Paul’s Letter to the Romans – the creation of the canonical edition according to Couchoud

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by Neil Godfrey

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I continue here the series covering Paul Louis Couchoud’s argument for the creation of the canonical New Testament literature from the 1939 English translation of his The Creation of Christ: An Outline of the Beginnings of Christianity. The series is archived here — scroll to the bottom for the first posts where the overall purpose for which the literature is covered, along with when and why and why Couchoud suspects Clement of Rome as the editor (and author) responsible.

The guiding principle for the structure was Marcion’s “canon” that began with a Gospel and included ten letters of Paul.

Background: In brief, Marcion was a prominent leader of a form of Christianity that (at least until recently) has been generally believed to have rejected totally the Old Testament and taught that Jesus came down from heaven to preach about an Alien (unknown) God who was all love and higher than the Jewish God of the law and judgment. Marcion claimed Paul as his sole apostolic authority in opposition to the other apostles who never understood Christ’s message. Couchoud argues that a Roman church elder (he suspects Clement) attempted to unite the diverse Christianities represented by competing Gospels (such as Marcion’s Gospel, Matthew, John, Mark) bringing them all together through the themes expressed in Luke and Acts (his own creations, though Luke was largely a re-write of Marcion’s Gospel) except for the intolerable Marcionite views that had to be countered.

Couchoud has covered the creations and compilation of the Gospels and Acts, and now comes to the orthodox versions of the Pauline letters. Marcion had selected Galatians as the most appropriate for the introduction of Paul’s thought; “Clement”(?) preferred Romans as the one most potentially adaptable as a frame of reference for the “correct” reading of Paul’s corpus. (Marcion had placed it fourth.) This would leave nothing more to do than revise a few details here and there in the other letters.

This editor enlarged Romans to twice its original size. (Couchoud mainly follows Harnack’s reconstruction of Marcion’s thought, Gospel and epistles. I have begun posting elsewhere Sebastian Moll’s revision of Harnack’s basic premise in his 2010 work and must post more on that in the future. I keep with Couchoud’s thoughts here.) Massive additions were:

Couchoud adds that Paul’s jerky style was superficially imitated. Thus the doxologies in the body of the epistle together with the Amen (Romans 1:25; 9:5; 11:36) are not in Paul’s style but in Clement‘s:

  • 1 Clement 20:12
  • 1 Clement 32:4
  • 1 Clement 38:4
  • 1 Clement 43:6
  • 1 Clement 45:7
  • 1 Clement 50:7
  • 1 Clement 64

They also appear in 1 Timothy 1:17 and 1 Peter 4:11.

Couchoud anticipates Hermann Detering’s argument that part of the introductory verses to Romans was an anti-Marcionite addition.

In the beginning where Paul solemnly declares himself to be an apostle (“separated unto the Gospel of God,” “concerning his Son,” “declared with power”), is added an echo of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke (“who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh”). In this leading place these words are a refutation of Marcion. (p. 302)

Paul’s attitude to the law was converted into “Luke’s” attitude. Thus Romans 3:21 declaims, “Do we then make the Law of none effect through faith? God forbid; nay, we establish the Law”.

It is not established in Matthew’s manner by its fulfilment. It is established as a prophecy. For example, Abraham, who had faith in God, is no other than the mysterious prophetic father of the Christians, “our father” (iv. 12 and 16); compare “Abraham our father” in 1 Clem. xxxi. 2). (p. 302)

Interpreted allegorically the entire Bible’s meaning is now said to be incomprehensible to the Jews. It contains a mystery God had long hidden but is now revealed to the Christians. Marcion taught that the Gospel was a mystery long hidden from the world and the Jews and our editor embraced this idea, but he rejected Marcion’s teaching that the mystery was only revealed through Paul. It was revealed in the OT prophets.

The whole Bible takes on a secret meaning which is hidden from the Jews. The mystery of God “which hath been kept in silence through times eternal,” wherein the Catholic “Paul” is of the same opinion as Marcion, is now revealed to Christians “by the scriptures of the prophets”; in this Paul is opposed to Marcion.

