The Bones of Paul – Grave Spinning Time?


In the SRL files under “Mything the Point” comes this headline grabbing announcement from the Vatican:

https://i2.wp.com/www.voanews.com/english/images/ap-Apostle-Paul-tomb-Rome-195eng29jun09.jpg

Pope: Scientific analysis done on St. Paul’s bones

ROME – The first-ever scientific test on what are believed to be the remains of the Apostle Paul “seems to confirm” that they do indeed belong to the Roman Catholic saint, Pope Benedict XVI said Sunday.

Archaeologists recently unearthed and opened the white marble sarcophagus located under the Basilica of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls in Rome, which for some 2,000 years has been believed by the faithful to be the tomb of St. Paul.

Benedict said scientists had conducted carbon dating tests on bone fragments found inside the sarcophagus and confirmed that they date from the first or second century.

“This seems to confirm the unanimous and uncontested tradition that they are the mortal remains of the Apostle Paul,” Benedict said, announcing the findings at a service in the basilica to mark the end of the Vatican‘s Paoline year, in honor of the apostle.

Not to be the skunk at the picnic, but this discovery seems to be well, a bit underwhelming.

Let’s face it, there were a lot of people who lived in the first and second centuries.

The fact that this tomb had remains that date to that era is interesting but certainly not conclusive.

Even more interesting was the motivation for this meeting of the church and carbon dating:

Vatican archaeologists in 2002 began excavating the 8-foot-long coffin, which dates from at least A.D. 390 and was buried under the basilica’s main altar. The decision to unearth it was made after pilgrims who came to Rome during the Roman Catholic Church‘s 2000 Jubilee year expressed disappointment at finding that the saint’s tomb — buried under layers of plaster and further hidden by an iron grate — could not be visited or touched.

The top of the coffin has small openings — subsequently covered with mortar — because in ancient times Christians would insert offerings or try to touch the remains.

The fervent attention being paid to this traditionally identified resting place of Paul’s earthly remains raises a provocative question – What would the apostle himself think of all this?

The shocking answer for some –

Probably not much.

In his ministry career, Paul had to deal with his share of misplaced hero worship.

In fact, the all too human tendency to be more excited about God’s servants than the Savior was an issue he dealt with directly in his first letter to the church at Corinth:

And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; 3 for you are still carnal.

For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? 4 For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal?

Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.

7 So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. 8 Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor.

9 For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. 10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it.

11 For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. (I Corinthians 2:1-11)

Paul was absolutely committed to making Jesus the center of attention in everything he did.

The notion that people would provide him an ornate grave and think that somehow they were going to be blessed by touching his remains, stuffing a prayer request in his coffin, or praying to him at the site would undoubtedly have left him spinning in it.

If he was there.

And here is the second scriptural truth that gets strangely left out of these discussions of the remains of saints – the real apostle Paul is nowhere near this basilica right now.

Where is he?

For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

2 For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, 3 if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked.

4 For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

6 So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. 7 For we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. (II Corinthians 5:1-8)

The real apostle Paul is absent from the body that may or may not have been carbon tested last week.

The real apostle Paul is present with his Lord.

Don’t get me wrong. The upside of research like this is that it emphasizes the historical fact of the Christian faith.

Paul was not a figment of some overheated religious imagination. He lived and breathed like we do.

He had a life changing encounter with the resurrected Jesus that so transformed him we are still discussing his impact on the world today.

But if Paul could have made an appearance at that press conference,  I’m certain he would say, “If you want to honor my life and ministry, don’t pray to me – follow the One Who was the reason I lived and the reason I died a martyr’s death.”

For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

3 I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. 4 And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,

5 that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (I Corinthians 2:2-5)

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