on Paul and the Miraculous, Part 2 of our Interview with Graham Twelftree

This is the second half of our interview with Graham Twelftree, author of Paul and the Miraculous: A Historical Reconstruction To read Part 1, click here.

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In what ways is studying the historical Paul similar (or dissimilar) to studying the historical Jesus?

Both Paul and Jesus come to us from another time, another culture, another region of the globe, and other languages than those of us in the Western world. Whatever we read of or by them, or find related to them, comes to us across these great gulfs of potential misunderstanding. Hermeneutical skill and the most careful use of historical tools are needed to bridge these divides between us and both Jesus and Paul.

Cover ArtThen, just as we have a number of Gospels and their underlying traditions that propose to shed light on Jesus, so we have a number of sources in the New Testament that help us recover the historical Paul. Most obviously, we have his letters. There is also the Acts of the Apostles which, used with care, can help us reconstruct the historical Paul. However, there are also letters in the New Testament thought to be written by followers of Paul, including perhaps the Pastoral Epistles.

Jesus and Paul are also both of central importance to Christianity. This means that what is established about them by historical inquiry is of great interest to Christians. Indeed, there is usually considerable resistance to taking up conclusions different from those traditionally accepted.

Over against these similarities, the great difference between these two figures is that while we have letters Paul wrote, Jesus apparently left no written records of his own. Another difference in the study of these two individuals is that our major sources for the recovery of the historical Jesus are in narrative form, the Gospels. Our primary source of information about Paul is in the form of occasional letters, which by their nature don’t give a complete picture of the writer.

Which passages are key to your understanding of Paul’s relation to the miraculous?

A remarkable number of places in his letters refer to the miraculous in his life and thought, though much depends on what is meant by miraculous. The key passages include his discussion of the charismata (esp. 1 Cor. 14:6, 18; cf. 2 Cor. 13:3) where we see the breadth of his notion of miracles and that his experience of the miraculous included tongues, prophecy, teaching, and probably wisdom. We should include passages that tell us of his experience of conversion and call (1 Cor. 9:1; 15:8; Gal. 1:13–16; Phil. 3:4–11) and visions and revelations (1 Cor. 2:13; 7:40; 2 Cor. 5:13; 12:1–4, 7; Gal. 2:2). The paragraph about the “thorn in the flesh” appears to relate a new understanding of miracles for him (1 Cor. 12:1–10; cf. Gal. 4:13–14). Understandably, the mention of the rescue from afflictions in Asia (2 Cor. 1:8–11) and the recovery of Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:26–27) also tell us about his views relating to the miraculous. However, he also saw sickness and death as miracles of punishment (1 Cor. 11:30).

The key passages that tell us about the miraculous in his ministry include Romans 15:18–19; 1 Corinthians 2:1–5; 4:19–20; 12–14; 2 Corinthians 6:6–7; 12:11–12; Galatians 3:1–5; and 1 Thessalonians 1:5.

What do you hope this book accomplishes?

Perhaps too much! But I very much hope those who read this book will see not simply that Paul was deeply and very often involved in the miraculous. I hope readers will instead see a more rounded view of Paul: an innovative thinker and theologian, a pastor, and a missionary, through whose life and work was threaded the importance and practical involvement in the miraculous. I hope readers see that Paul saw himself involved in the miraculous not as a man of power but as a man of weakness through whom the power of God worked. I also hope that readers are able to share my surprise in discovering that, as I say near the end of the book, for Paul no more could the gospel be proclaimed without words than it could come or be experienced without miracles. From Paul’s perspective, without the miraculous, there was no gospel, only preaching. Yet the greater surprise for me, which I hope the book conveys, is that Paul did not see himself as a miracle-worker. Rather, he saw himself as proclaiming a message that, by the accompanying presence of the Spirit, was realized in the miraculous and thereby became the gospel.

Graham H. TwelftreeGraham 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.