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Understanding Paul

From the December 2009 issue of The Christian Science Journal

For Many Christians, Paul the Apostle is second only to Christ Jesus when considering the remarkable spread of the Gospel teachings in the early centuries of the Christian era. While Jesus launched what would become Christianity in the Jewish homeland of Palestine, it was Paul who would take its message of love and grace throughout the Roman Empire, covering 10,000 miles over a period of 30 years.

Who was this Jewish Pharisee who never met Jesus during the Master's three-year ministry, yet claimed to have encountered Christ Jesus on the road to Damascus? In What Paul Meant (Penguin Group, 2006), Garry Wills tries to provide insights about the man who has been either lauded for his pioneering efforts on behalf of Christianity, or disliked because of interpretations of his teachings, such as his so-called misogyny toward women. (Playwright George Bernard Shaw typified such disdain when he relayed that "it would have been better for the world if Paul had never been born.")

Yet while there have been countless explanations of Paul's teachings (from Augustine to Martin Luther), one point not in dispute is the profound influence his life and letters have had on Christians the past 2,000 years. Many historians attribute Martin Luther's break with the Catholic Church and the subsequent Protestant Reformation as coming from Luther's interpretation of Paul's writings.