Was Paul a Mystic?

Was Paul a Mystic?

Paul’s Mysticism

I would say Paul’s theology was based on mystical experiences. Without the Damascus Road experience, Paul would have most likely continued on his destructive path of persecuting the church and consequently, Jesus. Also, let’s not forget that Paul said that he was taken up to Heaven and looked around (2 Cor. 12). So, yes, what we would consider “mystical” seems to certainly be the base. However, one must factor in Paul’s Jewish upbringing and Rabbinic education as well as the supplemental education Paul received from Peter and the disciples after his conversion. Therefore, it started with a mystical experience and then was aided and strengthened by more traditional external factors.

Well, what is a mystic—or mysticism for that matter?

F.F. Bruce defines the term “mysticism” in regards to Paul and his visions by quoting scholars Albert Schweitzer and Evelyn Underhill. Schweitzer defined mysticism as a term applicable “to every religious tendency that discovers the way to God through inner experience without the mediation of reasoning” and Underhill stated mysticism in a more positive fashion as, “the name of that organic process which involves the perfect consummation of the Love of God: the achievement here and now of the immortal heritage of men.”[1]

The “mysteries” that Paul received related to his ministry and the church by taking on the form of direct union with Christ (rather than direct union with God).[2] This was unique to Paul and is most easily displayed with his central teaching of being in Christ, or “Christocentric.”[3] Bruce calls it, “Pauline mysticism.”[4] Paul’s experience is also unique—especially to the Apostles—in the sense that Paul met the Risen Christ, not Jesus.[5]

Think about it this way: how would you respond to someone who said they just spoke with the Lord in person and then was taken on a little trip to Heaven? I would respond to a person today who claimed to have mystical revelations from God just like anyone else in today’s cynical society: with extreme skepticism. I suppose (just like everyone else) I would need proof. It would be hard to imagine anyone accepting something so controversial as this without hard proof. In our technological society, proof would mean photographs, video, or at least eyewitnesses. Even then, it would be hard to really accept because everyone has a computer and the majority of people know how to use Photoshop or AfterEffects to manipulate images digitally.

[1] F. F. Bruce, Paul, Apostle of the Heart Set Free, (Carlisle, Cumbria, UK: Paternoster Press, 2000), 136.

[2] Ibid., 137.

[3] Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black, The New Testament Its Background and Message. 2nd ed. (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2003), 354.

[4] Bruce, 137.

[5] Robert Wayne Stacy, TheDocinabox, “Paul and the Jesus Tradition,” accessed January 28, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K2zlBe36PlM.


Bruce, F. F. Paul, Apostle of the Heart Set Free. Carlisle, Cumbria, UK: Paternoster Press, 2000.

Lea, Thomas D., and David Alan Black. The New Testament, Its Background and Message. 2nd ed. Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2003.

Stacy, Robert Wayne. 2012. “Paul and the Jesus Tradition,” TheDocinabox, January 10, 2013. Accessed January 28, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K2zlBe36PlM.

Submitted to Liberty University Baptist Theological Seminary in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the completion of the course NBST 520 New Testament Orientation II

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