Despite his central role in the New Testament — hero of Acts, apostle to the Gentiles, author of Romans, Galatians, and other letters — Paul presents a number of questions and problems for any serious student or scholar of the New Testament. What is the LDS view of Paul? Is there even an LDS view of Paul? Peter, James, and John appear prominently in LDS scripture and history, but Paul played no apparent role in the Restoration. Why not?
The LDS Bible Dictionary entry "Paul" is a good place to start. The entry basically summarizes the information available in Acts: Paul persecuted early Christians, then experienced a vision and began preaching the risen Christ. The LDS entry offers no discussion of the differences between the biographical details provided in Acts and in Paul's letters — the LDS approach is almost always to harmonize discrepancies and inconsistencies if not simply ignore them. The entry doesn't even note the sharp disputes between Paul and the Jerusalem leaders about how Paul's mission to the Gentiles should proceed: Paul was just "introduced" to Peter in Jerusalem and, later, "attend[ed] a conference with the other apostles."
There are some helpful books on Paul by LDS scholars, but I want to talk about the three papers on Paul in How the New Testament Came to Be (Deseret Book and the Religious Studies Center, 2006), the record of the 35th Annual Sperry Symposium. The entire book is available online at the BYU Religious Studies Center site.
Eric D. Huntsman's "The Occasional Nature, Composition, and Structure of Paul's Letters" first observes that "the Pauline epistles frequently prove to be unfamiliar and difficult territory for many Latter-day Saints." [They are certainly not covered very well in the LDS Sunday School curriculum.] Huntsman's central point is that Paul's letters were "written to congregations or individuals in response to specific circumstances or problems," rather than giving general explanations sufficient to "establish extensive theological positions" as is often attempted by Christian commentators.
The positive response to Huntsman's point is that an LDS reader really needs a good study Bible (and I don't mean the LDS Bible) and a good bible dictionary, etc., to understand the context of each letter: the "occasions" that led to Paul writing a particular letter and how the specific points addressed in the letter relate to that context. But it would be wrong to think Paul just writes on miscellaneous or marginal topics. Romans in particular gives a good summary of the main points of Paul's view of the gospel. Those points, as covered in Romans and other letters, must be understood in order to follow what was happening in first-century Christianity and to understand the issues that troubled those who, decades later, composed the four gospels. Huntsman does note that Romans provides a good summary of Paul's main points:
[I]n this letter, Paul provides a masterful survey of many of the issues he treated in earlier letters to other congregations, producing in the process what is perhaps his most systematic treatment of the issue of justification by faith (see Romans 1:16-8:39).
Lincoln H. Blumell's "Scribes and Ancient Letters: Implications for the Pauline Epistles" provides very helpful details about how letters were actually produced during the first century and how Paul's letters in particular were produced. The author of a letter generally used a scribe, but how the scribe was used could vary. Blumell notes that the scribe could be "recorder, editor, or substitute author." We know that Paul used scribes. For example, Romans 16:22 identifies Tertius as the scribe for the original copy of Romans.
It is not known whether Christian scribes acted as recorder (word-for-word transcription of an author's voice or text), editor (cleaning up grammar and vocabulary, perhaps), or substitute author (composing a complete letter based on general directions given by the author). All three are open possibilities for most letters, it seems. This calls into question the scholarly practice of questioning, on stylometric evidence, Paul's authorship of some of the letters traditionally attributed to him. As Blumell makes the point:
In most cases, an individual scribe could imprint a distinct literary style on any document he or she wrote, which would greatly affect its form, vocabulary, and perhaps even content.
He restated the point in his conclusion:
Central to the argument that certain of Paul’s [letters] are actually pseudonymous is the claim that these letters are stylistically different and tend to employ a different vocabulary than the seven undisputed letters bearing Paul’s name.
The last of the three papers on Paul is Jared Ludlow's "Paul's Use of Old Testament Scripture." First, he notes that it wasn't our Old Testament (based on variously transmitted Hebrew texts) that was "the Bible" for early Christians:
Greek became so dominant among these diasporic Jews that a translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek was required. The translation of the Septuagint ... was thus accomplished, and it became the Bible of the Hellenized Jewish communities and most early Christians. It included several books of original Greek composition and translations of Hebrew or Aramaic originals that were not found in the Hebrew Bible. These additional books are known today as the Apocrypha. ... [T]hey were probably considered authoritative by early Christians.
Ludlow discusses nine categories that highlight Paul's use of Old Testament quotations, including election, faith and works, and ethical teachings. If you like the details, you should look at the tables provided at the end of the paper, which show some examples of where the Hebrew text, the Septuagint, and the New Testament quotation of the text differ. For example, Isaiah 40:13 KJV reads "Who hath directed the Spirit of the Lord ...?" The Septuagint, according to Ludlow's table, uses the term "mind" rather than "spirit." 1 Corinthians 2:16 KJV reads "For who hath known the mind of the Lord ...?", following the Septuagint. [For comparison, Isaiah 40:13 in the NET Bible reads "Who comprehends the mind of the Lord," and 1 Corinthians 2:16 reads "For who has known the mind of the Lord."]
So these three papers give you a few things to look for when reading Paul: the occasion that gave rise to the letter; use of scribes and co-authors; and how Old Testament quotations are used or modified by Paul. I hope to do a few additional posts on Paul in coming weeks.