A Simonian Origin for Christianity, Part 10: A Different Perspective on the Corinthian Controversy

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by Roger Parvus

When I finished the previous post of the series, I expected to go on to a discussion of the eschatology in chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians. But while working on that, I quickly realized that chapters 1 through 4 of the letter should be examined first. They provide some necessary background on the situation in the church at Corinth.

So this post will consider these earlier chapters from the perspective of my hypotheses that the Paul who wrote the Corinthian letters was Simon of Samaria, his gospel was based on the Vision of Isaiah, and his letters were subsequently interpolated (as late as 130 CE) by a proto-orthodox Christian.

I have already discussed 1 Cor. 2:6-9 in part 7 of the series. My interpretation of that passage will be incorporated here into a view of the Corinthian controversy as a whole.


Disruptive Wisdom in the Church at Corinth

1 Corinthians begins with four chapters in which the Apostle expresses concern about some kind of wisdom that, in his absence, was being put forward by certain Christians at Corinth and was giving rise to factions in the church there. The nature of the troublesome wisdom is unclear but, from a consideration of the entire Corinthian correspondence, it seems to me most likely that it was the product of people laying claim to the gift of prophecy. Its proponents likely believed that their wisdom, like the Apostle’s own (1 Cor. 2:6-9), was revealed by God.

ellisAs we saw above, in the Pauline letters, and especially in 1 Corinthians (2, 12-14), certain believers have gifts of inspired speech and discernment. They are called pneumatics and, broadly speaking, they exercise the role of prophets. Among other manifestations they are said to speak ‘wisdom of God’ (2,7,13) or to be ‘wise’ (3,18; 6,5; cf. 14,29 diakrinein) or to have a ‘word of wisdom’ (12,8) and to speak ‘in knowledge’ or to ‘have knowledge’ or ‘a word of knowledge’ (8,10; 12,8; 14,6). The terms wisdom and knowledge are used of pneumatic gifts in other parts of the Pauline literature and occasionally they appear in tandem, both in Paul and elsewhere. (E. Earle Ellis, Prophecy and Hermeneutic in Early Christianity, p. 50)

The Apostle refers to the purveyors of the wisdom as fellow workers, but it becomes clear in the course of his presentation that he views at least some of them as competitors and has serious reservations about whether their teaching is in harmony with the gospel.

That gospel, as I proposed in parts 7 through 9, was likely derived from the Vision of Isaiah, and for the Apostle its truth was confirmed by the divine revelation that he himself had received. He has no comparable assurance for the suspect wisdom. Those pushing it apparently accepted, at least initially, the Apostle’s gospel beliefs, for without that minimal commonality it is hard to see how he could have allowed them to operate at all in his community. And he does say that they were building on the foundation— Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:11, 1:23 and 2:2)—that he himself “as a wise master builder” (1 Cor. 3:10) had laid down in Corinth. He makes clear that use of that foundation is non-negotiable:  “No man can lay a foundation other than the one that is there” (1 Cor. 3:11).  To try to substitute another would in effect destroy the edifice, and “if any man destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that man; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy” (1 Cor. 3:17). But building on the right foundation is not enough. What is built on it must be able to survive the coming conflagration and the Apostle seems to doubt that the materials being used by his competitors at Corinth will pass that test.

Thus we are apparently dealing with wisdoms inspired by different spirits and, according to Simon/Paul, only one of them—his—certainly comes from God.

The Apostle’s repeated belittlement of mere “wisdom of word” and “wisdom of man” and “wisdom of the world” seems to be an indirect putdown of what his competitors are teaching. His wisdom is from God. He is not so sure about the source of theirs.

Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not in wisdom of word, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Cor. 1:17)

We have not received the spirit of the world but the spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the things freely given us by God. And we speak about them not with words taught by the wisdom of man, but with words taught by the Spirit, describing spiritual realities in spiritual terms. (1 Cor. 2:12-13)

We speak wisdom among the perfect, but wisdom not of this world, nor of the rulers of this world, who are coming to nought. But we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, that hidden wisdom which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this world understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, what God has prepared for those who love him.’  (1Cor. 2:6-9)

The “wisdom of man,” as the Apostle uses the expression, is an inferior wisdom whose source is merely “the spirit of man that is in him” (1 Cor. 2:11). And the source of the “wisdom of this world” is “the spirit of the world” (1 Cor. 2:12), i.e., the ignorant angel who together with his spirit underlings are the “rulers of this world” (1 Cor. 2:6). Later, as the situation further deteriorates at Corinth and the Apostle comes to view the competing wisdom as “a different gospel” (2 Cor. 11:4), he supplies the name of the angel. He is “Satan” who “masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14). Thus we are apparently dealing with wisdoms inspired by different spirits and, according to Simon/Paul, only one of them—his—certainly comes from God.


The Eschatological Theme of the Wisdom of this World

Much underlying the Corinthian controversy is so obscure and debatable that when scholars seek to go below the surface and to discover the theme(s) of the offending wisdom they reach widely differing conclusions. Some scholars, combining the Apostle’s reference to “Greeks” who “look for wisdom” (in 1 Cor. 1:22) with the Acts account of his preaching in the Areopagus at Athens (Acts 17:22-34), think that the suspect wisdom had something to do with Greek philosophy. But Acts is not reliable history, and Greek philosophy is a poor fit for most of the contexts in which “wisdom” is regularly used in 1 Corinthians.

So instead many commentators interpret the letter’s first four chapters in the light of the scandalous behavior that is condemned in the next two. From that perspective the wisdom is construed as some form of divinely condoned libertinism. As I see it, this too is a wrong identification. I have already shown in regard to one passage from chapter six (6:12-20; see part 6 of the series) and will shortly show in regard to others in that part of the letter that there is reason to think the scandals belong to interpolations and therefore should not be used to determine the nature of the wisdom questioned by the Apostle.  The words “Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? … Do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her?” (1 Cor. 6: 15-16) may very well have been added by the interpolator to condemn Simon/Paul’s relationship with the ex-prostitute Helen. If so, they tell us nothing, at least directly, about the problematic wisdom.

In my opinion the most helpful passage for getting a handle on the shadowy wisdom is this one:

Are you already full to the gills? Have you already become rich? Have you begun to reign—and that without us? Indeed, I wish that you were reigning, that we too might reign with you! (1 Cor. 4:8).

The Angel Appears to John. The book of Revelat...
The Angel Appears to John. The book of Revelation. 13th century manuscript. British Library, London. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This sarcastic passage is the clue that the prophetic wisdom in question dealt with eschatological events. The three elements mentioned—satiety (presumably by food), wealth and power—are prominent in another first century Christian prophecy that touts wisdom (Rev. 13:18; 17:9): the book of Revelation. In that book’s description of what this world will be like after the first resurrection there is, for instance, a “wedding banquet of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:9), and trees that produce fruit “twelve times a year” (Rev. 22:2). It prophesies that “the treasure and wealth of the nations” (Rev. 21:26) will flow into a new Jerusalem, and that thrones will be there for those who will reign with Christ for a thousand years (Rev. 20:4-6).

Prophecies like these, I submit, are the “grandiose” (1 Cor. 2:1) and “enticing” (1 Cor. 2:4) wisdom expositions that were being touted at Corinth. The proponents were likely Christian Jews (2 Cor. 11:22) and partisans of Cephas (1 Cor. 1:12; 3:21). They considered themselves wise in the apocalyptic sense of the term, as it is used, for example, in the book of Daniel (Dan. 11:33, 35; 12:3). They were revealing an imminent “kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 4:20), but it was an earthly one where believers would enjoy abundance of food, riches and power. This world, they said, will be transformed very soon by Christ, and believers will be set on thrones to judge angels and men, and be seated at the Lord’s banquet table to feast with him. The saints will be the beneficiaries of the unimaginable wealth that will flow from the Gentiles to Jerusalem in the kingdom of God.

That their wisdom concerned an end-time stay on earth by the Son receives further confirmation from what immediately follows in the letter. The Apostle contrasts his behavior with that of the overheated Corinthians:

We are fools on Christ’s account, but you are wise in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are held in honor, but we in dishonor (1 Cor. 4:10).

The strength and honor of which the passage speaks is likely eschatological. In the interpolated 3:13-4:22 section of the Ascension of Isaiah we read that

the Lord will come with those whose spirits are clothed, and they will descend and be present in the world, and the Lord will strengthen those who are found in the body, and will serve those who have kept watch in this world. (Asc. Is. 4:16, my bolding).

