It is an intriguing idea. First examine Paul’s reasoning. Second, imitate it in order to use that process to navigate what it means to live and worship as a contemporary Christian. To be sure, such an approach would generate information. Can we do what Paul did? Would the results be reliable? Is this all that we need for a path forward?
This possibility introduces some interesting questions. Would reasoning like Paul in today’s culture lead to different conclusions? Could this provide a path around inconvenient cultural trappings of the first century? Might reasoning like Paul allow us to jettison what Paul actually taught?
The proposal is simple. Yet, the implementation would be complicated. Even a couple of questions highlight the burgeoning complexity. Should only a few Pauline texts or all of his writings be analyzed? If Paul’s writings can be used, would not including the works of other canonical writers produce an even more robust hermeneutical engine? Once the topical starting points for theological reflection are determined, who determines which topic is the appropriate foundation for any given question?
Perhaps the starting place toward an answer whether such a process could provide reliable spiritual direction lies in what Jesus taught before his death. During his last night on earth, Jesus told his apostles that the Advocate would cause them to remember all that he had taught them. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit would teach them all things. In this way, Jesus identified a distinctive functional advantage for the apostles.
Paul echoed the apostles’ unique role when he described the church as being “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets” with Christ functioning as the cornerstone (Eph. 2:20). In fact, one of the gifts Christ provided the church was apostles (Eph. 4:11). Paul further distinguished their role and function from other members within the body when he wrote, “God has placed in the church first of all apostles” (1 Cor. 12:28).
Considering the responsibility they fulfilled under the Spirit’s guidance, it would seem presumptuous to collapse the distance between their ability and ours. However, Paul was not one of the original Twelve. Might he provide a different case?
Paul described himself as an apostle by the will of God and sent by Jesus Christ. He also distinguished himself from other teachers by claiming, “the gospel I preached is not of human origin. For I did not receive it or learn it from any human source; instead I received it by a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:11,12).
Did Paul anywhere within his writings suggest we should try to duplicate his reasoning techniques in order to discover a reliable path for today? His message to Timothy aligned along an entirely different focus.
In his words, “I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher. ... he (God) is able to protect what has been entrusted to me until that day” (2 Tim. 1:11,12). After penning these words he charged Timothy to hang onto healthy teachings and to protect what had been entrusted to him (2 Tim. 1:13,14). Timothy, in turn, was to entrust to others what he had heard Paul teach, so that they could likewise pass it forward (2 Tim. 2:2). This sounds like Paul regarded the content, and not a process of duplicating his reasoning techniques, as being what’s important.
The apostles were guided into all truth and provided the church with what it needs in order to be the people God desires. Our feet do not fill their shoes. The idea of trying to reason like Paul might provide some creative thoughts. Nevertheless, within scripture the emphasis focuses upon faithfully teaching the revealed message.