9. The Authentic Letters of Paul
In Chapter Seven we looked at Paul, the person, metaphysically. In this chapter we will take a broad view of Paul's writings. We will dive deeper into his writings in the next chapter. To get the broad sweep of things, we need to separate Paul's authentic writings from how he has been “framed” by what others have written about him. If we focus on the seven letters that most scholars believe are authentically written by Paul (listed below) and set aside Luke's account in Acts and the six letters written after Paul's death in his name, then we discover a very consistent metaphysical message to the churches.
- Luke's Account of Paul: Acts of the Apostles
- Authentic Letters of Paul: 1 Thessalonians, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Philemon, Philippians, Galatians, Romans
- Pseudepigraphs: Ephesians, Colossians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Thessalonians
Paul's First Proclamation of Truth
First Thessalonians. This letter is the oldest part of the New Testament, written about 50 CE, some 20 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus to the church Paul founded in Macedonia during his second missionary tour. This is a letter of encouragement. Paul's beloved companion Timothy had visited Thessalonica and came back reporting that things we good, but they seemed somewhat discouraged when some believers died before the promised “second coming” of Christ. By proclaiming the gospel Paul hopes to encourage them to keep the faith. In this first “proclamation of the gospel,” Paul writes (parenthesis and italics are my insertions),
For the people of those regions report … how you turned to God from idols (oneness), to serve a living and true God (flow), and to wait for his Son from heaven (expression) (1:9-10).
Metaphysically, Thessalonica represents “the burning or heated zeal of the soul in its desire for Truth, but at this phase of unfoldment it is without a sufficient thinking balance to give tolerance and wisdom.” It's ancient name is Thermae, which means hot springs. We learned in our overview of Paul's journeys that Thessalonica is symbolic of the emotional nature of Paul's second missionary journey. Apparently, from Timothy's report, this burning zeal is beginning to wane. Paul seems to understand that the best one can do in such a situation is to simply proclaim Truth and allow it to do its work.
Letters to the Body of the Church
First Corinthians. In about 53 CE, three years after founding the church in Corinth, Paul writes to them in an attempt to restore harmony and unity among many different fractions. It was a cosmopolitan, somewhat crass city, located not far from Athens, filled with a cross-section of people, and this was reflected in the church, where there was a great deal of jealousy and animosity Paul writes to bring unity and harmony. In this letter we have two of Paul's best known chapters.
First is chapter twelve, where Paul says that the church is one body with many members who have a variety of spiritual gifts, which are “activated by the one and the same Spirit” (12:11). This may be a metaphysical expression of the church's faculty of order, by which it establishes harmony, balance, right adjustment, and right sequence of action (among the various gifts).
Second is chapter thirteen, where Paul talks about the gift of love. When he writes that that love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” we may be hearing Paul's understanding of the church's expression of the faculty of strength, by which it has steadfastness, dependability, stability, and capacity for endurance.
Second Corinthians. Paul's “second letter” to Corinth is a combination of parts of three letters that have been somehow fragmented and later assembled by an editor, which makes the letter difficult to follow. The date of these letters is difficult to determine, but they fall before and after the first letter. Even though they are fragments, all three were written by Paul to the same church. There are some consistent themes and, as with Paul's first letter to Corinth, these themes center around the need for unity and harmony in the body of the church.
Let's begin with the need for forgiveness and reconciliation on the occasion of having been offended by someone within the church. Paul tells the church to forgive an offender who has attacked Paul, “anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive” (2:10). In chapter five Paul says that the ministry of reconciliation has been given by Christ though whom “God was reconciling the world not himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (5:19). Paul's call for forgiveness may be an appeal to the church's faculty of elimination, which allows the church to release false beliefs and accomplish a mental cleansing.
Another theme found in the letter is “new life” and abundance, exemplified by two great verses: “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see everything has become new!” (5:17) and “God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work” (9:8). These passages remind us of the church's faculty of life, which is the faculty of movement, vitality, wholeness, and creativity. It is the expression of the pure, eternal life of God within us.
Letters to the Feeling Nature of the Church
Philemon. When Paul writes, presumably in about 52 CE, to Philemon (“phi-LEE-mon”), who has been wronged in some way by Onesimus (“o-NEE-see-mus”), he uses his best persuasive abilities, wisdom and love. The traditional view that Onesimus is a run-away slave may be true, but it is disputed by some scholars today. Regardless, Onesimus is in debt to Philemon and Paul writes to get Philemon to forgive the debt.
The Metaphysical Bible Dictionary says that Philemon represents “a thought that belongs to the love nature in man, and becomes deeply attached to the Christ Truth” and Turner says, “the epistle expresses to the fullest the apostle's compassionate spirit” (:135). obviously, Paul is appealing to the love faculty of Philemon, which is the attracting, harmonizing, unifying faculty of mind; it is the constructive, building force of Spirit and our power to comprehend Oneness.
