Theology of Paul the Apostle

What is "Theology?"

Christian theology is a tradition of critical reasoning about Christian
doctrine, that is, about what should be taught in the church about Jesus Christ and life in him. Christian theology focuses on doctrine rather than law, because Christianity is a faith more than a way of life, so the question of what people should be taught to believe is of the essence. It concerns not just what is taught in the church, but what ought to be. The wisdom and message at the heart of Christianity is not primarily a revelation about how to live but primarily the story about who Jesus is, called the Gospel.

Theological concepts have meaning  to Christians only as they relate believers to Christ and thereby give shape to Christian life. Once formed, theological concepts are used to guide and correct Christian practice, teachings, and storytelling

Paul the Apostle

Paul the Apostle stands as a monumental figure in Christianity. As a Jew born in the diaspora (Tarsus of Cilicia in the southwestern coast of Turkey), he was familiar with the commonplaces of Greco-Roman philosophy, religion, and especially, rhetoric; His conversion from zealous persecutor of the early Christian church to its most ardent missionary transformed not only his life but the very trajectory of Christian history.

He is the first Christian theologian whose writings we have.  His letters (epistles) to various early Christian communities, form a significant portion of the New Testament. foundational texts for the Christian faith. They continue to captivate scholars and believers alike, sparking debates, inspiring theological reflection, and shaping the course of Christian thought and practice. Some scholars claim that Paul’s writings and their impact on Martin Luther were the impetus of the Chruch’s Reformation period.

During his lifetime, Paul was at once a deeply ambiguous and a
polarizing figure. His motives were questioned as he  was not a
follower of Jesus during Jesus’s lifetime, he was not one of
the 12 chosen by Jesus, nor was he an original witness to the
resurrection. Jews regard Paul as the source of Christian anti-Semitism when he suggests they have fallen away; feminists see Paul as the cause of sexism in Christianity. His teaching tended to demand a choice between sharp alternatives: flesh or spirit, law or grace, disobedience or faith.  His own churches often preferred other leaders to Paul.

St. Paul’s influence cannot be overstated. His universal message and his focus on reaching Gentiles (non-Jewish people) broke Christianity free of its Jewish roots to become a global religion. His letters are a foundation of Christian doctrine, ethics, and the understanding of the Church’s mission.


The early Christians lived with an expectation that is called “eschatological.” “Eschatology” means doctrine of the end (Greek eschaton). New Testament eschatology is about life in the time between the already and the not yet, between what Christ has already done (cross and resurrection) and That he is yet to do (parousia and establishing his kingdom on earth).  the Bible – Old and New Testaments -has many passages pointing to the end times, many being vague or symbolic.

The message is not of us going to heaven after we die, but of Christ coming from heaven to earth, bringing life for the dead. Likewise, our souls do not leave our bodies behind, but our mortal bodies “put on” immortality. Paul calls this a “spiritual body” and speaks of a heavenly dwelling which will clothe us. “Heaven” in Pauline eschatology does not mean the place to which we go but the place where Christ is, hidden from our sight but having the power of eternal life.

Paul's Theological Foundation

Some scholars suggest that Paul’s concern in his letters was not with theological propositions but with the stability and integrity of Christian communities.  Paul’s theology challenges the human tendency to turn Christianity into a system of law or to adapt it uncritically to changing cultures. Nevertheless, his thoughts continue to be a resource for theologians seeking to confirm theological positions, from Augustine of Hippo in the 5th century through Luther and Calvin in the 16th, to Karl Barth in the 20th. The pillars of St Paul’s theology include:

  • Jesus Christ: The Center of Existence: Paul’s theology is fundamentally Christocentric. Jesus is not merely a wise teacher or a prophet but the divine Son of God, the crucified and risen Messiah. Salvation, redemption, and reconciliation with God are made possible through Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection. Paul emphasized the believer’s spiritual union with Christ. He taught that through faith, believers are united with Christ in His death and resurrection, resulting in new life and freedom from the power of sin. (Romans 6:5; Galatians 2:20)
  •  Salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ alone and not by human effort or works. He emphasized that it is a gift of God’s grace – not he consequence of human effort or works – that is received through faith (belief and trust) in Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 1:3-4, 3:22-24; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4; Philippians 2:5-11)
  • Justification by Faith, Not Works: Paul vigorously challenges the prevailing Jewish belief that righteousness before God is attained through strict adherence to Jewish law. He emphasized the doctrine of justification, which means being declared righteous or acquitted from sin’s penalty through faith in Jesus Christ.   He proclaims that God justifies (declares righteous) people solely through faith in Jesus Christ, a gift of grace entirely apart from human merit. (Romans 3:21-28, 5:1; Galatians 2:16)
  • The Redemptive Power of Christ’s Death and Resurrection: Christ’s death is understood as a sacrificial atonement for the sins of humanity. His resurrection conquers death and secures the promise of eternal life for believers. (Romans 5:6-11, 1 Corinthians 15:12-22)
  • The Role of the Holy Spirit: Paul emphasized the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. He taught that the Spirit indwells believers, empowering them for holy living, guiding them into truth, and producing the fruit of righteousness in their lives. The Spirit indwells believers, guiding them, empowering them for ministry, and producing virtues (“fruit of the Spirit”) within them. (Galatians 5:22-23; Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 12)
  • The Church as the Body of Christ: Paul envisions the Church not as a building or institution but as a living organism with Christ as the head and believers as members. Emphasizing unity and diversity within the Church, he explains that each member has unique gifts given by the Spirit, contributing to the whole body’s flourishing. (1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4:1-16)

Paul and Martin Luther

The poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote, “How dearly Martin Luther loved St. Paul. How dearly would St. Paul have loved Martin Luther! And how impossible that either should not have done so.

Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant Reformation, wrestled deeply with a sense of spiritual unworthiness and the futility of achieving justification through his own works and religious practices. The Catholic priest, former monk, and budding theologian discovered Paul’s writings, particularly the epistles of Romans and Galatians, and led to a movement that changed the course of Christian history.

In his study of Paul’s letters, especially Romans 3:28, Luther found a revolutionary message of grace: Salvation, was a free gift of God and was received through faith alone in Jesus Christ, not through a system of earning merit or fulfilling obligations.

Paul’s emphasis on the contrast between the Law and the Gospel reinforced Luther’s belief that the Law could not justify a person before God (Galatians 3:13).  His reading of Paul sparked his doctrine of “Sola Fide” (faith alone), one of the foundational pillars of the Reformation. His focus on the radical grace offered through Jesus Christ forever altered his view of the Church, the sacraments, and the path to salvation. Paul became, for Luther, a touchstone and a guide, shaping his understanding of the Gospel and his mission to reform the Church.