Category Archives: Schmithals: Paul & Gnostics


2011-10-24

Gnostic Ebionites?

by Neil Godfrey

This is a postscript to my recent post The Circumcising Gnostics . . . in Galatia. For what it’s worth I quote a section from a more recent (1996) work on Gnosticism, Princeton University Press’s Rethinking “Gnosticism”: An Argument for Dismantling a Dubious Category by Michael Allen Williams.

Elsewhere, Hippolytus’s use of the term gnostikos is quite ambiguous. It is possible that at one point he applies it both to the teacher Cerinthus and to the “Ebionites.” This is worthy of special note because the Ebionites, at least, are virtually never included in the modern category “gnosticism.”

Speaking of Theodotus of Byzantium, a second-century C.E. Christian, Hippolytus says that this teacher was in partial agreement with those belonging to the true church, in that Theodotus confessed that all things were created by God. On the other hand, “borrowing from the school of the gnostics and Cerinthus and Ebion,” Theodotus claims that “Christ had appeared in a certain manner, and that Jesus was a human born from a virgin by the will of the Father” (Ref. 7. 35.1-2).

Now one reading of this would be that Hippolytus has in fact distinguished Cerinthus and Ebionites from the “gnostics,” though the problem then would be identifying the “gnostics” to whom he refers. The similarity between the alleged doctrine of Theodotus and what had been reported of Cerinthus and the Ebionites is clear, but neither the Naasenes nor Justin the “pseudognostic” provides  a very good parallel.

The most recent editor of the Refutatio has suggested that the text in 7.35.1 should be emended to read, “borrowing from the school of the gnostics Cerinthus and Ebion,” which would then apply the label directly to Cerinthus and the Ebionites. Such an emendation is possibly supported by the recapitulation of these sectarian positions in book 10. There the summaries of the teachings of Cerinthus and the Ebionites are once again followed directly by an account of Theodotus’s doctrine, but this time we encounter the simple remark that the latter’s teaching about Christ resembles that of “the aforementioned gnostics” (Ref. 10.23.1). This remark is obviously a rewording of 7.35.1, and therefore Cerinthus and the Ebionites seem to be included among the “aforementioned gnostics,” and they could even be the only “gnostics” intended by this particular reference. (pp. 38-39, my paragraphing)

I recommend Rene Salm’s research into the Nazarenes and the origin of the term (linked below), too, for anyone interested in the likelihood of the “gnostic” character of one of the earliest forms of Christianity.

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2011-10-22

The Circumcising Gnostic Opponents of Paul in Galatia

by Neil Godfrey

This post continues from the previous two that argue for an unconventional understanding of Paul’s — and his contemporaries’ — understanding of what it meant to be an apostle and how this related to the truth of a gospel message being preached.

This post examines an argument that Paul’s opponents in Galatia were Gnostic Jewish Christians. It also incorporates a view of Paul that defines him, too, as embracing a certain Gnostic view of Christianity. In the course of discussion I discover reasons to refer to both Earl Doherty’s discussion of Paul’s view of Jesus being a son of David and Roger Parvus’s argument that the Ignatian correspondence was from the pen of an Apellean Christian who broke from Marcionism.

A minority view among biblical scholars holds that Paul’s opponents in the Galatian churches were not “judaizers” trying to persuade the Galatian followers of Paul to keep the whole law but were gnostics who (as we know several major gnostic groups did) practised circumcision for symbolic or “spiritual” reasons. Paul’s opponents in Galatia, these few scholars argue, were not siding with the Jerusalem pillar apostles, James, Peter and John against Paul. They were rather accusing Paul of being a subservient extension of these Jerusalem apostles and for that reason claimed he was both no apostle at all and that his gospel was a false one.

I have not yet sought out criticisms of this argument so what I post here is a raw (uncritical) summary of it as presented by Walter Schmithals in Paul & the Gnostics. (Some asides I enclose in tables and some of when I do include my own thoughts I type them in bracketed italics.) read more »


2011-10-20

Paul’s Gnostic heritage & Gnostic opposition

by Neil Godfrey

Continuing from my last post — and in particular responding to the earlier commenters — here are some more shorthand notes from Walter Schmithals. Schmithals argues that Paul has a very Gnostic view of his apostleship in that for him an apostle is one who has a direct revelatory/visionary calling by God or Christ. In this he insists he is no different from those who were apostles before him, such as James the Lord’s brother, Peter/Cephas and John.

But there are other ways in which Paul separates himself from other Gnostic apostles who are apparently opposed to both Paul and the Jerusalem pillars.

In 2 Corinthians we read of

the demands which the Gnostic apostles in Corinth make upon Paul if they are to recognize him on an equal basis as an apostle, 44 . . . (p. 30 Paul & the Gnostics) read more »


2011-10-19

Reading Galatians afresh: a Gnostic Paul, James, Peter and John?

by Neil Godfrey

Ron Goetz posted a comment elsewhere that reminded me of the works of Walter Schmithals on Paul’s letters. The one I have read most of, Paul & the Gnostics, is not the easiest of reads but is packed densely with detailed argument and detailed references to the scholarship of his day. But it does force one to re-think what is commonly written or assumed in other studies on Galatians.

Schmithals argues that Paul’s critics or opponents among the Galatian churches are not “orthodox” judaizers from the Jerusalem leadership of James. I won’t repeat those arguments here but will go through the way of reading the first two chapters of Galatians his arguments opened up to me. What follows is a mixture of Schmithals and my own interpretation, but I conclude with a quotation from Schmithals.

Paul’s Galatian church is being persuaded to embrace a different gospel (a perverted form the gospel) from the one he presented to them.

I marvel that ye are so soon removed from Him, that called you into the grace of Christ, for another gospel. For this is not another; but there are some who trouble you and would pervert the Gospel of Christ. (Gal. 1:6-7)

But then there is something unexpected for anyone who is reading within the perspective of disciples who have gone out from Jerusalem after believing they had seen the resurrected Christ. The gospel is something that can conceivably be preached by an angel from heaven. read more »