Category Archives: Paul and His Letters

Gospel of John as the turning point in a New Religion and a New God

Eight years ago I posted Starting a New Religion with The Gospel of John. In that post the punch line was: 

Where the Gospel of John is different:

Where the fourth evangelist differs from all of these [books written in the names of other prophets], as well as from those who exploited the Moses tradition, is in his conscious substitution of this tradition by the story of Jesus: ‘You search the scriptures,’ Jesus tells ‘the Jews’, ‘and I am the one to which they bear witness’ (5:39). The deliberate replacement of one founder-figure by another (the same step would be taken centuries later by Mohammed) is effectively the proclamation of a new religion. We may compare John with Matthew here, for whom Jesus is a second Moses, refining and purifying the law, but not replacing it (5:17). John, by contrast, puts the law aside, offering instead, in the name of Jesus Christ, ‘grace and truth’ (1:17). Similarly the Temple, the second pillar of contemporary Judaism, was for Matthew a place where Jesus’ disciples continued to offer their gifts: whereas in John the locus of Christian worship has shifted to a place of ‘spirit and truth’ (4:23)

(Ashton, p. 448)

Gabriele Boccaccini

This year I have read a proposal for another dramatic innovation that we find in this same fourth gospel. Gabriele Boccaccini picks up the recent publications of Larry Hurtado and Bart Ehrman that have sought to explain when and how “Jesus became God”.

Bart Ehrman and Larry Hurtado are the scholars who in recent years have more directly tried to address the question. For Ehrman [How Jesus Became God], the attempt to identify when and how Jesus “became God” is not the clear-cut divide that one would expect, but a much subtler discourse about how and when Jesus became “more and more divine,” until he climbed the entire monotheistic pyramid (almost) to share the top with the Father. Jesus, argues Ehrman, was first regarded as a human exalted to a divine status (like Enoch or Elijah before him), and then as a preexistent heavenly being who became human in Jesus and then returned to heaven in an even more exalted status.

Answering the same questions some years earlier, Larry Hurtado [Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity] traced the origin of such a belief by asking when Jesus began to be worshiped by his followers. In his view the devotion to Jesus marked a unique development within Jewish monotheism, even before the emergence of an explicit theology of the equality of Jesus with the Father. Jesus “became God” in the very moment in which he was worshiped.

(Boccaccini, p. 337)

Boccaccini finds both arguments problematic. Ehrman, for instance, does not really explain how Jesus is different from other figures in the Jewish “pantheon” who are also “divine” (e.g. Enoch, Elijah) and “preexistent”. “Being divine” and “being God” were not identical concepts in Second Temple Jewish belief systems. Angels were superhuman “divine” beings and divine beings could become human and humans could become divine. Preexistent divine beings like the Son of Man figure in the Parables of Enoch were not God; that figure was created at the beginning along with the angelic hosts. Thus in 1 Enoch 48:2-6 we read:

At that hour, that Son of Man was given a name, in the presence of the Lord of the Spirits, the Before-Time; even before the creation of the sun and the moon, before the creation of the stars [i.e., the angels], he was given a name in the presence of the Lord of the Spirits. He will become a staff for the righteous ones in order that they may lean on him and not fall. He will be the light of the gentiles and he will become the hope of those who are sick in their hearts…. He was concealed in the presence of (the Lord of the Spirits) prior to the creation of the world, and for eternity.

Hurtado is correct in pointing out that

Jesus was the only person in Judaism of whom we have evidence that he was worshiped by his followers;

But . . .

nonetheless, the force of the argument is somehow diminished by the fact that “veneration” was a common practice toward people of authority. Even within the Jewish monotheistic framework, different degrees of veneration could apply to divine beings other than, and inferior to, God.

Note, therefore, in the Life of Adam and Eve (13-16) the archangel Michael called on all the angels to worship Adam as the image of God: read more »

Paul’s and Isaiah’s Visions — A Possible Connection

See the Ascension of Isaiah archive for other posts on this source. I am sure over time more will be added and views will change.

Roger Parvus posted comments relating to the relationship between Paul’s letters and some things we read in the Ascension of Isaiah. (Recall that the Ascension of Isaiah is a two part text consisting of the Martyrdom of Isaiah and the Vision of Isaiah, and was interpreted by Earl Doherty as a piece of evidence for early Christian belief in a crucifixion of Jesus in the lower heavens.) I have been wading my way through various studies on the document and it is slow going because I find myself struggling through machine translations much of the time. I have as a result become open-minded to possible interpretations that may compete with Doherty’s initial proposals.

Roger Parvus has posted two major series on Vridar:

He’s been doing some more thinking about things since then and I found the following two comments of his thought-provoking.

First one:

Paul regularly appeals to revelation through Scripture. And as Doherty notes:

“The strong implication is that, if the key phrases in Paul are his own voice and not an interpolation, Paul must have had in mind something different in regard to Christ than simply being ‘born’ in the normal sense.” (Jesus Neither God Nor Man, p. 207).

So I am still quite open to the possibility that the Scripture Paul had in view was the Vision of Isaiah’s pocket gospel. Its Jesus is not really born in the normal sense. As Enrico Norelli puts it:

“If the story is read literally, it is not about a birth. It’s about two parallel processes: the womb of Mary, that had enlarged, instantly returned to its prior state, and at the same time a baby appears before her— but, as far as can be determined, without any cause and effect relationship between the two events.” (Ascension du prophète Isaïe, pp. 52-53, my translation)

At this point in general discussion Tim reminded me of Herman Gunkel’s view that Revelation 12 speaks of a birth of a saviour in heaven in Creation and Chaos in the Primeval Era and the Eschaton. (For a criticism of Gunkel’s hypothesis see Creation and Chaos: A Reconsideration of Hermann Gunkel’s Chaoskampf Hypothesis see Scurlock and Beal’s Creation and chaos : a reconsideration of Hermann Gunkel’s Chaoskampf hypothesis.)

Second one:

Yes, there are grounds to suspect that Paul knew some version of the Vision of Isaiah. But my suspicions go further than that. I suspect Paul’s gospel was the Vision of Isaiah. His gospel was not just a message; it was a message based on a specific text: the Vision of Isaiah. And of course, if that was the case, it would seem to follow that he wrote the Vision, for he says in Galatians that he received his gospel by revelation and not from any man.

read more »

The Two Steps to move the Lord’s Celebratory Supper to a Memorial of his Death

While speaking about the origin of the Lord’s Supper discussions prompted me to revisit the question of the integrity of our canonical texts and whether we can be confident they preserve what was originally written by Paul and the author of the Gospel of Mark.

Well, I’ve tracked down several studies on just that question and though I will have to wait a few weeks before a number of them arrive I can post the arguments of one critical scholar, Alfred Loisy. Loisy set out his reasons for believing that the passage in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians in which he claims to have received the instructions about the Lord’s Supper from the Lord himself is a later addition, and similarly for the passage in the Gospel of Mark narrating Jesus instituting a mystical rite the eve before his death. On the contrary, Loisy argues, before the ritual of the death of Jesus the Christian communities knew only of a celebratory fellowship meal that anticipated the imminent arrival of the Kingdom where they would all be feasting with Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 11:

20 When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper.

21 For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken.

22 What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? what shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.

