This is the first half of our interview with Graham Twelftree, author of Paul and the Miraculous: A Historical Reconstruction
Why did you write Paul and the Miraculous?
Years ago I was asked to write an article on miracles in Paul and found very little work had been done in the field. Since then a few things have appeared, but there was still the need for more to tackle the problems. The main problem is how to explain the high profile of miracles in the Jesus traditions, while Paul, who claimed to be his apostle, appears to say little to nothing on the topic. Furthermore, our reading of Paul is complicated by Luke attributing considerable miracle-working to Paul. I also wanted to test what seems increasingly obvious: the miraculous was more important in early Christianity than is generally reflected in the scholarly literature.
How can reclaiming the role of miracles in Paul’s ministry change the way we read his letters?
Although it’s acknowledged that the letters tell us little about Paul, their theological creativity and highly complex and persuasive content has almost inevitably led to the view that Paul was primarily a theologian. A more careful reading of these letters broadens our assessment of him. He was not simply a theologian writing letters, nor was he just a preacher. He was an apostle promoting a gospel that had a richness that generally escapes both the academy and the church.
You point out that many studies of Paul give little or no space to his involvement with the miraculous. Why might that be?
It could be, as some have argued, because Paul was hardly, if at all, involved in the miraculous. However, as seen in this book, a reasonable case can be made that the miraculous was very important in Paul’s life, thought, and work.
We’ve not seen the importance of the miraculous for Paul probably because we still live in the shadow—or glow!—of the Reformation and the Enlightenment. Pauline studies remains preoccupied with Luther’s Paul and his view of the law. For generations now, great swathes of the church, along with its scholars, have read Paul almost exclusively through the lens of the “saved by grace not works” shibboleth. This has meant that little attention has been paid to the breadth of Paul’s life experience, or his thought and work practices, including involvement in the miraculous. The Enlightenment, prioritizing the rational and the mundane over tradition and the superstitious—famously captured in Hume’s essay—has also contributed to marginalizing the miraculous in scholarly debate. Of course, the result is that Paul and the Christianity of his time have been made much more amenable to our “disenchanted” Western sensibilities.
Graham H. Twelftree (PhD, University of Nottingham) is the Charles L. Holman Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity and the director of the PhD program in the School of Divinity at Regent University, Virginia. In addition to many scholarly articles and reviews, he is the author of a number of books, including In the Name of Jesus: Exorcism among Early Christians and People of the Spirit: Exploring Luke’s View of the Church.
For more information on Paul and the Miraculous, click here.