Some Surprises from the Apostle Paul

Submitted by Peter on

cover picture

This book study begins February 16, 2020.

This group stopped meeting on March 8, 2020 because of COVID-19.
We will resume with a new book when safe.

Controversial during his lifetime and ever since, the Apostle Paul is often accused of being homophobic, misogynistic, anti-Semitic, dogmatic, narrow-minded, prejudiced, and downright obtuse. Walker argues that some of the animosity toward Paul stems from ignorance of his cultural context and/or the assumption that he wrote everything attributed to him. In Some Surprises from the Apostle Paul, Walker addresses common misconceptions and explores what can be learned about Paul from the historical evidence. “Walker has brilliantly succeeded in packaging ten of the more puzzling features or surprising issues that lead the reader to the heart of Pauline thought. Anyone interested in Paul will profit by the author’s carefully crafted and well-written exploration of Paul’s letters. An ideal guide for adult discussion groups.”
David E. Aune, University of Notre Dame


This is another thought-provoking book!

You-all know that I'm not fond of Paul. I consider the core teachings traditionally ascribed to Paul as either absurd or from a long-discarded and forgotten world view: Predestination and election (to salvation or damnation!), obedience to all authority, humans-are-bad, the inheritability of Original Sin, and of course, substitutionary atonement are all crazy and contrary to Jesus' teachings.

My solution to my "Paul problem" is that he was gay and generalized his experience to be universal, that is, that we are all drenched in guilt, we all should have an apocalypsis with the Risen Christ, speak in tongues, rely totally on God's grace, and so on.

Now Walker comes along and suggests strongly that many of the passages I object to are not Paul at all. At the same time he declares that Romans 3:22 and 26 DO mean what the RSV says: "You're justified if you have faith IN Christ." What to think?

I do think he's right in calling the passages about "women, shut up," and "obey the authorities," interpolations. After that, I just don't know.

The screed against homosexuals (Romans 1:16 to end) I've always considered a reputation-coverup, as in "you complain too much," setting up what I consider positive proof of his homosexuality in Romans 6, 7, and 8. Romans 1:16 to end is extraordinary; there's nothing like it anywhere else in the Bible in my view. Compare it to Jesus' silence on the subject. So I don't know.

He deletes all my favorite passages in Romans 2. "God will repay for what we have done," "For it is not those who hear the law who are justified in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous." Since they are works-determined, I guess that's why he doesn't like them.

Likewise, Romans 8:29 (election) is wholly objectionable, I agree, but it does fit with 9:11-18. I just can't tell.

So, I'm simply confused. Certainty is a lot better state to be in!


1 – Since we have all by this time formed an opinion of what Paul might have though about a large number of issues, you may want to take the time to look over some of our author’s suspected interpolations and see if you agree. It looks like 14 are listed on pg. 89.
2 – Are any of the author’s eight arguments particularly persuasive to you? Which? 95
3 – Bart Ehrman has written books about interpolation that are easy to read.
4 – Which argument on pg. 96-7 do you like best?
5 – How do you feel about removing all the passages you don’t like in order to make Paul in(to) your own image? 103
6 – Compare interpolations in the letters to variations introduced by a mostly oral culture in storytelling. 104
7 – Where are you on a 1 – 10 scale from faith – works? 111
8 - “...uncomfortable with Pauline Christianity.” How does this include you? 114
9 – What is the most important thing you learned from this book(study)? 117

1 – What is (was) your perception of Paul’s attitude about sex before reading this chapter? 69
2 – How are we supposed to figure out what Paul is even talking about in 1 Thes 4:3-8? 70
3 – 1 Cor 9:5, in “The Authentic Letters of Paul,” has only the word wife, not sister-wife. But we have no evidence that Paul was (ever) married. But this whole section is written as questions, NOT statements. Paul is (probably) being rhetorical, so how can we tell what his real position is? 71
4 – After reading Rom 1:26-27 in the Authentic Letters, I have an opinion about it being an interpolation. Do you, and what is it? 72
5 – Can we ever know when Paul is “quoting to provide a backdrop” or making a statement of his own position? What does this imply about all his writings? 73
6 – Do you think the prevalence of homosexuality has changed since Paul’s time? Why? 78
7 – Hoe important is breaking out of socially assigned roles, to you? (Last night we watched “Hidden Figures”) Does this apply here? 82
8 – Comments on the words malakoi or arsenokoitai? What do you think? 82
9 – How much of today’s sex is about power rather than love? 83
10 – If Paul were alive today, what do you think he would have to say about sexuality? 86