The new Paul teaches that all the former spiritual privileges of the Jews are now handed over to the repentant Gentiles. These heathen could have known God through observation of the creation around them (compare Paul’s sermon to the Athenians in Acts) but they chose to worship idols instead. God therefore punished them with unnatural lusts but if they repented they could have all that the Jews had been promised. Good Christian that he is, however, this editor most regrettably accepted that the Jews’ incredulity was “utterly incurable”. He even had Jesus weep over Jerusalem in the Gospel of Luke. It was God’s will that the fall of the Jews would mean the salvation of the Gentiles. As expressed through the Lukan parable of the Prodigal Son, the whole idea was that the conversion of the Gentiles should arouse the jealousy of the Jews (Rom. 9:11).

Paul orders the Roman Church to fully submit to the imperial authorities, including payment of all taxes (Rom. 13:1-7).

Paul is made to foresee the fate of Jerusalem. (It had been utterly ruined in 135 c.e. by Hadrian.)

Clement had himself known that Paul had preached in Spain — had reached the “limits of the Occident” (1 Clem. 5:7) — and this journey is confirmed by an editor’s insertion of the mention of reaching Spain in order to finally complete his message to the Gentile world.

This would be another explanation (already suggested by a number of scholars in a quite different context) for Acts concluding as it does, without a trial or execution. The opportunity to go to Spain is allowed for yet the primary purpose of Paul’s mission to Rome is completed. (My comment, not Couchoud’s.)

“However, the editor pinned on to the original a Pauline relic, a recommendation of Phoebe, a deaconess of a Corinthian port, which had been probably addressed to the Ephesian Church, or to certain Ephesian faithful, whom it enumerates” (Romans 16:1-23):

  • Epaenetus is greeted as the first Asiatic Christian (16:5) — compare 1 Corinthians 16:15, Stephanas the first Achaean Christian
  • The apostle Andronicus in 16:7 appears in the Acts of John as one of the chiefs of the Church at Ephesus (B. W. Bacon, Expository Times; 1931, pp. 300-304)

In this letter Paul, the genuine Paul, denounces the Christians  who do not serve our Lord Christ, but their bellies — i.e., who expect Christ’s Coming to bring material abundance. (Footnote, p. 303)

Next, the Epistle to the Galatians.

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5 thoughts on “Paul’s Letter to the Romans – the creation of the canonical edition according to Couchoud”

  1. I have begun to accept there was a “genuine Paul” or someone who was at least later known by the name of Paul who was behind the letters because alternative explanations for what follows are, I think now, too complex and implausible.

    Yes, Paul’s letters or collection only emerge in the second century as political weapons for and against Marcionism. Paul must have had a significant reputation before Marcion in order for Marcion to be able to appeal to him as The Sole Apostle and Authority of True Christianity pitted against the rest of the Christianities at the time. (Paul was also the acclaimed authority of other gnostics or quasi-gnostics like the Valentinians.) Some of Paul’s theology appears to show familiarity with very early ideas such as those found in the Philippian hymn, and quasi-gnostic/mystic concepts though used against other “real gnostics”.

    The success of Marcionism is the simplest explanation for these other “proto-Catholic” Christianities eventually co-opting Paul as their own.

    I am open to whether Marcion did mutiliate Paul (he well may have) or whether “orthodox” added lots to his letters — certainly there are some bits added.

    There appear to have been a number of such pre-Christian Jewish gnostic and Enochian type groups in the first century and Paul may have been something of a maverick among these. Or maybe he was a key founder of some of these and Paul, meaning “small” (a significant gnostic concept) was his nickname.

    Roger Parvus and Hermann Detering point to Simon. When I retire I will find the time to study this possibilty for myself.

  2. “Roger Parvus and Hermann Detering point to Simon.”

    Couchoud’s books contain many valuable insights. He was rightly dissatisfied with the mainstream scenario of Christian origins, and he rearranged the pieces of the puzzle together in a new way that provides a fresh perspective on them. There is much that he says that I agree with. I would not be surprised, for instance, if he is right about the role played by Clement of Rome. But I am disappointed that Couchoud—like practically everyone else—still does not take seriously Marcion’s claim that the original author of the Gospel and Pauline letter collection was someone who professed allegiance to a God higher than the Creator of this world, to a God higher than the God of the Jews.

