Monday, January 25, 2010

Mike Koke on Paul's Calling/Conversion

Mike Koke asks whether or not Paul was called or converted, an issue I've addressed quite heavily in the past. Here's the comment I left for Mike, but with added links to older blogposts on the subject.
The biggest problem in the 'conversion/calling' debate is the question of perspective. Paul describes his calling in a prophetic way, but that's not the end of the story because his opponents could readily deny his claims and say he actually taught apostacy. And in view of texts like Philip 3, in which he cheerfully writes off his heritage as excrement in view of the Christ event, I think it's entirely reasonable to speak, objectively, of Paul's conversion.

Then there's the technicality of the structure of Hellenistic Judaism which further blurs distinctions between 'calling' and 'conversion'. Zeba Crook argued that by this time, it was possible to speak of someone being called and thus converted: Paul was invoking the call of the divine patron-benefactor (which involved conversion by definition) and the call of the prophets at the same time.

As for why Paul initially persecuted Christians, Fredriksen dismisses the issue of indiscriminate table-fellowship too lightly. In my view that stands as the best reason, and thus precisely why Paul did an about-face on this issue: like many converts, he was attracted to what repulsed him.

The other two reasons commonly advanced for Paul's persecuting the Christians — for belief in a crucified messiah, or for politically subversive reputation — aren't as impressive, especially the first which is too abstract and doesn't do justice the diversity of messianic beliefs at the time. The second (advance by Fredriksen) is admittedly more plausible, but one would think that whatever political misunderstandings were (understandably) fueled during Jesus' final week during passover would be increasingly corrected and put into perspective.


Anonymous Mike Kok said...

Thanks Loren for the interaction with the post and I enjoyed reading through your links on this issue. I have responded a bit more on my own post. Do you take up this issue more in your forthcoming Paul book?

Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Oh yes, Mike. I'm dealing with the issue of conversion at some length in the book.

Anonymous Ken said...

Loren... I'm curious about the 'motive' issue. It seems to me that Paul has a religious or ecstatic experience that significantly changes his orientation. The 'motives' you've provided seem either overly cynical or dismissive of religious experience. I'm not trying to defend a 'Christian' perspective here; rather religious experience in general as a bonafide human phenomenon. Don't you think people can experience/interpret events as supernatural in origin, particularly when they are religious already, and be so impressed by those experiences that they significantly alter their worldview in seemingly and otherwise inexplicable ways?

Blogger Loren Rosson III said...


I'm not clear to which comments you're referring. Is it the review of Zeba Crook's book, which focuses on the "balance sheet" question ("What's in it for me?")? I've never intended to deny a genuine ecstatic experience on Paul's part (which he understood in supernatural terms), only to emphasize other factors too. I don't see Crook as denying it either, since he emphasizes as the first stage of a "balance-sheet" psychology, the unanticipated call of the patron who gives the client a benefaction. That's where it all starts, though yes, there are self-serving motives and interests which inevitably follow from that point of origin.


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