2021-11-05

How the Holy Spirit Replaced Jerusalem in a Power Game

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by Neil Godfrey

In a former life I was led to understand that when I was baptized God would give me the Holy Spirit, which was his power, and with that power I would be able to overcome my carnal nature and fulfil the law in its full spiritual intent. After my baptism I was often troubled by the fact that I felt no different from before — but don’t be misled by looking for “feelings”, they said — and I certainly did not recognize any extra power within my person to “overcome” my sinful nature. Years later I finally was able to admit I was lied to. But where did this idea of the Holy Spirit having such a central role in the lives of Christians come from?

Here is an interesting thought from Paul Tarazi in first volume of his introduction to the New Testament, Paul and Mark.

Ezekiel: Vision of Shekinah — Ezekiel, pearled nimbus, left hand raised, semi-reclines next to river Chebar. Above, below Arc of Heaven (?), are four Beasts of Apocalypse, all winged, with pearled nimbi, and holding books. . . . From The Morgan Library & Museum

Paul concludes this section (i.e. 1 Thess. 4:1-12) dedicated to the relationship between the Thessalonians and God with a sudden reference to God as the grantor of the Holy Spirit: “Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.” (v.8) The previous mention of the Holy Spirit occurs in 1:56:

For we know, brethren beloved by God, that he has chosen you; for our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit.

The Thessalonian Gentiles were chosen and became God’s people just as the “chosen” biblical Israel was, through the gospel that was both preached and accepted in the Holy Spirit. The next reference to the Spirit is found in 5:19-20 in conjunction with pro phrophecy: “Do not quench the Spirit, do not despise prophesying.” What can be made of all this?

My conviction is that Paul himself raised to prominence the biblical element “Holy Spirit” among his Gentile churches in order to minimize any chance that the Jerusalemite church would be able to gain and keep hegemony over them. He took the lead mainly from his predecessor Ezekiel, the Jerusalemite priest who made out of the Babylonian, and thus Gentile, locality Chebar not only a place where the God of Jerusalem could also speak, but actually the location from which he would authoritatively address Jerusalem itself. To do so, God and his prophet Ezekiel, or their spoken word, had to be eminently mobile and it was God’s spirit that supplied the agency for that mobility of the divine/prophetic word and allowed it to travel from the Gentile Babylonia to Jerusalem. Paul followed Ezekiel’s pattern and made it clear to his churches that they were, through the Pauline gospel, in direct contact with God’s word through his spirit, and not via Jerusalem and its leaders. Those Jerusalem leaders were actually bound by God’s word in the gospel, and not vice-versa. Thus, Paul was actually laying the foundation for his churches’ dependence on the gospel and, at the same time, their independence from Jerusalem.

(Tarazi, Paul Nadim. The New Testament: An Introduction. Volume 1, Paul and Mark. Crestwood, N.Y: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1999. pp. 21f)

 

 


2012-01-20

Couchoud on Acts of the Apostles

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by Neil Godfrey

English: Ananias restoring the sight of Saint Paul
Ananias restoring the sight of Paul: Image via Wikipedia

I’ll try to complete Paul-Louis Couchoud’s explanations for the second-century productions of the canonical New Testament literature starting here with his discussion of Acts. For those who enjoy the stimulation of new (even if old) ideas to spark fresh thoughts, read on.

I left off my earlier series on Couchoud’s thoughts on Gospel origins with his argument that the Gospel of Luke was the last Gospel written and was primarily a response to Marcion. The final remarks in that post were:

On the Emmaus Road Marcion had Jesus remind the travellers that Christ must suffer. Luke goes further and adds that Jesus began with Moses and taught them all that the Prophets said must happen to Christ.

Marcion’s Gospel closed with the words:

Thus it was that the Christ should suffer,
And rise again from the dead the third day
And that there be preached in his name
Repentance and remission of sins to all the nations.

Luke saw what was not said so added:

These are my words that I spoke
While I was yet with you;
How that all things must needs be fulfilled as it is written
In the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms of me.
Then opened he their mind
To understand the Scriptures.

Thus Jesus’ final teaching links up with the first. Marcion is refuted. The Old Testament and Gospel are not in opposition. The Gospel is found in the Old Testament.

Recall that it was Couchoud’s suspicion that the real author of this Gospel and its companion, Acts, was Clement of Rome. So to continue on from there:

Acts of the Apostles – and of the Holy Spirit

First recall that Couchoud sees Luke’s masterpiece innovation as the Holy Spirit. It was this that Luke introduced for reasons of political control: Continue reading “Couchoud on Acts of the Apostles”


2012-01-02

The earliest gospels 6(b) – Luke (à la Couchoud)

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by Neil Godfrey

Polski: Toruń, kościół św. Jakuba, obraz Zesła...
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Continuing with the series archived here.

Couchoud suggests that the author of the Gospel we attribute to Luke may quite likely have been Clement of Rome. But he sees the contribution of this person as of far greater significance than the simple composition of the works we know as Luke and Acts. First, however, the outline of Couchoud’s views of who this major author was. This p.ost should be read in conjunction with the previous one, 6(a).

The popular Shepherd of Hermas written about this time (mid second century) informs us that it was Clement’s duty to send to the other churches the edict of remission of sins which the prophet Hermas learned of in a vision:

Clement will address it to the other towns for he is charged with this duty. (Hermas Vis. 2.4)

The prophetic work of Hermas indicates that prophets were strongly influential in the Roman Church, most likely with wielding power as the Spirit whimmed them. When their authority was replaced by Elders it is suggested that Clement kept his old office as a Church Secretary and increased his authority. He may even have been one of the persons Marcion debated against when in Rome. Clement clearly had some importance among the ruling Elders when he (presumably) wrote his letter to the entire Corinthian Church admonishing them to restore the rule of the Elders they had deposed, “no doubt in order to vest authority in the bishop alone, and to wrest that Church from the Marcionite enemy.”