23 For I have received from [ἀπὸ] the Lord [τοῦ Κυρίου] that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread:

24 And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.

25 After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, this cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.

26 For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.

Many of us who have read the above passage may at some time, especially when we first encountered it, have had some “back of our mind” sense that there was something slightly odd with it. But of course repetition when and where all around us evidently accept it as unproblematic dulled our curiosity. But Loisy revives and sharpens our early questions:

Direct revelation or from apostolic tradition?

35 There has been much dissertation about the meaning of the preposition από (before τον κυρίου in verse 23), which need not exclude intermediaries between Jesus and the author of the story. But on the hypothesis of intermediaries, as the matter concerns an act of the Christ and not a plain teaching, we should expect περί rather than από. The author places the case of the Supper among the other παραδόσεις which the Corinthians have received from him. Are all these to be transformed into Gospel traditions passed on by the Galilean apostles? Moreover, whether it be tradition or private vision, the story as here given is not in the primitive Gospel.

(Loisy, p. 399 – my heading)

Some strange features confront us in this passage.

  • It is strange that Paul, if he had really told all this to the Corinthians before, should here be obliged to recall it;
  • strange that he should present it as a revelation received by him from the Lord;35
  • strange that a doctrine implying the theory of redemption by the blood of the Christ, and linked artificially to the benediction of bread and wine customary at Jewish meals, should see the light in the first generation, when Christians lived in expectation of an immediate parousia.

On the other hand it is significant that regard is here paid to that expectation. Evidently the vision of the institution of the Supper which Paul professes to have had is conceived in the framework of a story relating the last meal of Jesus with his disciples in which preoccupation with the Great Event was the dominant feature.

. . . .

In the economy of the Supper as a mystic rite this reference to the parousia, made at a time when it was no longer thought of as imminent, is out of place. The mention of it is due to an old and firmly established tradition. There is ground therefore for saying that mystic commemoration of the saving death, the mystic communion with the crucified Christ, is superposed on a form of the Supper as an anticipation of the banquet of the elect in the Kingdom of God, a form clearly indicated in a saying embedded in the oldest tradition of the synoptic Gospels:

Verily, verily, I tell you
   that I will drink no more
      of the fruit of the vine,
   Until that day
      when I drink it new
         in the Kingdom of God.

The account of the mystic Supper, in First Corinthians, belongs to the evolution of the Christian Mystery at a stage in the development of that mystery earlier than Justin, earlier even than the canonical edition of the first three Gospels but notably later than Paul and the apostolic age. It must be dated in the period when the common meal was in process of transformation into a simple liturgical act. The passage in question is a conscious attempt to further the transformation by giving it the apostolical authority of Paul. . . .

(Loisy, pp. 244f, my formatting and bolding)

Loisy suggests that the transformation was made some time in the late first century or early second century, towards, say, the time of Marcion (who esteemed Paul as his sole apostolic authority) in 140 CE.

That makes sense to me. In my earlier post I referred to early traditions, clearly in tension with the one we read in 1 Cor 11: 23-26, that speak of a Lord’s Supper as a happy fellowship occasion for thanksgiving and with no connection at all with mystic symbolism of blood and flesh.

But what of the canonical gospels? If the mystical ritual in Paul’s letter was not part of what Paul himself wrote, and if the earliest canonical gospel that of Mark, was (as some argue – Tarazi, Dykstra, R.G.Price) indebted to Paul’s ideas, how do we explain the gospel account of Jesus instituting that ceremony? read more »

Paul on the side of State Terror

Romans 13:1-7

1 Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.

2 Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.

3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same.

4 For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.

5 Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake.

6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing.

7 Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.

After listening to historian Tom Holland (see the video clip in the previous post) claim Paul’s seven letters were the revolutionary “depth charge” whose ripples essentially civilized Europe and the West I found myself turning to some studies on the influence of Greco-Roman philosophical values on Paul. One passage stood out. It is by Niko Huttunen in his comparison between Paul’s and the Stoic philosopher Epictetus’s views on law.

We may ask if Paul really meant what he said in Rom. 13.1-7. What would he say a couple of years later, during Nero’s persecution (Tacitus, Ann. 15.44)? Did he think that the sword of the authorities punishes wrongdoers when the sword – as the legend goes – beheaded him? We do not know. What we do know are the words in Rom. 13.1-7. Horsley and his companions think that we can find Paul’s critical attitude towards the empire if the gospel he proclaimed is read in the imperial context. Paul really had an alternative content for such designations of emperors like  ‘son of God’ and ‘Savior’ – just to pick up a few examples that scholars have taken as showing his anti-imperial stance. But these words are not aimed at opposing the Roman imperial order if Paul was honest when dictating Rom. 13.

For example, Luke-Acts begins with the hymns of Mary (Lk. 1.46-55) and of Zechariah (Lk. 1.67-79) in which it is possible to hear national overtones, such as in the phrases ‘he has brought down the powerful from their thrones’ and ‘he has raised up a mighty saviour for us in the house of his servant David’ (Lk. 1.52 and 1.69). Then Luke continues with the birth of Jesus, which can be seen as a variant of imperial legends (Virgil, Ecl. 4; Suetonius, Aug. 2.94). Luke 1-2, however, is not meant to be a political proclamation against authorities. The same holds with Paul. I see no reason to understand Paul’s gospel as being anti-imperial though he used words known in the imperial propaganda. When we deal with Paul’s view on the authorities our primary source must be the passage that openly speaks of the State.

The terror regime which Paul approves motivates people by negative means: do what is commanded in order to avoid death and pain! Paul mentions only in passing that the authorities also use a positive spur, approval (v. 3), and he forgets this immediately. There is only the negative trait, wrath, mentioned in the summary (v. 5), which also includes a new reason for loyalty, the requirement of conscience. Yet, it is Paul – not the authorities – who invokes conscience, and only as an additional point (ου μόνον – άλλα καί). The authorities, as described by Paul, only use the system of the stick and the carrot, and the former prevails. The apostle accepts this system without reservations.

Niko Huttunen

Scholars may attempt to find ways to interpret Paul being a cryptic anti-imperialist by suggesting his use of imperial titles (‘son of god’, ‘saviour’) for Jesus is an ironic challenge to authority and this interpretation no doubt helps activist Christians remain on the side of the angels. But my recollection of years of studying European history from late antiquity through to modern times suggests to me that Paul has been used far more often to justify state terror.

In Huttunen’s assessment, Paul comes off a poor second to Epictetus on this little matter.

It may be that Paul himself did not write those words and that they were added there by “proto-orthodox” as a few scholars but that’s beside the point. Romans 13:1-7 as it stands has been a staple of Church teachings through the ages.

(But Tom Holland may be able to change my mind when his new book is published. Let’s see.)


Huttunen, Niko. 2009. Paul and Epictetus on Law: A Comparison. London ; New York: T&T Clark.


Paul’s “Rulers of this Age” — Conclusion (Part ?)

Is this really the concluding post? No doubt I will find more reasons over time to add to the arguments.

