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What Is the Theology of Paul?

By Ray Hawk
Updated May 23, 2024
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The theology of Paul is a collection of modern-day Christian religious beliefs as of 2011 that are based upon the teachings of Paul or Saul of Tarsus, a Roman citizen and instrumental writer and missionary in the founding of the early Christian church of 31 to 67 AD. It is Paul who is believed to have initiated the promulgation of fundamental doctrines of Christianity, such as atonement of all human sin through Christ's sacrifice, salvation by faith instead of works, and Jesus as the Son of God. Paul was a contemporary of Jesus, but not one of the 12 disciples, and instead a foundational presence in the early Christian church after the crucifixion of Jesus. The New Testament section of the Christian Bible contains 14 epistles or letters of Christian guidance and instruction as the basis for the theology of Paul, written by him to members of the early church. While only seven of these are definitively believed by theological historians to be directly attributed to Paul, three of the others are open to debate as to their origins and may also be from his hand.

Paul was a tent maker by profession and a typical Jew of his day who nevertheless did not ascribe to Jewish beliefs, especially after his conversion to Christianity on the road to Damascus sometime during the period of the early 30s AD. Among the fundamental concepts in the theology of Paul is that Christ was sent as the savior of all humanity, not just the Jews. His theology education for the early church, therefore, was focused on reaching out to gentiles, or non-Jewish commoners, in the Mediterranean region of the Roman Empire. The theology of Paul taught that, while Christ was the Son of God, He was subordinate to God the Father and the being through which God the Father created all things and sustained all things. Paul further promoted new types of theology in the Church that did away with Old Testament Biblical practices of the Jews, such as animal sacrifice, by substituting Christ's perfect nature as a sacrifice to cover human sin.

Most of the theology of Paul directly contradicted Jewish teachings about the Messiah, and led to increasing divisions between early Christian beliefs and Jewish beliefs. As a direct result, few Jews of the time period were converted to Christianity, though it offered eternal life to those who placed their faith in Christ and His sacrifice. The theology of Paul, in fact, became the cornerstone of New Testament views that, in large part, negated the importance or necessity of Old Testament teachings in achieving salvation. It portrayed all mankind as under ultimate judgment for its sins, with the only avenue of escape from judgment being forgiveness by Christ's divine sacrifice for the sake of the world.

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