A Question I Was Asked:
'Why Did You Call Paul “The First Theologian of the Church?” What Exactly Did You Mean?'
Okay. First of all, that word 'theology' is derived from two Greek words: 'Theos', meaning God, and 'Logos', meaning Word. Therefore 'theology' means 'The words of God' and one who has studied theology is somebody who has given concentrated study to the words of Scripture. Nothing suspicious about that, I'm sure we will all agree. Now it is true that the assertions and/or conclusions of some theologians are highly dubious – if not decidedly heretical! But that hardly makes the study of Scripture a bad thing. In fact, everybody who has attended a church or who studies the Holy Bible has developed their own theology, hopefully it is Scripturally consistent and Bible-believing, as I believe mine is.
But a few Christians believe that 'theology' is a dirty word – I have never quite understood why! Sure, there are liberal theology degrees and they are not good but everybody who has attended a Bible study group for several years has studied theology, that is: such people have studied the words of God within the Scriptures over some period of time – so such people have 'done theology'!
Okay, so what did I mean by stating that – in many ways – it fell to the Apostle Paul to be the Church's first theologian?
Jesus brought the message of the New Covenant – He was the promised Messiah. He brought the message and then – in His death and resurrection - He inaugurated the New Covenant. Christ IS the New Covenant and Testament. Sound scriptural teaching is always Christocentric – in other words, putting Christ central in everything; the moment that Christ is shoved over to the corner and other areas of biblical teaching become more important than Christ – such as prophecy or teaching on the 'spiritual gifts', heresy may well enter and some of us have seen it happen.
But Jesus generally performed the New Covenant rather than doctrinally explained it – there is a difference! He mostly did not fully set out what His death and resurrection would mean for the newly established Church. He did do some of that, of course, and His teaching in the Sermon on the Mount is one of the most important parts of the New Testament, also His attitude to the hypocrisy of the Pharisees teaches us a lot as do the parables.
But once Jesus returned to heaven and the Holy Spirit was sent to earth he would work through certain individuals who were filled with that Spirit in further clarifying and explaining how the church should understand things and doctrinally frame things – there is no doubt that this fell mostly to the apostle Paul. After all, Paul wrote 13 of the 21 New Testament epistles and his epistles are longer, more weighty and more doctrinal, apart from Hebrews which is also heavily doctrinal but which is not generally believed to have been written by Paul. The two epistles by Peter are brief as are the three by John.
In total, Paul wrote 86 chapters of epistle, Peter wrote 8 chapters of epistle, John wrote 7, James wrote 5, Jude wrote 1 and the anonymous writer of Hebrews (who still could have been Paul) wrote 13. So Paul wrote about 72+% of New Testament epistle material.
In often beautiful language (despite the frequent use of long sentences) he carefully sets out the vital Christian doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone, mainly in Romans and Galatians and he is assisted in this by the writer of Hebrews. He explains grace and sanctification, he explains that Christians are all now One in Christ – whether Jew or Gentile, he explains (in a complete chapter, that of Romans 8) the eternal security of the true believer, he carefully sets out appropriate behaviour for the churches, he warns against heresy, he explains the sort of character one should look for in elders and deacons and much, much more!
So, there is therefore no real doubt that it fell to Paul to be the church's first and indeed principal theologian. This is why the first test I apply to any new 'theology' which is going around is: does this agree with the approach of Paul? I think that we should all apply that test!
Robin A. Brace, 2005.