He was probably born a gentile. He was widely read in Greek and Latin literature and the Hebrew Bible in Greek translation, as well as the Book of Enoch and other Jewish apocryphal and apocalyptic writings. He also knew the works of Philo and Josephus. Continue reading “The earliest gospels 6(b) – Luke (à la Couchoud)”


2011-12-19

The Gnostic Gospel (Apocryphon) of John – 2

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by Neil Godfrey

This post follows on from my earlier post on The Secret Book of John, possibly a Jewish pre-Christian work, as translated and annotated by Stevan Davies.

Stevan Davies’ translation of the Secret Book/Apocryphon of John is available online at The Gnostic Society Library.

The Prologue is said to be a Christian addition to an earlier non-Christian book. But what sort of Christianity interested the scribe who added this? The disciple John is said to see Jesus appearing variably as a child, an old man and a young man. I am reminded of Irenaeus’s belief that Jesus had to have been past his 50th birthday when he was crucified so he could experience all the life stages of humanity and thus be the saviour of all. One is also reminded of the letter of 1 John that addresses the “children, fathers and young men” in the church. Of related interest to me are some of the earliest Christian art forms that depict Jesus as a little child – in particular when he faces an elderly John the Baptist to be baptized. Christ crucified does not appear.

The same prologue has Jesus say “I am the Father, the Mother, the Son. I am the incorruptible Purity.” The Holy Spirit in the eastern churches was grammatically feminine and so the Holy Spirit itself came to be regarded as feminine.

The Christianity that is appropriating this originally non-Christian gnostic text was one that viewed Christ as not only a discrete personality who had been crucified and risen as a saviour, but one that also accommodated gnostic-like ideas of Christ being identified in the different forms of humanity. Or perhaps it is more correct to say that the range of humanity is a representation of the divine.

But enough of my ramblings and speculative asides. Back to the gnostic myth. Continue reading “The Gnostic Gospel (Apocryphon) of John – 2”


2009-11-27

When a nobody Jesus became spirit possessed

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Mark, the earliest of our canonical gospels, does not simply omit the details about Jesus before his baptism, but indirectly informs readers that nothing like the birth and boyhood stories we read in the gospels of Matthew and Luke could possibly have happened. Mark is clear: Jesus was a nobody until the day he was baptized by John.

He did not spend is youth travelling to the British Isles. He did not astonish his family or neighbours by turning clay birds into living sparrows or miraculously extending timber beams to help his father’s carpentry business. His birth was not marked by angelic visits to shepherds in the countryside or rich foreign elites paying his parents a visit. No one knew about angels or pious elderly folk at the Temple making public pronouncements about his destiny. He at no time as a boy demonstrated to the learned men of the cloth any astonishing wisdom. He was just an ordinary bloke like everyone else.

That’s why Mark says his mother and family thought he needed to be taken off and given a good lie down after he started becoming a bit of a public spectacle. Mark 3:21, 31-32

And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself. . . .

There came then his brethren and his mother, and, standing without, sent unto him, calling him. And the multitude sat about him, and they said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee.

Mark 3:21, 31-32

And it’s why all those who had lived with him and known him all his life thought it a bit over the top that he should start talking and acting as if he was somehow any different from them:

And he went out from thence, and came into his own country; . . . .

And when the sabbath day was come, he began to teach in the synagogue: and many hearing him were astonished, saying, From whence hath this man these things? and what wisdom is this which is given unto him, that even such mighty works are wrought by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us?

And they were offended at him.

Mark 6:1-3

And it is also why no-one seems to have bothered to collect “traditions” or details about anything remarkable in his pre-baptism life from former neighbours and relatives. (The birth narratives in Matthew and Luke are clearly imaginative adaptions of pre-existing biblical and extra-biblical stories.)

So Who Is This Really?

But of course this raises another question about the nature of Jesus in the gospels, or at least in the earliest gospel. The question of “Who Is This?” permeates Mark’s gospel.

Jesus’ is introduced in Mark’s gospel in a secret scene known only to God and the readers. No other characters in the story know anything about the Holy Spirit falling into Jesus (not “upon” him, as in Matthew) and driving him into the wilderness, and certainly none hears the voice from heaven pronouncing his identity. The only characters in Mark’s gospel who know who Jesus really is are God and the demons. Only Jesus (and the reader) sees the heavens parting and only Jesus hears the voice (Mark 1:9-11).

His public entrance comes only after the curtain falls on John’s opening act. From then on people begin to ask, Who and what is this? People begin to talk about him far and wide.

And they were all amazed, insomuch that they questioned among themselves, saying, What thing is this? what new doctrine is this? for with authority commandeth he even the unclean spirits, and they do obey him. And immediately his fame spread abroad throughout all the region round about Galilee.

Mark 1:27-28

And ditto throughout chapters 2, 3, 5, 6 . . . .

Some say he his Elijah, and some John the Baptist. Following a chapter by Norman R. Petersen in Randal Argall’s For a later generation : the transformation of tradition in Israel, early Judaism, and early Christianity, “Elijah, the Son of God, and Jesus: Some Issues in the Anthropology of Characterization in Mark“, anyone familiar with the popular literature and mythical memes of the day would be reminded here of divine beings coming down to act among mortals by appearing in the bodies of known people. Continue reading “When a nobody Jesus became spirit possessed”

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