The annual H. Orton Wiley Lectures return this month with a series titled, “Did Paul Meet Jesus Before the Damascus Road?”
The series, started in 1951 by H. Orton Wiley, president of the university at the time, continues “to offer academic engagement with areas of relevance to the Christian life and ministry in dialogue with a Wesleyan perspective, including: philosophy, theology, church his- tory and biblical studies,” according to the lecture series’ web page. This year, the event, sponsored by PLNU’s school of Theology and Christian Ministry, chose Stanley Porter, an alum of PLNU, to present the lectures. The Point Weekly talked to Porter via email about his experience at PLNU, why this topic is so important and what students can do to prepare for the lectures.
Point Weekly: What do you think the PLNU community needs to know about you?
Stanley Porter: I am very much looking forward to being back on campus and am greatly honored to have been asked to give the Wiley Lectures. I have an interesting life as both the President of a seminary and graduate school and as an active professor, so being able to give these lectures is a high point for me.
My area of specialty is New Testament studies. I have taught and written about most major areas of the New Testament, with my particular area of great interest being Greek language and linguistics (I am going to keep the Greek stuff to a minimum in the lectures, so don’t panic). I have been at this business of academics and scholar- ship, as well as higher education administration, for quite some time now, but continue to love to teach the New Testament.
PW: Why do you think this topic is so important to discuss?
SP: I have been fascinated by both Paul and Jesus for a long time. I am constantly amazed by the insights especially of Paul and how we need to continue to learn from him.
In fact, the topic of these lectures is something that I have been mulling over for nearly 20 years, so I am very glad that these lectures have given me a chance to think through my ideas more systematically—and see if I can convince anyone of my perspective. There are a couple of things that are important about this topic.
One is that it ties in to the whole business of intellectual his- tory. In these lectures I intend to challenge the idea that has been pretty much unquestioned for a hundred years that Paul had not encountered Jesus before his Damascus road experience.
Many people have the mistaken idea that Paul in some way invent- ed Christianity or was at odds with Jesus—and I hope to show that that is not the case.
PW: What will be your main stance on the topic?
SP: About 100 years ago there were three major scholars who all wrote at the same time and argued that Paul had encountered Jesus before the Damascus road. Their work has pretty much disappeared from view.
My stance is to revisit their arguments and see if there is any substance to them and to explore why they disappeared with virtu- ally no remaining trace. This is go- ing to mean that I will need to lay the groundwork for Paul and Jesus meeting during the events of their own lives.
I will also have to examine what happened in New Testament scholarship that led to the position we are in today that rarely even raises this as a possibility. I will then need to re-evaluate the arguments made against their meeting.
I will also be examining the implications of their having met, and the positive result that can come from that. The more I have investigated this question of whether Paul had encountered Jesus, the more convinced I am that we need to examine old questions from fresh perspectives.
PW: What can students and faculty do to prepare for hearing these lectures?
SP: I guess it is asking too much to read through all of the Gospels and Paul’s letters, but that is the material I am going to be working with—selectively of course. I would ask that students and faculty come with inquisitive and questioning and relatively open minds to con- sider something that they have per- haps not thought of before—and be prepared to respond to the ideas and tease out their implications.
PW: You’re a PLNU alum. How do you think that this will give you an advantage for being the speaker this year?
SP: So many things have changed from when I was at Point Loma. Remember, I started there the second year after the college moved from Pasadena, so we were still getting adjusted and using the facilities pretty much as we had inherited them.
The campus has been developed tremendously. However, the setting is still just as beautiful as ever. I’ll never forget that.
I suppose my biggest advantage is that I understand the kinds of questions and issues that Point Loma kinds of people deal with and think about. Not only am I a graduate, but I have taught at similar institutions in my teaching career.
I hope to provide something in these lectures that moves beyond the kinds of rote answers that we can sometimes fall into and pro- vides a challenge to think more deeply about the Bible—at least in this particular area—and come to appreciate even more the tremendously important ministries that Paul and Jesus had and how these may have intersected.
PW: What was your favorite thing about Point Loma when you went to school here?
I am not sure if it was my favorite thing, because I really only came to appreciate it fully after I graduated, but the education I received at Point Loma was absolutely outstanding. I knew that we had to work hard as students while I was there, but I did not come to realize how excellent the academic education was that we were receiving until I was in other academic contexts.