Being served by the Lord corresponds to the honor in 1 Cor. 4:10, for a slave’s ultimate honor is to be served by his master. This is what later surfaced in GLuke 12:27 as:

Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds awake when he comes; truly, I say to you, he will gird himself and have them sit at table, and he will come and serve them.

If this was the theme of the Corinthian wisdom, it would explain too the Apostle’s building imagery in 1 Cor. 3:10-17 and the way he lays it out. For we know from Revelation that some Christians expected God both to provide a new and magnificent earthly Jerusalem and to dwell therein: “I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling of God with men’” (Rev. 21:3). It was prophesied that the twelve gates of the city will be made from twelve pearls (Rev. 21:21). Prophesied too that the city walls will be made of jasper and pure gold (Rev. 21:18), and that the foundations of the walls will be decorated with every precious stone. Rev. 21:19-20 lists the twelve kinds of precious stone that will be used. On the foundations the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb will be inscribed (Rev. 21:14). To me it is plausible that Simon/Paul had this kind of prophetic wisdom in view when he warned that the only foundation is Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:11) and surmised that building on it with “gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay or straw” (1 Cor. 3:12) may be wasted effort. The Apostle’s words, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you (1 Cor. 3:16)” would be a counter thrust to any prophecy like that in Rev. 21:3 where it is foretold that God will dwell in “the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven” (Rev. 21:3).

In fact, some have proposed that the most extensive personal contribution the author of Revelation made to the work was its first three chapters (1:1-3:22) and its conclusion (22:6-21). And interestingly enough, those parts may have been written with an awareness of the issues discussed in the central section of 1 Corinthians; marriage to unbelievers, for instance, and the eating of food that had been sacrificed to idols. Dale B. Martin writes: “It is entirely possible, as surprising as it may be for modern Christians, that Revelation was written, at least in part, to condemn a form of Pauline Christianity existing in western Asia Minor at the end of the first century. Those are the kind of comfortable Christians John wants to afflict. (New Testament History and Literature, p. 357)

Note that I am not suggesting that the book of Revelation had already been written by the 50s. It obviously wasn’t, since its visions about Nero redivivus point at least to a date of composition after his death in 68 CE. What I am suggesting is that the community from which the Revelation prophecies emanated was already in existence in the 50s and that already at least some of its members were prophesying an end-time reign of Christ on earth. Many mainstream scholars agree that the author of Revelation brought older oracles into his work and incorporated some of them with little or no alteration.

I think, then, that “this world” in the expression “wisdom of this world” has reference not only to the source of the wisdom but also to its subject matter. It was given over to exuberant prophetic speculation about what changes will occur in this world when the Day arrives. That understanding of the wisdom is compatible with the Apostle’s initial assessment of it as a relatively unimportant superstructure built on the all-important foundation that was his gospel. He says that if the superstructure is burned up in “the Day” (1 Cor. 3:13), those who were responsible for building it will suffer loss, but will still be saved, “but only as through fire” (1 Cor. 3:15). This makes sense if by ‘superstructure’ we understand teaching that was based on prophecies about non-salvific end-time events like the reign of Christ on earth. Such teaching could turn out to be wrong but, provided it didn’t undermine any belief that was necessary for salvation, those who taught it could still be saved.


Realized Eschatology?

I want to clarify, however, that I do not go along with the oft-made claim that in 1 Cor. 4:8 the Apostle is only mocking a “realized” eschatology. It is said that he too expected an earthly kingdom of food, riches, power, strength, honor, and that he was only critical of the belief that said kingdom had already arrived. But I think this is a misunderstanding of the Apostle. His reservations about the wisdom of his opponents seem to go beyond its timetable. Their wisdom collided with his spiritual conception of God’s plan for believers which was not about food and money, but rather “spiritual realities” (1 Cor. 2:13). These are the things that “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1Cor. 2:9; cf. the S and L version of the Asc. Is. 11:34). And as we can see later in 2 Corinthians, the Apostle’s longing for those heavenly things did not falter:

Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though our outer man is being destroyed, our inner is being renewed day by day. For this light and momentary affliction is bringing about for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, while we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transitory, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Cor. 4:16-18, my bolding)

And I am not convinced that the enthusiasts who are mocked in 1 Cor. 4:8 subscribed to some kind of realized eschatology. They could have simply believed that the earthly reign was imminent and were so enthralled by that prospect that it had begun to affect their behavior. The Apostle makes fun of them because they are practically carrying on as if the supposed kingdom had come. Their attention and enthusiasm had shifted away from his gospel to the earthly kingdom being preached by Cephas and others.

If the new wisdom was saying that the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb were going to be inscribed on the foundations of the new Jerusalem, it would only be natural for some of the Apostle’s flock to try to get in good with the named individuals and their parties. And it is only natural too that the Apostle would resent the spotlight being shifted away from him to them. This scenario can account for the factionalism and the boasting that the Apostle denounces. And it can account for his warning that the redistribution of praise taking place at Corinth may prove to be unjustified.

But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by man’s day. I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby justified. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then the praise will come to each from God. (1 Cor. 4:3-5)

The Apostle was not yet ready to unequivocally reject the earthly-reign idea, but he was far from ready to embrace it either. And he did not think it was certain enough to justify the change he saw in his flock. So believers should continue to conduct themselves the way the Son did when he was recently crucified. It is on this divine Crucified One that the Apostle models his behavior: weak, in disrepute, hungry and thirsty, poorly clad, roughly treated, away from home and working with his own hands (1 Cor. 4:10-12). Being reviled, he blesses; being persecuted, he endures it; being reviled, he responds gently (1 Cor. 4:12-13).  It is from their spiritual father that the Corinthian believers should learn to do the same:

I urge you, therefore, be imitators of me. I sent to you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church. (1 Cor. 4:16-17)


“Not Beyond What Is Written” – 1 Cor. 4:6

The thematic identification I have put forward for the inferior wisdom is compatible with my hypothesis that the source of the Apostle’s gospel was the Vision of Isaiah. That writing is more concerned by far with goings-on in the heavens above than with those in this world of ours. And its status as Simon/Paul’s gospel would explain another verse in 1 Corinthians that has long puzzled scholars:

For your sake, brothers, I have made these things seem to apply to myself and Apollos, that you may learn in us not to go beyond what is written, that you may not be puffed up in favor of one against another.

A number of scholars think that the Apostle is being tactful in the passage. He does not have a problem with Apollos, a helpful collaborator who was merely watering what he planted. They are in sync and do not go “beyond what is written.” But this passage and another (3:4-9) drop Cephas from the list of parties provided at the beginning of the letter (1 Cor. 1:12). And the Apostle never does get around to naming the “other” (1 Cor. 3:10), the one who is either building on his foundation or trying to lay down a different one.  It is thought by some that he is Cephas and that the author of the letter is therefore treading carefully. The discussion’s connection with the subject of ‘foundations’ adds to this suspicion.

What other foundation would anyone think of laying? There is only one alternative, so far as I know, and that is the one mentioned in Matt. xvi, 18, where Peter is the Rock on which the Church is to be built. Were the Petrine claims already being made in Corinth? And is this ‘other’, who is trying to lay another foundation for the Church, Peter himself or someone acting on his behalf? (T.W. Manson, Studies in the Gospels and Epistles, p. 194)

This verse is present in the Vision of Isaiah. And in the Vision it is clear that the unseen, unheard, and inconceivable things that God has prepared are things in heaven, not on earth. “Not beyond what is written” would be the Apostle’s counsel not to go beyond what his gospel promised.

Be that as it may, it is the expression “not beyond what is written” that especially interests me.  Morna D. Hooker has written about it that “None of the various attempts which have been made to explain the enigmatic words is particularly convincing” (“Beyond The Things Which Are Written,” New Testament Studies 10, pp. 128). Many, including Hooker herself, think they must refer to one or more of the Scripture citations that the Apostle used earlier in the letter. But none of the quotations looks like a good candidate, for “it is still not clear how the Corinthians would have understood the cited texts as something they were ‘not to go beyond’ (Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 169).

be4c14eb72d2d9f019e3324934f4fdf3The enigmatic words would make sense, however, if they refer back to the quote in 1 Cor. 2:9 and if the Apostle took the quote from his gospel which, as I have proposed, was the Vision of Isaiah:

But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, what God has prepared for those who love him.’

This verse is present in the L2 and S versions of the Vision of Isaiah. And in the Vision it is clear that the unseen, unheard, and inconceivable things that God has prepared are things in heaven, not on earth. The Apostle’s words, then, “not beyond what is written” would be his counsel not to go beyond what his gospel promised. It promised robes, crowns and thrones in heaven with God—not food, wealth, power, strength and honor in some supposed kingdom of God on earth.

