The previous post concluded with
Continuing . . . .
What we would have in Galatians is not Paul’s version of events but Saturnilus’ version of Paul.
There have been biblical scholars who rejected—and not for religious reasons—the Galatians version of events and, on some points, were willing to accept that of Acts.
|4th Jan 2021: See comments below for revisions by Roger Parvus to his original post:|
The Real Paul
If in the Pauline letters someone—whether Saturnilus or someone else—has made Paul the recipient and bearer of a new gospel i.e., the Vision of Isaiah, it would mean that our knowledge of the real Paul is more questionable than ever. The widely accepted rule in New Testament scholarship has been to give Paul’s letters the nod whenever their information conflicts with that of the Acts of the Apostles, especially concerning Paul himself. His information is first-person and earlier than Acts. The author of Acts seems to be more ideologically-driven than Paul. So Paul’s account in Galatians 1:1-2:14 of how he came by his gospel and became an apostle is considered more accurate than what Acts says about the same matters. Likewise regarding Paul’s account of how in the presence of James, Peter and John he defended his gospel and received their approval of it. But this preference for the Galatians account of events takes a hit if it was in fact written by someone like Saturnilus who was looking to promote the gospel he had projected onto Paul. What we would have in Galatians is not Paul’s version of events but Saturnilus’ version of Paul.
The legend of Paul has undergone a parallel amplification to that of Peter, but on two different lines: first, by his own statements or by the tradition of his Epistles designed to make him the possessor of the true Gospel and of a strictly personal mission for the conversion of the Gentile world; and then by the common tradition for the purpose of subordinating his role and activity to the work of the Twelve, and especially of Peter regarded as the chief instrument of the apostolate instituted by Jesus.
Relying on the Epistles and disregarding their apologetic and tendentious character, even in much that concerns the person of Paul, though this is perhaps secondary, criticism is apt to conclude that Paul from his conversion onwards had full consciousness of an exceptional calling as apostle to the pagans, and that he set to work, resolutely and alone, to conquer the world, drawing in his wake the leaders of Judaic Christianity, whether willing or not. And this, indeed, is how things happened if we take the indications of the Galatian Epistle at their face value. There we encounter an apostle who holds his commission from God only, who has a gospel peculiar to himself given him by immediate revelation, and has already begun the conquest of the whole Gentile world. No small claim! (Galatians i, 11-12, 15-17, 21-24; ii, 7-8).
But things did not really happen in that way, and could not have so happened…
Interpret as we may the over-statements in the Epistle to the Galatians, it is certain that Saul-Paul did not make his entry on the Christian stage as the absolute innovator, the autonomous and independent missionary exhibited by this Epistle. The believers in Damascus to whom Paul joined himself were zealous propagandists imbued with the spirit of Stephen, and there is nothing whatever to suggest that he was out of his element among them. Equally, he was quite unaware at that time of possessing a peculiar gospel or a vocation on a different level from that of all the other Christian missionaries. That idea he certainly did not bring with him to Antioch, where he found a community which others had built up and which recruited non-Jews without imposing circumcision. For long years he remained there as the helper of Barnabas rather than his chief... (La Naissance du Christianisme, ET: The Birth of the Christian Religion, translation by L.P. Jacks, University Books, 1962, pp. 126-7)
My hypothesis supports Loisy’s claim that the real Paul was commissioned as an apostle in the same way that other early missionaries were: by being delegated for a mission by a congregation which supported him. And that the real Paul’s gospel was no different from theirs: the kingdom of God is at hand and Jesus will be coming to establish it. But if that is the way the real Paul was, why does Acts try to take him down a notch?
Many New Testament scholars have either argued or suspected that the author of Acts knew the Pauline letters. The problem has always been: If he knew of them, why didn’t he say that Paul wrote letters to his churches? If my hypothesis about the letters is correct there would be a good solution to that problem. The author of Acts presumably knew the letters pretty much in the form we now have them. But that form is, according to my hypothesis, the amplified form they had already taken on in the Saturnilian church. I suspect he knew that was their provenance and so thought best to keep quiet about them altogether. The Paul that Acts aimed to bring down a notch was the Saturnilian version of him on display in the letters.
