Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.
2 Corinthians 11.24 (NIV)
It is a well-known fact that I love reading the writings of Jesus scholar Larry Hurtado. His latest blog interaction with the work of Paula Fredriksen intrigues me, not only because her work was widely cited in my book on Paul in Chinese, but because of its implications for many HK churches, especially in light of the further call for harmony and tolerance for another fake election by the Anglican provincial secretary on HK TVB. I will cite below what Fredriksen claims from Hurtado’s blog. At some near future point, I will read her work in its entirety at which point I can give it a fair reading.
“In a recent publication, she probes the matter by first addressing Paul’s references to being on the receiving end of floggings by fellow Jews (five times) in the course of his Gentile mission (2 Corinthians 11:24). Her cogent hypothesis is essentially this: Paul required his pagan converts to withdraw from worshipping the gods of the Roman world. Given the place and significance of the gods in Roman-era life, this would have generated serious tensions with the larger pagan community. As he identified himself as a Jew and linked up with Jewish communities in the various diaspora cities where he established early assemblies of Jesus-followers (ekklesias), these Jewish communities could have feared that they would bear the brunt of these tensions. So, Paul was meted out synagogue discipline in the form of the 39 lashes as punishment on several occasions (he mentions five).”
If what Fredriksen says is true, then Paul was not punished because he preached the gospel as people traditionally believe, but because the gospel Paul preached caused disharmony both with society and within the synagogue system. Let’s think about the current culture of the HK mega-churches that tend to speak for oppressive government policies. The best example is from one church where members who opposed oppressive governmental policies would be punished by having their memberships revoked from the church. Other less severe but equally misleading responses would be to call for harmony at all costs without adequate discussion on the issues that divide.
In essence, if Fredriksen’s claim is true, then some churches behave more like Paul’s Jewish oppositions than Paul. Paul has already shown that the gospel is not mainly meant to cause harmony. Truth doesn’t necessarily harmonize. Quite often in Paul’s ministry, it confronted and divided. When people point out falsehood, the church’s job is not to call for harmony but to call for discussion, circumspection and introspection or even repentance. False harmony punishes the wrong people and in the long run ruins lives. Getting truth right is tough. Living truth out is even tougher. It takes prioritizing ideas and conflict, just like Paul did in his life. It takes tough struggles over issue rather than a simplistic call for cheap unity while covering over the holes in our imperfect ideals. The only question to ask of such churches is this, “What kind of faith do we hold when we behave more like Paul’s opposition than Paul?”