    The automatic assumption on the part of confessional scholars is that Marcion must have been mistaken in his views regarding the origin of the Gospel and Pauline letters. I cannot recall ever having come across a single mainstream Christian book that even considered for a moment that Marcion may have been right. Their attitude is understandable since, if Marcion was right, it would mean that the original Gospel and the Pauline letters were written by someone who was basically a gnostic, by someone who sounds very much like Simon of Samaria or one of his followers. Perish the heretical thought! But even non-confessional admirers of Marcion like Couchoud seem likewise unable to take seriously Marcion’s claim. Instead they make Marcion himself the creator of the Gospel and say that he either created the Pauline letters or imposed his own religious ideas on letters that did not originally contain them. For some reason this solution is thought to be preferable to taking Marcion at his word. As far as we know Marcion never claimed to be the author of those writings. He claimed that when he came across them they were in a contaminated state. They had been interpolated by people who Judaized them, who turned their original author into someone who believed in a single highest God who was the God of the Old Testament and the Creator of the world. Is Marcion’s claim so unbelievable? Is it really out of the question that the original Gospel and Pauline letters were Simonian and that it was their opponents who Judaized those writings? (I say “Simonian” because the early record does not contain the name of any other first century Christians who held the belief that the creators of this world were inferior to the supreme God, and that those creators tried to hold men in bondage by means of the Law.)

    I am aware that someone could object: “You’re trusting too much in the writings of the proto-orthodox heresy hunters. We should not believe their expositions of what Marcion taught.” But why not? Marcionites were apparently active in many of the same places as the proto-orthodox. And they competed for converts, each side looking to win over converts from the other. In such a situation, in competition with contemporary rivals who are rubbing shoulders with members of your flock, it wouldn’t have made sense to set up straw men. That would have made it too easy for the Marcionites. What sense would it make to set up straw men that the Marcionites could knock down in five seconds by saying: “That’s not what we believe.” Why waste time writing extensive refutations of arguments that your opponent can quickly dismiss with a simple: “They must be arguing against somebody else, because those aren’t our beliefs. Let me explain to you what we believe.” I am as suspicious as the next guy about many things in the proto-orthodox writings. But when it comes to what Marcion taught, I am inclined to trust that they actually engaged with his doctrine.

    I am also inclined to believe that Tertullian was telling the truth when he said that Marcion initially held the same faith as the Roman church. He says that Marcion made his substantial monetary donation to that church “primo calore fidei” (“in the first flush of faith”). But if Marcion was a new convert, how on earth could he have ever gotten the idea that the Gospel and Letters had been interpolated? Was a practical-minded shipowner really that sharp-eyed? I doubt it. The extant record says he at some point made the acquaintance of the Simonian Cerdo. If anyone would have recognized what had been done to the Simonian writings it would have been the Simonians themselves. True, being a secretive bunch, their hands were tied to some extent. How do you expose the fraud without at the same time revealing your secret doctrines! But Marcion was not bound in the same way by secrecy. If he learned from Cerdo that the proto-orthodox Gospel and Pauline letters were contaminated, there was nothing to stop him from saying so and from trying to restore them as best he could.

