Tag Archives: Paul and his letters

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.

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)

read more »

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.


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)




Why Many Interpolations in Paul’s Letters are Very Likely

Some Surprises from the Apostle Paul by William O. Walker, Jr. contains an interesting chapter about interpolations. Walker does not agree that most scholars should remain sceptical regarding many proposed interpolations in Paul’s letters.

They see no way to identify such interpolations with any certainty, and they tend to regard arguments for interpolation as highly speculative and almost inevitably circular in nature. (Kindle ed, loc ca 1575)

Walker disagrees. He argues that there are “sound a priori grounds for assuming the presence of interpolations — probably many interpolations — in the Pauline letters but also that such interpolations can sometimes be identified with a fair degree of certainty.”

Interestingly there is one set of passages that Christ mythicists sometimes rely upon that Walker believes were probably not penned by Paul so maybe that little detail might encourage some of us to open up to the possibility he might be right. 🙂

Walker points to two reasons we should expect to find interpolations in Paul’s letters.

  • Scholars have identified numerous interpolations in other ancient texts — “Homeric, Classical, Hellenistic, Jewish and Christian.” We know of interpolations in letters by ancient philosophers to their followers. Even in the Gospel of Mark we have the little disputed interpolation of the final chapter, 16:9-20; and in the Gospel of John there is the episode of the woman taken in adultery found in 7:53 – 8:11. And in the gospels of Matthew and Luke we find that huge chunks have been interpolated into the gospel of Mark. So if we know for a fact that texts were very often expanded with inserted material then we should surely be surprised if Paul’s letters proved to be the exception.

Walker’s second reason for expecting interpolations throughout Paul’s letters involves what we know of their literary history: read more »

Hermann Detering, Richard Carrier and the Apostle Paul

Paul, Mark, and other substitutions:

Richard Carrier on The Fabricated Paul

by Dr. Hermann Detering

Edited and translated by René Salm


Or you can read the original German language version on Herman Detering’s site:

Paulus, Markus und andere Verwechslungen – Richard Carrier über den Gefälschten Paulus


Theological Assumptions (Can Christianity handle a Jewish Paul?)

Not long ago I wrote The Jewish Jesus as a Christian Bias. This time I am writing about the Jewish Jesus and Paul as opposed to a Christian bias. Nothing is simple, is it. I do suspect that the focus on the Jewishness of Jesus was originally undertaken with the conscious belief that such a path was more truly historical and a step removed from traditional theological biases, but as with many good intentions others less pure in motive hijacked the process for their own ideological ends — hence my earlier post.

This post, however, addresses the pure in heart, or at least pure in print, and no doubt in intent.

And my motive is? To place on record yet one more instance where biblical scholars, in particular New Testament scholars, set down for the record evidence that the biblical studies guild is indeed ridden with theological bias. So often we hear protestations from certain biblical scholars how so alike they are to other “scientific” academics, so dedicated to “the objective truth”, that anyone who raises the mere possibility that they might be religiously biased can only be a god-hating, angry atheistic, degenerate secular-humanist.

From a methodological point of view, the Christian ideological perspectives that continue to characterize much of the ostensibly historical work done in New Testament studies is problematic.

Mark D. Nanos (2015-01-01). Paul within Judaism: Restoring the First-Century Context to the Apostle (p. 32). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition. — That’s in the Introduction.

magnus-zetterholmMagnus Zetterholm is Associate Professor in New Testament Studies at Lund University. He is the author of Approaches to Paul: A Student’s Guide to Recent Scholarship (Fortress Press, 2009); The Formation of Christianity in Antioch: A Social-Scientific Approach to the Separation between Judaism and Christianity (Routledge, 2003); and the editor of The Messiah in Early Judaism and Christianity (Fortress Press, 2007).

Mark D. Nanos (2015-01-01). Paul within Judaism: Restoring the First-Century Context to the Apostle . Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.

