There is an aversion to Paul in Mormon thought and culture. A recent comment by Julie Smith at T&S gives some of the reasons for this phenomenon. I must insist, however, that we are completely missing out. For starters, Paul is hot right now. Yeah, he had some bad times at the hands of feminists in previous decades, but he is back with a vengeance now. Jewish scholars like Daniel Boyarin have embraced Paul. Not to mention some of the most cutting edge contemporary atheist philosophers like Zizek, Badiou, Agamben, and Taubes have all published books on Paul’s contributions to and resources for contemporary philosophical problems. If Jews and atheists can embrace and praise Paul, why can’t we Mormons get it together?
I suspect that one of the reasons that we have ignored Paul is because we are so caught up in a provincial debate with Evangelicals about whether we are saved by grace or saved by works. Neither we nor Evangelicals seem to be aware of recent developments in Pauline scholarship that more or less resolve this quesiton. Well, to be more accurate, recent scholars have shown that this question is not what Paul is answering. He is not dealing with the Grace vs. Works as two polar opposites. Rather, he is dealing with a specific set of “works of the Law”, namely, circumcision, food laws, and Sabbath observance. In my view, this “New Perspective,” as it is called, opens up a great deal of space for Mormon thinking with Paul.
Unfortunately, the results of our discomfort with Paul is that we literally ignored him. Even though his writings (or those attributed to him) make up 1/2 of the books of the New Testament, we devote hardly any time to him in the Sunday School curriculum. As a culture, we simply have not paid any attention to him, hoping in vain that the problems we thought he created for us will dissappear. We can no longer continue to do this.
I suspect that one of the other difficulties that we have with Paul is that we try to read him in the KJV, with the odd page layout of the Standard Works. I admit that I never really understood Paul until I read him in modern translation. The particular translation that we have in the KJV is rooted in a Protestant reading of him, which contributes to the misunderstanding and discomfort we have.
So, what can Paul do for us? We can start with the problems that he is dealing with himself. He is deeply concerned about the problems of universalism and particularism. How can God and Truth be universal, yet have a particular relationship with a particular people? We can also think about how he deals with immanent eschatology and time, which we share with him. We can also pinpoint areas where we might disagree, perhaps on questions of gender. Finally, we can look at how he is dealing with diversity and difference within the church, the kind of ethics between the “strong” and the “weak,” as well as ethnic differences between Jew and Gentile. All of these are analogous problems that we are dealing with in LDS thought as well. Paul can help!