In a recent post I discussed the ways Reason (or Logos) for the Stoic philosophers had a similar role or function to Christ (also a Logos) in Paul’s letters.
For both the Stoic philosopher and the Pauline Christian, the moment of conversion, when a person became “a new creation”, “in Reason or in Christ” and with “Reason or Christ in” them, and they being “in Reason or in Christ,” was when they were blessed with a “spiritual grasp or full insight” into the very nature and meaning of Reason, or Christ crucified and resurrected. This conversion moment when the neophyte attained a higher wisdom beyond that of “the natural man” also catapulted him or her into a new set of values and shared life and new identity with fellow believers.
Paul’s notion of Jesus Christ was indeed a technical concept about a single act God had performed for the salvation of believers. I use the word “technical” to stress a point, even though there was a strong emotional attachment to this “technical” stunt by God. This act was first and last, and nothing more than, the delivering up of Jesus to die and to be resurrected again. No teaching. No life. No miracles. No disciples. Just a death and resurrection. And some subsequent visionary appearances to various devotees. The death and resurrection were essentially a technique for abrogating the law and enabling a new spiritual status for believers.
Epistle to the Galatians, a case study
Paul opens his letter with a statement that God the Father raised Jesus from the dead. This is the first thing that comes to Paul’s mind. There is no thought expressed that matches that in John’s Gospel that God sent his Son to his own and his own received him not. For Paul, the first thing we learn is that Christ was raised from the dead. And why was he dead? He gave himself, Paul explains, for our sins so that we might be delivered from this present evil world. (Galatians 1:1-4)
And this was all done by the will of God.
Then Paul proceeds to contrast the gospel of the grace of Christ with another gospel, and pronounces a curse on any other gospel of Christ. The message of Paul is first and last that Christ died to deliver us from sin and the world.
And this gospel message came to Paul by revelation. It was not from any human tradition that he learned of it.
Paul had once attempted to destroy the church, he says, but then he was called by God who “revealed his Son in him”.
He then embarked on a mission to “preach Christ” as others were doing. But the first time his preaching of Christ coincided with the presence of another Christ messenger, Peter or Cephas, he fell into a dispute about the place of the law among believers.
The dispute involved the question of justification before God. The Christian’s life was God-focussed.
For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God
I have been crucified with Christ: it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain. (Galatians 2:19-21)
Jesus Christ, Paul reminds the Galatians, was “before [their own] eyes . . . clearly portrayed among you as crucified.” (Galatians 3:1)
The spirit that the Galatians had received came to them by hearing the message in faith — believing it. And that message was first and last the death and resurrection of Jesus. There is no room here for a teaching about a life of Jesus preceding that death. What would be the point? The whole point of Paul’s gospel was Christ’s death and resurrection.
Paul continues in Galatians to speak of the stark divide between the law and faith. Christ redeemed those under the law by becoming a curse — in his death.
He explains the purpose of the law was to serve as a schoolmaster or tutor until Christ came to die, and to release them from that covenant, if they had faith.
And all of this is done by God. (Galatians 4:4, 9)
Paul’s mission now is to labour “until Christ be formed in the Galatians.” (Galatians 3:19)
And those in Christ, Paul explains, walk in the Spirit — that is, in godly righteousness or ethics. They are not under the law anymore. (Galatians 5:16-18)
The author of the letter underscores his Pauline identity by pointing out that he has scribbled a few lines at least in “large letters” with his own hand. This smacks of a telltale sign of someone wanting to palm this letter off as Paul’s, especially when one recalls the overly emphatic emphasis on his identity in the opening verses. But no matter who wrote it. We can consider it for our purposes as “Pauline” given its status as such in the New Testament canon.
I will not argue from the screaming silences in this epistle concerning the life and teaching of Jesus. My only point is that if we were to read this letter as the only document from Christianity that is surviving, and this letter is all we knew of Christianity as a religion, then we should understand Paul’s Christ was a figure whose was conceptualized entirely and exclusively as a divinity who had died, thus releasing Jews and Judaizers and proselytes and God-fearers, from any obligation to keep the law. The law itself was nullified. The same figure was raised again. Believers joined in Christ vicariously in his death by suppressing their bodily passions and self-will, and identified with his Spirit life by living a life of self-control and love for one another.
Not a new letter from the Sermon on the Mount, but a new spirit from Christ in them
The entire teaching and way of God is expressed in the spirit and resurrected life of Christ, after first mortifying their self-willed flesh. It does not come from traditions handed down from the sermon on the mount. If it had come from a new teaching on a mountain, or from Luke’s plain, it would not be spirit they were living, but a new letter being taught. Paul reminds his readers that they now live like God, are just like God, because they have the spirit life of Christ, God’s son, in them.
And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the spirit, let us also walk in the spirit. Galatians 5:24-25
There is no set of commands of thou shalts or precepts as we find in the Gospel of Matthew. There are only a few personal expressions of what is clear and obvious — the personal epistle is the best way to express these — about the nature of fleshly and spiritual lives.
There are no miracles of Christ to refer to or learn about. Miracles come from those who among Paul’s readers are in Christ. Galatians 3:5
does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?
What would be the point of lessons about miracles from the past in Paul’s gospel?
Believers do not look to a past human life of Christ to know how to live their lives. Such a vision would only blind them to the reality of what they must daily identify with. It would be a new “letter” to legalistically follow. Marcion understood this, and rejected the adoption of a written life of Jesus as in any sense a definitive “gospel”. The gospel was the spirit life and death of Christ in the believers.
They look to Christ crucified, identify themselves with Christ crucified, and then no longer live according to their own passions, but have Christ live in them instead.
Others less religiously or mystically minded, such as the Stoics, had the same idea in relation to the ruling principle of Reason (Logos) in the universe.
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