Couchoud follows the main outline of Acts in his account of the missionary career of Paul. Where and why he occasionally deviates from Acts is explained in context below. (All posts in this series, along with a few extras, are archived here.)
On first glance it appears that C is merely repeating a well-known set of missionary adventures of Paul. He is to a certain extent, but it is still worth reading in order to grasp the scenario of what he believes those early churches looked like. Keep in mind that the gospel narrative of an earthly life of Jesus has not yet been heard of. The religion is all about the expectation of a Son of God to descend from heaven.
More interesting for me is that it writing out the notes has driven home to me what I think are serious questions about the ostensible claims we find within the letters of Paul. My own comments are in italics and square brackets.
Barnabas and Paul, inspired by the Spirit, undertook their first missionary expedition:
- Crossed island of Cyprus
- Along southern coasts of Asia Minor
- Through Pisidia and Lycaonia — both thickly populated and Hellenized
- Into the Roman province of Galatia
They learned that preaching the gospel in the Greek world was no idyll. Blows were abundant and life itself was often in the hazard. (p. 48)
We know the story.
Traveling Jews were invited to say a few edifying words in the local synagogues.
Barnabas and Paul profited by this custom to announce the imminent Day of Doom, to reveal the mystery of Jesus Christ dead and risen, and to preach Salvation by his name. Not many Jews were interested; they were annoyed.
But then there was another group nearby, the fertile seed-bed of Christianity:
There were about every synagogue a number of men and women, especially women, who, though not Jews, feared the God of the Jews and desired to placate Jahweh by offering him worship. They formed a sort of floating, indefinite, and unorganized appendix to each synagogue. Among them were to be found the predestined Saints. They had to be detached from official Judaism, united among themselves in Jesus Christ, by means of baptism, by the holy kiss, by miracles and prophecies. Chiefs had to be found for them, and they had to be kept chaste and holy for the arrival of the Lord. This led inevitably to strife. The local Jews raised Cain. They protested to the authorities. The prophets usually left in a riot, in a shower of stones, but leaving behind a new ekklesia of Jesus.
So goes the story.
These two apostles returned to Antioch “in hope and experience.”
Paul’s next plan was for a longer journey. He took Silas, a prophet from Jerusalem, to re-visit the churches established in the first journey and to “maintain their fervour”. This time he set out north (and overland) from Antioch.
In Lycaonia he found a second helper, Timothy. This person’s value lay in his father being a Greek and his mother “a Jewess”. Paul had him circumcised so he could be as well received among Jews as Greeks.
They journeyed onwards, led by the Spirit, and eager to complete their task before “the last Trump” should sound.
They entered Philippi, a Roman colony, where “the Word found listeners” — in particular Lydia of Thyatira, a seller of purple who, along with her household, was baptized. But the three prophets were driven out with violence — 1 Thess. 2:2.
Thessalonica, a major business centre, housed a synagogue that turned out to be an excellent recruiting ground for Greeks and wealthy women. But the Jews’ response was deadly resulting among the earliest “dead in Christ” — see 1 Thess. 4:14-16.
But Paul had known in advance what to expect as we read in his words in 1 Thess. 3:4 so had been prepared well enough to make his escape.
From within his safe refuge Paul wrote to these most recent Thessalonian converts what survives to us as the most ancient document Christianity has preserved, the first epistle to the Thessalonians.
In this letter we read the earliest description of this new religion, 1 Thess. 1:9-10 — which speaks of the Jewish God as the “true and living god”, and joins to him the “Son of God dead and raised again” and who is destined to save us — that is, in the future. The focus of the new religion was the expectation of the advent of God’s Son from Heaven.
For they who are about us tell
What manner of entry we had unto you,
How ye turned from idols to God
To serve the true and living God;
And to wait for his Son from Heaven,
Whom he raised from the dead,
Jesus who saves us from the wrath to come.
Attached here is an interesting footnote:
The resurrection of Jesus is not temporal. Paul places it both in the past and in the future. “Jesus raised … and God will raise . . . the dead with Jesus . . . ” I Thess. iv. 14.
Paul as a prophet made a prediction inspired by God about some of the details of the resurrection at the time of the coming of the Son: See 1 Thess. 4:15-17. The martyrs would ascend on the first cloud and those still living on the second. As for the Day itself, only one thing was known: it would come “like a thief in the night” — a prophetic line inspired by Greek version of Jeremiah 49:9.
The true believer should remain ever on the watch, strong in a breastplate of faith and love and helmeted in hope. (p. 51)
Corinth, risen from its ruins, Roman capital of Greece, trade centre and brothel for the sailors of two seas, was a blessed land for Paul. . . . Paul had the time to care for and develop this his cherished church, which was ever near to his heart and ever a thorn in his flesh.