The main criticism comes in the first chapter by Magnus Zetterholm. Zetterholm begins by doubting Christopher Hitchens’ assertion that religion poisons everything while at the same time conceding that in the case of Pauline studies

it could, however, easily be argued that this research discipline has indeed been negatively affected by Christian normative theology.

Mark D. Nanos (2015-01-01). Paul within Judaism: Restoring the First-Century Context to the Apostle (p. 31). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.

What follows is surely a truism so it is remarkable that some New Testament scholars become quite defensive when a critical outsider attempts to point it out. Much safer, it seems, for such things to be admitted only within the confines of the club walls.

The study of the New Testament in general is, and has always been, a predominantly Christian affair. Christians study the New Testament, often within theological departments of seminaries and universities. Indeed, many scholarly commentary series are for Christians: The New International Greek Testament Commentary specifically states in the foreword that

“the supreme aim of this series is to serve those who are engaged in the ministry of the Word of God and thus to glorify God’s name.”

Similarly, in the editorial preface to the Word Biblical Commentary, it is stated that the contributors all are “evangelical,” understood

“in its positive, historic sense of a commitment to Scripture as divine revelation, and to the true power of the Christian gospel.”

Furthermore, it is not unusual to find that methodological atheism, a quite natural assumption in most scientific research,[2] is challenged from scholars advocating what must be understood as an alternative theory of science, where supernatural events are possible, and where gods and angels intervene in human affairs. For instance, in his, in many ways excellent treatment of the resurrection of Jesus, presented as a scholarly contribution, N. T. Wright states in the introduction that he will argue

“that the best historical explanation is the one which inevitably raises all kinds of theological questions: the tomb was indeed empty, and Jesus was indeed seen alive, because he was truly raised from the dead.”[3]

Theological conviction drives a comment expressed as if it were merely a historical reflection. From a methodological point of view, the Christian ideological perspectives that continue to characterize much of the ostensibly historical work done in New Testament studies is problematic.

Mark D. Nanos (2015-01-01). Paul within Judaism: Restoring the First-Century Context to the Apostle (pp. 31-32). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition. (Italics original; formatting, bolded emphasis, graphics and hyperlinks are mine in all quotations.)

read more »

The Historicity — and modern liberalism — of Paul

No doubt  many readers have already been alerted to Richard Carrier latest blog post: The Historicity of Paul the Apostle.

Our Kiwi friend at Otagosh has also posted an alert to this post with his own commentary.

I am traveling and it’s too awkward to elaborate with my own response at the moment. In sum, I do accept Paul as a historical figure but exactly who or what he was behind the letters is not entirely clear. Roger Parvus also raises interesting questions, as many of us know.

Skimming Richard’s arguments my first impression is that some are more solid than others (as with most things); some strike me as discussion starters more than conclusions. read more »

Paul the Persecutor: The Case for Interpolation

The Conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus as painted by Michelangelo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently I posted Paul the persecutor? in which I suggested that Paul’s confession in his epistle to the Galatians to having persecuted the Church did not necessarily imply that he literally jailed, beat and killed Christians before his journey to Damascus.

J. C. O’Neill would have thought I was far too soft. Those passages in which Paul is confessing to have persecuted the church are late interpolations, he argued back in 1972 in The Recovery of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians.

Here is his confession in the first chapter of Galatians:

13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it; 14 and I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. . . . 

22 And I was still not known by sight to the churches of Christ in Judea; 23 they only heard it said, “He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me.

O’Neill believes a strong case that those verses were interpolated by a second century editor wanting to glorify Paul (my bolding, formatting and added translations, pp 24-27):

read more »

Paul the persecutor?

the-stoning-of-stephen-by-rembrandt-1625I’m taking a light diversion by challenging somebody on earlywritings.com over his assertion that Christians were persecuted like crazy (as per the popular notion derived from the Acts and Eusebian tales). The posts have since met a bit stiffer challenge from more reasonable and knowledgeable participants — so the discussion has become even more rewarding.

