Sunday School for Adults — Session 2: Did St. Paul Get the Story Right?

by Kathy on November 10, 2013 · 2 comments

in Books, Communication, Faith, Inspiration, Quotes, The Bible, The Past

Last week I shared about a new faith formation program at our parish, “Sunday School for Adults,” led by Fr. Bill Kenneally. In that post I included my notes from the first of six sessions. This week I am sharing my note from session two.

Here’s a list of the topics for each session and as I add posts about the sessions, I will hyperlink them here:

Session 1: How to Tell the Story of the Life of Jesus: From the Gospel of Mark to the Movies

Session 2: Did St. Paul Get the Story Right and How Much Influence Did He Have? 

Session 3: Did God Need a Church to Keep the Story of Jesus On the Right Track?

Session 4: What About the Mistakes in the Story, Tough Sayings and the Apocalypse?

Session 5: Let’s Go Through Mark’s Gospel, Step by Step. It Only Takes Fifty Minutes

Session 6: Do You Want to Know More About….?



These are my notes from Fr. Bill’s outline & presentation. I get that for many this is a review of information you may already know, but personally I find it helpful to revisit and learn about from a new perspective (Fr. Bill’s).

About Paul

  • Paul was very charismatic and a person of ideas.
  • He was a very intense Jew, born in modern-day Turkey.
  • He came to Jerusalem to study under a rabbi (Cabelleo?) according to Luke (who Fr. Bill says, “wrote a novel, not a biography”).
  • We are not sure if that really happened.
  • Paul couldn’t have read the Gospels, because he died before they were written.
  • According to Luke, Paul was on his way to Damascus, where  lightning struck and blinded and knocked him off his hours. Then he encountered someone who told him about Jesus.
  • Paul just says he was enlightened and finally understood that Jesus was interpreting the Jewish religion and became a follower.
  • The Acts of the Apostles tells Luke’s version.
  • You have to read between the lines in Paul’s letters to get his version.
  • Paul went into Europe, Turkey and Greece to spread Catholicism, through which it became a European religion.
  • It also became an African religion, because Northern Africa was part of the Roman Empire.
  • Muslim is partly about not wanting to be/have a European religion.

Paul’s Letters

  • The New Testament has 27 books.
  • 13 of those books (or letters) were written by Paul or thought to be written by him.
  • People have argued whether Paul actually wrote all of them and most agree that 6 weren’t actually written by him.
  • Back then people who agreed with Paul would write about his teachings and say he wrote it.
  • They are often referred to as “Pauline,” because they were written later and not by Paul, but in his style and form.
  • Paul died sometime between 60-65 A.D.
  • That was before bishops existed and yet some of his letters talk about them (thus they were written by others).
  • Though Paul never knew Jesus, when they gathered on Sunday/the Sabbath, they would share stories from Jesus’s time.
  • Paul heard those stories and interpreted them.
  • Those who told the stories were interpreting them too.
  • Example: The Prodigal Son –> Someone would share the story  and then they would discuss the significance in small groups.
  • The early followers of Jesus said, these stories are great conversation starters… Let’s use them! And then they wrote the books of the New Testament.
  • Mark was written in 70 A.D.
  • John was written in the 90’s A.D.

How Did Paul Get His Ideas & Was He Accurate?

  • Paul was highly educated and understood Greek philosophy.
  • The early Gospels were written in common Greek narrative.
  • Peter represents the institutional church.
  • Paul represents the intellectual church.
  • As soon as you institutionalize something, you screw it up.
  • “We’re all one body” (the mystical body) –> We each have a different role to play.
  • Jesus shared this idea in stories, but didn’t say it exactly.
  • Paul philosophized to add things like this.
  • Fr. Bill thinks, in regards to the notion of mystical body, that Paul painted Jesus as too judgemental.
  • Luke wrote the Acts of the Apostles.
  • The church showed they think Paul is important by including Paul’s/Pauline letters in the Bible.
  • The church wanted Paul to be our main teacher.
  • In 300 A.D. the New Testament Cannon (i.e. which books would be in the Bible) was decided.
  • When Fr. Bill was in the seminary he was taught that Moses wrote the first five book in the Bible, even though they include Moses’s death!
  • “All progress is made with two steps forward and one step back.” ~ James Carroll
  • Fr. Bill says this is true in the Church and in our personal lives.
  • “It is not as easy as you would think to be human.” ~ Fr. Bill

Did He Get it Right?