Paul was able to spend 18 months here thanks to the support of a Jewish couple who gave him work in making tents (booths) and support sent him from Macedonia. The synagogue chief, Crispus, was quite charmed by Paul and the Roman proconsul turned a deaf ear to the complaints of Jewish opponents.
The church here consisted mostly of people of humble standing (1 Cor. 1:26). There was a significant portion of Latin names among its members such as Titius, Lucius, Tertius, Quartus, Fortunatus, Achaicus, Titus (“this brings us near to Rome”), Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, Gaius, whose door was open to all Christians, the town treasurer Erastus, and the family of Stephanas who was the first Greek to be baptized in Greece. (Interesting coincidence in the name of this first of Greece?)
Every one of them, man and woman, learned the manner of praying aloud, uttering prophecies, healing in the Spirit, and making miracles. When a prophet stood to speak and another, seated, was inspired by the Spirit, it was the duty of the former to hold his peace. Times were when the breath of Spirit wrung from these human lyres nought but aeolian murmurs, sounds without recognizable meaning. Then it was they spoke with tongues. An interpreter, equally inspired, translated. Did the prophet cry “Ba! Ba! Ba!” the interpreter said “Abba!” (Father). [Gal. iv.6; Rom. viii.15] If he murmured “Ta! Ta! Ta!”, it was “atha, maran atha” (O Lord, come!) Paul was often inspired to speak in tongues, but he preferred to prophecy, that the church might be built up. [1 Cor. xiv. 1-33, a curious extract.]
(Is there anything missing in C’s account here? Is this the sort of religious assembly one might have expected to have arisen out of an earthly teacher Jesus?)
In 51 or 52 Paul decided to visit Jerusalem and unite his churches with the original churches there.
He had not yet met Pater, James and John. (The earlier visits to Jerusalem in Acts 9:26-30 and 11:30 are said by C to be fictitious. The first, he says, is related to an interpolation in Galatians 2:18-20.) In preparation he made a vow and followed the custom of shaving his head.
This first meeting of Paul with the Jerusalem apostles was vividly described in the original (Marcionite) version of Galatians 1:15-2:10. Paul wrote to reassure the Galatians that he was indeed sent by the Lord himself and not by the Jerusalem apostles.
But when it pleased him who chose me in the womb of my mother
and called me by his grace,
To reveal his Son in me,
that I might preach him among the peoples;
immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood:
Neither did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me;
I went into Arabia,
and returned again to Damascus.
– – – [the “non-Marcionite version” adds material here] – – –
Afterwards I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.
I was unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea in Christ:
they had heard only,
That he who in times past persecuted us
now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed.
And they glorified God in me.
Fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem
Taking Titus with me – – – [the non-Marcionite version adds Barnabas] – – –
I went up by revelation,
I communicated to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles,
And, privately, to the notables.
Do I run, or have I run in vain?
Nor was Titus who was with me,
Although a Greek, compelled to be circumcised:
Because of false brethren
Who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty
which we have in Christ Jesus,
And to bring us into bondage:
We gave not place, not even an hour,
that the true gospel might continue with you.
But of those who pretended to be notable,
(whatsoever they were it maketh no matter to me:
God distinguishes no man’s person),
These notables imposed nought on me.
– – – [non-Marcionite version omits verses 7 and 8] – – –
But Peter, James, and John,
Those who upon themselves as pillars,
Gave me the hand of fellowship; – – – [expanded in the non-Marcionite version] – – –
To us the Gentiles, to them the circumcised!
That only we should remember the Poor
Which I was careful to do.
This is the first encounter between St. Paul and Jerusalem, and the picture is a remarkable one. Paul had, as it were, discovered a new world, and had brought back with him his baptized heathen, as Columbus did his Red Indian. General excitement! Private conversations with the authorities, in which Paul demands a definite answer. Spies listen at keyholes. Pressure is brought to bear on Paul, but they dare not require the circumcision of Titus. Paul offers a stubborn opposition. The resulting compromise: whatsoever is Jewish in origin is allotted to Jerusalem; whatsoever is pagan to Paul. But do not forget to send money for the upkeep of the Saints at Jerusalem! Paul gains the point. (pp. 53-54)
Paul’s break from both Jerusalem — and Antioch
Paul then returned to Antioch. Peter followed him.
At first Peter quickly fell in with the customs of Antioch. He ate with non-Jews and ate non-kosher food.
It was a victory for the Nicolaitanes. [See the previous post in this series for the origin of this term.]
But the success was short-lived.
We are well aware, most of us, with the flare-up that erupted when certain others from James turned up. Paul’s account is in Galatians 2:11-14.
James now gained the upper hand. Peter buckled along with others and Paul was left abandoned by both Jerusalem and Antioch. He became
an Apostle without a mandate. His authority was himself and Jesus.
But the Jerusalem church followed up its victory by sending out emissaries to the churches Paul had founded. The battle intensified.
