Of all the biblical references that Martin Luther King, Jr. makes in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” the most powerful is his use of the Apostle Paul as a kind of spiritual symbol for his work in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. His critics have described him as an “outsider” who has come to Birmingham to make trouble with his civil rights protests; in response, King draws a parallel with the Apostle Paul, noting that he too was obliged to travel beyond his homeland to enlighten others. He models himself after the Apostle, spreading an unpopular truth: just as Paul “carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco-Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town.” His critics also call King an extremist, and again he responds with the image of Paul, whom he calls “an extremist for the Christian gospel.” This comparison is personally meaningful for King—he clearly sees the Apostle Paul as a guiding spirit—but it is also a way of equating the fight for racial equality with the work of spreading the word of Jesus Christ, and segregation laws throughout the South with “certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire.” By placing the protesters in such a biblical context, he tries to convince his critics that racial equality, like the Christian gospel, is a morally superior philosophy, despite being preached by outsiders and extremists.
Apostle Paul Quotes in Letter from Birmingham Jail
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice, or will we be extremists for the cause of justice?