What about Paul as the persecutor who converts due to a revelation? Should that be retained as belonging to the authentic Paul? This too becomes questionable if my hypothesis is correct. For Saturnilus, as a former Simonian, could be considered an enemy who converted. And his Vision of Isaiah is a revelation. So I wonder if the scenario of Paul’s conversion may have arisen from Saturnilus just inserting his own story into Paul’s. True, the scenario is present in Acts of the Apostles too. Would the author of Acts have risked borrowing from the Saturnulian version of Paul? Perhaps discreetly. In Acts, Paul is first Saul. In fact we only learn that “Saul is also Paul” in chapter 13. This could be a device used by its author to discreetly indicate that his conversion/revelation for Paul was of suspect origin. It’s curious that SAtUrniLus’ name (my caps) does contain SAUL in it. The switchover to using the name Paul would be the author’s tipoff that he was steering the Pauline ship into safer, more orthodox waters, and perhaps using a different source of information (e.g., the “we” passages that start popping up at Acts. 16:10).
In any case, there does seem to be at least one element of the Galatians biographical section that can be taken at face value: the circumcision controversy. In the Galatians passage the circumcision of non-Jewish converts is the issue that underlies and has been partially hidden by all the talk about Paul’s revelation, his gospel and his divinely authorized apostleship. Someone —most likely Saturnilus—has piggybacked his own agenda onto the original circumcision controversy. He used Paul’s opposition to circumcision for Gentile converts as an opening to promote Paul as the fiercely independent bearer of a distinct gospel.
A defense of Paul’s position is present where one would most expect to find it: in his letter to a church he did not know personally. In writing to the Roman Christians he did not need to include an exposition of the gospel. They were already Christians, so they had already heard and accepted the gospel. What was needed was an argument against one particular condition for membership that Paul contested: circumcision for Gentile believers. And that is what we get in chapter 4 of Romans. And notice that the argument in Romans 4 does not include any appeal to a special revelation, or a special apostolate, or a special gospel. He supports his argument simply by exegesis of scriptural texts.
In Romans 4 we hear the voice of the historic Paul. And in verse 13 of the same chapter we learn, in passing, what was the gospel to which he subscribed.
The promise made to Abraham and his posterity that they should inherit the world did not come to him through the Law but through the righteousness of faith… It is through faith, that it may be through grace, so as to guarantee the promise for the whole of posterity, and not only to that part of it which comes by way of the Law, but to that which comes through Abraham’s faith, for he is the father of us all. (Rom. 4:13,16, my bolding)
As commentary Alfred Loisy writes:
This passage demands the most thorough consideration; it is an authentic expression of the Christian faith in the earliest period of its diffusion in the Roman world. A promise was given by God to Abraham as a man of faith and to his faithful posterity. The faithful posterity in question are those who are now persuaded that God raised Lord Jesus from the dead. Now the resurrection of Jesus guarantees the promise to Abraham that he and his posterity are to be “heirs of the world.” But the heritage of the world is not a blessed eternity in heaven: it is the happiness of the faithful, made righteous by their faith, on this earth under the Reign of God—the Kingdom..” (Les Origines du Nouveau Testament, ET: The Origins of the New Testament, translation by L.P. Jacks, University Books, 1962, p. 42, Loisy’s italics)
And again, at the conclusion of the same book:
As the argument proceeds we learn what it was that God promised to Abraham and to his posterity. This was not exactly eternal life, the “blessed immortality” of the theologians, but “the heritage of the world” (iv,13), Genesis having said (xxii,17) “thy posterity shall inherit the enemies’ cities,” which Paul understands as promising universal domination over the people of the earth. This shows us that, in the mind of the apostle, the idea of the Kingdom of God and his Christ had not taken the spiritual form. It was still the triumph of God over all the nations as predicted by the prophets. Thus the Gospel is still, as it previously was, the proclamation of the coming Reign of God on earth, except for the clause which now offers salvation to pagans who adhere to the saving faith. (pp. 294-5.)