Paul left Antioch a third time.
He fell seriously ill among the Galatians who cared affectionately for him. He reminded them to send a subsidy to the Jerusalem “poor” (1 Cor. 16:1).
He then went to Ephesus, capital of Asia, where there were both disciples of John the Baptist and Christians. From Ephesus he wrote several letters (later combined into two) to his church in Corinth. Apollos of Alexandria had once been at Cortnth when he was a missionary of the John the Baptist sect, but at the time Paul wrote his letters to Corinth Apollos was with him in Ephesus (1 Cor. 16:12).
Paul was “anxious, jealous and irate.”
Letters to Corinth
Ever since the Baptist missionary Apollos of Alexandria had taught in Corinth the “higher wisdom” there were members of that church who believed they possessed “all knowledge”.
[From Couchoud’s earlier account of the John the Baptist sect it is difficult to imagine a doctrine of “higher wisdom” emanating from it. Higher wisdom sounds like the fruit of a gnostic-like sect.]
They took Paul’s teachings to a higher level of understanding. Paul had taught that all things are lawful, an idol is nothing, eating or not eating kosher meat makes no difference to one spiritually and all would be destroyed in the end anyway. (1 Cor. 8, 6).
Those with the “higher wisdom” reasoned that it followed idolatry itself was neither here nor there. Why avoid it if the idol is nothing? If there was no reason to avoid meat that had been consecrated to an idol then why should there be any reason to avoid a harlot consecrated to a temple god? All things are lawful.
Paul, who had recently fought for Christian liberties in Jerusalem, now fought to bring his Corinthian libertines under control.
He reminded them that idolatry brought death to the Israelites; meat known to be sacrificed to idols should be avoided if it would offend a weaker brother [I don’t understand how such instructions could be meant to be read ‘to the whole church’ that included such weak brothers], he reassures the scrupulous who fear to have sex with their spouses and guardians tempted by the virgins they have in ward.
Then the reach of Jerusalem finally reached Corinth, perhaps the direct influence of Peter himself. Corinth was divided three-ways: those still loyal to Paul, those to Apollos and those to Peter. That latter was the most dangerous of all.
[It strikes me as odd that there could be such a division if, as C says elsewhere, Apollos was with Paul at the time and is referenced the way he is in 1 Cor. 16:12. But C would explain this as follows . . . ]
Paul attempted to lure them back to him by a honeyed letter now found in 1 Cor. 1-4 and 16.
Paul urged them to donate for the Jerusalem saints, too. [Again, I don’t see how such an act is consistent with the sort of split from Jerusalem that is said to have arisen.]
He sent Timothy to mend the frictions but he proved incompetent. He therefore “abandoned the conflict he had on his hands at Ephesus” and went himself to Corinth.
Alas! the Corinthians, whose ekklesia he had established, repulsed him as one without authority, a fellow without seal or letter of credit, a charlatan, a rascal who had “diddled” them, corrupted them, duped them, a spineless creature who dared not say “bo” to a goose, but when at a safe distance would scold like fury. His letters are full of fire and force and fight, but, when he comes face to face, how mild he becomes and how contemptible his words! A brother insulted him (2 Cor. vii. 12 . . .) Paul went back to Ephesus deeply wounded, humiliated, cut to the quick. Had he lost his children? He had gained an idea of the power of Jerusalem. (p. 56)
[More difficulties strike me: those fiery bold letters are actually to follow this scenario and had not yet been written. Further, if this were the response of his Corinthian church then how might we explain the preservation of any of the letters written to them? ]
This led to the outraged letter in which he supposedly threatened to come and chastise them (2 Cor. 2:14 – 6:13; 7:2-3; 10-13). He “openly challenged” those who had attacked him.
He fearlessly compares himself with Peter, James, and John, whom he calls derisively the “very chiefest apostles” and consigns to the devil (2 Cor. xi. 14).
[A more realistic scenario would be that had Paul really experienced the rejection described above any such subsequent letter would merely have been the laughing stock of the church.]
Paul boasts that he is as every bit as good as the other apostles and even outclasses them when it comes to revelations. Couchoud quotes Paul’s “lyrical autobiography — “an astonishing bit of invective . . . in which Paul lays himself bare in all his strength and his weakness, his weakness which is his strength”, 2 Corinthians 5 et seq. I won’t quote it all here.
Paul gives us a full picture of himself, buffeted by Satan and prophet of God, the invincible apostle and the poor epileptic, the indomitable weakling who performed more than giants. On the one side of Jerusalem and all its Christian organizations well established, on the other an outcast who felt in himself the power to destroy all and begin it all anew.
[It might also be worth noting that this autobiography is also an epitome of the typical persecuted man or servant of God known since the OT (.e.g David of the Psalms.]
To be continued . . .