What did St. Paul think of Jesus?

On St. Peter's Square in Rome, in front of the basilica, there are two apostles carved in stone: Peter and Paul. It seems as if they not only want to welcome the innumerable streams of pilgrims and visitors who meet their gaze every day, but also urge them to be more attentive and to collect before they enter the imposing St. Peter's Basilica. But these two characters are more than just strict gatekeepers. They are reminiscent of those great figures from the beginning who gave the Ekklesia of all time lasting form. The one as the rock on which the building of the church is founded, the other as its brilliant architect.

So the two belong together. The togetherness cannot be overlooked, however, how much there is a unity in diversity:

Unity in diversity

The story of Paul and Jesus begins before Damascus, but the story of Peter and Jesus begins at the Sea of ​​Galilee. Peter has an unmatchable lead over Paul: He is a disciple of the earthly Jesus, according to the Synoptics even the first called. He is called to be a fisherman of men (Mk 1,16f. Parr.) When Paul has not heard anything from Jesus. He belongs to the circle of the twelve - in the first place in every list (Mk 3,13-19 parr.). Jesus gave him the name of Kephas Peter, which only reinforces the Matthew rock word - "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church" (Mt 16:18). He was an invited guest in the hall when Jesus celebrated the Last Supper (Mk 14: 22-25 parr.) And washed the feet of his disciples (Jn 13: 1-20). He denied Jesus three times (Mk 14.66-72 parr.), But Jesus forgave him three times (Jn 21.15ff.). After Paul and the Synoptics, he was the first to see the risen Jesus (Mk 16.6f. Parr; Lk 24.34); he appears as the spokesman for the early church at Pentecost; He says that one must obey God more than men (Acts 4:19; 5:29), while Paul is still making plans to persecute Christians. According to Luke, it is also Peter who - with great internal difficulties - baptizes the first non-Jew, the god-fearing centurion Cornelius (Acts 10) and defends this revolutionary act against objectors in the early church (Acts 11). According to Luke, it is at the "apostolic council" Peter who makes James himself think, so that finally the circumcision-free mission of the peoples is approved (Acts 15).

Paul, on the other hand, persecuted the Church of Jesus Christ and tried to destroy it, as he himself writes in Galatians (Gal 1: 13f.). He sees that he is just an outsider among the apostles. Basically he's late. In 1 Cor. 15: 5-11 he speaks of it openly.

The time factor plays a significant role in apostolic theology. Actually, after Peter and the Twelve, after 500 "brothers" (not all of whom must have been male) and after James, Christ appeared to "all the apostles" - until Paul comes into focus, who is "not worth being called an apostle become". The list begins programmatically with Cephas-Peter, and it ends programmatically with Paul as well. The succession that puts its stamp on the canon is not only read from history, but also from theology.

The last place, of course - one only needs to think of Jesus' parable (Mk 10.31 parr .; Mt 20.16 par. Lk 13.30) - also has its privileges. Paul did not disdain them. The last is also the most effective of the apostles. He, who knew himself to be called "Apostle of the Nations" (Rom. 11:13), did not only work in an incredibly intense, but also in an astonishingly effective way for the mission. Whoever reads the Acts of the Apostles and the Acts of the Apostles will find little reason to contradict them.

The imbalance between Peter and Paul, which results from the successive steps, is also shown in the title of the apostle. Luke reserves it for the twelve who have already been appointed by Jesus and form a bridge between the pre- and post-Easter period; therefore Paul is only mentioned twice in the Acts of the Apostles in passing and not programmatically as "Apostle". (Acts 14: 4, 14), as great as his role as a witness of Jesus Christ is, as genuine is his calling and so far his sphere of activity.

A comparison of the letters also shows differences. In the first as well as in the second letter of Peter - whoever wrote it - simply says "Apostle of Jesus Christ". The title is used as a matter of course. If anyone is an apostle, it is Peter. In Paul's letters, on the other hand, the title of the apostle is repeatedly explained, commented on and defended - for good reason, because the Pauline apostolate was by no means universally recognized, on the contrary, it was repeatedly asked, questioned and hostile. Paul made use of this and, even if he was not hostile at all, stylized himself as a called apostle of Jesus Christ in the way that the apostle title was later received throughout the church.