  • George Bernard Shaw said the world/Christianity would be better without Paul, because Jesus was very kind and Paul showed another side of him.
  • Paul misinterpreted some things, especially sharing the theology of a God who judges and encourages fear (i.e. God sends people to hell)
  • Paul promoted a judgmental God and set up a hierarchy.
  • In many ways Paul was responsible for the reformation.
  • That said, Paul is also accused of a lot of things he isn’t responsible for.


  • Fr. Bill believes (and I LOVE THIS) that the work of a parish is getting people into small groups to experience what Paul did.
  • That’s why our Adult Faith Formation program is so important!
  • Whether parishioners choose to participate in Bible studies, our retreat program (Christ Renews His Parish, a.k.a. CRHP) and/or our upcoming Lenten small groups (in which we will meet weekly during Lent to discuss the Gospel each week, talk about our lives and faith and get to know others in our community better), there are many ways for the St. Barnabas community, as well as other church community, to practice and strengthen our faith.


Books and Other Resources Fr. Bill Mentioned in Session 2:

In Search of Paul by John Dominic Crossan

  • A former priest, who left to get married and has written really interesting books.
  • Originally from Ireland and then moved to Chicago
  • He worked at DePaul University.
  • Banded together with Protestant scripture scholars to create “The Jesus Seminar.”
  • “The Jesus Seminar” is a color coded version of the Bible indicating the likelihood that Jesus actually said the things attributed to him. Certain colors represented the things the scripture scholars believe he said and other colors represent things they doubt more.

What Paul Meant by Garry Wills

  • A retired Northwestern professor, great writer and researcher.
  • Writes very interesting and readable books
  • He’s a popularizer, which makes his writing easy to understand and digest.
  • Other titles include: What Jesus Meant and Why Priests? A Failed Tradition
  • Why Priests? A Failed Tradition asks very thorny questions, which are impossible to answer.

According to Paul: Studies in the Theology of the Apostle by Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J.

The Writings of St. Paul by Wanye A. Meeks & John T. Fitzgerald


Next Time/Month (on Sunday, December 15th): I will share my notes from Session 3 with Fr. Bill: Did God Need a Church to Keep the Story of Jesus On the Right Track?


For those in the Beverly area, our next Sunday School for Adults session will be held on Sunday, December 8th from 8:30 -9:45 a.m. in the Church Hall (which is actually the second Sunday of December, because of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend).

You can also hear Fr. Bill share more about the Bible on Monday, November 11th at 9:30 a.m. or Thursday, November 14th at 7:00 p.m. This week he will be talking about the Fifth Session, in his Six Part Series, titled: “Let’s Go Through Mark’s Gospel, Step by Step. It Only Takes Fifty Minutes.” All sessions are held in the Church Hall.


St. Barnabas Men’s CRHP Retreat (January 25 – 26, 2014)

St. Barnabas Women’s CRHP Retreat (February 22 – 23, 2014)

Check out our Facebook Page here:


What do you think about all of this? (whether or not you are Christian and/or Catholic)

If you have read and/or studied the Bible, do you agree with Fr. Bill’s take on the books in and writers of it?

I would love to hear your reactions to the notes I shared from Fr. Bill’s second session about whether St. Paul got the story right.

If you do choose to share your thoughts and reactions, please be respectful of others’ opinions. I believe that there is more than one way to interpret sacred scripture and am not trying to start a debate about this here. Thank you.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Lori Lavender Luz November 12, 2013 at 4:14 pm

I read this with much interest, as I became a history/theology student during the years I lived in the middle east.

One of the things I really loved about living in Aleppo was the fact that we took frequent trips to Damascus. It was wonderful to see the Street Called Straight, the wall that Paul was reportedly lifted over, and the chapel on the site of his conversion.
Lori Lavender Luz recently posted..The Opening of Adoption: The Early YearsMy Profile


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