We have an English word I want to use here: “parallel”. This word comes to us, almost intact, from Greek – transliterated “parallelos”. The word originally comes to us from Greek Geometry and meant (in one primary postulate) 2 lines that never intersect. The word has taken on extended analogous meanings, giving us concepts like “parallel history”, studying two separate histories at the same time for fresh perspective. For example, studying southern Africa history in parallel with central India history would be parallel history. But not nearly as conceptually simple as parallel lines. We would be studying the 2 histories looking for things to learn from the similarities.
And these analogous meanings tend to focus on the positive aspect of the relationship between the two things that are described in parallel. The postulate “Two lines that never intersect” tends to focus us on the fact that the relationship between the lines never includes contact. But when we say two people lead parallel lives we mean that their lives are similar, maybe even very similar, in important ways. Yet remaining different.
In most of the letters of the Apostle Paul we can see parallel teaching. As discussed in one of the previous sections, we saw that Paul and Jesus present the Kingdom of Heaven teachings in parallel to the teachings based on the elemental principles of this world. These parallels can help us refine our concepts. In these parallel Letters from Paul, we can see the fundamentals of the Kingdom of Heaven, as presented by Jesus the Christ, in contrast to the always attractive goal of greater refinement of the rules, the behavior requirements necessary for salvation through the parallel concept of Law.
Holding the concept of parallel teaching in our foreground thinking, we can understand Paul referring to the rules in parallel to reinforcing the Gospel, salvation through belief IN Jesus the Christ.
Recall one of the previous sections of this series where we discussed the Greco-Roman environment with all its concepts about ethics.
Paul clarifies in Galatians that he is called to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles. When we consider the environment into which Paul was called to bring the Good News of the Kingdom of Heaven, we can clearly see the need for instruction on behavior based on the Love that is central to the Gospel. The Greco-Roman culture would continue to hold influence on the masses being Born Again, baptized by immersion in the Spirit of God. They would carry their Greco-Roman world-views with them as they make the eternally potent choice to believe in Jesus, the Hebrew who came as the Christ. These world views would affect their propensity to behave. The Greco-Roman world view would have influence on them, with the views about acceptable behavior measured by Aphrodite, Zeus, and the rest of the Pantheon. Again, please recall the section of this essay series about Greek ethics, with all that was presented about what was sexually acceptable, and the systems of retributive justice to enforce acceptable behavior.
Those ethics would be intact in the minds of the people joining the new church, in addition to all the fundamental human propensities, hatred, judgment, pride, selfishness, sex, deception, etc. The effects of these propensities are visible throughout history. The degree of acceptance of these propensities varies with from one society to another, but generally are despised to some level.
The Born Again Gentiles are people are struggling with these issues in their individual and group life. As we always have and always will.
Jesus taught in parallel. He gave very strict rules on earning salvation, such as telling one man that to earn eternal life he must love his neighbor as much as he loves himself. He then immediately told him to sell everything he has and give the money to the poor. Yet, he also said that simple belief in him will result in eternal life. These teachings are either contradictions, or they are parallels – two lines that never intersect but have important similarities. The Kingdom of Heaven teachings draw very important understanding from the Knowledge of Good and Evil teachings. The parallel presentation by Jesus brings us to the conceptual posture of humble, joyful, assurance of the Love of God.
Paul imitates Jesus.
So as Paul is sending letters, it would be very surprising if he did NOT always include some pleading for people to consider their behavior through their growing Kingdom of Heaven concepts. Their behavior both in self-acceptance of their own actions, and, just as significant, their condemnation of such actions in others.
Sometimes people believe they need to enforce their view of the truth. They believe this is more important than Love. This is dissensions and factions. In his Letter to the Galatians, Paul tells such people they are unable to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, which is perhaps well illustrated by Jesus when starting his teaching on that Kingdom : Blessed are the POOR in spirit, those people that have no spiritual resources at their command. The Kingdom of Heaven belongs to them. People whose spirits have no spiritual resources will not be sitting about arguing Theology. They will be basking in the Love of the Savior who showed Astonishing Love by forgiving their sins for no other reason than Love.
What is the difference between Paul and the teachers of the other Gospel he is fighting in Galatians? Paul is clearly also engaged in the dissension and factions. The difference is that the other teachers are telling people their salvation depends on obedience. Paul differs from them because he can correct bad teaching and bad behavior in Love, because he is always clear that salvation is based on believing in Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. In Galatians the faction presenting another Gospel are those who enforce their side of dissension with threats of eternal damnation. Paul opposes them. But he does not join them in error, because he is clear about salvation. “Circumcision or lack of circumcision is nothing, all that matters is Jesus the Christ.” Debating about the merits of circumcision has a completely different effect on people’s relationships when the debate is not at the “separation from God” level.
We can take this same concept about “dissensions and factions” and apply it to the other works of the flesh in the Galatians list, and the other lists in the other letters. Behavior always falls short of the goal. Without a savior there is no hope. The true Gospel is about Jesus. We previously referred to those who believe their activities are acceptable as devotees. The listed actions of these devotees range from adultery, to trusting other things than God (idolatry), to telling stories about other people’s problems, etc. Paul states the devotees are unable to conceptualize the Kingdom of Heaven from which the Gospel flows. Also unable to conceptualize the Kingdom of Heaven are those who condemn the devotees. We see this parallel teaching in several places, such as the first section of Romans, where Paul presents a more detailed list of works of the kingdom of the flesh and immediately says that all those who condemn them have forgotten they are guilty of the same things and they have forgotten the Gospel, the Love and Mercy of God. And there is a parallel passage in 1 Corinthians 5 and 6, which we will look at later.
Parallel because they are similar, and one teaching informs the other. As we understand one teaching, that understanding helps us understand another. And within Paul’s Letters, we can also see the powerful parallel of the elemental wisdom of this world – right and wrong – bringing necessary information to our understanding of the parallel concept that is the Kingdom of Heaven.
So, as we continue seeking to understand the words of Paul about the Measure of Acceptability, it is important to learn from the parallels in Paul’s Letters, especially the immutable (can’t be changed) concepts of the Kingdom of Heaven, including the Gospel. Gospel means “the good news”, which is clearly that Jesus the Christ fixed the fundamental problem of this world – separation from God: spiritual death. Jesus brought and brings Life.