he thirteenth of the apostles, Paul of Tarsus, missionary to the Gentiles and author of near one-third of the New Testament scriptures. Yet this prince of the apostles is seldom spoken of as either mystical or his message of salvation characterized as universal in scope, though in consideration of the facts of the scriptures, he was unquestionably both a mystic and universalist.
When one thinks of Christian mysticism, names that often come to mind are eleventh century German mystic Meister Eckart, fourteenth century German mystic Jacob Boehme and fifteenth century French mystic Madame Jeanne Guyon. But dare we think of the thirteenth apostle as a mystic?
But what qualifies one to mysticism? I believe most would agree one primary and foremost characteristic is “theosis”, or union with God. Mystics seek to no longer “look through a glass dimly” but would see through the glass (not as in a mirror, but rather through) to find the clarity of God face-to-face. Some have suggested that the path of mysticism includes the loss of egoism (e.g. self-centered desires); followed by the sensing and awareness of the divine presence through illumination, contemplation, and prayer; finally finding unity with God, a transcendent state of being that no longer separates God and the individual.
Most certain, these qualities are found in this great apostle. For example, we find that he wrestled with the sense of ego. “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not” (Rom 7:18). Here he makes the distinction that no good thing dwelleth in his flesh. Note: he did not say no good thing dwelleth in him, but rather he qualifies his statement, in his flesh. So here we find him struggling with the sense of ego, desiring to do that which is good or right rather than the contrary. Again, “There was given to me a thorn in the flesh” (II Cor 12:7). What was this prickle but the ego to buffet him, lest he should be exalted above measure! Certainly, the thorn was not his supposed eyesight, no more than Moses’s uncircumcised lips were a supposed stuttering.
Likewise, as did the early primitive Christian Church, we find that Paul understood the awareness of the presence of Jesus Christ. In fact, it was central to his ministry and absorbed his thoughts, “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly, and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming (e.g., in the presence) of our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Thes 5:23). In other words, we can be found blameless when our entire framework: spirit, soul, and body, are found in (and arrested by) the very presence of Christ.
I also find his mystical sense of union to be rather astounding as well, and may I say it is often overlooked when considering this man. As stated in my book Christ – The Original Matrix, “Paul did not think of Christ as one person and himself as completely another outside of him. His person embraced and was united with Christ as he said, ‘I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life that I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me’ (Gal 2:20). He understood salvation is secured by the union of his soul with the Christ, the divine Logos, the divine man.”
In his book “The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle”, Albert Schweitzer makes this observation, “In Paul there is no God-mysticism; only a Christ-mysticism by means of which man comes into relation to God. The fundamental thought of Pauline mysticism runs thus: I am in Christ; in Him I know myself as a being who is raised above this sensuous, sinful, and transient world and already belongs to the transcendent; in Him I am assured of resurrection; in Him I am a child of God.”
There is no doubt, Paul was mystical in every sense of the word. He belonged to Christ and Christ to him, there was no separation. “Far be it from me to boast except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world is crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal 6:14). In other words, there is nothing about the ‘kosmos’ that is appealing to me, and there is nothing about me that appeals to them. Furthermore, he carried in his body the marks, brandings (as did an animal or slave) of Jesus. Perhaps the marks applied to the scourging to his physical body, but I think he meant more, as it was “always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body” (II Cor 4:10).
Paul understood the mystical, “But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal (unveil) his Son in me. . . “ (Gal 1:15). Have you ever played the game in elementary school where you pick from a group of pictures to determine which one doesn’t fit? A football, a baseball, a basketball, and a tennis racquet? Which doesn’t belong within the group? The racquet of course, it is not a ball. Well, here the apostle speaks of his mother, grace, unveiled Son in him, and preaching, all within a single sentence. So, which one doesn’t fit? It appears at first glance that one refers to the natural while the others relate to the spiritual. God separated him from his mother’s womb. Was he speaking of his natural mother? But does that even fit in the sentence? I would suggest the idea of his mother fits perfectly and it is nothing less than mystical. But don’t take my word for it, hear what Paul has to say about it. “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you, I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice; for I stand in doubt of you. Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. For this Agar is Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all” (Gal 4:19-26).