The Vision says that this world is in the process of being destroyed. The purpose of the Beloved’s descent was to “judge and destroy the princes and the angels and the gods of that world and the world that is ruled by them” (Asc. Is. 10:12), not to occupy or rehabilitate—even temporarily—their territory. The implication is that the destruction begun at the Beloved’s ascent will soon be complete, but no hint is given that it will entail the establishment of a kingdom on earth. And, in contrast to Revelation with its “pool of fire and sulfur” that torments “day and night for ever and ever” (Rev. 20:10), it says not a word about eternal fiery punishment either for the rulers of this world or for non-believers.

The Vision does seem to imply that everyone will undergo some kind of divine judgment, for it says that in heaven there is a record of everyone’s deeds:

Behold one of the angels… showed me books, but not like the books of this world; and he opened them, and the books had writing in them, but not like the books of this world. And they were given to me, and I read them, and behold the deeds of the children of Israel were written there, their deeds which you know, my son Josab. And I said, “Truly, nothing which is done in this world is hidden in the seventh heaven” (Asc. Is. 9:22-23; M.A. Knibb, “Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah: A New Translation and Introduction,” in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, edited by J.H. Charlesworth, p. 171)

But nowhere does it say explicitly that the judgment will take place on earth. It leads one to believe that for the righteous it takes place in heaven at death, for Isaiah sees righteous people there with God. And he himself is promised that when he leaves the body he will ascend to heaven and don the robe that is set aside for him there. It would seem, then, that at least for believers who die before the end of the world, the judgment takes place in heaven in the presence of the Lord.


Simon/Paul’s Eschatology

Based on what the earliest anti-heretical writings tell us about Simon of Samaria’s teaching, it would appear that his eschatology is compatible with that of the Vision of Isaiah.  It is nowhere said that he believed in an earthly reign of Christ on earth. But he did believe in a judgment;

Although he says there will be a judgment, he [apparently] does not expect one; for if he were convinced that he would be judged by God, he would not dare to be impious to God Himself. For this reason those … who faithfully believe the hope and judgment which he says will somehow take place are going to destruction.  (Pseudo-Clementine Homilies 2, 22)

The destruction of the world too was, according to Irenaeus, part of Simon’s credo:

He (Simon) again promised that the world would be destroyed (Against Heresies 1, 23, 3).

And assuming that he did not abandon his pre-Christian Great Revelation eschatology, he believed that the destruction of the world was going to be by fire, for “God is a fire burning and destroying” (Deut. 4:24; Hippolytus, The Refutation of All Heresies, 6, 9). The Fire is going to consume everything that is manifested, i.e., everything that is perceived by the senses:

And generally we may say, of all things that are, both sensible and intelligible, which he (Simon) designates concealed and manifested, the Fire, which is above the heavens, is the treasure-house, as it were a great tree, like that seen by Nabuchodonosor in vision, from which all flesh is nourished. And he considers the manifested side of the Fire to be the trunk, branches, leaves and the bark surrounding it on the outside. All these parts of the great tree, he says, are set on fire from the all-devouring flame of the Fire and destroyed. But the fruit of the tree, if its imaging has been perfected and it takes the shape of itself, is placed in the storehouse, and not cast into the fire. For the fruit, he says, is produced to be placed in the storehouse, but the husk to be committed to the fire…  (Hippolytus, The Refutation of All Heresies, 6, 9, my bolding)

The fire of the Great Revelation is not for punishment purposes. It simply removes all that is on the outside, all that is perceived by the senses. Whether the fruit— man’s concealed spirit, as some kind of extension of God—continues to exist will depend on whether its imaging has been perfected. If it hasn’t, it is not consigned to eternal torment. Its existence and potential for eternal existence just come to an end.

But if it remain in potentiality only, and its imaging is not perfected, then it disappears and perishes, he says, just as the potentiality for (learning) grammar or geometry in a man’s mind (Hippolytus, The Refutation of All Heresies, 6,12).

Now, when we get to chapter 3 of 1 Corinthians we meet with a similar fire:

If any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (1 Cor. 3:12-15)

The fire in this passage is not a punishing fire. It is, as in the Great Revelation, a fire that reveals what is of eternal value and destroys the rest. It is doubtful that the Apostle expects “gold, silver and precious stones” to hold up any better in the divine fire than “wood, hay and straw.” They are all things that are seen and we know that for the Apostle it is things unseen that are eternal (2 Cor. 4:18).

Even for those who destroy God’s temple, it is destruction—and not eternal torture—that awaits:

If any man destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that man; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy (1 Cor. 3:17).

And as we saw earlier, the Apostle believed in a divine judgment of some sort:

But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by man’s day. I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby justified. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then the praise will come to each from God. (1 Cor. 4:3-5)

But here too, even though the judgment occurs after “the Lord comes,” it is not clear that the judgment will take place on earth. For the Apostle’s parousia belief, as expressed in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, does not say anything about a return from the air (where believers will meet the Lord) back to the earth below:

Heikki Räisänen

The point of the parousia, according to this account, is that Christ will catch up to himself those who belong to him. The parousia means victory over death and—possibly—the translation of the faithful to heaven. The text does not say anything about the believers returning to earth. The claim that this notion is implied in apantesis, understood as a technical term, can be countered by referring to the word harpazein which is, for its part, used as a kind of technical term concerning raptures to heaven (cf. Rev. 12.5 and especially 2 Cor. 2.12). What would be the point of emphasizing (rather dramatically) the taking up at all, if it is only a passing episode, while failing to mention the supposedly crucial event—the return—altogether? The expression kai houtos (‘and thus’) points to a firm connection between what precedes (the translation to the air) and what follows (being with the Lord): it is the taking up that introduces the believers’ being with the Lord. (Heikki Räisänen, “Did Paul Expect an Earthly Kingdom?” in Paul, Luke and the Graeco-Roman World, Essays in Honour of Alexander J.M. Wedderburn, pp. 8-9)

In any case, 2 Corinthians 5:1-10 seems to confirm that the Apostle believed in a heavenly judgment for believers who die before the end of the world.  Regarding that passage Räisänen writes:

The hoped-for being with Christ is directly connected with the notion of judgment. The individual Christian may appear before the judgment seat of Christ (v.  10); a private judgment seems envisaged. Having stood the test, he or she may then be ‘away from the body and at home with the Lord’ (v. 8). The generalizing parenetic considerations in vv. 6-10 show that Paul is speaking of all Christians, not just of himself. He seems to be on his way towards a more or less individualized transcendent hope. It would take an immense effort of imagination to locate the ‘home-coming’ of v. 8 on the earth, nor does one get the impression that this being-with-the Lord is just a temporary phase, to be followed by new events on the earth to which the blessed Christian would still have to return from heaven. (“Did Paul Expect an Earthly Kingdom?” in Paul, Luke and the Graeco-Roman World, Essays in Honour of Alexander J.M. Wedderburn, p. 15)



If then my Simonian hypotheses are correct, it would seem that when Simon/Paul wrote chapters 1 – 4 of 1 Corinthians his eschatological beliefs included a divine judgment, destruction of the world by fire, and eternal life in heaven with the Lord. But some Christian prophets were beginning to develop the gospel in a different direction, likely drawing their inspiration from Old Testament books like Daniel and Ezekiel. They were claiming that Christ will establish either a temporary or permanent kingdom on earth. The Apostle regarded that scenario with skepticism. It went beyond what was written in his gospel, the Vision of Isaiah, and it conflicted with his more spiritual conception of God and the afterlife.

But perhaps I have misinterpreted the chapters in question. After all, aren’t there other passages in 1 Corinthians itself that witness to its author’s belief in a kingdom of God on earth? In verses 2-3 of chapter 6 the Corinthians are told that they will be judges:

Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, matters pertaining to this life!

And in chapter 15 there is the key passage (vv. 20-28) for those who think the Apostle expected an earthly kingdom.

In the next post I will discuss these from the perspective of my Simonian hypotheses.

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Roger Parvus

Roger Parvus is the author of this post. Roger is the author of A New Look at the Letters of Ignatius of Antioch and Other Apellean Writings and two series of Vridar posts: Letters Supposedly Written by Ignatius and A Simonian Origin for Christianity. In a previous life Roger was a Catholic priest.

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52 thoughts on “A Simonian Origin for Christianity, Part 10: A Different Perspective on the Corinthian Controversy”

  1. I did not know there is a quotation in Corinthians that can be found in the Vision of Isaiah. Is it uncontroversial that he’s quoting the Vision of Isaiah at that point, or are there arguments that the quotation is from something else?

