I happened upon a Catholic forum from Australia (Catholica—a global conversation) that appears to have pretty heady theological discussions. The post I found was written by Ian Elmer, and I note a lengthy list of contributions by this Pauline scholar.
The lengthy article summarized Paul’s personal history with a view toward understanding the source of his insight, especially since he was not an original follower of Jesus and only became so after the crucifixion. To what extent did Paul learn from conversations with or instruction from the first disciples? Paul denied any such influence, but was his denial colored by his later dispute with the Jerusalem leadership? What was revealed to Paul on the road to Damascus? In continuing revelation? From his theological reflections in the decades following the crucifixion but before he wrote his letters? Was Paul’s experience different in kind from other disciple’s Christophanies? Theophanies in general? Epiphanies? Meditations? Contemplation? General life experiences?
[Paul’s Galatians letter] is leaving out some very important aspects of his former life that have clearly shaped his understanding of his initial experience on the road to Damascus. Still, this does highlight the whole process of revelation and inspiration. Whatever the nature of Paul’s revelatory experience, he took a considerably long time for him to fully comprehend the import of the message for his new-found Christian faith, as well as its impact on his life.
To pursue this thought further, Paul’s later understanding of his Damascus Road experience came only as a result of a series of conflicts at Jerusalem, Antioch and then in Galatia. By the time of writing Galatians Paul had been both marginalised from the mainstream “church” and forced to embark on an independent mission — for which he was being criticised by the Galatian opponents.
Paul’s only recourse was to attribute both his gospel and his commission to his initial revelatory experience on the road to Damascus. This was not strictly a “lie”, but there is certainly a degree of expedient selectivity in the telling. Was it justified? Or is this simply an excellent example of God’s inspiration at work in the everyday experiences of one’s workaday life? How often do we find God amidst conflict and debate? Is it not in the midst of such debates that our understanding of God’s “call” can be clarified?
I commend the whole article which highlights the controversies between Paul and the Jerusalem establishment, which is also the conflict that drives the plotline of my novel, A Wretched Man.