I love how Paul read the scriptures! He didn’t stop at a literal history lesson, he found inspiration in the story, he found Christ hidden in the scriptures, no longer shut, or veiled or sealed but unveiled, no longer a closed mystery but rather an open revelation. He described these two sons of Abraham as an allegory, as two covenants. I find that Paul does this sort of thing far more often than one realizes in his writings (e.g., husband and law, woman to be silent, etc.). Then Paul the mystic informs us as to whom is his mother, and for that matter everyone, it is Jerusalem from above! There came an intrusion of the transcendent, a time when it pleased God to separate Paul from his mother, this spiritual or mystical womb from above to unveil, uncover or ‘apokalupto’ his Son in him. In fact, it was not of Paul’s own choosing but an invasion, and as one born out of due season (e.g., as to an abortion – torn violently from the womb); such a force of influence upon his mind on that dusty road to Damascus. Without a doubt, this apostle was a mystic!
As to a universalist, it may surprise some that he was a preacher of universal salvation. The truth is, he was ordained both a preacher and an apostle of such things. How do we know this? We find Paul’s own words as a testimony to this undisputable statement of fact. “Whereunto I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle…” (I Tim 2:7). Unto what was he a preacher? We need only to read the preceding verses, “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for king’s and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time” (I Tim 2:1-6).
First, this text provides a biography of Paul’s thought as to “all men”, not merely a portion, nor handful or subset thereof. His exhortation is crystal clear, that it is good and acceptable in the sight of God to give thanks, to pray for, to intercede on behalf and give supplications, for all men everywhere. Now, it should be perfectly evident, if God wills certain ones are to never experience his goodness, it would be an exercise of futility to pray otherwise, yet it was impressed upon the apostle’s mind to believe such to be the case. Furthermore, for those that object that Paul did not mean “all men”, they would have to believe that all have not sinned and come short of the glory of God, which would contradict another statement made by the apostle.
Second, now take careful attention and notice he follows with the reason why we ought to do so for all men. He states, ‘For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.’ Here we find that Paul believed he was ordained a preacher and apostle for this very cause, to bring the knowledge (experience) of the truth that God is their Saviour, bringing salvation to all. Within the context of the verse, Paul was not indicating “all men” merely meant classifications or categories of people such as Jew and Gentile. To suggest that the thirteenth apostle thought it differently, that God willed to save some, the “few”, is dishonest to the text.
Third, the text reads of God who will (thelo) have all men to be saved. This is not simply a flimsy “wish” as some would imagine, for God needs not to wish as a child would “wish upon a star” or “make a birthday wish.” The original word has the meaning of being inclined, determined, choosing, preferring, desire, to be about to, to delight in or to be willing. Job supports this idea by having said, “and what his soul desireth, even that he doeth.” (Job 23:13). Notice that he does whatsoever he desires! According to Paul, God desires the salvation of all men. We are to pray for the salvation of all men. And if we do not think God desires to save all, why would we pray against his will? Think of it, for one to believe that it is God’s will to extinguish certain souls or eternally punish them, why pray for their salvation, if you think it be against or contrary to the very will of God?
Fourth, for Paul to state that Jesus Christ is the ransom for all, and yet according to some he is to redeem only a few, is an explanation that does not explain. The apostle’s declaration is that he gave himself a ransom for all men and that it would be testified in due time. Again, we find the universal thought of Paul in these statements. In consequence of God’s will in saving all men, Jesus Christ gave himself a ransom for this same “all men”, and it would be testified accordingly. One would be hard pressed to find a partial salvation theory when considering such statements by the apostle Paul. Nor is this the only place in scripture where we find Paul having such thoughts:
- Creation shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God,
- God had concluded all in unbelief that he may mercy upon all,
- As in Adam all die so in Christ all shall be made alive,
- Every knee shall be subjected to and tongue grateful that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Though there are plenty more texts to support our argument, for a brief article this should be sufficient evidence that this thirteenth apostle was a universalist.
Now some may object to the scriptural text and suggest Paul did not author this letter of Timothy, or for that fact near one-third (thirteen epistles, fourteen if Hebrews) of the New Testament. These same have gone as far as to suggest the bible contains several letters falsely attributed to him. What are we to make of these claims? I believe much of the confusion stems from certain scholars of old, mostly nineteenth century F.C. Baur and the Tubingen school, among others. Though his work on the history of Paul was revolutionary, some of his conclusions have been found to be lacking, including his refusal to recognize as authentic Pauline epistles, except the major or great central ones of doctrinal type, such as Galatians, Corinthians, and Romans. Of course, objections were found prior to Baur and certainly afterwards, but much since can be traced back to his initial work.