    To me, accepting at face value Marcion’s assessment of the Pauline letters is the best way to make sense of their contents. To explain Paul’s zigzagging we don’t have to resort to strained psychological or tactical explanations. Anyone who has read mainstream Pauline commentaries knows what I am talking about. They contain seemingly endless psychological reasons why Paul shifts back and forth on the contentious issues that separated the proto-orthodox from the early gnostics. If he speaks dismissively of the Law in one passage but praises it in another, it is because he was impulsive by nature. Or he was not a clear or systematic thinker. Or he was so passionate about his beliefs that he failed to notice the contradictions in what he wrote. He wrote things when he was angry that he surely later regretted. Etc… Etc. Or his reasons were tactical. Yes, it must be admitted that he used gnostic language and spoke like a gnostic. But as Schmithals, for instance, would explain it (away?), he was not really a gnostic. It was only a tactic he used because his opponents were gnostics: “Paul becomes a Gnostic to the Gnostics, in order to win the Gnostics” (Gnosticism in Corinth, p. 273). “… he (Paul) can have acquired the Gnostic elements of his theological set of concepts only during the fifteen-year stay in Arabia, Syria, and Cilicia…” (p. 71) But, Schmithals assures us, Paul’s knowledge of Gnosticism must have been very superficial, for “If Paul had known the actual meaning of his Gnostic terminology, he would not at all have been able to use this to express his own proclamation…” (p. 71.) Hmmm. Unfortunately, Schmithals convinced very few people that Paul’s Corinthian opponents were actually gnostics. So the nagging question remains: why then did Paul speak like a gnostic? My suspicion is because he was one, the first Christian one. And that his given name was Simon.

    Instead of submitting the author of the Paulines to psychological or tactical analysis to explain his contradictions, I think consideration should be given first to the earliest explanation, that of Marcion: someone has tampered with the letters; they were originally gnostic but were subsequently Judaized. I know that playing the interpolation card looks like an “easy-out.” But surely it counts for something that from the first moment the Pauline collection of letters turns up in the early record a prominent Christian, Marcion, was already screaming: “Interpolated!”

    Now, as far as is known Marcion always used the name ‘Paul” for the original author of the Gospel and Letters, the Apostle who professed allegiance not to the Creator, the God of the Jews, but to a supreme God far above the Creator of this world. There is no clear indication in the extant record that Marcion viewed Paul as a nickname for Simon of Samaria. This is not as surprising as appears at first glance. The early record is clear that Simonians used many names and titles for Simon. And it seems that in time the name Simon became a kind of sacred name to the Simonians. According to Hippolytus, Simonians were okay with calling Simon ‘Zeus’ or “Lord,’ but accused anyone who used the name ‘Simon’ of being ignorant of the mysteries. So it may be that Cerdo did not reveal it to Marcion.

    There is also a Nicene summary of Simonianism that seems to connect Simon’s name with the hymn in chapter 2 of Philippians. Simon claimed to be a new manifestation of the Son who suffered in Judaea, and Simonians claimed that Simon was given his name because he “heard/obeyed” the Father when he earlier descended to this world to redeem men. The etymological root of the name Simon means “heard, hearkened, obeyed,” so it actually makes better sense of the hymn in Philippians if the name given was ‘Simon’ and was only subsequently changed to ‘Jesus’ when the letter was Judaized. I think there is also double-meaning Simonian wordplay still present in Mark’s Gospel that involve Simon’s name. For instance, when the Father says at the Transfiguration: “This is my beloved Son—Hear Him” the words “Hear Him” are both a command and an identification i.e. This is my beloved Son whose name is “Hear Him” (Simon).

    To finish up: Marcion never fully embraced Simonianism, but I think that from his acquaintance with Cerdo he learned that the Gospel and Pauline letters in use in Rome in the 130s had been interpolated. I think Marcion was correct in that basic contention. And I think he was right that the original versions of those writings were authored by someone who believed in a supreme God above the Creator God of the Jews. Those writings viewed this world including the flesh as inferior not because of some sin by man, but intrinsically by reason of its creation by the inferior world-creating angels. And they portrayed the future not as some millennial kingdom of God on this earth, but as escape of the souls of the redeemed from this world, back to the invisible, immaterial world of the highest God.

    I part ways with Marcion, however, in his identification of who it was that Judaized the Gospel and Letters. He apparently, according to Tertullian, accused the false brethren mentioned in the letter to the Galatians. I suspect it was done by the proto-orthodox Roman church around 130 CE. And Marcion apparently thought the Gospel was written by Paul. I think the first Gospel that contained a life of Jesus was a Simonian allegory about Simon that may have been written as late as the 120s.

    The proto-orthodox Judaization of the Simonian Gospel and Letters was ultimately successful, of course. They succeeded in co-opting Simonian Christianity.

  3. Pingback: Remembering |

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