Reasons I am questioning the assumption that Paul before his conversion persecuted the church in the sense of haling people off to prison, engaging them with enhanced interrogation techniques, beating them, sometimes too severely so they died:

  • The word for “persecution” is διωγμός — one could “pursue” [δίωκε] righteousness; Paul wrote that Ishmael “persecuted” [ἐδίωκεν] Isaac. The word can have very unpleasant associations when used negatively but does not necessarily mean to beat up and kill.
  • The notion that Paul did beat and kill Christians before his conversion is derived from Acts. I argue elsewhere (following several scholars) that this is theologically motivated fabrication. I am arguing from the evidence of Paul’s letters alone. read more »

What Did Paul Know About Jesus?

Gregory Jenks
Gregory Jenks

Gregory Jenks has posted a new article on academia.edu, What did Paul know about Jesus? Jenks is a senior lecturer of theology at Charles Sturt University. Among other things he is a Fellow of the Jesus Seminar and has a blog with the byline revisioning faith . . . shaping holy lives. I met Gregory Jenks in Toowoomba some years ago now when John Shelby Spong dropped in for a visit at his Anglican parish. He’s a nice bloke so I hope I don’t do any injustice to his article.

So first up let me give you the message Jenks wants to leave with sympathetic readers. He begins with this question for believers:

Does the historical Paul provide any help for contemporary people wondering to what extent information about the pre-Easter Jesus is relevant to the project of discipleship and faith?

After showing how little Paul addressed “Jesus traditions” he closes with the following answer that amplifies the message of his blog’s byline:

Paul appears to have exercised considerable flexibility and creative license in using whatever Jesus traditions may have been known to him and his readers. Christians today can claim that same freedom with respect to the Jesus tradition and the Pauline legacy.

Paul demonstrated that the priority always lies with direct life experience—interpreted within the context of one’s faith community and in the light of its tradition. Those who wish to honor the sage of Galilee might do it best by moving beyond veneration to the more challenging project of embracing life with openness and trust here and now.

I think I’ve been fair in presenting what Jenks sees as the importance of his article. I’ve no problem with his question or answer and respect his efforts in working towards a more tolerant and understanding society with that kind of message.

But what about the question of historicity and origins?

I was fearing that Jenks’ article would be yet one more “reading Paul through the Gospels” exercise but there was no need. Jenks is smarter than that. read more »

List of scholars believing Paul’s letters were interpolated

sturdyWe know that forgery and interpolation of texts were very common in the ancient world so it is odd to hear some theologians insist that we should discount the possibility of any of Paul’s letters had been so doctored unless and until we find very compelling reasons — usually only by means of manuscript evidence — to think otherwise. Is this some hangover from the days when the Bible was supposed to be sacred and inerrant?

We do know not all biblical scholars take this advice, however. Here is a conveniently set out list of scholars who have argued that specific verses in the “authentic” Pauline letters were added by Christian scribes after Paul had departed the scene. The list is compiled from John Sturdy’s notes and published in 2007. Sturdy died in 1996 so the list includes no scholars who have added arguments for interpolations since then.

The publication, Redrawing the Boundaries: The Date of Early Christian Literature, was from a manuscript that Sturdy had been working on but never finished. His intent was to refute the early dating that had been published by in 1976 by John Robinson: Redating the New Testament. “This is simply mischief!”, said Sturdy more than once of Robinson’s book.

Here’s the list. read more »

A Simonian Origin for Christianity, Part 6: Traces of Helen in the Pauline Letters

In part two of this series I pointed out that some scholars view the presence of so many inconsistencies in the Paulines as due to insertions made to the letters by someone other than their original author. In line with this possibility, I have so far been examining one particular scenario based on certain peculiarities in the early record that seem to conflate Paul with Simon of Samaria.

My hypothesis is that the Paul who wrote the original letters was the first-century Simon of Samaria and that the inconsistencies were caused by insertions to his text by a second-century proto-orthodox redactor. In this scenario the redactor’s aim would have been to turn Simon/Paul into a proto-orthodox Paul and thereby co-opt his letters for proto-orthodoxy.

Helen, companion of Simon Magus. Print by Odilon Redon

If this scenario is correct . . .