    1. That the same passage appears in the L2 and Slavonic versions of the Ascension does not seem to be controversial. Therefore, either Paul got it from the Ascension or somebody cribbed it from Paul or from his source and added it to the Ascension later on.

      I haven’t been able to find a full English translation of the fragmentary non-Ethiopic versions of the Ascension. Here is a google books link that shows the Slavonic, L2, and then the Slavonic translated into Latin: http://books.google.com/books?id=4sIUAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA137&dq=ascension+isaiah+slavonic+cor+hominis&hl=en&sa=X&ei=3hxjU6mMFaGCyQHttYDwCQ&ved=0CC0Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=ascension%20isaiah%20slavonic%20cor%20hominis&f=false

      Roger, is it correct that L2 and S don’t contain anything before chapter 6? Is it possible, then, that these versions are really just the Vision circulating independently of the Martyrdom?

      1. Greg,

        Yes. Most scholars think the Vision of Isaiah was an independent composition that the author of the Ascension of Isaiah later used in his own writing.

    2. Kris,

      There is no agreement among biblical scholars about the source of the quotation in Corinthians. But since they date the Vision of Isaiah to the end first or early second century CE, they assume that the Corinthians quote could not have been taken from it. As I indicated in part 7 of the series, I think their earliest date for the Vision may be off by about fifty years.

    1. The Vision of Isaiah circulated independently but at some point (as early as the end of the first century CE) was used to form part of the Ascension of Isaiah (its chapters 6-11). The words “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, what God has prepared for those who love him” are present at 11:34 in one of the two early textual forms that the Ascension was transmitted (represented by the L2, i.e., second Latin and S, i.e., Slavonic versions. See part 7 of this series).

  2. This Simonian origin idea is starting to grow on me…

    Though I might suggest that “Simon” might be a title and more closer to “Shmone” the Hebrew/Samaritan for the number 8. We do know that gnostics had a fascination for that number and it was explained as having to do with a heaven above the 7 heavens of the Jewish god. Which still brings us back to “two powers in Heaven” stuff.

    Other than that, I see this Samaritan origin looking more likely.

    Vision of Isaiah as an early proto-gospel used by The Simon? Sounds about right.

    Clues from the gospels as handed down to us now? John 8? Still can’t get over Jesus not denying or countering the accusation of being Samaritan. The fact that of all “heretics” and gnostics, Simon was the ONLY one to ever claim his own mother was a virgin, that the story about him and Dositheos is astoundingly close to the Jesus and John the Baptist story (and taking place pretty much IN Samaria in both versions)…and Helen, Simon’s consort is a definite precursor to a Magdelene.

    Curiously, even with the version of the gospels handed down to us, they’re amazingly anti-Jewish, but pro-Samaritan to a really pointed degree.

    Lastly? Was trying to work out Stephen’s mistaking Shechem for the burial place of Sarah instead of Hebron…but having read up on someone who had a strong understanding of the Samaritans…Stephen was actually citing the Samaritan viewpoint.

    If this theory holds water…A Simonian proto-gospel AND letters, interpolated by someone just after…then the Marcion/Alexandrians correcting it back to the Simonian view…then the proto-Orthodox/proto-Catholics distorting it while pinching from the Marcionites/Alexandrians.

    Stephan Huller seems to have a good handle on the Samaritans and his views on how Memar Marqeh fits all this is worth a read.

  3. But if the enemy leader of Paul in Corinth was someone named Apollos, and this man was a Judeo-Christian, why his name – ”Apollos” – is not Jew but Greek ?

    The Judeo-Christians were proselytizing between Greeks, too?



  4. the fact that Apollos was a leader of opponents I take from 1 Cor 1:11-14.

    I think the passage is a fossil inserted into its present context, presupposing an early, virtually pre-Christian period in which Paul, Apollos, Cephas, and Christ were rivals, distinct saviors, avatars, gurus, or gods.
    (The Amazing Colossal Apostle, p. 214)

    1. The only thing we learn from 1:12 is that there was an Apollos party at Corinth. From the other references to Apollos in chapters 1 – 4 it seems that Paul had no real problem with him. They were both ministers through whom the Corinthians became believers (3:5). Apollos was watering what the Apostle planted (3:6). Both he and Apollos did not go beyond what was written (4:6). So the party of Apollos may have been no more than the group of those who preferred his style of preaching to Paul’s. I know that in Catholic parishes that have more than one priest it is common for the parishioners to have their favorites. If there is more than one Mass on Sunday, some will go out of their way to attend the one at which their favorite priest is officiating because they find they “get more” out of his sermons.

      On the other hand, Cephas is noticeable by his absence from 3:5, 3:6 and 4:6. If, as it appears, the omissions were deliberate, it could be because Cephas was the unnamed “someone” who was either building with questionable materials on Paul’s foundation, or even laying a different foundation. We know from 2 Cor. 10:12-18 and Rom. 15:15-24 that the apostle disapproves of building on some else’s foundation. His failure to name the culprit may be due to an unwillingness to admonish Cephas in too direct a manner.

      Some scholars think too that tact motivated the curious wording in 4:6: “For your sake, brothers, I HAVE MADE THESE THINGS SEEM TO APPLY to myself and Apollos…” The Greek verb literally means “to transform, to change the outward appearance of,” and some think that Paul is basically saying: “Despite how it may appear, don’t take my criticism as being directed at Apollos. It is someone else—whose name I won’t mention at present—who is the real target.”

  5. Hi Roger,
    I have read rapidly the new book (in Italian) of Mauro Pesce, about the death of Jesus. It’s staggering that this scholar thinks that 1 Tess 2:14-16 is authentic from Paul, and says that a similar reason (to blame the evil of the Jews for deicide) is present in the Ascension of Isaiah, where the Jews kill Isaiah because Isaiah prophesied the next coming of Jesus.

    But in this way Pesce commits two big errors: to believe authentic what is a clear proto-catholic interpolation in Paul and believe that the anonymous Son of Ascension is the same Jesus ”added” later in that text (with the classical lens coloured of gospel).

  6. Does this Simonian Origin theory have an explanation for the development of proto-orthodoxy? There’s a long conceptual distance between these esoteric, mystic origins and (say) Justin Martyr, and not a whole lot of decades to bridge the gap.

    Not all forms of mythicism have a good answer to this question, of course. I think none of the other “Paul Mythicism” theories have much of an explanation for proto-orthodoxy, either (and that’s a strike against them, something perhaps under appreciated here and at earlywritings and elsewhere where theories that more or less reject a historical Paul are debated). The Doherty-Carrier hypothesis does, though — that’s its central theme really of bringing a god down to earth and how that might work within Hellenistic Judaism — and that helps the credibility of their theory as compared with alternatives that do not, I think.

    By placing a historical Simon Magus at the origin, this theory at least invites thinking about how to get to proto-orthodoxy from the beginnings, unlike those that more or less give up on the first century, and I’m wondering whether Mr. Parvus has given this any consideration.

    1. A Simonian origin makes more sense to me these days, although I keep registering that the concept of “eight” that crops up in Gnosticism may make clearer that name…in Hebrew, the word for eight and “Simon” would sound almost alike. Spelt almost alike in Hebrew too.

      From what the proto-Orthodox seem to have said about Simon, those who knew the Simonian mysteries didn’t necessarily call him Simon. Possibility it was a title? I’m also scratching my head if he tied into the Memar Marqeh in some way. Though there’s debate whether Memar Marqeh is 4th century or 1st. Still a lot more reading to do on that, I’ll admit.

      I now look at John 8 as giving away the fact “Jesus” was actually Samaritan…and in Acts, the way Stephen seems to be confused on where Abraham buried Sarah fits more with a Samaritan viewpoint, as the Samaritans looked more to Shechem than Hebron.

      The way I’m looking at it, John the Baptist was likely really Dositheos and Jesus might really have been Simon and the whole story was Judaized.

      Which kind of fits what Marcion was saying.

      Too much adds up when a Simonian or Samaritan origin is explored.

      1. Dositheos sounds like a fascinating character, who I had not been familiar with before, nor had I been aware of the reputed connection between Simon Magus and John the Baptist.

        Roger, is it well-established or open to question that Simon was himself was a Samaritan?

        It seems that there’s a great deal that needs to be reconsidered in light of a Samaritan origin of Christianity.

        1. Greg,

          There is hardly anything that is well-established when it comes to early Christian figures. Perhaps the most that can be said is that all the earliest proto-orthodox heresy hunters name Samaria as Simon’s place of origin (specifically, the town of Gitta). But if he is the Simon who is called Atomus (“Indivisible”) in some manuscripts of Josephus’ Antiquities (at 20,7,2), he may have been Phoenician.