When Paul writes “formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me” (1:11) and “if he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account” (1:18),“ Paul is appealing to Philemon's faculty of judgment, which is the faculty by which we appraise, evaluate, and discern in order to make correct decisions.
Philippians. Many scholars today believe that both this letter to the Philippians and the letter to Philemon were written when Paul was in prison in Ephesus, after his third missionary journey, perhaps around 52 CE. Both letters refer to the presence of Epaphras and both letters are exceptionally heart-centered in tone. Perhaps no other letter of Paul is more frequently quoted in New Thought churches than this letter to the Philippians. This is for two reasons.
Paul is in chains, but he only sees the positive and good. He writes, “what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ” (1:13) and declares that “Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death” (1:20). Obviously, Paul is expressing zeal, which is the faculty of enthusiasm, intensity and exuberance that provides our inner urge to progress and our our motivation to achieve.
Many verses in Philippians have found their way into New Thought affirmations, such as:
- “I am confident the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion” (1:6)
- “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (2:5)
- “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (4:6)
- “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (4:7)
- “Whatever is is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (4:8)
- “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (4:13)
Affirmations are expressions of the faculty of power, which enables us to have authority over our own emotions (feelings), inspirations, and thoughts and to bring forth Divine ideas.
Letters to the Thinking Nature of the Church
Galatians. Paul's letter to the Galatians, written about 55 CE, is written to dispute the teachings of some Jewish Christians who has been telling the Gentile converts at Galatia that they had to be circumcised and conform to all the rules of the Jewish law. Metaphysically, the Galatians were “babes in Christ” who faithfully held to pure, but simple truths” (MBD :222) and the “Judaizers” were sophisticated “thoughts that arise out of the subconsciousness, binding man to external forms of religion without giving him understanding of their real meaning” (MBD, Pharisee :521). Paul's passionate response will become a central treatise on the the justification by faith. This letter expresses two essential qualities of Paul and the church.
First is the imaginative way that Paul escapes the intellectual argument of those who teach formalized religion. He appeals to their consciousness of Spirit, and he asks “did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard?” (3:2). He tells them that, by believing what they heard and by receiving the Spirit, they are already justified, just as was Abraham, who “believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Paul's use here of the faculty of imagination, which is the formative power of mind that shapes thoughts based on Divine Ideas into mental images, has given him a way to convey that it is the Divine idea of justification, not the physical form, which is important.
If, as the MBD says, that the Galatians were “babes in Christ” who needed “simple truths”, Paul delivers exactly that in this great passage,
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal 2:19-20)
This is no rhetorical or sophisticated argument. Paul expresses, with simplicity and humility, what he sees as both the central argument and core experience of the gospel: I am Christ and I am loved. This simple message is an expression of our faculty of faith, which is our ability to perceive the reality of God's kingdom of good and Divine ideas, despite evidence to the contrary, and then to use this to mold and shape substance.
Romans. The last of Paul's seven authentic letters was probably written about 57 CE in anticipation of his visit to Rome. Paul had not yet visited Rome, although a church had been established there for some time. Turner says that Paul was concerned that the Gentile converts might fall victim to the same “Judaizers” who caused so much trouble in Galatia. She says Paul wrote to “protect them from those who insisted that compliance with the Jewish law was necessary for Christians” (:105).
Recall from an earlier chapter that the mission of Paul was the conquering of Rome, which, from Paul's perspective, must be subordinate to the kingdom of God established by Jesus. Metaphysically, Rome is understood as the “seat of the dominating personal will, and also of the intellect in man; to the outer man these are the seat of all strength and power” (MBD 561). For Paul, therefore, metaphysically conquering Rome is the submission of the personal will to Christ and the shift of the central power from the head to the heart, which is represented by Jerusalem.
Paul begins with the big picture,
For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith (1:16-17)
He then explains that eternal Truth, which humanity has always known by understanding, has not been understood by “those who suppress the truth,”
Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools. (1:20-23)
Paul is appealing to spiritual intelligence, which is the faculty of understanding, by which we receive enlightenment and insight. It is our capacity to gain direct perceptions of Truth.
Paul continues his argument through chapter 3, explaining that both Jew and Gentile are equally guilty of immoral behavior because of their lack of understanding, and concluding that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23). In chapters four through eleven Paul writes about what happens when faith reigns. We become justified before God (oneness, chapters 4-5), free from the law of death, sin and inner conflict (flow, chapters 6-7), and express a new life of love, glory and salvation in the Spirit (expression, chapters 8-11).
Paul begins his conclusion to the letter with this most well-known of his writings,
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect (12:1-2)
Why should we be “transformed by the renewing of our minds?” It's a subtle, but central message of the letter to Rome: so that we may discern the will of God. For Paul, the entire gospel comes down to our personal will (Rome) and the will of God. Will is is the decision making, direction, choosing faculty of the mind. It moves all the other powers (faculties) to action. Only when we are transformed by the renewing of our minds is our personal will able to align with the will of God.