2006-12-10

Paul believed his own life was of more value than Christ’s

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by Neil Godfrey

Paul’s lack of interest in the physical life of Jesus is often explained as a consequence of 2 Corinthians 5:16 “Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Chrsit according to the flesh, yet now we know him thus no longer.”

Fair enough, let’s accept that. But then what does that say about Paul himself?

One might think after reading 2 Cor. 5:16 that his focus is always on Christ in heaven and that one’s earthly existence is not worth thinking about, let alone study.

But not so. Paul was clearly interested in using his own life in the flesh as a model of the life of Christ for his readers. Philippians 1:20 “So now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life of by death”. He is keen to talk about how his own life in the flesh shares in the “fellowship of Christ’s sufferings” (Phil.3:8-10).

Paul will not hesitate to boast about his life in the flesh when it comes to proving his authority over his churches (2 Cor.11:22-33) but cannot find anything he must have heard about the life or teachings of Christ to persuade his readers to keep the faith.

So Paul thinks his own life demonstrates Christ more effectively than Christ’s life itself ever did for the benefit of his readers?

I think the whole question is resolved more convincingly if Christ to Paul never had an earthly existence but was first and last a heavenly spirit, one crucified by demons and who rose again, but a spirit never found anywhere on earth except in the lives of believers.

Engberg-Pedersen on the totality of Paul’s self-identification with
Christ:

“A further motif is introduced in 1:8 when Paul says that he is
longing for the Philippians ‘with the yearning (splanchna) of Christ
Jesus’. The motif that is broached here crops up all through the
letter in a range of guises. One version is the idea of Paul himself
as (in some sense isomorphic with) Christ. At least, Paul has
Christ’s own yearning. Also, Christ will be extolled in Paul’s own
body (1:20). And living ‘is for me Christ’ (1:21), whatever that
exactly means. Further, the Philippians’ pride or joy will hopefully
grow ‘in Christ Jesus in me’ through Paul’s renewed presence with
them (1:26). More generally, Paul clearly describes himself and his
own possible fate (1:18-26, 2:17) on the model of Christ’s (2:6-11)
and even plays on his own absence and presence with the Philippians
in the light of the same model (1:26-27, 2:12). In his more
triumphant mood too he places himself more or less directly in the
role of the risen Christ (4:18-19).”

— from “Paul and the Stoics” p.91

Neil Godfrey


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