          Robert M. Price, in his “The Pre-Nicene New Testament” (p. 33), suggested that Josephus may have confused the word “Kittim” (often used for Phoenicans) with the name Gitta. Adding to the confusion is the possibility that the Gitta in question was the ancient city of Gath, and so was located on the coastline of the Mediterranean. If so, someone from that city could have been considered either a Samaritan or a Phoenician, for the term “Phoenicia” was used to refer to a collection of coastline towns including some located in the Gath area.

          However, even if Simon was called a Samaritan, that does not necessarily mean he ever subscribed to the Samaritan religion. He may have only been a geographical Samaritan, i.e., from a town located within the confines of Samaria. Many who lived in Samaria were not Samaritans in the religious sense. Justin Martyr, for example, refers to himself as a Samaritan, but it is clear from his writings that he never practiced the Samaritan religion. So Simon could have been a Jew who lived in Samaria. Or even a Gentile like Justin (assuming that Simon and Paul were the same person, and that Hyam Maccoby is right about Paul’s background).

    2. Bertie,

      I think proto-orthodoxy may have started out as a philosophical movement in the early second century. We probably get our best glimpse of the “philosophers” behind it in the writings of the second-century apologists. Earl Doherty describes well the philosophy presented by those writings:

      “There is no question that it had roots in Judaism. It preached the monotheistic worship of the Jewish God, a God presented as much superior to those of the pagans. For information about this God it looked to the Hebrew scriptures. It placed great value on a mode of life founded on Jewish ethics—again, something presented as superior to the ethical philosophy of the pagans. At the same time, it derived from Platonism the concept of a Son of God, a ‘second God’ or Logos (Word), a divine force active in the world and serving as an intermediary between God and humanity. In the 2nd century even more than in the first, this idea of the Logos was floating in the air of most Greek philosophies as well as Hellenistic Judaism. For the apologists, this Logos was the emanation of the Jewish God, his ‘Son.’

      Thus the religion of the apologists has been styled ‘Platonic-biblical’ or ‘religious Platonism with a Judaistic cast,’ although it was in the process of wresting away from those Jews the ancient promises of their God and even their own scriptures. It would seem to have grown out of mixed pagan and Jewish Diaspora circles which had immersed themselves in Greek philosophy.” (“Jesus—Neither God Nor Man,” p. 476)

      I don’ think there were any direct links between these people and either the Christian Jews of the Jerusalem church or Simonian Christians, but they knew considerably more than we do about the first-century confrontation between those two groups. And their beliefs were definitely closer to those of the Jerusalem church than to Simon’s. As you know, I think that some of them, around CE 130, took on a project: the co-optation of Simonian Christianity.

      1. So, the proto-Orthodox would then have been an outgrowth of groups of God-fearers and radically Hellenised diaspora Jews, right? It seems impossible that there could have been zero direct links between Christian God-fearers in Rome and Christian Jews in Palestine, but, of course, the original connection might have been very limited, perhaps only one Christian Jew from Palestine introducing the idea to a few proselytes elsewhere (consider the role of W. D. Fard in founding the Nation of Islam).

        I’m starting to get the impression of three different Christianities: the Gentile-oriented proto-Orthodox Roman Christianity, represented by all of mainstream Christianity as we know it; Jewish Christianity, represented apparently by the Pillars, whoever they are; and what one might call Samaritan Christianity, the Christianity of Simon Magus and Dositheos, that is to be found under a thin veneer of interpolation in the early Pauline epistles. It seems that, in the canon, only Revelation really represents a Jewish Christian perspective (although the Romans certainly saw put themselves forward as heirs of the Jewish Christians).

        One might perhaps add a fourth Christianity, the “Pontic” Christianity of Marcion, a gentile Christianity more favorable to the Samaritan side. I wonder if it’s possible that the challenge of Marcion helped catalyse proto-Orthodox Christianity: that Christian ideas had been percolating through the God-fearer and diaspora communities in Rome, gaining popularity gradually but with little definition to its beliefs; when Marcion’s ideas became popular suddenly the more conservative members of the community would have been scandalised by his anti-Jewish message; and thus found it necessary to develop a detailed account of their own beliefs; and since they were drawing lines where none had existed before, it doesn’t seem surprising that they could have ended up incorporating some Marcionite ideas while anathematising others.

    3. I’d be inclined to say “follow the money” – pace Roger, I think the “philosophical” Christianity was something else again, proto-orthodoxy was more like a sort of con-job, a hustle, not necessarily badly intentioned (in fact probably well-intentioned).

      Wherever you see concern with apostolic lineage going back to a historical, eyeballed Jesus, wherever you have great concern with heirarchy and Church structure, paying dues, etc., etc., that’s proto-orthodoxy.

      As it develops, its function is to tamp down the proliferation of Christianity (prophecy, charismatic and mystical elements) and bring it into some sort of “Catholic” order. It tries to include elements of all the forms of Christianity around (including the elements it’s trying to restrain), but professes for itself a lineage going back to disciples of a personally-eyeballed Jesus (which ought to trump personal revelation).

      I think the hustle starts after the Fall of the Temple, and loss of some measure of cult memory and self-awareness, and accelerates after 135 CE, when you get the first “solid” orthodox con artist, Polycarp.

      1. As I noted in part 1, Justin is the first known proto-orthodox heresy-hunter. In his writings he names no predecessor for that function in the generation before him. Nor do Irenaeus, Tertullian, or Hippolytus mention anyone who stood up to Simon’s successors between 70 and 140 CE. They concede a continuous line of succession for heresy after Simon, providing the name of his successor (Menander), and of his successor’s pupils (Basilides and Satornilus), yet say not a word about any particular member of their own church who undertook to refute the heretics during the period between the Twelve and Justin.

        I suspect the reason for the silence is that proto-orthodoxy was not yet in existence before 130 CE. Or if it was, it was still only a loose association of the kind of like-minded Platonic-Jewish philosophers who wrote the second-century Apologias. Before the 130s none of them had yet hit upon the idea of creating a sanitized version of Simonian Christianity.

        1. Roger, I’m reading through your Simonian origin series two years after you posted, but feel compelled to comment here; I hope that you don’t mind this miraculous resurrection of a dead (but not executed or even condemned) thread.

          I’d like to point out some of the reasons that proto-orthodoxy ultimately triumphed as against Marcionism (and similar tendencies), Simonianism (and gnosticism generally), and the jewish-christian Jesus movement—or at least what I think are significant. Ideology isn’t necessarily the most significant component of this analysis, except insofar as it is reflected into the institution of the church/belief system/movement. I’d also like to suggest that proto-orthodoxy appeared late, and some reasons for that.

          First, as against the jewish-christian Jesus movement, proto-orthodoxy claimed an adherence only to the ten commandments version of the law (Torah-lite, if you will), and also was deliberately distancing itself from Judaism, which by 130 AD had been the source of three rather painful internal wars (the Jewish rebellion of the late sixties, the Kitos war in the second decade of the second century, and the Bar Kokhba revolt). “We’re not Jews! We’re the new covenant, Christians! No, no, *not* violent!”

          Second, as against Simonianism and gnosticism, proto-orthodoxy was institutional, even bureaucratic, versus charismatic. Charismatic religions are typically endemically riven by internal strife (even in Simon/Paul’s day, per the epistles). Gnosticism, focused intensely upon the salvation of the pneumatic, is not a good model for passing authority along and creating a stable environment. Deacons, presbyters, bishops, patriarchs and popes … that’s a model of governance strikingly at odds with “first, apostles; second, prophets ….” Proto-orthodox “office” versus charismatic “vocation” : the institution grows and provides better service to its members, with fewer outbursts of internecine conflict than the ecstatic listeners or their (sometimes) inspired leader.

          Marcionism had many of these characteristics, too. It differed from the jewish-christian Jesus movement and from proto-orthodoxy in at least two ways: wholesale rejection of Jewish tradition (even gnostics had a deeper history than Marcion and his suddenly-revealed alien God) and a deep, apparently sincere asceticism. If you can find a Shaker, you could ask them how well religiously-driven celibacy works in the long term, after the first generation of enthusiastic converts. As against Marcionism, proto-orthodoxy made a place for celibate ascetics, but also a place for those living ordinary lives (compare also Manichaeism, which also established institutions and a place for both the perfect and the catechumen, and which may have inherited some or much of Marcion’s church as the proto-orthodox established a sort of trademark on christianity).

