Saturday, January 28, 2012
C.S. Lewis and the Epistles of Paul
A most astonishing misconception has long dominated the modern mind on the subject of St. Paul. It is to this effect: that Jesus preached a kindly and simple religion (found in the Gospels) and that St. Paul afterwards corrupted it into a cruel and complicated religion (found in the Epistles). This is really quite untenable. All the most terrifying texts come from the mouth of Our Lord: all the texts on which we can base such warrant as we have for hoping that all men will be saved come from St. Paul. If it could be proved that St. Paul altered the teaching of his Master in any way, he altered it in exactly the opposite way to that which is popularly supposed. But there is no real evidence for a pre-Pauline doctrine different from St. Paul's. The Epistles are, for the most part, the earliest Christian documents we possess. The Gospels come later. They are not 'the Gospel', the statement of the Christian belief. They were written for those who had already been converted, who had already accepted 'the Gospel'. They leave out many of the 'complications' (that is, the theology) because they are intended for readers who have been instructed in it. In that sense the Epistles are more primitive and more central than the Gospels - though not, of course, than the great events which the Gospels recount. God's act (the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection) comes first: the earliest theological analysis of it comes in the Epistles: then, when the generation who had known the Lord was dying out, the Gospels were composed to provide for believers a record of the great Act and of some of the Lord's sayings. (C.S. Lewis, Modern Translations of the Bible).