The gap between Peter and Paul builds up a historically well-founded, theologically reflective arc of tension that establishes that both Peter and Paul are fundamentally important to the church in different ways. The New Testament writes on many pages that Peter and Paul - despite different temperaments and individual conflicts - kept close contact and agreed on the essential points: a key to the historical success of Christianity.

Peter and Paul met each other several times. First Paul seeks contact with Peter in Jerusalem (Gal 1.16ff .; 2.1-10); then it seems to be the other way round: Peter comes to Paul in Antioch (Gal 2: 11-14) and, according to Paul, has to be instructed by him (Gal 2: 15f.). This dialectic can also be seen elsewhere.

The Second Letter of Peter - one of the most recent writings of the New Testament - shows how much respect Pauline theology instills and what enormous importance is attached to it where one appeals to Peter with conviction (2Petr 3:15f.):

"15The patience of our Lord regards as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given to him 16 in all his letters in which he speaks of it. In them it is difficult to understand what the unlearned and unsteady pervert, as well like the rest of the scriptures to their own ruin. "

The name Pauli is not mentioned once in the first letter of Peter. But while the Acts of the Apostles tells how Paul brought the Gospel to Rome via Asia Minor, the First Epistle of Peter, written according to 1Petr 5:12 by the Pauline colleague Silvanus (1Thess 1,1), draws the bow back from Babylon, an alias for Rome , after "Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia" (1Petr 1,1)

Far more often - and only in letters recognized as genuine today - Paul addresses Peter, not only on the three encounters in Jerusalem and Antioch, which he mentions in the letter to the Galatians for the occasion, but also on the appearance of the risen Christ (1 Cor. 15, 5) and the right of the apostle to take a "sister" with him on a missionary journey (1 Corinthians 9: 5). In First Corinthians he criticizes the fact that there was a Kephas party - alongside a Paulus and an Apollos party - (1 Cor. 1:12); but he does not blame Peter for that. Rather, the letter, written years after the Antiochene conflict, testifies to natural respect and recognition.

The mutual reference corresponds to the harmony between the two that Luke evokes in the Acts of the Apostles. The mission of the Twelve Apostles, for which Peter stands, is continued through Paul without any changes in content.

Confidence and respect

Yet it is not difficult to imagine that the Galilean fisherman and the intellectuals of Asia Minor may in some respects have been worlds apart. It would be too short-sighted, however, to invoke the inner break and see in Peter the functionary of a rigid institution, but in Paul the freedom-loving reformer. A look at what the New Testament says of both helps clarify this. Above everything that may have driven both into the theological, perhaps also human, controversy, there is the insight that it was not division, but unity, that was the order of the day. Not by simply sweeping the potential for conflict under the carpet. Not even by diluting positions until they no longer had a salary. But in such a way that both kept looking for an understanding. And also in such a way that Paul not only vaguely hoped for the connection to Peter, but sought and promoted it out of theological necessity.

If one follows the letters of Paul and the Acts of the Apostles, Peter and Paul met several times and in difficult situations - even after personal conflicts - came to an understanding again and again. Three meetings are remembered. Paul reports of all three in the letter to the Galatians when he feels compelled by opposing criticism to give an account of his apostolic biography.

(1) The meeting in Jerusalem
The first meeting takes place three years after Paul's calling, i.e. around 36 AD, in Jerusalem and lasts two weeks (Gal 1:18). Paul writes that he did not meet any of the other apostles (who were probably away on missionary trips); the more intense the conversations must have been between the two, who have so different biographies and yet had an infinite amount to say to each other when it came to faith. The initiative comes from Paul; he wants contact with Peter. One would have liked to have been there, would have liked to read the minutes of the conversation; Unfortunately Paul does not do the exegetes and the interested public the favor of being a little more informative.