Unfortunately, modern criticism has not given ample notice to the progression of this thirteenth apostle across his near thirty-five years of ministry after his dynamic conversion, disregarding the psychological development of his entire work. We must not dismiss the fact that Paul’s ideas developed organically and spontaneously, in response to the course of events occurring around him; events such as missionary interests, struggles against Judaism, and then Gnosticism. Obviously, these were not all thrown at him at once, where he had to come up with some elaborate systematic scheme of theology on the back side of the desert before his ministry got underway. No, there was a natural progression in his understanding, adapting to the situation at hand. This does not mean he was entirely wrong and then later right, but rather he developed and matured in working out his ideology. It is like saying, three plus three plus three equals nine, but later he came to a more excellent way of three times three equals nine.
Furthermore, it would be fair to say that his mental way of thinking was more Aramaic than Greek, though a Hellenistic Jew, (albeit I think he wonderfully combined concepts from both cultures in some of his expressions). He gives credit not of his birth in Tarsus, but of his Hebrew descent and Judaism (e.g., race of Israel, stock of Benjamin, sect of Pharisees - Philippians 3:4-6), a young boy that was raised in Jerusalem under the teaching of Gamaliel. Why is this important? Because his theology tends to be more Jewish than commonly considered (e.g., several ideas extracted from the Old Testament). Factor this with the progressive revelation of the newly found inward vision of Christian thought in his life, we find the formation of his faith. Unlike the other apostles where it seemed as if the old covenant was not in opposition to the gospel and didn’t need to be renounced, but for the apostle Paul we find that Judaism and the gospel were opposed to one another, “But what things were gain to me, I counted loss for Christ” (Phil 3:7).
As to the end of his life, I believe it a grave disservice to suggest that the “closing words” of the Apostle Paul is likely found in Luke’s letter of the Acts of the Apostles; thereby robbing our understanding of his later years in life, his story unfinished. Granted, his personality stands out in distinctness during the middle part of his ministry, a span of about twelve years, and the beginning and end were more involved in obscurity, yet we are not left without a trace of certainty. Suffice it to say, I am convinced of the genuineness of his letters (less some possible expressions here or there, I know not).
I hold a computer-science degree and I dabble in the data, analyzing patterns and looking for anomalies, so one may say I like learning from the information. Much has been said about the writings of Paul, listing how many instances he said this or didn’t say that. So, when I read statements such as, “we don’t find this word or that phrase in his earlier writings, therefore it must not be Pauline”, doesn’t concern me in the least bit, unless you want to confine Paul to a list of permissible words and phrases, beginning his conversion and lasting his entire life. To be frank, I am afraid that many have been duped with the dazzle of certain data statistics without considering opposing views.
Let me highlight a few reasons why we can confidently trust that Paul authored the epistles to Timothy:
- Although the Tubingen school believed the pastoral letters to contain elements of second century orthodoxy and had forged the name of Paul, yet dare we believe there was any pretender of that time clever enough to simulate so much of Paul’s genius and style. Such a suggestion of fabrication is questionable and the burden of proof rests with the accusation.
- Those believing his letters as not authentic have likely observed that nearly one-fifth of the words of the pastoral letters are not found elsewhere in the New Testament, known as hapax-legomenon (a term of which only one instance of use is recorded). At first glance, this may sound convincing, but is it really? If one considers the progression of Paul’s writings, they will find a pattern of continued increase in his expressions going from his early writings, to middle, to later ones. For example, in his epistles to the Thessalonians – we find an average of five per chapter; Romans – nearly an average of seven, Ephesians and Colossians – eight; and Philippians it had progressed to ten. So why should we find it surprising in his later pastoral epistles that he continued with newly formed expressions or that a certain percentage of his vocabulary was not used in earlier epistles? Certainly, the concept of hapax-legomena when considering progressive patterns actually strengthens the case that the epistles are from Paul.
- This thirteenth apostle had a mind that was ever progressing and adjusting to the course of events, never static and cemented. It has also been observed that many of the hapax-legomena in the Pauline epistles are variations of words Paul has used elsewhere. Furthermore, if a fabricator were true, that person would have followed the expressions and repeated the words of Paul more closely, and not have risked in introducing so many new expressions. It appears that those making an argument against the attestation of Paul’s signature based on his use of newly used vocabulary have not considered all the facts.
Suffice it to say, this only scrapes the surface of the argument that the epistles of Timothy belong to Paul and the previously cited text can be considered trustworthy. Other facts on the subject are quite compelling and will quiet any doubters. It brings to memory how some have studied his use of compound words (e.g., two or more words to make a longer word) continuing his freshness and pattern in later epistles; or even his words similar with his close companion Luke, to just name a few. This only continues to solidify his continued progression in vocabulary and style, even in his more mature or aged years.
In closing, the inspired voice of the Pauline epistles is of that wonderful thirteenth apostle, as we find him, Paul - both the Mystic and Universalist!