Paul: A Slave of Jesus Christ
This is a conventional introduction to a letter, except it has been expanded (cf. Galatians and Philippians). Paul spends more than the usual time introducing himself partly, no doubt, because the church in Rome has not had personal contact with him. It should also be remembered that, in antiquity, letters always substituted for the actual presence of the author – an epistolary proxy. There are several words and phrases employed by Paul that merit close scrutiny.
“Slave of JC” = property of another. By use of this word, in a very socially structured world, Paul is at once saying two things. 1st, he claims to belong to another. He is not, as the saying goes, “his own man.” Rather, one cannot fully understand or appreciate Paul without reference to Christ. 2nd, Paul is countering the imperial overtones of Rome by acknowledging another master. Paul is at once humble and political.
“Called to be an apostle” – Paul associate his vocation (apostle) with his conversion (Christian). See Acts 9:15. Paul viewed the Christian life vocationally – we are all called to represent Christ regardless of our occupation. Some do it from a pulpit, some a desk, or from a tractor or a bench. Paul took up tent making in order that people would not think his Christianity was merely professional. “Apostle” – comes from the verb meaning to “be sent.” An apostle is a “sent one.” Paul was especially sent to evangelize the Gentiles. His Hellenistic background prepared him for such a mission.
“Set apart for the gospel” – a participle derived from the same root as the word “Pharisee.” Before meeting the resurrected Lord, Paul had been set apart for the Torah. Now this orientation of exclusive allegiance has been given to another. The Lord takes Paul’s training and orientation and uses it for redemptive purposes. “Gospel” refers to a glad announcement in Greek – either the birth of a royal child, or the ascension of a King, a royal marriage – something to bring blessing on the realm. In Hebrew, gospel has specific reference to the “good news” that Israel is to return from exile (cf. Isa. 40:9).
These self identifications help us to know how to read Paul, what are the best “lenses” for understanding him.
- Personal lens – his encounter of the Resurrected Lord was revolutionary.
- Social lens – he had the “mind of Christ” and knew how to humble himself so that he could communicate with those for who his message was intended.
- Historical lens – the good news of Jesus Christ was the story through which he made sense of the world and by which he intended the world to understand itself.
We will discuss the nature of this “gospel” – or good news – next post.