          Note of the above: the Jewish uprisings (effectively ending in 135), the circa one hundred years of leadership by inspired prophets (and concomitant periodic upheavals, no doubt). The proto-orthodox are likely most strongly characterized by their organization, as they created one with clear responsibilities (not based on gifts but on duties), with (public) ordinations and established authority. They also seemingly went rather out of their way to adopt what seemed to be the best bits from gnosticism (the savior story), from jewish christians (a long history and the richness that it carried), and from Marcion (a new covenant that allowed them to abrogate any of the uncomfortable bits from that long rich history). I’d suggest that the folks attracted to the movement who were unhappy with its disorder might have converged, without planning, and agreed upon the practical solutions to problems (see also the Didache, for instance, which suggests booting out any peripatetic prophets after three days, and giving them only food and shelter, not money). Deacons to take care of things day to day. Elders to govern and to teach (and the teaching and spiritual care grew more significant, and they became priests rather than elders). Bishops whose authority continued growing, and on the pattern of bishops, super-bishops or patriarchs in the largest cities, governing regions.

          There’s still conflict, of course (and faction, and the spiritual/mystic crazies from stylites to heretics to monks). But the average idiot can show up and get his or her little cracker and sip of wine, can obey some simple rules, chip in some money, can know who gets to make the rules locally, and crucially, knows that the institution will continue, because there are all these other people doing their duty. Less glamorous than having visions, but more sustainable, if you will.

          1. Amy, I have only skimmed your comment and it appears that you have not engaged with the arguments in Roger’s posts. Simply presenting an alternative viewpoint without such engagement is not the way towards a meaningful discussion of the posts. If you wish only to ignore what is argued here and present something quite different instead (also known as derailing a discussion or even trolling) then we advise that you post your views on your own blog.

            See below: http://vridar.org/2014/03/31/a-simonian-origin-for-christianity-part-10-a-different-perspective-on-the-corinthian-controversy/#comment-80494

            1. I apologize. I certainly did not intend to derail or to trail; I had thought that this was responsive, in discussing implications of the origin of proto-orthodoxy etc.

              If it’s inappropriate, please delete it. I’ll be more cautious.

              1. No no — we just like you to address the arguments in the posts. Can you demonstrate where you find Roger’s arguments are lacking? After you have done that show how your thesis does not succumb to the same failings.

                Simply setting aside Roger’s thesis without demonstrating its particular failings of argument or evidence and discussing another thesis entirely is not engaging with the post.

                See below: http://vridar.org/2014/03/31/a-simonian-origin-for-christianity-part-10-a-different-perspective-on-the-corinthian-controversy/#comment-80494

              2. Hi Neil (and Amy),

                I don’t see Amy’s post as being the presentation of a substitute scenario. If I understand correctly, she is giving some reasons why proto-orthodoxy won out over the other early versions of Christianity even though it may not have been the earliest. In other words, she appears to be granting – at least for the sake of argument – that Simon’s version of Christianity could have been the source of the others. Yet the source, for various reasons, still lost out to one of its derivatives: proto-orthodoxy.

                That is the way I read her post. And in that sense I largely agree with it.

            2. Hmmm, there’s a nesting limit? Responding here, largely to Roger’s follow-up a couple levels more deeply nested below.

              Roger, thank you! Your explanation is in fact more concise and clear than I had been able to summon in response to Neil, so I’m vastly grateful. And yes, I find the argument for Simonian origin fairly compelling, although I think that there may be some questions about other currents in the early christian-to-be movement.

              May I ask follow-up questions, related to the genesis and early development of proto-orthodoxy? If the Pauline letters were Simonian in origin, with mostly gnostic transmission, where do you suppose the interpolations that your articles label proto-orthodox came from? If Justin is the first visible proto-orthodox champion, he can’t also be the author of the interpolations in the letter set that Marcion received from Cerdo, right?

              It would be interesting to see the Pauline letters marked up with indications of interpolation by this theory (and origin of interpolation, in those cases in which you’re proposing interpolators at multiple stages of transmission). That may be a bit much to ask, unless the software’s already been written. One reason for interest, though, would be to see if the interpolations match up with any surviving literature. Weren’t there some Judaic gnostics, as well, Cerinthus and such (Cerinthus actually looks sort of attractive as a potential interpolator; he’s the right time frame, roughly, adoptionist christology, pre-millennial eschatology, legalist (mosaic law) soteriology).

              Would the proto-orthodox interpolations received by Cerdo and then Marcion perhaps have belonged to some other tradition, closer to proto-orthodoxy though existing before Justin? Or were there, do you think, proto-orthodox redactors before proto-orthodox heresy hunters? Either seems defensible (I think).

              1. Amy, I deeply apologize. I am very sorry for so casually misreading your comment and responding so inappropriately and offensively. (I have edited my earlier comments.)

              2. Hi Amy,

                Yes, in some ways Cerinthus looks like an attractive candidate. But as often seems to be the case with early Christian figures, the extant information about him is inconsistent. We just have too few solid facts about early Christianity to ever have much confidence.

                I think the reworking of the Simonian/Pauline letters could have been done by someone like Cerinthus sometime between 100 and 130 CE. For me 100 would be the approximate earliest limit because, as you know, I think the letters were originally collected by a Simonian and that three of them were written by Menander. It is unlikely that Menander’s death can be pushed much beyond 100 CE. On the other end I would tag 130 as the latest limit because I think the reworking of the letters had already occurred by the time Cerdo and Marcion came to know them. Their Christian activity began, as far as can be determined, in the mid-130s.

                If I had to choose, I would date the reworking of the letters later rather than earlier in the 100–130 period. For one thing, the earlier it occurred the harder it becomes to account for Justin’s silence regarding Paul and his letters. Dating it closer to 130 increases the possibility that Justin knew what had been done to the letters but— for one reason or another — did not commit to it. Perhaps he was too honest to go along with it. Or maybe he viewed the interpolator’s work as just some amusing fun at Simon’s expense, not something that could be used to create a believable substitute Apostle.

                Dating the interpolations later also puts a little more distance between the interpolator and one group that could have exposed the fraud: the Simonians. The extant record mentions no specific successor to Menander as head of the Simonians. And if, as Irenaeus says, Menander really did teach his followers that they would never die, his churches may have quickly disintegrated or morphed when the members saw no change in their death rate. That failure may have been what triggered the early second century explosion and multiplication of gnostic sects, each seemingly more interested in exuberantly developing its own brand than in holding firm to their origin.

                In regard to your suggestion for a marked-up version of the Pauline letters: maybe I will attempt that when I retire and have gobs of free time. It is nothing I can do at the moment. There have been, as you may know, other mark-ups made along similar lines. Robert M. Price, for example, has one in the “Paul, the Amazing Colossal Apostle.” If you can read French, Joseph Turmel (aka Henri Delafosse) produced another about eighty years ago. These and other previous mark-ups often reach conclusions different from mine because they approach the letters from a perspective somewhat different from mine. But they all can be useful because we’re all trying to figure out how best to explain the many inconsistencies in the letters and are willing to consider that systematic interpolation may be behind it.

              3. Roger, the downside of a later date closer to 130 is that it is harder to picture Marcion in an environment where he knows the letters have been doctored but he doesn’t have access to the originals, e.g. if the someone created the doctored version based on the original in 129 CE, and then the next year Marcion encounter Cerdo, who tells him the letters have been doctored, but Marcion finds it impossible to procure a copy of the original version, even though someone had them just the year before. That scenario is possible (maybe there the bowdlerizer had the only known copy of the letters the northern Mediterranean, and then destroyed it once he was done), but it seems a little odd.

                In general, I find that a lot of Christ myth theories suffer from seemingly compressed timelines, where I think to myself “hmmm, would that change really happen so quickly?” but it seems impossible to quantify exactly how long we would expect it to take or how unlikely it is that it would happen within X years.

              4. I have been mulling Amy’s observation that Cerinthus looks sort of attractive as a potential interpolator. I am thinking, though, that he and his followers actually look even more attractive as the opponents in the Corinthian letters. The timeframe would still be in the realm of the possible since Irenaeus makes Cerinthus contemporary with the apostle John. And his Jewish background would seem to fit the kind of boasting Paul faced: “Are they Hebrews? I am too. Are they Israelites? I am too. Are they descendants of Abraham? … I am more of one” (2 Cor. 11: 22-23).

                As Amy points out, Cerinthus is described as being both a gnostic and a chiliast. This might explain both the gnostic tinge that some scholars (e.g., Bultmann, Schmithals) attribute to the Corinthian opponents and the ties I pointed out between the book of Revelation and the apocalyptic wisdom the Corinthian opponents were peddling. It was a wisdom that apparently involved visions and revelations, for Paul — in order to compete — had to bring forward a visionary experience or two of his own (2 Cor. 12: 1-4). Was the opponents’ wisdom Cerinthian? If it was tied in with the visions of Revelation, it may well have been. For there were second century Christians who rejected that book because, they said, it was written by Cerinthus. (I’ll add that Irenaeus says Cerinthus was “a man who was educated in the wisdom of the Egyptians”, but it is unclear what he meant by that.)

