Paul As Preacher

Paul as Preacher: The Gospel Then and Now (2007)

This was a lecture given by Michael Devlin delivered on October 19, 2005 at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, Ireland. Michael Devlin is a bishop in the British House of Lords.

His lecture began by commenting about a conference he had in Atlanta Georgia, when England won the Rugby Union World Cup. He was so excited and eager to share the good news to the people in his hotel and conference…. But nobody in the hotel or conference attendee’s had the slightest idea what Rugby was, let alone how important England’s victory was. Michael commented on their blank look’s. “I might as well have walked out onto O’Connell street in Dublin and announced to a startled audience that Hang Chow province had just won the Chinese inter-provincial table tennis tournament”.

 This analogy the author thought would paint a picture for his audience an idea of what Paul was doing in his preaching and cultural differences. “When Paul arrived in, Thessalonica and announced that Jesus was Lord, it must have felt like someone telling an audience about a game they did not play, being won by a team they did not know. Announcing that the crucified and risen Jesus of Nazareth is Israel’s true King and therefore the World’s true Lord. This would not have made any sense at all to a first-century pagan. To suppose a Jew would become Lord of the world was ridiculous to a citizen of Rome”.

Paul saw that what the non-Jewish world needed was a Jewish message about the one true God and what this God had done in Jesus the Messiah. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, he insisted, was the one true God, the world’s creator, who revealed Himself to Israel. Then God acted through Jesus for the whole world.

Paul was a pioneer missionary, He was telling a story and making a royal proclamation. The word “Gospel” was used in this time frame proclaiming the good news about the emperor of Rome, the Caesar colt, the fastest growing religion. Paul used the word “Gospel” when he was summoning all people to join in the community that hailed Jesus Christ, not Caesar as the true lord. To announce this gospel in today’s world means confronting postmodernity, post secularism, with the same challenging word, to let today’s Caesar’s know that Jesus is Lord.

Michael Devlin lecture of Paul’s preaching of the Crucified and Risen Jesus Christ as lord had four main points:

  1. Paul’s proclamation was challenging news to people who were not expecting it.
  2. His message belonged within the storied world of Jewish apocalyptic and eschatology, and can only be properly understood there.
  3. Paul believed that this message went to work in human hearts and lives to generate new community.
  4. His preaching of Jesus, and the communities it generated, posed a deliberate challenge to the empire of Caesar.

My overall view of this speech from a person claiming to be a Pauline scholar was weak and very wordy. Not once did he mention the letters of Paul that were read to the various communities. The genre for Paul is his letters dealing with the communities’ respective issues, I thought would be critical to highlight or introduce. His topic,” Paul as preacher” and his forced metaphor of a rugby game to get his audience to focus on the cultural difference of England, Atlanta Georgia, and China. In 2003 most of the world would have known of the game of rugby. We need to go to the century and culture to understand Paul. Again the author does not identify the category of rhetoric Paul used in his writing or preaching. In fact, he states “the gospel itself must carry its own power and human rhetorical skill must stand back and give it room to operate”. The author calls his narrative a “love” story in the various” gospel speaking communities”. I believe the arguments were different in the various communities and Paul would have summarized his letters to his targeted audiences.

11 thoughts on “Paul As Preacher”

  1. Jerry,
    Nice work by you! Very scathing review, were you in a bad mood when you listened to this lecture? You remind me that whenever I read Paul, context is king! Although Fr. B has lectured on context, it is still good that we are reminded. Keeping Paul in context has given me a new appreciation of his letter.

  2. Gerry – be honest – how did you really feel about this! I do agree with you and Hank on the need to keep the narratives in context. I have also learned that Paul’s writings were often very finely nuanced. So, knowing where he was coming from and the type of rethoeitical style he was employing, which was dependent on the conditions within the community he was writing to, at that particular time, is very critical. Thanks Gerry.

  3. I see your point that leaving out any mention of context seems to lend a weakness to the author’s arguments. However, I think it is important to remember that he is giving an address that probably had a limited time and scope, so I can’t imagine that he meant it to be a comprehensive treatment of Paul’s works. What he did have to say was in line with what we have read in N. T. Wright’s book, so I will at least give him credit for having no glaring errors. One could make the argument that this author, just like St. Paul, was speaking to a targeted audience of people living at a specific time and as such he chose to address specific matters that he discerned would help those listening imitate St. Paul in bringing the “good news” to their particular communities.

  4. Great summary Gerry. I appreciate your expectations for someone who should know Paul and his preaching and agree that he left out much that may have made this more well understood for his audience. We can’t assume all have taken Father Brady’s course and understand what needs to be known before tackling St. Paul!

  5. Gerry,

    I failed to mention that I especially liked the author’s detailed explanation of Paul view of apocalyptic eschatology, and how that has now come to pass with the death and resurrection of Jesus. I felt that Devlin’s overview was much clearer and easier to understand that Wright’s.

    I was initially put off by Devlin’s very opening statement that Paul’s message was “very Jewish” While it is true that Paul continually referred to Jesus as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jakob; Paul’s proclamation, in multiple letters, that the because of the risen Jesus, the Jewish law (Torah) could now be removed as a “guardian”, was the complete antithesis of what it meant to be a first century Jew.

  6. Jerry, good summary, your four main points summed up nicely what the author was saying. I agree the speech was rather wordy and a head scratcher that it did not mention the letters.

  7. Gerry,

    An interesting perspective. I actually enjoyed reading his lecture. I thought it was thought provoking regarding how to bring it to the people today. I liked his section on the importance of community – “The Powerful Word that Creates Community.” I believe community is how we reinvigorate the Catholic Church today.


  8. Gerry, very good summary. Nicky I agree, we can’t assume all have taken
    Fr. Brady’s course and understand what needs to be known. Tom, yes it gives
    me some thought as well.
    Gerry, again very good.

  9. Gerry, interesting article and review. It is a bit hard to get past some of Devlin’s stylistic language, but a lot of the message about trying to relate to the time and place one is at is important. I wonder what would happen if England played Hang Chow in table tennis?

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