Thursday, May 24, 2012

The poetry of Paul, the language of the New Testament at its most beautiful

One of the things that was helpful to me in realizing the greater dimensions of Paul was reading in The Good News Bible, Today’s English Version. The translators of the New Testament printed Paul’s poetry as poetry. Other persons suffering from long imprisonments have turned to writing to emotionally survive, a portion of these became poets. Paul’s prison letters attest to his use of speculative theology as one way of keeping his mind alive, but it is his poetry that gives us an insight into his continuing growing wholeness.

We can see this beginning in his first letter to the Corinthians. He combined short harmonic couplets from both the Hebrew Bible and its Greek translation. It represents a steady growing of his identification with his religious heritage, of course, but also that the emotional side of his brain was catching up with the intellectual half. This premise about Paul is in our book, of course, and you can read it there.

What I didn’t realize, until the first review of the book came out, was that a sense of the lyric and the melodic was also beginning to be expressed although the passage is always translated as prose. This was pointed out by the very gifted man who writes the book reviews for our monthly church newsletter. He pointed to this poetic passage as his favorite one in Paul’s letters. Paul did not write the passage as poetry – that would have been too early in his literary development – but let me do so.

I may be able to speak the languages of men and even of angels,
but if I have no love,
my speech is no more than a noisy gong or a clanging bell.
I may have the gift of inspired preaching;
I may have all knowledge and understand all secrets;
I may have all the faith needed to move mountains –
but if have no love, I am nothing.

I may even give my body to be burned –
but if I have no love, this does me no good.
Love is patient and kind;
It is not jealous or conceited or proud;
love is not ill mannered or selfish or irritable;
love is not happy with evil, never gives up;
and its faith, hope, and patience never fails.

When a person has read all the poetry of Paul as poetry, I think he or she will come to the same conclusion that we expressed in our book: the several poems Luke cites in his opening chapters could only have been written by Paul. My guess is that it is his poetry that Paul asked Timothy to bring to Rome; he wanted his literary heir - Luke - to have it and use it. He did.

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