                One apparent problem with this scenario is that Cerinthus is associated with Asia Minor, not Corinth. If the Pauline letters have been reworked, however, the reworking may have also entailed a change of place names. Would a proto-orthodox interpolator have wanted it known that Cerinthians apparently lured one of Paul’s churches away from him? I don’t know, but I am open to Robert M. Price’s suggestion that the Corinth destination of the letters is fictive (“The Pre-Nicene New Testament” – pp. 330-331). It may be that the partisans of “Cephas” (1 Cor. 1:12) are the interpolator’s substitution for the partisans of “Cerinthus”, and if the Cerinthians ultimately prevailed in that church, “Corinthians” may be, as Price surmises, the interpolator’s pun.

            3. Neil, I’m deeply touched; you certainly need not apologize. I think it’s clear that I wasn’t clear, in my initial post, or it wouldn’t’ve been misread.

              I am relieved, though. 🙂 Thank you.

  7. Lest I seem overly critical — this theory does have some advantages over the other “Paul Mythicism” theories; the interpolating and redacting seems to go mostly one direction, rather than the back-and-forth of Price’s theory (simpler is better) and maybe fewer interpolations overall; there’s less timeline compression than Detering, who needs essentially every single early Christian document or testimony to be no earlier than the mid-2nd Century.

    That said —

    1. A weird, esoteric initiatory Simonian cult seems an unlikely target for takeover by philosophically inclined Hellenistic Jews whose philosophizing is opposed to the Simonians in many ways and who have no historical connection to the Simonians. Aren’t there other branches of Hellenistic Judaism out there that would make a better target?

    2. Religious history that goes from “common mass religion” to “esoteric offshoot” is normal (as is of course “common mass religion” spawning another “common mass religion”). I’m not sure what to think about a history that goes something like “esoteric religion” to “common mass religion”. Are there other historical examples of this?

    3. The existence of “primitive egalitarian Christianity” seems unaccounted for here — the simpleton peasants(?) of the Didache; Pliny’s Christians led by female(!) slaves(!); for that matter, parts of what are conventionally considered the canonical Pauline epistles.

    The whole theory seems very top-down, driven by elites, ascetics, and other very minority sorts, very focused on written texts right from the start. The usual thing with religions has a (perhaps lengthy) period of growth and development among the common people before adoption/cooption by the ruling elites (Judaism with Josiah, Islam in the mid-Umayyad period, and in the conventional history, Christianity with Constantine).

    1. Bertie,

      Thank you for your observations. I will mull them over. But in regard to your first observation: I didn’t say that the proto-orthodox were shopping for a good takeover target and would have chosen some other group had they not settled on Simon’s. It may have been their particular disgust with Simon’s system and its dangerous spread (through splinter groups like the Basilideans and the Satornilians) that provoked the idea of a takeover. Simon’s religion and its ever-multiplying gnostic offshoots held doctrines that attacked core elements of Judaism, elements that the proto-orthodox themselves endorsed. It was this situation, perhaps, that sparked a reaction.

  8. Hi Roger,
    in this comment Carrier seems believe your theory of a crucified anonymous on terra firma in Judaea as ”historicity”, not mythicism, particularly when he says:

    If such a man existed, Paul would not keep saying the only way anything is known about him is through scripture and revelation .

    It’s true that you think that man was not a itinerant preacher, and was not important, etc., but your view seems in some way tangent to historicity, even though a very bizzarre ”docetic” storicity, on this point.
    A question: from what you come to know that the crucifixion of anonymous was a Roman crucifixion?

    very thanks,

  9. Hi Giuseppe,

    Carrier was responding to an inaccurate description of my theory. If you click on the link you provided, your will see that he was replying to KiloPapa who said:

    “Roger Parvus … made the case that the earliest Christians believed that a celestial Jesus came down from heaven specifically to be a blood sacrifice for humanity. He became flesh and blood for his time on earth and then returned to heaven in his resurrected body.”

    In that description the words “for his time on earth” give the impression that the first Christians believed the Son had spent considerable time here. As you know, my theory is that they believed he descended for only a few hours; long enough to change places unnoticed with someone who was being led away for crucifixion and to undergo death in his place.

    [KiloPapa’s description is also inaccurate in a few other particulars: (1) I don’t think the original belief was that the Son descended “specifically to be a blood sacrifice.” That the crucifixion was intended as a sacrifice for sin is something the proto-orthodox later concocted. Originally, the crucifixion was viewed a just a divine maneuver that tricked the spirit princes of this world to commit some kind of lese majeste against the Son. (2) I don’t think the original belief was that the Son “became flesh and blood.” Again, this belief was something the proto-orthodox later foisted on the faithful. Originally, the Son was thought to have merely taken on the appearance of being a man like, for instance, the angel Raphael in the book of Tobit. (3) Finally, I don’t think the original belief was that the Son returned to heaven “in his resurrected body.” It was again the proto-orthodox who, having claimed that the Son took on a human body, insisted that he rose from the dead with it. The original belief was that the Son, after his crucifixion, dropped his disguise and never took it up again. His descent to Hades and his return to heaven was made in all his divine glory.

    In my opinion, the original beliefs are on display in the Vision of Isaiah. There is nothing in the Vision about the crucifixion being a sacrifice, or about the Son becoming flesh and blood, or about his return to heaven in a human body.]

    As I see it, the first Christians were people who believed, among other things, in the authenticity of the scripture that foretold the Son’s trick (the Vision of Isaiah). And when some of them started claiming that God, through personal revelations, had confirmed that the trick had been played, there was great joy among the faithful. That no one had recognized the Son among those who had been crucified in the recent past was not viewed as a problem. For did not the Vision prophesy that he would accomplish the crucifixion unrecognized. If the spirit princes hadn’t been able to see through his disguise, surely mere mortals couldn’t have either. And anyway, eyewitness testimony to the crucifixion was unnecessary. Through the revelations that some of them had received they had something more solid: personal assurance from the risen Christ that the prophesied crucifixion had occurred.

    Now I’m not sure that Carrier would consider that kind of incognito and unnoticed divine visit of a few hours duration to be historical just because it was believed by Christians to have occurred on earth. If you like, Giuseppe, you could ask him.

    [One other clarification: I said above that “the first Christians were people who believed in the authenticity of the scripture that foretold the Son’s trick (the Vision of Isaiah).” I think this is true especially of Simonian Christians and that for them the Vision had a greater authority than any of the Old Testament writings. I consider Simonians to be the “first Christians” in the sense that they were the first believers in Christ to part ways with Judaism. In Simonian Christianity the God of the Jews was no longer the highest God and much of the Law of Moses was attributed to inspiration by inferior angels.

    In contrast, the Jerusalem church appears to have maintained enough ties with Judaism that it should be considered as one of its fringe sects. I am reluctant to refer to them simply as Christians. Christian Jews seems more accurate. I think the oracles in the book of Revelation originated among them. And even if they accepted the Vision of Isaiah as scripture, their Christ was put together more from other Old Testament writings (e.g., Daniel and Ezechiel) and from numerous personal revelations than from the Vision. It may be that they ultimately rejected the Vision when they realized what Simon/Paul was doing with it.]

    In response to your question: I’m inclined to think the crucifixion was believed to have been carried out by the Romans but with encouragement from many Jews who had been oppressed the rebels. See what I wrote in part 8 about Varus and his crucifixion of many would-be kings.

  10. Thanks, Roger, for the clarifications. I recognize that the principal big difference between your view and Doherty-Carrier’view is where to locate the crucifixion and what is archontic territory, if under the moon or the terra firma (with the relative theological implications about the positive or negative value of creation). I realize that for you the crucifixion of Son is not very historical but only presumed historical (from first Christian Jews).

    1. I think I am right that Roger is mythicist, but in his view the first Christian Jews and Paul were ”only-crucifixion historicists” and after the proto-Orthodox were (and are) ”life-pre-crucifixion-&-life-post-resurrection historicists” while the most of modern scholars of ‘Consensus’ are only ”life-pre-crucifixion” historicists.

  11. The idea of a Simonion origin for Christianity inspired on the Vision of Isaiah is very interesting.
    You have the gentile more Gnosticizing christians neatly on the one side and those orienting themselves on the Jewish scriptures on the other side and the proto-orthodox from Rome eventually forcing a new blend that takes the sting out of either of them.

