A favorite teaching practice of many rabbis was the art of allegory. All of the most famous rabbis were masters of this practice, and of course Jesus and Paul are no exceptions. Paul used this technique often in his letters and knowing this is important to interpretation. However, what happens when a master like Paul blends solid teaching about salvation and an allegory that would make perfect sense to his original audience? We miss it, that’s what. Let’s look at something that could possibly be underlying Paul’s teachings on slavery.
If you were writing a letter to a friend, trying to convince him or her that some very supernatural events were real, what would you do? I think that a probable course of action is to link it to something in reality to make it more believable and understandable. You might also link it to the religion of your friend so that it fits into their worldview. When Luke tells about Paul’s (the text still refers to him as Saul at that point) vision of Jesus (Acts 9) this is precisely what he does.
The Apostle Paul seemed to constantly be fighting an uphill battle in regard to his apostolic authority. He writes in multiple letters about this topic because some doubted his authority, teaching, and even his motives. One way for him to link his authority to Jesus, to the prophets, and to God was the retelling of his commission. How did Paul use this true story to speak to the faithful? Let’s dig in.
Every time you read a Bible story, ask yourself: where else in the text can this story be found? And also ask: how does knowing where this text is coming from help in my understanding of it? The Bible frequently plays upon and expands upon itself. Why is this relevant? A substantial portion of the entire New Testament is written in this manner. Time after time, Jesus uses the Tanakh (Old Testament) as a foundation for what he teaches and the stories he tells.
Join me today as we look at an interesting story in the New Testament which expands upon at least three other stories in the Bible! Is this a story about Paul having a hard time getting from one place to another? Or is there something deeper going on?