Earlier posts in this series:

    1. Are the “Rulers of the Age” in 1 Cor. 2:6-8 Human or Spiritual? – the sea change
    2. Who Killed Christ? Human rulers and/or angelic rulers. Addressing 1 Cor 2:6-8.
    3. Who Crucified Jesus – Men or Demons? Continuing Miller’s Study of 1 Cor 2:6-8
    4. What they used to say about Paul’s “rulers of this age” who crucified the “lord of glory”
    5. More older arguments for Paul’s “rulers of this age” being spirit powers
    6. Once more on the “Spiritual Rulers” in Paul’s Cosmic Drama

(Addendum: “Demons Crucified Jesus ON EARTH” – according to ancient sources and modern analysis)

–o0o–

Here we return to the arguments of Robert Ewusie Moses [REM] in favour of the Paul’s “rulers of this age” who “crucified the Lord of Glory” being spirit powers.

Argument #1: Context

I have had several people try to convince me that “rulers of this age” has to refer to human rulers because in the preceding chapter and more Paul has been talking exclusively about the divide between human and godly wisdom. Yes, he has. But it does not follow that he will not shift into a higher gear in 1 Cor. 2:6.

The first reason REM offers for Paul’s “rulers of this age” being a reference to demon rulers is that the term would be “arbitrary and redundant” if it was speaking about human rulers. Recall that Paul has already (in the preceding “paragraphs” leading up to 1 Cor 2:6) made it very clear that “earthlings” — sages, scribes, philosophers, all the wise of this world — cannot and never could understand the “wisdom of God”. Had Paul said “none of the wisest persons on earth could understand God’s wisdom, and not only those wisest of all, but even our rulers, too!” — no, it would not work. Most subjects are discreet about it but they snickeringly know that their Herods and Pilates and Caiaphases are not really all that bright no matter how powerful they are. Paul has prior to 2:6 made it clear that the lowly believers are privy to a wisdom beyond the very wisest of this world.

What Paul is doing here is furthering the crescendo: not only the wisest of humans but even “the rulers of this age who are even right now in the process of being disemboweled.” Woops, disemboweling cannot apply to demons, surely, but Paul used another word that means being sapped of all power, being rendered inoperative”. The rulers of this age, Paul said, are in the process right now of being conquered. Later, in chapter 15, he will refer to a time in the future when that conquest will be complete (see point #2).

So, the logic of Paul’s argument goes like this:

  1. not only all the wisest men on earth
  2. but even those powers that rule this age and who are in the process of right now being conquered by Christ with God’s angels
  3. are bereft of the wisdom of God.

The implication here is that these rulers of this age

  • would be expected to have superior knowledge but they don’t
  • would be expected to have superior power but they are in the process right now of losing that power
  • would be expected to be immortal — though if so, the status of that immortality is now in doubt

It is no coincidence, suggests REM, that “superior knowledge”, “superior power” and “immortality” are the three attributes that define “gods” in the Greco-Roman world.

Argument #2: Rulers are now being disempowered

Let’s look again at that detail about the rulers of this age currently losing their power and becoming inoperative. The verb Paul uses is καταργέω (katargeo). He uses the same verb again in 15:24 but this time to describe a past action, something has been completed.

then the end, when He shall hand over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He shall have annulled all dominion, and all authority and power.

When we read that chapter it is evident that Paul is talking about all powers in both earth and heaven. In 1 Cor 2:6 Paul uses the present passive participle of the verb καταργέω to depict an event currently underway. REM returns to the insight of Dibelius who pointed out that Paul cannot be saying that “the High Priest, Herod, and Pilate” are in the process of losing their power. Paul’s words only make sense of the battle between spirit powers that will culminate in total victory for Christ at the end.

Believers are already the bearers of a revelation that the cross was the site of the powers’ demise; but the powers are still at work in the world, though believers know that their days are numbered, for they are being rendered inoperative.

(REM, p. 134)

Argument #3: Apocalyptic passing of ages

Note, further, that the wisdom that the rulers of this age are ignorant of has been hidden in a mystery since even before “this age” began. And the reason it was hidden till now? Answer: For the unique glory of the believers.

As noted by Clifton Black, these are apocalyptic terminologies that portray the death of Jesus as an apocalyptic event, the turning point of the ages. For Paul, then, the advent of Christ is the decisive moment in history which ushers in a new age and, in turn, sets in motion the gradual fading out of the old cosmos (1 Cor 7:33).

(REM, p. 134)

Up till 1 Cor 2:6 Paul is clearly addressing human wisdom. He speaks of human reversal so that the low-class people become exalted in God’s eyes above the powerful “in the flesh”. read more »

Once more on the “Spiritual Rulers” in Paul’s Cosmic Drama

Posts in this series:

    1. Are the “Rulers of the Age” in 1 Cor. 2:6-8 Human or Spiritual? – the sea change
    2. Who Killed Christ? Human rulers and/or angelic rulers. Addressing 1 Cor 2:6-8.
    3. Who Crucified Jesus – Men or Demons? Continuing Miller’s Study of 1 Cor 2:6-8
    4. What they used to say about Paul’s “rulers of this age” who crucified the “lord of glory”
    5. Seven problems for the view that Paul’s “rulers of this age” were human authorities
    6. More older arguments for Paul’s “rulers of this age” being spirit powers

–o0o–

Paul foresees the crushing of every spiritual ruler who has been against God in 1 Corinthians 15:24-26

24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed every ruler (ἀρχὴν), every authority (ἐξουσίαν) and power (δύναμιν). 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is Death.

But where did he get that idea? Matthew Black has proposed that there was an early Christian “meme” (as we might say today) — more correctly a “pesher” or “interpretation” — that combined Psalm 110:1 with Daniel 7:13ff.

Psalm 110:1

The Lord says to my lord:

“Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.”

Daniel 7:13-14, 27

“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. . . .  27 Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be handed over to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.’

Compare Mark 14:62 where these two passages are again intertwined:

62 “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Who are these rulers in Paul’s letters to the Corinthians? If we interpret Paul’s words in the context of related documents in that general time period we are likely to conclude they are angelic rulers. Notice:

Ephesians 1:20-21

That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet. . .

Those powers over whom Christ rules appear to be in the heavenly places.

1 Peter 3:22

Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.

That surely seals it. Yes, the angels and authorities and powers in those heavens are all subject to him.

Guy Williams in his published thesis comments

So, then, this forms an early Christian (perhaps, ‘mythical’) narrative. Certain angelic powers are assumed somehow to have become estranged from and hostile towards God, thus making their eventual defeat a part of the new Christian message. (p. 134)

So we come to the last name listed by Robert Ewusie Moses to represent the “immense” “scholarly literature” favouring the position that the rulers of this age in 1 Corinthians 2:6-8 are in fact spiritual, not human, powers.

Guy Williams, 2009

Williams, Guy. 2009. The Spirit World in the Letters of Paul the Apostle: A Critical Examination of the Role of Spiritual Beings in the Authentic Pauline Epistles. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

Guy Williams

We are moving well beyond the “what they used to say” era but I include Williams’ viewpoint here because it is the last cited by Robert Ewusie Moses of the “immense” “scholarly literature” favouring the position that the rulers of this age are spiritual powers.