    But what about the Q gospel?
    The oldest part of Q without the Judaizing sayings added on to it is highly Gnostic or mystic in itself, it even uses the word ‘gnoseos’ (saying QS34 in Luke) in relation to the Kingdom or Rule of God (in Matthew but same saying).
    Oddly enough no group seems to have built on these sayings in the way that they were originally meant until they were reused in quite a different manner (somewhat as old stones in a new building) by the authors of the Gospel of the Lord (proto-Luke) and Matthew.

    So, if Christianity started with Simon, who started the old part of Q or why was it ever used in the first place?
    The community who used Thomas isn’t a good candidate because Thomas may well be Gnostic but its sayings builds on the synoptic gospels and clearly not directly on Q in any of its stages of development.

    1. Andreas,

      In part one of the series I summarily indicated where I think Q came from: “GMark, GMatthew, and GLuke were proto-orthodox reactions to urMark. Their authors solved the Simonian riddle and responded by attempting to turn it against the Simonians. They turned the tables by taking urMark’s allegorical Jesus and making him proto-orthodox. One of the principal ways they did this was by putting into his mouth sayings (Q) by and about John the Baptist and his successor James.”

      So I think the proto-orthodox knew and used a collection of sayings by and about John and James. They used the sayings to modify the public ministry of the allegorical Jesus figure (who originally represented Simon/Paul). I will have more to say about this when I get to the canonical Gospels.

      1. The Pseudo-Clementines describe Dositheos and Simon Magus as the successors to John the Baptist. Proto-Orthodoxy as we know it might appear to be a ramification of a power struggle within the Baptist’s movement. What a tangled web!

  12. Roger,

    Apollos is interesting. He appears notably in both the early Paulines and in Acts.

    You have written elsewhere that you think Apollos in Acts might be a cipher for Apelles (who was a later figure, not a contemporary of the author of the epistles). This must mean that there really were two people, Apollos and Apelles, living at different times and that the proto-orthodox author of Acts took note of the similar names to turn the real figure of Apollos into the literary representation of Apelles?

    It’s certainly possible. Clearly, an more elegant solution would explain both names together, but of course the truth is not always so elegant.

    1. “This must mean that there really were two people, Apollos and Apelles, living at different times and that the proto-orthodox author of Acts took note of the similar names to turn the real figure of Apollos into the literary representation of Apelles?”

      That would be my guess. I think that Acts was written around CE 150 and that its author knew next to nothing about the first-century Apollos that Simon/Paul mentioned in 1 Corinthians. So he made the shadowy Apollos into a kind of prefiguration of Apelles.

  13. Roger Parvus wrote:

    … the earlier it occurred the harder it becomes to account for Justin’s silence regarding Paul and his letters. Dating it closer to 130 increases the possibility that Justin knew what had been done to the letters but— for one reason or another — did not commit to it. Perhaps he was too honest to go along with it. Or maybe he viewed the interpolator’s work as just some amusing fun at Simon’s expense, not something that could be used to create a believable substitute Apostle.

    Roger, in this regard, what do you make of Detering’s (The Fabricated Paul) suggestion that, considering Justin expresses Pauline concepts, but

    … does not explicitly mention the Pauline letters, one could surmise that they did not yet exist, or … that they were not yet circulating as letters of Paul.

    (My emphasis.)

    (Detering, of course, concluding that ‘Paul’ was a late, marcionite idealization of Simon M.)

    1. Matt,
      In regard to the first suggestion, i.e., that the letters did not yet exist: I explained in the fourth post in the series why I am reluctant to see Marcion or Marcionites as the composer(s) of the Pauline letters.

      I am more open to the second suggestion, i.e., that they were not yet circulating as letters of Paul. It may be that the original letters or the proto-orthodox reworking of them had a different name for their sender, and that Marcion considered that name to be one of the interpolations made by false brethren. In that case the name ‘Paul’ would be part of Marcion’s restoration of the letters.

      But then we would still have a problem: why didn’t Justin ever mention the letter collection or the name that was on them previously? In other words, if there was – as Marcion apparently claimed – an intermediate Judaized version of the letters, that version had a sender’s name on it and, in my opinion, Justin could be expected to somewhere reference that name or those letters s as authoritative witnesses to early Christian beliefs.

      One way around this problem is to view the intermediate Judaized version as intended to be just some amusing fun at Simon’s expense. That is to say, the proto-orthodox reworker of the letters may have left the original sender’s name on them (Simon, for instance, or Atomus) as part of the humor. Simon would end up rejecting his own teaching and denouncing himself (e.g., the man who has the Father’s wife). Given that kind of scenario for the letters, they would have been off limits to Justin. He denounced Simon in all three of his extant works. He could not very well at the same time use the doctored letters if they still had Simon’s name on them, or if Marcion had only recently changed the name to ‘Paul.’ .

  14. Just curious, Roger. If Paul believed that God would destroy the world, in contrast with the Ebionite view of a restored paradise earth, what is your opinion of 2 Peter? In 3:10-12, the writer seems to expect the destruction of the physical world, while 3:13 expects a new creation. Do you think these passages represent two different writers? Is is possible that 2 Peter could be another example of a letter originating in the Simonian community and was eventually changed up by a proto-orthodox writer?

    BTW, I feel a little unsure whether to speak of an Ebionite or a proto-orthodox interpolator. We know the Ebionites expected an earthly kingdom. I’m not sure the orthodox community expected this. Historically, their sights have always been on heaven, thanks to Paul. What do you think?

    1. Far from originating in the Simonian community, 2 Peter was likely written to condemn the kind of eschatological development we find in Colossians and Ephesians, letters that I suspect were written by Simon’s successor Menander. I think 2 Peter’s target is the realized eschatology of those deuterocanonical letters. The “mockers” (2 Peter 3:3) of the Jewish Christian eschatology would be Simonians. One could argue that they were just following in the footsteps of the earlier mocker who wrote: “Are you already full to the gills? Have you already become rich? Have you begun to reign—and that without us? Indeed, I wish that you were reigning, that we too might reign with you!” (1 Cor. 4:8).

      In regard to whether the alleged interpolator of the Paulines was Ebionite or proto-orthodox: I too am unsure. But I don’t see much reason to doubt that many second-century proto-orthodox Christians expected a thousand-year earthly kingdom.

      “But I and others, who are right-minded Christians on all points, are assured that there will be a resurrection of the dead, and a thousand years in Jerusalem, which will then be built, adorned, and enlarged, [as] the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah and others declare… And further, there was a certain man with us, whose name was John, one of the apostles of Christ, who prophesied, by a revelation that was made to him, that those who believed in our Christ would dwell a thousand years in Jerusalem; and that thereafter the general, and, in short, the eternal resurrection and judgment of all men would likewise take place. ” – Justin, Dialogue with Trypho, c. 80-81

      “John, therefore, did distinctly foresee the first resurrection of the just, and the inheritance in the kingdom of the earth; and what the prophets have prophesied concerning it harmonize [with his vision].” ” – Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 5, 36

      “The predicted blessing, therefore, belongs unquestionably to the times of the kingdom, when the righteous shall bear rule upon their rising from the dead; when also the creation, having been renovated and set free, shall fructify with an abundance of all kinds of food, from the dew of heaven, and from the fertility of the earth: as the elders who saw John, the disciple of the Lord, related that they had heard from him how the Lord used to teach in regard to these times, and say: The days will come, in which vines shall grow, each having ten thousand branches, and in each branch ten thousand twigs, and in each true twig ten thousand shoots, and in each one of the shoots ten thousand clusters, and on every one of the clusters ten thousand grapes, and every grape when pressed will give five and twenty metretes of wine. And when any one of the saints shall lay hold of a cluster, another shall cry out, ‘I am a better cluster, take me; bless the Lord through me.’” – Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 5,33.

  15. Also when it comes to personal eschatology, I have suspected that Paul believed in the complete destruction of the wicked, while the Ebionites/proto-orthodox believed in eternal torment for the wicked, which was the belief of the Essenes. I think the Ebionites were a branch of Essenes. What are your thoughts?

  16. I think there may have been some variations but Ebionites, Essenes, and Zealots were pretty much the same anti-establishment and anti-Roman sectarians who ere persecuted by Saul/Paul. John the Baptizer and Judas the Galilean and his sons were among them and their leader in Jerusalem may have been the James (the Just) who resisted the pro-establishmen, pro-roman Saul/Paul and his “gospel” of an incarnate deity named Christos, his substitute for the expected Jewish Messiah.They obviously never trusted that snake who even had to be saved from them by Roman military rescuers.

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