(2) The Apostles' Council
The second meeting is the so-called "Apostle Council", even if there, again in Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas appear together as a representative of the reform church of Antioch and Peter is framed by the two other "pillars", James and John (Gal -10; see Acts 15: 1-35). According to his own account, Paul seeks an understanding with the early church and its representatives - but not because he is unsure about his liberal missionary practice and his distinctive mission theology, but because he wants to force the representatives of the early church to show their colors. Luke, on the other hand, describes the matter in the Acts of the Apostles in such a way that the Jerusalemites resolve a conflict that has arisen between the "Antioches", who carried out the mission to the Gentiles without requesting circumcision, and Christian Pharisees who object: "They must be circumcised and stopped, to keep the law of Moses "(Acts 15: 5). Had this position prevailed, Christianity would have survived at best as a Jewish splinter group. But Paul wins the upper hand - in harmony with Peter. Paul writes that no one could have refused to recognize that "the gospel of uncircumcision is entrusted to me like Peter is that of circumcision" (Gal 2: 7). Luke relates that Peter explicitly sided with Paul and achieved the breakthrough with his report of the baptism of the god-fearing centurion Cornelius:

"From the beginning of the days God has ordained among you that the Gentiles hear and believe the word of the Gospel through my mouth. And God, who knows the hearts, has testified of this by giving them the Holy Spirit as well as us;" and he makes no distinction between us and them, having purified their hearts through faith "(Acts 15: 7ff.).

Paul couldn't have said that better. Even the Lord Brother James is convinced; With the prophecy of Amos that the rebuilding of the destroyed hut of David would attract the peoples, that they go on a pilgrimage to Zion (Am 9.11f.), he also finds the appropriate evidence from the Holy Scriptures (Acts 15.13-18). This creates the danger: that the church will lose its Jewish-Christian share, for which Paul, Peter and James stand, because the mission of the nations will be so successful that the Gentile Christians will dominate everything. But in Jerusalem the die is cast for the Catholic Church, which is spread out over the whole world, and not on the basis of general equalization, but on a spiritual community that leaves room for differences, but achieves an understanding about the fundamental basis of faith.

(3) The Antiochene conflict
The third meeting shows that with the first "Council" (as with all later ones) not all controversies were resolved. In Antioch there is a conflict, of which only Paul (Gal 2: 11-14) reports, but not Luke. It is about the table community, thus also about the Eucharistic fellowship between Jewish and Gentile Christians. First Peter divided them; but then, after an intervention by people of James from Jerusalem, he gave them up, and indeed - as Paul says - out of "fear of those from circumcision", like Barnabas and all other Jewish Christians too. This may have been an imperative of political wisdom in order to avert damage to the community and to prevent the pressure of persecution such as had been experienced in Jerusalem from arising in the first place. But for Paul it is hypocrisy. It leads to discrimination against Gentile Christians. That is why he "resisted Cephas in the face" - a primal scene of the Reformation that is still popularly invoked today, but which has the small blemish that Peter must have been the first Pope somehow.

Paul, of course, presents the matter in such a way that he not only recognized the problem, but also banished it, namely through an appeal to the knowledge of faith that he and Peter shared: "We, Jews by nature and not sinners from the Gentiles, we know that a person is justified not by works of the law, but by faith in Christ; we have also come to believe in Christ Jesus so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, for works of the law do not become flesh righteous "(Gal 2,15f.). The somewhat complicated formulation can be explained when Paul holds Peter inconsistent. As Jews, according to Paul, in contrast to the sinful Gentiles, they would know that one God is one who justifies by faith, as the example of Abraham (Gen 15: 6) shows (Gal 3: 6). That is why they came to believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God - and could not subsequently call that into doubt again through a practice that would only be convincing if the justification was based on "works" such as circumcision or the dietary regulations.

Rock and light

The New Testament records a colorful, multi-layered, large-format picture of both apostles. It does not deny the differences between the two, but works them out vividly. One comes from Galilee, the deepest Jewish province, the other from Tarsus, a pulsating city of the Hellenistic diaspora; one is a fisherman from the Sea of ​​Galilee, the other a Jewish intellectual, a student of Gamaliel II; The first of the twelve is one, the last of the apostles is the other; One member of the early community in Jerusalem, gained member of the Church of Damascus, then the other from Antioch; Integration figure one, polarization factor the other.