Williams summarizes five reasons for viewing the rulers of this age as “angelic and spiritual rulers”, not human powers, “although the influence of human powers is not unrelated to this idea.” (p. 136)

(a) it is the earliest known interpretation of these verses, [Ignatius (Eph 18-19); Marcion (Tertullian, Marc 5.6.5) and Ascension of Isaiah (11:24)]

(b) the verb used here (καταργέω – meaning ‘destroy’, ‘nullify’) refers to the destruction of angelic ἀρχαὶ by Christ in 15.24 – a highly suggestive parallel,

(c) the rulers are ignorant of the wisdom which God “established before the ages – a point of some relevance to immortal angels, but meaningless in connection with humans,

(d) the rulers are presently being destroyed, an assertion which might fit with angelic rulers but not with Herod and Pilate, who died long before Paul’s letter was written, and

(e) Paul writes specifically of “the rulers of this age“, suggesting a narrative of cosmic conflict between certain powers of evil and Christ (cf Gal 1.4; 2Cor 4.4; also Eph 2.2; Ascen. Isa. 2.4). In early Christian tradition, the ‘current age’ is most commonly associated with the rule of Satan and his subordinates.

These arguments suggest that this text is similar in scope to 1 Cor 15.24 and Col 2.15.

(p. 137, my formatting and bolding; italics original)

read more »

More older arguments for Paul’s “rulers of this age” being spirit powers

Previous posts in this series:

  1. Are the “Rulers of the Age” in 1 Cor. 2:6-8 Human or Spiritual? – the sea change
  2. Who Killed Christ? Human rulers and/or angelic rulers. Addressing 1 Cor 2:6-8.
  3. Who Crucified Jesus – Men or Demons? Continuing Miller’s Study of 1 Cor 2:6-8
  4. What they used to say about Paul’s “rulers of this age” who crucified the “lord of glory”
  5. Seven problems for the view that Paul’s “rulers of this age” were human authorities

(Related topic: “Demons Crucified Jesus ON EARTH”. . . . )

–o0o–

1 Corinthians 2:6-10

(6) But we speak wisdom among the perfect, wisdom which does not belong to this age nor to the rulers of this age, who are being destroyed. (7) But we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God foreordained betöre the ages with a view to our glory. (8) This wisdom none of the rulers of this age knew, for if they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
(9) But as it is written: ‘Things which eye has not seen nor ear heard, which did not enter into the heart of man, things which God has prepared for those who love him’. (10) But to us God has revealed (these things) through the Spirit.

Translation by Judith Kovacs (see below)

(Contrary to what I learned years ago in a certain church, in Kovacs view, the new revelation of verses 9-10 refers to the cross as the pivotal turning point in history and the grand cosmic drama: from the that moment on the hidden ruling powers of this age were in the process of being conquered and humanity would soon be released from their clutches and this evil age would pass away.)

–o0o–

Charles Kingsley Barrett, 1968, 1971

Barrett, C. K. 1971. A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians. 2nd ed.. Black’s New Testament Commentaries. London: Black. p. 70-72

C.K. Barrett

C.K. Barrett saw the same “rulers of this age” being condemned in

  • John 12:31  Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.
  • John 14:30 I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me
  • John 16:11 the prince of this world now stands condemned.

The wisdom that these rulers do not know is the wisdom of this “evil age” (Gal 1:4), a wisdom that sets itself against God. As far as men are concerned it is a “man-centred” wisdom (as Paul has discussed in the preceding passages). Yes, it is a human wisdom, but….

He calls the evil powers ‘archontas‘. If these themselves were ignorant how much more were also the men by the intermediary of whom the demons crucified the Lord.” —

Héring, Jean. 1962. The First Epistle of Saint Paul to the Corinthians. Translated by A. W. Heathcote and P. J. Allcock. Epworth Press. p.16

But more than men are concerned. It is the wisdom of the rulers of this age (compare verse 8; and 2 Cor. iv. 4). Paul, like very many of his contemporaries, conceived the present world-order to be under the control of supernatural beings, often represented by or identified with the planets, or other heavenly objects. These (except in so far as the power of God was available to overthrow or hold them in check) controlled the destiny of men. The wisdom they themselves entertained, and perhaps communicated to men, was naturally of the kind described. (p. 70)

Paul understood that these rulers were in the process of “being brought to nothing”.

Up until now I have made much of the difference between the hidden wisdom being about God’s plan for salvation through the cross on the one hand and the identity of Jesus as God’s Son and Christ by whom salvation was to be wrought. So I find myself pulled up when I read C.K. Barrett writing:

None of the rulers of this age . . . knew . . . this true, divine wisdom. Either: they did not understand God’s plan for the salvation of the world, based as it was on the cross; or: they did not recognize Christ crucified as the agent chosen by God for the world’s salvation. These two interpretations are distinguishable, but the difference between them is not great. (p. 71)

Of course, Christ is himself the wisdom of God according to 1 Cor. 1:24 and 1:30.

Barrett treats the “rulers of this age” as the supernatural powers controlling the events of this age, at least up till the time of the crucifixion, but acknowledges that a few others at that time differed. One of these was J. B. Lightfoot who held them to be earthly rulers such as Pilate and Caiaphas. Barrett responds:

This view is possible in verse 8 but much less likely in verse 6; and the gospels represent the ministry, and not least the death, of Jesus as a record of conflict with supernatural powers. On this question, see Héring, . . . . Man may, however, properly recognize himself in the inability of the world-rulers to see God’s wisdom in the cross. (p. 72)

We have seen this argument before, that the gospels, or at least the gospel of Mark, presents Jesus’ conflicts on earth as a contest between supernatural powers. When we do turn to Héring as Barrett suggests we find the source of Barrett’s own understanding of “rulers of this age”.

To understand these verses we must first ask who are the ‘rulers of this age’ (‘hoi archontes tou aionos toutou“). With Origen and Theodore of Mopsuestia and in contradistinction to Chrysostom we think that this expression must be linked with ‘archon tou kosmou toutou‘ (Jn 12:13, 14:30, 16:11), where there is no question that supernatural powers are meant. If this is so, there is then here no reference to Pontius Pilate or the Roman emperors, but to powers of the invisible world. This seems to be supported by:

  • the parallel text of Colossians 2:15, where Christ triumphs by the Cross over hostile powers, called ‘archai kai exousiai’;
  • as well as by Romans 8:38, where the ‘archai‘ (along with other supernatural powers) are mentioned as being likely to hinder the work of Redemption;
  • the fact that the Roman Empire was looked upon by the Apostle as a providential and beneficent power (Rom 13 1-7);
  • possibly also by the use of the verb ‘katargein‘ (2:6), which is sometimes a technical astrological term for the nullifying of an astral influence by a superior power;
  • the fact that they diffuse a wisdom, i.e. teaching, which is in no way characteristic of the political powers.

