Thursday, January 03, 2008

Mysteries of the Bible -- Paul the Apostle: Part 3

I recently watched the Biography Channel's program entitled, "Mysteries of the Bible: Paul the Apostle." It is part of a larger series, which can be purchased for 52.46 USD from Biogrpahy's online shop. Earlier today I posted about the first two segments of the show and then the last three. Now I will offer a few critiques of the program and discuss how this video may be useful in pedagogical settings.

First, as has been so popular a subject in the biblio-blogosphere as of late, the writers of the program consistently chose to use "conversion" language and the anachronistic term "Christianity" in regard to Paul's personal religious experience and thought as well as the gospel he preached. While I feel that the conversion language seems to aptly describe the experience Paul personally had (cf. Gal 1:13-14, Phil 3:7), to say that he converted to "Christianity" is another issue altogether. As is widely understood and accepted, the term "Christianity" had not been coined when Paul was preaching and it is often attested that the believers in Jesus were still under the umbrella of Judaism.

So you may be wondering how I can affirm the conversion language but deny the usage of "Christian." The way things shake out (in my head at least!) is that Paul had distanced himself from the practices of Judaism (Gal 1:13 "my previous way of life in Ioudaismō") and that he only practiced the law when it was expedient (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). Unless you define Ioudaismos strictly by ethnicity (which it clearly was not merely an ethnic descriptor), it seems more than probable that Paul in some ways broke away from his previous religious practices. Therefore, basically I think that the editors of the show didn't utilize enough care when using conversion language and the term "Christian."

Second, constantly throughout the show Acts was set up as a straw man for Paul's letters or some new theory to easily blow over. Generally, the "history" of Acts is presented first, then something contradictory for Paul's letters, and often another theory that disagreed with both. While this has certainly become the norm in scholarship, i.e., to doubt Acts, usually this repudiation includes at least a brief discussion of why Acts' "history" is not to be fully trusted. The program fails to do this, at least in any memorable way.

In the very first segment another problem arises, which will be my last criticism. The narrator briefly describes the events leading up to Paul's entrance onto the scene. He includes Jesus' death, the disciple's devotion to Jesus, and the "Jews" anger at the Christians for praising a condemned blasphemer. There is a glaring omission however: the resurrection! Even if one wants to rationalize it away, the resurrection still must be mentioned since it was on the lips of the earliest believers in Jesus constantly!

Overall, though, the program is quite good at introducing the main themes of Paul's life and many of the problems in trying to understand his life historically. This video would come in handy for educating people in churches or synagogues, universities, or seminaries. Perhaps one of the best features for the teacher is that the video would reveal some things that students may find objectionable (e.g., discrepancies between Acts and Galatians). In so doing the teacher is not the bearer of the bad news and perhaps will not simply be tuned out or reacted against, both of which are often the case when the teacher is the one offering the hard-to-swallow pill.

The classes for which the video would be most useful would be introductory courses on Paul's letters or theology, surveys of the NT or the second half of it, or even Christianity 101 type courses. The video is entertaining enough to keep attention, short enough to not bore, and informative enough to give the teacher many good jumping-off points. Many props to the Biography Channel for providing such a useful tool!

Mysteries of the Bible - Paul the Apostle: Part 1
Mysteries of the Bible - Paul the Apostle: Part 2

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