But both have essential things in common: Both are Jews, both have learned a respectable trade, both have had their dark hour; both believe in Jesus the Christ, his sonship, his death and his resurrection; both are called to preach, albeit at different times, in different ways and with different goals; both are open to mission among godly and pagans - one hesitant, the other energetic; Both have gone a long way as a missionary, both died as martyrs in Rome under Nero.

The similarities and differences between the two apostles made a decisive contribution to the success of Christianity - not just 400 years, but 2000 so far, with no end in sight. Without the ability to do some justice to both, to keep both in mind, to honor and explain both, to meditate and to reflect, it would not have had a great chance.

The church goes back to Jesus of Nazareth. Without Simon Peter and Saul Paul it would be theoretically conceivable, but not in practice. Jesus himself, according to the New Testament, tied the history of the Church to her, to Peter through his calling on the Sea of ​​Galilee and the new calling in the course of his resurrection, to Paul - the zealot of the law and passionate lover of God - through his conversion from the religious violence and the vocation to be an apostle to the nations. Peter was an unassailable apostle whom Paul resisted in the face, Paul a controversial apostle whom Peter recognized. Paul had to defend himself, explain, depict - and used it to depict the imprint of Christ in his person; Peter was able to refer to Jesus himself - and perhaps because of this he did not leave a single line, but enabled others to tell about Jesus, his death and his resurrection.

Just as characteristic as the historical and canonical biographies are the metaphors that both apostles depict.

"Fels" is the one.Just as, according to Isaiah's book of prophets, Abraham is the "rock" from which Israel was "hewn" (Isa. 51: 1f.), So Peter is the "rock" on which the church stands, according to the Gospel of Matthew. This rock wobbles, but it doesn't collapse. This is the promise on which the church lives, beyond all successes and failures. "The gates of hell will not overpower them" (Mt 16:18).

"Light" is the other. "I have made you a light for the peoples" is how Paul describes - according to the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 13:47) - in his first sermon his calling as an apostle with Isaiah words (Isa. 42: 6; 49: 6). This light flickers but does not go out. This is the hope on which the Church lives, beyond all expectations and disappointments: "You shall be for salvation until the end of the world" (Acts 13:47).

The text:

1 Cor 15: 1 I remind you, brothers, of the gospel which I have preached to you. You accepted it; it is the ground you stand on. 2 Through this gospel you will be saved if you keep to the words I have spoken to you. Or have you accepted the faith rashly? 3 For above all I delivered to you what I also received: Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, 4 and was buried. He was raised on the third day, according to the scriptures, 5 and appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 After that he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once; most of them are still alive, some have passed away. 7 Then he appeared to James, and then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, he appeared to me, the unexpected, the "freak". 9 For I am the least of the apostles; I am not worthy of being called an apostle for persecuting the Church of God. 10 But by God's grace I am what I am, and his gracious actions on me have not been without effect. I have struggled more than any of them - not me, but the grace of God together with me. 11 Whether I preach or the others, that is our message, and that is the faith that you have accepted.

Theological background

Paul turns to the church he has founded to speak of the central message of the Christian faith. It is about the raising of the crucified Christ as the foundation of belief in the resurrection of the dead. It is also about the apostles, whose testimony guarantees and preserves what happened to the Ekklesia. He places himself in the line of witnesses. The gospel that Paul knows he has been entrusted with is nothing less than the God-authorized Easter message. 1 Cor 15: 9f shows that Paul's argument is also guided by an apologetic interest. In the community of Corinth, opponents of the apostle appeared who questioned the legitimacy of his apostolate. In contrast, Paul emphasizes the fundamental correspondence between his preaching and the apostolic gospel.

So the apostle comes right at the beginning (V1) to speak of "his" Gospel. What he preached to the Corinthians and what they accepted is not just the stringing together of certain beliefs and truths. The gospel is the way in which the resurrected Kyrios testifies here and now.

