I have to be honest in saying that I have been raised and influenced by people whose impressions of Paul are very negative. So, before engaging these passages in the context of this class, my impressions of Paul were also negative ones. However, I have appreciated the opportunity to intentionally examine Paul’s writings and be open to new impressions. One of the negative impressions of Paul that I have always had is that he was an extremely arrogant man. As I read the passages this week, I was struck especially by the passages in which Paul shares about his life experiences. Specifically, I would like to focus on Philppians 3.4-11 and 2 Corinthians 11.21b-30. In these passages, Paul addresses the high status that he has given up for the sake of Christ. In 2 Corinthians, he says, “But whatever anyone dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I” (2 Cor 1.21b-22). He also details the challenges of his ministry and the suffering he has endured, such as being shipwrecked (2 Cor 1.25). In this passage, it is possible to get the impression of an arrogant Paul— he is sure to emphasize that whatever it is that his opponents are bragging about, he can match or surpass. However, by emphasizing his challenges and boasting “of thing things that show [his] weakness” (2 Cor 1.30), this passage also gives me an impression that Paul is intentional about being humble in Christ.
Philippians 3.4-11 shares a similar pattern; Paul begins by saying, “if anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless” (Phil 3.4-6). Paul is certainly not shy here, which resonates with my original impression of Paul as arrogant. However, he follows these statements up with his powerful declaration that “for Christ’s sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Phil 3.8). With this statement, Paul counteracts his seemingly boastful statements in vv. 4-6. In a way, Paul’s statements about his Jewish status enable him to be more humble, since he makes it obvious that he has given up a great deal for the sake of Christ. On the whole, these two passages have given me a more balanced impression of Paul not necessarily as an arrogant man, but a man who has chosen the route of humility in Christ even though his life has given him great reason for pride.