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.
But should we, or an angel from Heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. (Gal. 1:8)
Let’s take this “seriously” as they say. This does not fit the orthodox image of what we would expect to read after having read the Gospels and Acts. I know the various explanations for this, that it is hyperbole, that angelology had a significant place in Judaism, etc. But let’s put aside for a moment all of that and try to read this letter clear away from the shadow of orthodoxy.
As we said before, so say I now again: If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that which ye have received, let him be accursed! (1:9)
Paul is saying a gospel can come to people either by men or by an angel from heaven. The “from heaven” does not sound as if he is thinking of an angel disguised as a man and whom people think is a mere man. There is a heavenly aspect to the angel delivering the gospel.
Paul proves his gospel is the true gospel by asserting that it came to him direct by a revelation from Jesus Christ.
But I certify to you, brethren, that the Gospel which was preached by me is not according to man; for I neither received it from man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1:11-12)
Paul’s gospel did not come by a man or an angel but by a revelation from Jesus.
This is given as the proof that his gospel is the true one.
Paul then reminds readers of his zealous orthodox Judaism, his persecution of the church, and then his call to be an apostle.
But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me by His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the heathen . . . (1:15-16)
God called him to be an apostle to the gentiles by revealing his Son Jesus “in” him, whatever that means.
That, keep in mind, is the proof that his gospel is true.
I conferred not immediately with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me . . . (1:16-17)
There were apostles before Paul. The valid apostleship, we glean from here (and in 1 Corinthians), is one that comes by a direct call from God and revelation from or of Jesus.
Paul in effect is saying that he is, just like the other apostles, an apostle by virtue of having had a revelation. He is no less than the others. He is an apostle on the same grounds that they are apostles. His gospel is therefore a true one.
There is no suggestion that apostleship is established by having known Jesus in the flesh. That qualification comes from the author of Acts. It is the anti-Marcionite “Luke’s” intention to argue that “orthodoxy” can be verified by apostles who claimed their authority on the basis of having been with Jesus from the time of his baptism to his death and resurrection. This view of apostleship was introduced by the author of Acts as a political claim for “orthodoxy”.
Before then, however, in this letter to the Galatians, there was no such notion of apostleship. Apostleship, even that of James, Peter and John, was verified by having a direct revelation from God or Jesus.
There are no “twelve” apostles in Galatians. That, too, is a later development. It appears that “orthodoxy”, as we read in Acts, sought to establish apostleship by contact with the human Jesus — apparently in contradiction against an earlier view of apostleship. Even on the orthodox view of apostleship James the brother of the Lord cannot have been an apostle because he never went with Jesus during his ministry. In Galatians James the brother of the Lord is an apostle like Paul — because he, too, has had the gospel revealed to him by God. In Acts this James is not one of the Twelve but is “managed” by the author by being made the one that directs the assembly of the Twelve and others at the Jerusalem conference.
So when Paul describes is encounter with James the brother of the Lord, Cephas/Peter and John he says it was Peter who was the apostle assigned to preach to the Jews. There is no hint of a body of twelve. Peter is the counterpart of Paul.
when they saw that the Gospel to the Uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the Gospel to the Circumcision was unto Peter (for He that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the Circumcision, that Same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles) . . . (2:7-8)
James is the leader. John’s role is not explained. Peter/Cephas is the apostle to the Jews as Paul is to the gentiles. All are apostles because they have “seen” the risen Christ.
But then who is opposing Paul with the basic argument that an apostle must have received his apostolic authority and therewith automatically his gospel directly from God or Christ, so that in Gal. 1:12 Paul counters by saying that he too — that is to say, as they assert of themselves — has received the gospel, not from men, but by means of [a revelation]?
This argument is genuinely Gnostic. The Gnostic apostle is not identified by means of a chain of tradition, by the apostolic succession, but by direct pneumatic [spiritual] vocation. When Paul says, “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” (1 Cor. 9:1), this combination, which represents an equation, is in origin typically Gnostic. The Gnostic apostle is called by God directly. He then is shown to be such by means of . . . ecstatic attestation of the pneuma-self. (p. 29)
He cites 2 Corinthians 12:12
Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds.
He adds in a footnote:
A vision of the celestial world and of the way to it . . . may have been the special precondition for the office of the Gnostic apostle. On this, one may compare 1 Cor. 9:1; 15:5-8; II Cor. 12:1; Gal. 1:12, 16 with the conclusion of the Coptic Gnostic gospel fragment . . . in which Jesus speaks: “. . . (that therewith I) may reveal to you all my glory and show to you all your power and the secret of your apostleship. . . . Our eyes penetrated all places we beheld the glory of his deity and all the glory ((of his lordship)). He clothed ((us)) ((with)) the power ((of our)) apostle ((ship)) . . . .”
Reading Galatians the way Walter Schmithals does one finds Paul saying that James, Peter and John were also ‘gnostic’ apostles.
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