The appearances of the risen Christ establish and condition all church activity, insofar as all church proclamation finds its origin and relevance in the resurrection of Jesus. If Paul goes back to an early Christian creed in 1 Cor 15: 3ff (V3), then he is not only concerned with describing the Ekklesia in its reference to the resurrected Kyrios, but with explaining a factual context of the gospel preached by the apostle the resurrection of Christ. Paul is not only a witness to the facticity of the resurrection, but, as the apostle chosen by God, is the herald of the resurrection of Christ. It is precisely these that he proclaims as his gospel. V2 emphasizes in this line of understanding the correlation between the apostle and the gospel with regard to the church. The Corinthians didn't get the gospel from anyone somehow, they owe it to Paul, the called apostle. However, this means that the risen Lord from now on - after the end of the apparitions - speaks to people in the word of apostolic preaching. Paul is a minister of the Gospel insofar as he lends the self-communication of the risen Lord the articulating word (cf. Rom 10:14).
This proclamation is tied back to the commissioning of God (cf. Gal 1: 13f), who, through the revelation of the risen man, takes into service for proclamation. For Paul, the calling of the apostles is an essential feature of the event of the resurrection. He regards the appearances not only as temporal in the consequence of the resurrection of Jesus, but as their inner moment. The event of the resurrection of the crucified Christ implies his proclamation by God-authorized witnesses in order to constitute the Church. Paul extends this connecting line to his own person.

The apparitions (V5ff.), Which Paul names one after the other, are handed down in analogy to the Old Testament descriptions of theophany, in which God reveals himself. 1 Cor 15, however, describes an essential innovation. In the Easter "revelation event", out of the will of God, the encounter with the risen Kyrios takes place, who uses his witnesses to preach the Gospel. The formulation "and he appeared" (V5) is reminiscent of the world of imagination atl. Theophany and angelophany tales; It presupposes that the resurrection means the acceptance of Jesus into the mystery of God himself, and it says that the resurrected one not only has the possibility, but also the will, to appear from God in the power of God as Kyrios in order to to reveal his pneumatic vitality (cf. 1 Cor 15:45; 2 Cor 3:17) in the glory of God to the people to whom he reveals himself.

The row of witnesses is opened by Peter and the Twelve (V5), then five hundred (unspecified) brothers at the same time (V6), then James (V7), and finally "all the apostles" (V7). V8 brings Paul into play as the "last of the apostles". The apparition that happened to him before Damascus is in no way inferior to the other apparitions. This is expressed not least by the choice of words: "also to us" and "appeared" place Paul on an equal footing with the other witnesses of the resurrection.

With regard to the apparition given to him, the question arises whether the successive appearance of the apparitions is only meant by Paul in a temporal or also in a factual sense. 1 Cor 15 contrasts the first called Peter (V5) with the last called Paul (V8). This confrontation between the first and the last apostle is not a coincidence, but a conscious construction. Without wanting to relativize the actual meaning of the other witnesses, Paul is not really interested in them at this point. The contrast is important to him: the head of the disciples of Jesus is confronted by the "least of the apostles" (V9), the first called the "freak". In this way, Paul catches up with the dynamics of the event on the cross and applies it to the constitution of the church: the temporal component takes a back seat and is combined with a theological perspective, in which Paul asserts the qualitative equality of his own calling in comparison with the callings of others Apostle underlines, but emphasizes, that his vocation is an unexpected and, against the background of his biography, downright astonishing.

This reference is particularly relevant in the light of the entire New Testament Easter proclamation. Insofar as the encounter with the resurrected One always aims at a vocation and at the same time overcomes connections of guilt, V8 does not simply emphasize the particular unworthiness of Paul for the commissioning of the Lord, but places him in the circle of those chosen by the Lord - even if he did not belong to it before Easter ( what his critics accuse him of). V8 thus puts Paul's calling in a special light. In his unexpected calling and election, God's grace shines clearly and exemplarily (cf. V10).