1 – What is your feeling about how far modern society has come from patriarchy to sexual equality? (say, on a scale from 1 to 10) 58
2 – Was it even possible for Paul to be as egalitarian about women as our author is arguing? Could he step that far outside his culture? 61
3 – What is another reason for the omission of male-female in 1 Cor 12:13? 63
4 – What Biographical or Romantic Novels from or about biblical times have you read? Any comments? 64
5 – If Paul didn’t initiate the radical egalitarianism of Gal 3:27-28, where do you think it came from? 68
6 – Can you do any better at interpreting 1 Thess 4:3-8 than our author does? Do you have a system for figuring out what the Bible means when you read it? 70
7 – Have you encountered any other references to spouses of apostles? Why (or not)? 71
8 – Why do you think the church is so interested in what Paul has to say about sex? 72
9 – There is no consideration of death in child birth or sexually transmitted disease. Comments? 74
10 – Where does Paul hint that he would like to be accompanied by a wife? 75

1 – Where do you think Paul got his ideas for Thess 4:15-17? 41
2 – Does your eschatology fit either the imminent or future versions of Paul? 44
3 – Is there any eschatology without life-after-death? 45
4 – How would you describe your own eschatology? 46
5 – Do you think you will be “saved” and what does this “saving” amount to? 48
6 – What do you think being “Christian” has to do with being saved? 49
7 – What does “inherit the Kingdom of God” mean to you? 50
8 – Where do you think Paul’s contrast between “the sin of Adam causing all to fail (fall) vs. Jesus saving all” came from? Did Paul just make it up? 53
9 – We have a God who: Elects, Judges, or Rules: which one would you choose, and why? 55
10 – If we include a choice between Justice and Mercy, then what characteristics do you put into your God? 56

1 – What do you think about the idea that repentance / forgiveness is (mostly) absent from Paul because he was unable to do this himself? 30
2 – If repentance is so that God will forgive you, that implies that people can influence what God “does.” What do you think about your influence on your God? 31
3 – Do you agree that “…there is nothing that a person can do to attain a right relationship with God.”? Why? 31
4 – How do you see the difference between “belief” and “trust or faith”? 34
5 – How does the difference between “faith in Jesus” and “faith of Jesus: affect your understanding of (current) Christianity? 34
6 – Faith is a gift of God: Yes or No? Why? 37
7 – How is it that we can all be made sinners by the act(s) of Adam, but there’s a catch, or requirement, to be made righteous by Christ? We had nothing to do with Adam, but we must “do” something to get fixed? 39
8 – Adam was certainly mythical. Is there anything less mythical about our being “rightly related to God”? 40
9 – Back in Paul’s time people moved from being human to being Gods. Jesus certainly did this if we look at the Bible stories. Notice that “Jesus” is replaced by “Christ” after pg. 36. Why has our author removed Jesus the human from his arguments? 40
10 – Compare levels of moral / spiritual development to the move from Adam to Jesus. 40

1 – Why do you think Paul leaves out all the teachings / stories of Jesus? 16
2 – Why do you think there is so little overlap between Paul’s letters and the Gospels? 17
3 – Do you see any problems with our author’s argument that “an appeal to a saying of Jesus would clearly have bolstered Paul’s own argument.”? 20
4 – Why do you think Paul chose: “ know nothing among you except Jesus CHRIST and him crucified.”? 20
5 – Do you think the life of Jesus is only of modern interest? Why? 21
6 – Why is revelation more important to some people than others? 22
7 – Where does your God fit on a scale from “performance oriented” to “compassion oriented”? 23
8 – So is Justification only available to some, and Calvin was right about predestination? 24
9 – How do you feel about repentance and the forgiveness of sins? (The last sentence before The Surprise on pg. 28)?
10 – What is your basic understanding of sin? 30

1 – Is Paul the “founder of Christianity”? Why? xi
Since this question comes on the first page, what I must be looking for is how you see Paul BEFORE reading any more than you already have.
2 – If you could ask Paul a question, what would it be? Translation aside, do you think you could understand his answer? xiv
3 – Which of the “gaps” listed on pg. 2 do you find most significant? Why?
4 – What do you think would be the most significant difference between one of your own e-mails and one of Paul’s letters? 4
5 – Why do you think Paul’s letters were canonized? 6
6 – Our author gives his reasons for reading the pseudonymous letters the way he does. Do you agree or do you have another viewpoint? 9
7 – Our author indicates a number of issues in reading Paul. Can you think of (or have you read about) any other issues not mentioned here? 13