We are concerned, then, with astral powers, directly related to the ‘stoicheia’ = ‘the elements’ of Galatians. There is nothing to show that the Apostle ranked these among the beings which were evil by nature, like the ‘daimones‘ of 10:20-22 or like Satan or Beliar. All we are told is that they were opposed to the Gospel. But they would not have been, had they possessed divine wisdom. For in such a case, they would have known that it was not in their own interests to crucify the Lord, since his death struck a terrible blow at their rule (Col 2:15). Some scholars further think that they did not even recognize the Lord, recalling in this connection the gnostic (oriental) myth of a god who deceived the ‘devil’ by hiding his identity. (On this see. . .  Ignatius, Ep. to the Ephes. 19; as well as the Ascension of Isaiah X.11ff)

(Héring, pp. 16f)

Following Héring Barrett notes that the expression “lord of glory” is found most commonly in 1 Enoch:

22:14 Then I blessed the Lord of glory and said: ‘Blessed be my Lord, the Lord of righteousness, who ruleth for ever.’

25:3-7  And he answered saying: ‘This high mountain which thou hast seen, whose summit is like the throne of God, is His throne, where the Holy Great One, the Lord of Glory, the Eternal King, will sit, when He shall come down to visit the earth . . . . Then blessed I the God of Glory, the Eternal King, who hath prepared such things for the righteous, and hath created them and promised to give to them.

27:3-5 In the last days there shall be upon them the spectacle of righteous judgement in the presence of the righteous for ever: here shall the merciful bless the Lord of glory, the Eternal King. In the days of judgement over the former, they shall bless Him for the mercy in accordance with which He has assigned them (their lot).’ Then I blessed the Lord of Glory and set forth His glory and lauded Him gloriously.

63:2 Blessed is the Lord of Spirits and the Lord of kings, And the Lord of the mighty and the Lord of the rich, And the Lord of glory and the Lord of wisdom

75:3 For the signs and the times and the years and the days the angel Uriel showed to me, whom the Lord of glory hath set for ever over all the luminaries of the heaven, in the heaven and in the world, that they should rule on the face of the heaven and be seen on the earth, and be leaders for the day and the night, i.e. the sun, moon, and stars, and all the ministering creatures which make their revolution in all the chariots of the heaven.

Not mentioned by either Barrett or Héring (unless I have missed something) is the association in 1 Enoch of the Lord of Glory with both wisdom and spiritual rulers of the earth.

It is difficult to avoid bringing these two associations in to the first two chapters of 1 Corinthians, and especially to 1 Cor 2:6-8.

–o0o–

No portrait, a boring cover, and most of HC’s interesting information is in his footnotes that I do not include here.

Hans Conzelmann, 1975

Conzelmann, Hans. 1975. 1 Corinthians: A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians. Edited by George W. MacRae. Translated by James W. Leitch. Hermeneia. Philadelphia: Fortress Press. p. 61

Conzelman acknowledges those who disagree with his view:

The question whether the άρχοντες, “governing powers,” are demons or political powers has long been in dispute.44 The mythical context suggests the interpretation demons,45 and so also does the solemn predication των καταργονμινών, “which are being brought to nothing.”46 They are the minions of the “god of this aeon” (2 Cor 4:4).47

–o0o–

Judith Kovacs, 1989

read more »

Seven problems for the view that Paul’s “rulers of this age” were human authorities

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age [ἀρχόντων τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου], who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age [ἀρχόντων τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου] understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 1 Corinthians 2:6-8 (NIV)

Previous posts in this series:

  1. Are the “Rulers of the Age” in 1 Cor. 2:6-8 Human or Spiritual? – the sea change
  2. Who Killed Christ? Human rulers and/or angelic rulers. Addressing 1 Cor 2:6-8.
  3. Who Crucified Jesus – Men or Demons? Continuing Miller’s Study of 1 Cor 2:6-8

This post sets out the weaknesses that Robert Ewusie Moses (REM: not to be confused with a rock band or type of sleep) sees in the prevailing view that Paul’s “rulers of this age” who crucified Jesus Christ is a reference to human authorities. REM’s discussion is found in his doctoral thesis, Powerful Practices: Paul’s Principalities and Powers Revisited (pages 123-131).

Argument: the gospels inform us that the demonic powers did know who Jesus was so the rulers of this age who crucified Jesus because of ignorance (1 Cor. 2:6-8) could not be these spiritual powers

Suddenly, they screamed, “What do you want with us, Son of God? Did you come here to torture us before the proper time?” — Matthew 8:29

“What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” — Mark 1:24

He healed many who were sick with various diseases and drove out many demons. However, he wouldn’t allow the demons to speak because they knew who he was. — Mark 1:34

Whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they would fall down in front of him and scream, “You are the Son of God!” — Mark 3:11

“Oh, no! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” — Luke 4:34

Even demons came out of many people, screaming, “You are the Son of God!” But Jesus rebuked them and ordered them not to speak, because they knew he was the Messiah. — Luke 4:41

(ISV translations)

The above argument is Gene Miller’s [see previous posts for details] but before Miller, REM notes, Julius Schniewind argued the same:

that while Paul may have believed that the devil stood behind Jesus’ opponents, the view that the rulers of this age are spiritual powers cannot be maintained because it would put Paul in tension with the Synoptic Gospels, which portray demonic spirits as recognizing the identity of Jesus.

(REM, p. 124)

As an aside I may interject to point out that we first encounter this argument in Tertullian’s attack on Marcion who did argue that the “rulers of this age” were angelic forces.

The most fundamental objection to the above argument is its fundamental logical or methodological error. It is not valid to interpret the original meaning of a document written around 50 CE according to other ideas and stories that were extant a generation later. But that aside….

REM’s Objection #1

Paul’s views were opposed to a number of mainstream positions in the early church (e.g. law; gentile inclusion). Paul was a contentious figure. So that Paul would disagree with gospels or early church is not remarkable. read more »

Who Crucified Jesus – Men or Demons? Continuing Miller’s Study of 1 Cor 2:6-8

Previous posts in this series:

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age [ἀρχόντων τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου], who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age [ἀρχόντων τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου] understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. — 1 Corinthians 2:6-8 (NIV)
  1. Are the “Rulers of the Age” in 1 Cor. 2:6-8 Human or Spiritual? – the sea change
  2. Who Killed Christ? Human rulers and/or angelic rulers. Addressing 1 Cor 2:6-8.

Each heading represents an argument Gene Miller addresses.

In 1 Cor 2:6-8 Pau’s “rulers” (archai) is a pesonalization of the spiritual powers “elemental spirits/principles” (stoicheia tou kosmou) in Col 2:20

Miller responds: Paul would be unlikely to use an ambiguous term (archai) that could mean either human or demonic authorities to indicate “elemental spirits”.

Comment: Such an assertion needs to be accompanied by a justification.

In Rom 13:1-7 Paul considers the Roman authorities to be “a providential and beneficent power” so he would not in 1 Cor 2:6-8 accuse them of being ignorant and crucifying Jesus. 

Miller responds: Paul’s view of Roman authorities is irrelevant since he believed it was the Jewish authorities who were responsible for crucifying Jesus. In support Miller cites Acts 13:27-29 and 1 Thes 2:14-15.