[Note: Credit for recognizing the key nature Romans 4 should be given to Joseph Turmel who, under the pseudonym ‘Henri Delafosse,’ did a literary dissection of the Pauline letters in his four volume Les Ecrits de Saint Paul, 1926-1928. Loisy acknowledged his debt to the scholar not only for a number of individual insights but also for his overall approach to Paul’s letters as compilations of materials composed by several hands.]
Loisy, following the lead of Turmel, detected the real Paul in a few other parts of Romans but attributed most of that letter to others:
The complementary matter, added by other hands to the original document, is entirely superfluous. Least of all does it need the juxtaposition of a gnosis, which contradicts it at every point of its structure, nor the emollient paraphrases which try to make the gnosis fit in with the primitive teaching here revealed by Paul; nor the violent outbreak against pagans and Jewish sectaries in the opening chapters (i,18-iii, 26); nor the moral counsels (xii-xv,7) which are wholly foreign to its theme. (Les Origines du Nouveau Testament, ET: The Origins of the New Testament, translation by L.P. Jacks, University Books, 1962, p.250)
Loisy’s fellow biblical scholar Charles Guignebert conceded a number of the points Loisy made but contended that he had used his “scalpel” excessively, leaving only a “skeleton outline” of Paul’s letters. To that and like criticism Loisy replied that the resulting letters were simply that— letters—fitted to the circumstances that called them forth and dealing for the most part only with those circumstances. It was the added material—material that was uneven in style, gnostic in character, and over the heads of the recipients—that inflated the letters into epistles. This additional material required a different origin. It didn’t make sense in a letter setting.
In addition to this, we know how the epistolary teaching made acquisitions of many kinds; how it was not only a depository for various gnoses, with or without adaptation to the primitive eschatology, but became charged with doctrinal enlargements and compromises, and especially with moral teaching and exhortation, even with rules of church discipline, all this being done by those who believed they had the right to make the apostles give answers on these points whenever conditions in the churches suggested that a ruling was called for. (Les Origines du Nouveau Testament, ET: The Origins of the New Testament, translation by L.P. Jacks, University Books, 1962, p.309)
By separating the letters from the epistles the real Paul can be distinguished from the fictitious:
We have now reached what is, perhaps, the most important result of this part of our study. This consists in the radical dissimilation of the Paul who really spoke and the Paul who was represented as speaking. The first, the historic Paul, was the preacher of the primitive eschatological catechesis, enlarging it only, as it had already been enlarged by the Antioch missionaries, with a view to bringing pagans into the fold by sparing them the constraint of legal observances. The second was Paul the mystic, with his audacious pretensions, his perpetual and tiresome boastfulness, his gross abuse of the old disciples whom he makes out to be Judaizers. As a personality having a place in primitive Christian history this second Paul would be wholly inexplicable, but is intelligible enough as the mouthpiece of Christian groups which believed themselves heirs of the Pauline tradition. They it was who, in reality, brought into the tradition, not indeed the principle of universal salvation by faith in the risen Christ—from the beginning there had been not great difficulty in admitting that—but the mystery of salvation by mystic union with a Saviour who had come down from heaven and returned to it in glory—a Saviour to whom the ardent believer was united, not only by knowledge of the mystery, but in an intimate communion affected by sacraments, with their ritual of probation, participation and final vision. (Les Origines du Nouveau Testament, ET: The Origins of the New Testament, translation by L.P. Jacks, University Books, 1962, p. 310)
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, my revised hypothesis basically adds only two things to Loisy’s scenario: (1) I would identify the above “Christian groups which believed themselves heirs of the Pauline tradition” as Saturnilians. (2) I would identify the above “mystery of salvation by mystic union with a Saviour who had come down from heaven and returned to it in glory” as the Vision of Isaiah. I also said, earlier in this post, that my recognition of the role the Vision plays in the Pauline letters had changed my perspective on a number of early Christian issues. Before closing I would like to say a few things about perhaps the most significant of them: the historicity of Jesus.
Continuing . . . .
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