Paul, Apostile of the Exile

Since I am by temperament and education an engineer I assume that there is an underlying order to the universe and that that order should be discoverable. When I first began seriously to study Scripture, I assumed that God - the author of order - would be clear about those things He decided to reveal. I certainly understood that some things He might choose to hold secret and that there are mysteries that were only to be revealed at His schedule, but I thought the things He did choose to have written about in the Bible would be clearly presented. The Torah seemed pretty clear, at least on the surface; but Paul seemed both internally inconsistent and at variance with the Torah.

On top of that, Bible teachers I respected seemed to have quite different takes on what the Bible was teaching. One radio teacher said, "Don't study Jesus for doctrine, He was teaching the Law." Another said, "Paul was teaching radical grace and freedom from 'that old Law'." Yet another, "You can't develop doctrine from the Book of Acts. Those people were still following the Law." So what to do? Find a teacher I liked and follow him? Adopt the doctrines of one or another sect of Christianity? Chuck it all and become a Jew?

My answer was to go back to the beginning of the Book and study it with the view that books are written from front to back. From that perspective, later chapters may be understood in the context of the foundation that is laid in earlier ones. While that did solve my problem and I now see Moses, Paul and Y'shua as being completely consistent, the question remains: Why did God write His book so that it is possible for sincere people to arrive at wildly different interpretations of Scripture? Really, having part of the body of Messiah shun the Torah while another part embraces it is not a small thing. A Messianic cannot go to an Episcopalian church picnic and not get bludgeoned with a ham sandwich.

I think part of the answer lies with Paul. Peter, referring to Paul's letters, said, "There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. (2 Pe 3:16) C.S. Lewis said of Paul, "I cannot be the only reader who wondered why God, having given him so many gifts, withheld from him (what would to us seem so necessary for the first Christian theologian) that of lucidity and orderly exposition." (Reflections on the Psalms) So men of greater intellect than I have had similar problems understanding Paul. Why did God not either choose someone who wrote more clearly or give His chosen messenger a gift of clear exposition? Surely He knew the difficulty Paul's style would cause as his letters spread throughout the world and down through time.

Here I think that the question provides the answer. I think we must view the situation as deliberate - God has set things up so that there will be a proliferation of conflicting doctrines and understandings within the body of Messiah. Why?

To understand, consider Y'shua:

"This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:

'You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.
For this people's heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.'" (Mt 13:13-15)

Isaiah was sent by God to a nation that had fallen so far that it was bound for exile. During his ministry, the Northern Kingdom was destroyed by the Assyrians and the Southern Kingdom was destroyed by the Babylonians a little over a century later. Isaiah's commission was to speak God's truth in such a way that it could not be acted upon by those who heard it directly. In the same way, those who heard Y'shua's words spoken in parables also went into exile when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70CE. So it seems that God's messengers speak His truth to those going into exile, but they phrase that truth so that it will not be understood and so that the exile will proceed as decreed.

Understanding that God has often spoken in ways that are not intended to be understood by those who hear, where does that leave Paul? Surely God intended that the nations understand? It appears not.

Later in Isaiah we read this:

Astonish yourselves and be astonished;
blind yourselves and be blind!
Be drunk, but not with wine;
stagger, but not with strong drink!
For the Lord has poured out upon you a spirit of deep sleep,
and has closed your eyes (the prophets),
and covered your heads (the seers).

And the vision of all this has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed. When men give it to one who can read, saying, "Read this," he says, "I cannot, for it is sealed." And when they give the book to one who cannot read, saying, "Read this," he says, "I cannot read." (Is 29:9-12)

This passage describes the process of exile. Before exiling the nation, God removes prophecy and spiritual wisdom and He closes the Book. In this light, the difficulty of Paul's writing makes perfect sense. Paul appears to be 'the apostle of the exile' who speaks God's word to people 'whose hearts have grown dull.'

But surely it is only the Jews who are in exile and whose hearts have grown dull? Again, it appears not. We find in the letters to the seven churches in Revelation that each church had departed from 'The Way' and gone off the rails even in the relatively short time between the Resurrection and the death of John. Their departures were severe enough that Y'shua felt the need to issue corrective warnings. So, in 2000 years how far have those who claim to follow Him deviated?

By the grace of God, however, there will be redemption and correction. Reading the rest of Isaiah 29, it seems apparent that the reversal of those precursors to exile will happen upon the regathering of Israel.

In that day the deaf shall hear
the words of a book,
and out of their gloom and darkness
the eyes of the blind shall see. (Is 29:18)

It is my prayer that we are living in that time.