There is uncertainty about the precise characterization of the term "freak". It is derived from the Greek verb e) ktitrw / skein and is often used in medical contexts in the sense of "abortion". The term can also denote premature birth, miscarriage and abortion. If the term is used metaphorically, then this happens in the meaning field of powerlessness, nothingness and wretchedness of the human being. At no point does 'ektroma' mean "late birth", so that the obvious interpretation of the term in the sense of Paul's late calling is ruled out. The meaning "premature birth" is equally neglected, which in no way corresponds to the Pauline position as the last apostle (V8). Following the evidence that can be found both in the Old Testament and in Philo, it seems permissible to see in e) ktrw / ma the spiritually dead before the "rebirth" described. It becomes clear that the e) ktrw / ma term expresses a deficit. As a persecutor of the Church of God, he disqualified himself. On his own, Paul is nothing but a freak - weak, deficient and unfit for life. So he remains dependent on God's grace. This directionality is crucial. The picture serves the apostle as a negative film, which shows the radiant, gracious events that were bestowed upon him in his calling.

The formula "by God's grace I am what I am" (V10) sums up and emphasizes the style of the argument. On the one hand it leaves no doubt that Paul is not just a passive object, and on the other hand it emphasizes that the real subject of action is the grace of God, not himself. This grace has not remained without effect and without success (V10). But insofar as the apostolic work is grounded in the grace of God, that grace comes to fruition through the Pauline mission (cf. Crucified comes from.

V10 shows that for Paul ministry and person go hand in hand. The apostolate is not just one facet of his life. Nor is it just a function that it performs alongside many others. Paul defines his entire existence as that of an apostle. The apostolate is the decisive center that determines the nature of Paul.

By addressing the appearance that has been given to him in this way, Paul breaks up the temporal component in an objective focus. However, from now on Paul does not ignore this temporal component, but returns to it by making it clear that the series of immediate witnesses to the resurrection does not go towards infinity, but has come to an end with him. Even this "final point" that Paul sets is not to be understood purely chronologically. In this way the apostle once again claims his equality. His election and calling are in accordance with God's holy will. In the context of his letters, Paul often mentions the qualitative equality of his apostolate in comparison to that of the other apostles. This does not always happen under the same aspect. 1 Cor. 15 emphasizes the fact that Paul knows that he was called by the same Kyrios who called the other apostles and sees himself charged with the same gospel that the other apostles are charged with preaching. The appearance of the risen Lord, which founded his turning point in life and his mission, is - like that of the other witnesses - not a psychological process or charismatic imagination, but a historical moment that occurred in a closed time frame. In this context, the apostle insists on the irreversibility of his vocation. All later revelations of Kyrios (cf. e.g. 2 Cor 12: 1ff) stand in a completely different light, they are of far less importance compared to this unique historical event.

With Paul's apostolic witness, God brings the revelation event culminating in the resurrection of the crucified Son of God to an end and opens the preaching of the Gospel into all times. So Paul is the last of the apostles and Peter the first with high demands.

Proposal for a Bible study

1. Greeting:
At the beginning, for example, the following hymn can be spoken alternately.

O Roma felix!
The apostle's death
Has with the purple
Your blood adorned you.
Your great life,
not your fame and your power,
gives you priority
in front of the cities of this world.

Gatekeeper of heaven,
Peter carrying the keys
Apostles of the Nations,
Paul who calls the Gentiles: Shine of the universe,
have you testified to the faith -
one on the cross
and the other under the sword.

Divine Trinity
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
hear the praise
that we Christmas your size,
there the memory
Your witnesses please us.
Give us like them
Once the throne of bliss. Amen.
(After "Aurea luce et decore roseo"; "Felix per omnes festum mundi cardines"; Carolingian.)

2. Reading the biblical text:
The selected passage from the Holy Scriptures is read aloud in turn; everyone reads a verse; everyone lends their voice to the written text to make it audible as a living word.

3. Reflection:
- Read the text again in silence.
- Let yourself be touched by a word, a thought and accept both as bread for this day (cf. Ex 16:14).

4. Exchange:
Share the word for the day with the group.

5. Prayer:
Closing prayer.
- Everyone formulates a short prayer of thanks, plea, intercession ...

6. Common "Our Father".

Text: Prof. Thomas Söding, Catholic Biblical Works in the Diocese of Münster and
Dr. Robert Vorholt, Ruhr University Bochum, Catholic Biblical Works in the Diocese of Münster (www.bibelwerk.de)
in cooperation with Kirche + Leben (www.kirche-und-leben.de)
Photo: Michael Bönte, June 2010