Comment: The author of Acts elsewhere portrays a view of Paul that is in stark contrast to the Paul of the letters. That author known as Luke appears to have been creating a Paul more suited to the “orthodoxy” of his day. The passage in 1 Thessalonians 2 is of very doubtful authenticity according to a number of scholars so cannot be relied upon as a sound basis for an argument.

I Cor 2:6 says the “rulers of this age” have a certain kind of wisdom, implying in a sense that they are more than human.

Miller responds: In this context, Paul has been speaking only of human wisdom. Ergo, the rulers of this age have a human wisdom and are therefore human. Compare 1:19, 20 where Paul speaks of the wise person, the scribe or teacher, the philosopher of this world. read more »

Are the “Rulers of the Age” in 1 Cor. 2:6-8 Human or Spiritual? – the sea change

Up till the 1980s it was the accepted view that the “rulers of this age” who crucified the Lord of Glory according to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians were spirit beings. Several scholars explained that they did so by influencing their earthly counterparts to carry out the deed. The passage reads*:

* Two outlier voices arguing that 1 Corinthians 2:6-16 is a non-pauline interpolation into the original letter are those of

Widmann, M. 1979. “1 Kor. 2:6-16. Ein Einspruch gegen Paulus” ZNW 70: 44-53.

Walker, W.J., 2002. Interpolations in the Pauline Letters. Bloomsbury T&T Clark, London. pp. 127-146.

 

Widmann’s arguments are challenged by

O’Connor, J.M., 2009. Keys to First Corinthians: Revisiting the Major Issues, Oxford University Press, New York. 257-260

Walker’s argument takes O’Connor’s rebuttals into account and attempts to strengthen Widmann’s case.

I may set the pros and cons for interpolation in a future post. In this post I assume the passage was penned by Paul.

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age [ἀρχόντων τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου], who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age [ἀρχόντων τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου] understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.1 Corinthians 2:6-8 (NIV)

Thus in the 1985 edition of A Translator’s Handbook for 1 Corinthians Paul Ellingworth could write of the passage translated “rulers of the age”:

A majority of scholars think that supernatural powers are intended here.

(p. 46. Cited in Doherty, E. 2009. Jesus: neither God nor man: the case for a mythical Jesus. Age of Reason Publications, Ottawa. p. 222)

Bolded highlighting in all quotations is my own

It is not difficult to find confirmation of Ellingworth’s observation:

Without doubt the usual interpretation [of 1 Corinthians 2:6-8] at present is that the rulers are demonic spiritual forces, and this is mainly due to Everling’s recovery of the idea. It has, however, a long pedigree, being found in Origen and Marcion, and is currently supported by, among others, Bultmann, Lietzmann, Delling, Schlier and Barrett.16 . . . .

An allied view is that the rulers are both human and spiritual forces. This is supported by Dibelius, Leivestad, Wendland, Dehn, Caird, and especially Cullmann.18

16 Origen, de Princ. 3.2; Marcion in Tertullian, adv. Marc. 5.6. Bultmann, Theology, I, 147ff; Lietzmann, An die Korinther I, II (Gottingen, 1949), ad loc.; Delling, TDNT, I, 489; Schlier, Principalities, pp. 45f; C. K. Barrett, ‘Christianity at Corinth’, BJRL 46 (1963), 278ff, and I Corinthians, ad loc. . . . .

18 R. Leivestad, Christ the Conqueror (London, 1954), p. 106; J. Wendland, Die Briefe an die Korinther (Göttingen, 1946), p. 19; G. Dehn, ‘Engel und Obrigkeit; ein Beitrag zum Verstandnis von Röm. 13. 1-7’, in E. Wolf (ed.), Theologische Aufsätze fur Karl Barth (Munich, 1936), p. 104; Caird, Principalities and Powers, pp. 16f.

Carr, W., 1981. Angels and Principalities: The background, meaning and development of the Pauline phrase hai archai kai hai exousiai. Cambridge University Press. p. 118

(To assist with identification I hyperlink references that are unclear or lack descriptive detail.)

In the 1987 publication The First Epistle to the Corinthians Gordon D. Fee (disapprovingly) acknowledges the same:

But who are the “rulers of this age”? . . .  [T]here has been a growing consensus over many years that the “rulers” are demonic powers,21 or at least that by these words Paul wants the Corinthians to see demonic powers as lying behind the activity of the earthly rulers.22

21The literature here is immense. Among commentators, see Weiss, Moffatt, Lietzmann, Héring, Barrett, Conzelmann. Among others, see R. Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament (ET, London, 1952), I, 259; Wilckens, 60-63; Scroggs, “Paul,” p. 41; BAGD.

22This view is espoused by such various scholars as O. Cullmann, Christ and Time (ET, London, 1962), pp. 191-206; G. B. Caird, Principalities and Powers (Oxford, 1956), pp. 80-82; G. H. C. MacGregor, “Principalities and Powers. The Cosmic Background of St Paul’s Thought,” NTS 1 (1954/55), 17-28; W. J. P. Boyd, “I Cor. 2:8,” ExpT 68 (1957), 158; and Bruce, 38. . . . .

(p. 103.)

A backward look from a 2012 doctoral dissertation (supervised by Richard Hays) reminds us again of what the dominant scholarly view once was, this time approvingly: read more »

If the Gospel of Mark Condemns Peter, Why Do We Sympathize With Him?

Peter’s Denial / Robert Leinweber

Especially since reading Theodore J. Weeden’s Mark — Traditions in Conflict, and several other works influenced by Weeden’s thesis, I have tended to assume that the Gospel of Mark seeks to denigrate Peter and the Twelve. They are nothing but failures, “obtuse and wrongheaded” (John Drury’s phrase) in every way. Was the author of the gospel (let’s call him Mark) firing shrapnel at Peter and his associates as part of some sort of ideological battle involving Paul?

But if Mark wanted to condemn Peter then why is it so easy to read the gospel and feel sympathetic towards him? Are we really unconsciously reading Mark through the later evangelists?

Before continuing, I must admit that I am conscious of the fact that I am relying entirely upon the Gospel of Mark as we have it in its canonical form and that the original composition may well have contained significant differences. Be that as it may, to continue…..

Finn Damgaard raised and answered my question in “Persecution and Denial – Paradigmatic Apostolic Portrayals in Paul and Mark”, a chapter at the end of Mark and Paul, Comparative Essays Part II. For and Against Pauline Influence on Mark (2014).

Mark singles out Peter for special mention throughout his gospel so we naturally take a particular interest in him:

  • Peter is the first disciple to appear in the gospel and the first to be called, the first to confess Jesus is the Christ (in the middle of the gospel) and the last disciple mentioned in the gospel;
  • We learn more about Peter than any other disciple: he has a mother-in-law so is or has been married; he has a house in Capernaum that he shares with his brother Andrew;
  • Peter is the first listed of the apostles and the first to be renamed by Jesus, and his words are used to initiate teachings by Jesus on discipleship;
  • He appears to be more “rounded” as a character than the others in his arguments with Jesus and his three denials and subsequent tears.

