In Chapter 21 of Noel Cooper’s Language of the Heart the author examines the life of Paul from the perspective of his „prophetic voice“ in a very literal sense: Cooper develops the conception of Paul as a prophet through a hermeneutical exegesis of Paul’s own writings, thereby taking a direct and subjective look at what Paul thought about his own prophetic calling as one of the decisive figures of early Christianity.
Yet, through Cooper’s exegesis, one of the most compelling motifs becomes that of Paul’s conversion to Christianity, namely, what is at stake in Paul’s ministry is that it is an unlikely ministry, one that abstains from any subjective decision. Paul himself writes as follows, as cited by Cooper: “I was violently persecuting the church of God, and was trying to destroy it“, an explicit sense of Paul’s initial opposition to the Christ, which Cooper descrbies as the result of Paul’s “dedication to the traditions of his ancesstors.“ (245) What emerges in this account and Cooper’s reading of it is that the prophetic status of Paul is characterized by the unlikely and sudden nature of his change; yet this itself can be said to be a sign of a true prophetic status. For the prophet, as Cooper discusses throughout the work, is a messenger of God: therefore, his or her’s ultimate dedication to Christianity cannot be the result of a subjective choice, but has to emerge from a divine source to be truly prophetic.
This sudden prophetic emergence of Paul corresponds to another crucial aspect of his ministry, whereby a total adherence to Christ is required. Thus, as Cooper writes, “Paul was concerned that Christians of Jewish heritage who adhered to the Law of Moses believed that people can earn their salvation by following that Law.“ (248) In other words, anything other than a full acceptance of Christ falls short. Here, this corresponds to the sudden change of Paul towards Christianity, as well as communicating the depth and sincerity of his belief.
Accordingly, the prophetic voice of Paul can be expressed in terms of the almost anomalous emergence of his belief, one consistent with a divine source as opposed to an individual decision, as well as the status of the prophet as one who must implore followers to adhere to the revealed word. Any „watered-down“ version of the belief in the faith would put the revelation tied to prophetic statuses in doubt. A prophet emerges suddenly, but is nonetheless radically convinced by the authenticty of the divine message, perhaps precisely because of its anomalous and sudden appearance.