly. Paul wisely counsels the congregation to desire the spiritual gifts but make love your aim. The gifts are used as a means of greater service. Seeking the gifts out of love makes ministry to those in need more efficient. Love is the bridge between the empowerment of the Spirit and the help provided to others. Love must characterize the ministry of each Christian as well as the church community. Without love the most powerful of manifestations are meaningless. Paul, as an apostle of Jesus, echoes the Masters (Jesus') words, "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
by Terry Prevette: "I'm indebted to the ministry of Dr. Brad Young whose
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of the words of the Bible and a closer walk with G-d. For more about the Apostle
Paul I refer you to Dr. Young's excellent book: "Paul the Jewish Theologian"."
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