Peter’s failings are certainly many:

  • he denies Jesus three times
  • he is forgetful and uncomprehending
  • Jesus calls him Satan

But notice how the author also leads us to sympathize with Peter. Peter may be a foil to Jesus but he is not portrayed as wicked. Mark keeps the readers on Peter’s side by letting the readers see into Peter’s well-meaning nature, his good intentions and genuine bafflement and tearful remorse over his most serious failures. read more »

Aesop, Guide to a Very Late Date for the Gospels?

Is it possible that our canonical gospels, even the apparently pioneering Gospel of Mark, were really composed well into the second century? The possibility has been argued by a few and I don’t discount it. I often find myself suspecting it is true although very often for the sake of argument I will assume that at least the Gospel of Mark was written relatively soon after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE. There are reasonable arguments in favour of a first-century date, after all, but it is also undeniable that an early date for Mark “just happens” to favour orthodox Christian beliefs and traditional models for the sources and general reliability of the Gospels. It does not hurt to keep in mind the fundamentals for dating any text (see Scientific and Unscientific Dating of the Gospels) and that we ought always to start first with where we have the most secure evidence for the existence of a work, not from where we have the least.

Although it has become a standing procedure in the study of the [Bible’s books] to begin where we know the least and to end at the point where we have safe information in order to explain what is certain by reasons uncertain and from an unknown past, it is obvious to almost everybody else that this procedure has no claim to be called scientific. We should rather and as a matter of course start where we are best informed. Only from this vantage should we try to penetrate into the unknown past. (Lemche, N. P. (2001) “The Old Testament — A Hellenistic Book?” in Lester L. Grabbe (ed) Did Moses Speak Attic? Sheffield Academic Press, Sheffield. p. 294)

The earliest evidence that anyone knew of passages that appear in our canonical gospels are the writings of Justin Martyr from around 140 to 150 CE. I have posted a table cross-referencing Justin’s writings with Gospel content at http://vridar.info/xorigins/justinnarr.htm. (The table needs updating because I’ve since found a few mistakes in it, but overall it is useful for getting a general idea.)

Now it “just so happens” that Justin was writing at a time when there was a strong interest in the life and writings of the apostle Paul although you would not know it if you read only Justin. Paul is conspicuous in Justin’s works by his complete absence. Presumably the reason for Justin’s silence (despite the evidence we have for volcanic debates erupting over Paul all around him) is his refusal to acknowledge the apostle who was reputed to be the pillar of “the heretics”.

This interest in Paul is the point of this post’s argument for dating the gospels as I’ll explain.

But before I do, note the evidence for this strong interest in Paul in the second century. It was at this time that a canonical collection of Paul’s letters first appears. Since it happened to be the “heretical” Marcionites who produced this canon the “proto-orthodox” writers took hold of the same writings and accused their opponents of editing out the bits they did not like. And so the battle raged over what, exactly, the original texts of Paul’s letters looked like. Before the second century we have no record of any interest being shown in Paul’s letters.

It was also in the second century that we find stories being written about Paul and his career as an apostle. One of these is our New Testament book of Acts. There was another “Acts” of Paul that took a very different view of him and his message, “The Acts of Paul and Thecla”, which apparently proved to be very popular despite being condemned by Tertullian.

Moreover, we have Pastoral epistles falsely claiming to be by the apostle Paul — 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus — also being produced in this era. And there is 2 Peter with its concluding reference to widespread controversy over Paul’s letters likewise being written (or forged under Peter’s name) in the second century.

Some readers have no doubt jumped ahead and know where I am headed with how this point relates to the date of the gospels.

If the Gospel of Mark was influenced by the letters of Paul, then it is reasonable to date it to a time when there was clearly known to be strong evidence for an interest in Paul’s letters.

And not a few scholars have argued for the Gospel of Mark’s indebtedness to Paul. We have over 300 pages of debate in Mark and Paul, Comparative Essays Part II. For and Against Pauline Influence on Mark. Many of us know about Tom Dykstra’s Mark, Canonizer of Paul. There is also Alan Cadwallader’s The Struggle for Paul in the Context of Empire: Mark as a Deutero-Pauline Text and many more likeminded publications.

I was reminded of all of the above as I completed reading a discussion by Tomas Hägg in The Art of Biography in Antiquity about the Life of Aesop (by Anonymous) composed probably in the first century CE. Addressing the time the Life appeared and the context of its emergence, Hägg writes

The biographical interest, in turn, is no doubt a result of the renewed actuality of the ‘Aesopic’ fables in the first two centuries of the Roman Empire. This is the time when Phaedrus, a slave of Thacian origin who became a freedman of Emperor Augustus, wrote his well-known fables in Latin iambic verse . . . ; when Babrius, . . . ‘a hellenized Italian living in Syria, or somewhere near by in Asia Minor’, published his two books of Mythiambi, versified Aesopic fables in Greek; and when Plutarch, who in his works often refers to Aesopic fables, invites the fabulist himself to take part, as an outsider, in his Banquet of the Seven Sages to debate with Solon and others. The author of the Life [of Aesop] was evidently part of this vogue and set out to answer the question of who the legendary first inventor of the popular prose genre really was. . . . . (Hägg, p. 127. My highlighting)

So can we likewise say that the author of the Gospel of Mark was evidently part of this vogue of interest in Paul, a second century development?

It would surely be more logical to assume that the author was writing at a time when we have strong awareness of Paul’s writings than at a time when we have no other evidence for even knowledge of Paul’s letters. Obviously I cannot prove any of the above. But it is suggestive, is it not? It would be unusual to date the Life of Aesop to a time when there was no other interest in Aesop if it can be safely dated to a time when Aesop was the vogue of the day.

–o0o–

We saw a very similar argument expressed by Lemche concerning the date of the Old Testament writings:

How Does One Date the Old Testament Writings?

–o0o–

 

I Like Paul’s Christianity a Little Better, Now — Out from the Shadows of Augustine and Luther

Krister Stendahl

Ever since the early 1960s biblical scholars and even psychologists have been told something very critical about the apostle Paul’s teachings that had the potential to spare the mental sufferings of so many Western Christians. Paul did not teach that one had to go through self-loathing or guilt-torment in order in order to be saved by faith in Christ’s forgiveness. That guilt-focused teaching came to us primarily via Augustine and Luther. It was a teaching that can nowhere be found in reference to Paul in the first 350 years of Christianity.

That is the argument of Krister Stendahl in a paper,”The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West(The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 56, No. 3 (Jul., 1963), pp. 199-215) said to be a watershed in Pauline studies. But the real-world relevance of the paper is indicated by the fact that it was first delivered two years earlier “as the invited Address at the Annual Meeting of the American Psychological Association, September 3, I961.”

I’ve had the paper sitting in my files waiting to be read for some time now, and only dug it out after seeing it cited by James W. Thompson in The Church According to Paul: Rediscovering the Community Conformed to Christ (2014).

James W. Thompson

Paul, Thompson claimed, never addressed personal struggles with tormented conscience that could only be resolved by desperately throwing oneself upon the mercy of Christ:

The first-person singular pronoun is a consistent feature of church music in the evangelical tradition.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now, found,
Was blind but now I see.

