Why I Think the Apostle Paul Was a Blockhead


Here’s the photo I mentioned in my last post. It may still seem irrelevant to you, but let me explain it.

I’m working on a small building project in a boarding house for refugees. The owner wants one bedroom made into two, but with temporary walls. I’ve had to build walls that are not attached to either the floor or ceiling, yet are sturdy enough to support two doors. It has been an interesting challenge, and I am pleased with the results. As you can imagine, a perfect fit is critical in such a situation.

One of the wings of the Y-shaped partition meets the existing wall in a corner. There is baseboard and quarter round at the bottom, but no trim at the top, creating a one-inch differential in one part of the corner and none in the other. Futhermore, the angles are not the same. To make sure I ended up with a good fit, I made a pattern from a block–a tupos. That’s the Greek word for “pattern” or “example” used often in the New Testament. The idea behind tupos is that it is to be replicated precisely. If the pattern is good, whatever follows the pattern will be good.

In Acts 19, Paul uses the classroom of Tyrannus, a local citizen who evidently offered this space, to continue his teaching after he is kicked out of the synagogue for preaching Christ. We’re told in verses 8 to 10 that while the academic component of his training strategy takes place in this hall, all the residents of Asia (Minor) hear the word of the Lord in the next two years. There is a ministry component to the training as well, whereby the students take what they have learned in the classroom out into the communities and evangelize the entire region.

In the next chapter, as he is bidding farewell to the Ephesian elders, Paul mentions that while he has been with them, he has worked night and day to support himself and his companions (Act 20.34, 35). He tells them he has done this not only to provide for his own necessities, but to show them what it is like to model the command of Christ to help the weak and to remember “it is more blessed to give than to receive.”

From what we know of Paul, it is hard for me to believe he would have worked away at his tent making and not taught anyone else how to do it or hired them to assist him. That was not his way. He was a living tupos. A pattern. An example. This is how he lived,  and how he thought. He was, using my earlier analogy, a “block-head.”

There is further evidence for this in 2 Thessalonians 3, where Paul uses tupos to describe how he and Silas worked among them–not simply to provide for themselves, but “to give you in ourselves an example”–a tupos“to imitate.” (2 The 3.9) Is it just the example of work about which he is writing, or could he also be saying that he taught them his trade? I can’t help but wonder if a vocational component of training the early movers and shakers in the Church was part of Paul’s strategy: teaching a trade that would enable them to be mobile, self-supporting when necessary, and good examples to those they would reach with the gospel.

I think Paul would have been very pleased to be called a blockhead.

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