Like countless other songs in this tradition, “Amazing Grace” tells of the individual who was lost in sin, unable to meet God’s demands until Jesus paid it all at the cross. These songs echo Pauline themes of sin, grace, and justification. Indeed, Paul’s legacy is the good news that we have been “justified by faith’ (Rom 5:11. not by our own works (cf. Rom. 3:20, 28; 4:2). In the cross God demonstrated righteousness for all who believe (Rom. 3:21-26). The death of Christ “while we were yet sinners” (Rom 5:8 KJV) was the expression of God’s love.

Interpreters have maintained that this narrative mirrors Paul’s own experience. According to this view, Paul struggled with a guilty conscience, having attempted in vain to keep the law perfectly. The “wretched man”(Rom. 7:24) who could not do the good or keep the law was Paul himself, who lived within the context of a form of Judaism that had degenerated into a legalistic and hypocritical religion that no longer recognized the mercy of God and instead emphasized meritorious works. Paul then found the answer in the grace of God and recognized that God justifies the ungodly. Paul has often been regarded as paradigmatic for those who discovered God’s grace when they could not keep God’s commands. When he met Christ on the Damascus road, he experienced God’s grace. Out of this experience, he became the example of the path of conversion for all subsequent generations and the major theme of his writings is justification by faith. This view has been emphasized in Protestant theology, becoming the popular theme of revivalists and Christian song writers.

Krister Stendahl observed that the Pauline doctrine of justification by faith did not emerge as the center of Paul’s theology until Augustine, who himself turned to Paul after struggling with a guilty conscience. Augustine found the solution to his own personal struggle in the grace of God! Luther also discovered the grace of God as the solution to his own desire to find a merciful God. Beginning with Luther, the Reformers maintained that Paul’s doctrine of the righteousness of God was the center of the gospel. This doctrine has been conceived in individualist terms. . . . For numerous Protestant theologians, justification was the salvation of the individual. . . . The good news is the righteousness of God that rescues individuals from their lost condition. (Thompson, pp. 127-128)

That’s exactly what I have understood all these years. I had to set aside Thompson and get back to the Stendahl article he cited as my first step in addressing immediate questions that come to mind. Didn’t Paul cry out in desperation in Romans 7 that he struggled helplessly against his body of sin? No, he didn’t — as Stendahl pointed out. Paul spoke of a body of “death” but not “sin”. But, but …. Okay, I’ll try to hit the highlights of the article. Many readers are no doubt already well familiar with it. A web search will point to many discussions about the article online. So I will try to focus on the points that I found salient.

It’s all Augustine’s and Luther’s fault

The quotes are from Stendahl’s article in the HTR and all highlighting and some formatting is my own:

Especially in Protestant Christianity – which, however, at this point has its roots in Augustine and in the piety of the Middle Ages – the Pauline awareness of sin has been interpreted in the light of Luther’s struggle with his conscience. (Stendahl, p. 200)

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3 Common and 1 Surprising Reason for Paul’s Silence on the Historical Jesus

I recently drew upon a chapter by William O. Walker, Jr. in Some Surprises From the Apostle Paul to argue for the likelihood of interpolations in Paul’s letters: Why Many Interpolations in Paul’s Letters are Very Likely.

But that was only one late chapter in Walker’s book. Explanation 4 below is another “surprise” he writes about:

Paul on the Historical Jesus

Just one detail: Commenting on the passage in Romans (that some think is an interpolation, by the way!) that Jesus was descended from David, W points out that

this may be more of a theological affirmation than a historical fact: in the minds of some, the Messiah was supposed to be a “son of David,” so Paul, like some other early Christians, may have simply assumed that because Jesus was the Messiah he must have been descended from David.” (Kindle version, loc ca 384)

Walker points to what most readers here know: that Paul says precious little about the historical Jesus. I won’t address the points that Walker interprets as references to a historical Jesus but will list some of his evaluations of the proposed reasons for Paul’s “relative silence”.

Explanation 1: Paul could presuppose his readers already knew the basic fact of Jesus’ life; no need to repeat what they already knew

W’s objection 1

To say that [Paul] must have talked [previously] about the life and teaching of Jesus really means little more than that [the scholar] himself, if he had been in Paul’s position, would have talked about the life and teaching of Jesus. In other words, [the scholar] thinks Paul should have talked about the life and teaching of Jesus. Be we certainly do not know that Paul did in fact talk about the life and teaching of Jesus when he was present in the churches; he may have, but we do not know this. (loc ca 442)

W’s objection 2

Even when Paul wrote a very lengthy letter to the church at Rome — a church he had never previously personally visited — he still had next to nothing to say about the life and teaching of Jesus.

W’s objection 3

Paul could assume that his readers already knew about the death, resurrection and expected parousia of Jesus, yet he talks a great deal about these, especially his death and resurrection.

W’s objection 4

Many times (e.g. eating meat sacrificed to idols, importance of love, not seeking vengeance, not judging one another) an appeal to a teaching of Jesus could have bolstered his own argument.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

Explanation 2: Paul was so focussed on the cross that everything else about Jesus simply paled into relative insignificance

W is more sympathetic to this explanation for Paul’s silence on the historical Jesus. As a comparison he directs our attention to the Apostles’ Creed which likewise

shows at least an equal lack of interest in the life and teaching of the historical Jesus. 

Recall that the Creed jumps straight from Jesus’ birth to his suffering and death.

Explanation 3: Paul says little about Jesus because he knows very little about his life and teaching

Again W is somewhat sympathetic to this explanation. He even reminds us that Paul spent very little time with those who had known Jesus and in Galatians 1:12 declares

that the gospel he preached came to him not from a human but rather “through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” (loc ca. 487)

(Be still, my pounding brain. Do not ask why a good number of scholars will insist, when talking with outsiders who ask questions, that that Galatians passage means that Paul was saying he really did get his gospel from human traditions.)

Explanation 4: Paul feared the teaching and example of Jesus would be seen as a new Law to be followed to earn salvation by works

W’s fourth explanation is a new one to me, “a surprise from the apostle Paul” indeed. In a subsequent chapter in the book Walker discusses the current debate among scholars over Paul’s meaning of “justification”. One “surprising” point he makes is that Paul does not talk about “repentance” or “forgiveness”. Though we are familiar with these fundamental requisites of the Christian conversion and life from the gospels, Acts and the Pastoral epistles, they are alien to Paul’s thought.

For Paul, salvation is a gift from God and cannot be earned. Walker suggests that Paul may well have not wanted to appear to have given his followers any excuse to replace the Mosaic law with a new law or standard of conduct from Jesus.

I might discuss W’s argument in more depth in a future post. It is the point of his second chapter in Surprises.

I do really like the idea of a Christianity without focus on repentance. Godless atheist that I am, I cannot deny that I have come to view that repentance and need constantly to strive for perfection thing as responsible for a lot of messed up, guilt-ridden lives.

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One might object that Paul does set down a lot of rules of conduct in his letters so why wouldn’t he point to Jesus as a model or why would he dismiss entirely the need for good works as a condition for salvation. In response I seem to have some recollection that most of the “laying down of the law” passages in Paul have been argued (by Winsome Munro) to be later pastoral interpolations into Paul’s letters. (e.g. Pastoral interpolation in 1 Corinthians 10-11)

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