Now if this scenario is correct, one would not expect to find mention of Simon’s companion Helen in the letters as they currently stand. Any clear references to her would almost certainly have been removed or rewritten by the interpolator. And not just because she was so closely associated with Simon and his teaching. The interpolator, as a member of the mid-second century proto-orthodox community, would presumably have shared its desire to limit the influence of women in ecclesiastical matters, a desire that many scholars see reflected, for example, in the following passage from 1 Corinthians:

As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. (vv. 34-35)

quote_begin “These verses in chapter 14 were not written by Paul”

(Bart Ehrman, Forged pp. 244-5).


These verses are present in one place or another of chapter 14 in all extant manuscripts that possess the chapter. Nevertheless, there are zigzags that are just too jagged even for many mainstream scholars to harmonize. This is one of them. It is a zag they find too hard to reconcile with other zigs like 1 Cor. 11:5. And it “interrupts the flow of the argument.” Its verses “seem to intrude in the passage.” So it is generally deemed acceptable to hold that “These verses in chapter 14 were not written by Paul” (Bart Ehrman, Forged pp. 244-5).

But although for one reason or another Helen’s name may not have survived the redactor’s eraser, there are Pauline passages that, in my opinion, may still contain traces of her. This post will take a look at some of them.

read more »

Making of a Mythicist, Act 4, Scene 4 (The Crumbling Evidence for Paul)

brodie3Continuing the series on Thomas Brodie’s Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery, archived here.


Chapter 15



Chapter 15 of Thomas Brodie’s discovery memoir (Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery) surveys what can happen when one applies comparative literary analysis to the letters attributed to Paul. The third case study Brodie outlines is one I particularly love. How can one not be attracted to a scholarly synopsis that introduces a case for a view that one has long held independently as a consequence of one’s own personal analysis?

When I compare the conclusion of Acts (a conclusion generally regarded as problematic or otherwise incomplete) with other ancient (including biblical) literature I am almost sure there is nothing problematic about the ending of Acts at all. It is based upon the conclusion of Israel’s “Primary History”. That is, the conclusion of Acts is strikingly similar to the concluding chapter of 2 Kings. (I have posted detail on this before.) And of course once one recognizes that, the logical question to ask is whether the events of Acts leading up to that conclusion bear a similarity to the events in 2 Kings leading up to the liberal captivity of the king of Judah. In other words, does Paul’s journey to Rome evoke substantial literary connections with the exile of the captive “Jews” to Babylon? I believe it does. So I cannot help but take pleasurable notice when Brodie makes the same point.

Regrettably there is a dark side to this chapter, or at least to the way a key point the chapter makes was completely botched in a review by a certain associate professor and world authority on parallelomania studies between science fiction and religion. But I will save that for the “Who holds the pen?” section.

It’s an interesting time to be posting this review and overview. We currently have a series by Roger Parvus with a quite different take on the nature and origins of the Pauline letters. So plenty of scope to exercise our synapses. read more »

Why did Paul need to write letters?

Another provocative (and thought-provoking) Carr-ism, this one recently posted as a comment on Questioning Paul’s Letters. . . .

But I have been looking at scholarly arguments that maintain Paul’s letters were, indeed, carefully crafted works of theological instructions that were composed in the form of occasional correspondence.

Why did Paul need to write letters? We already know that oral tradition was enough to answer questions by Christians about whether Jesus had turned the water into wine in Galilee or in Jerusalem, and to answer Christian questions about who exactly the 12 disciples were and to answer Christian questions about what Jesus had preached about divorce.

But strangely, as soon as it comes to answering Christian questions about practice in churches or all the other problems that Paul had to deal with, these oral channels suddenly become unavailable, and Paul has to write letters answering these questions. Those problems could not be dealt with by oral transmission.

And as soon as Christians stop asking questions about practice in churches or other stuff Paul deals with, and start to ask questions about what Jesus had told people to pray and whether or not Jesus had preached about giving tithes, these oral channels open up again, and Paul has no longer a need to write letters. Those problems could be dealt with by oral transmission.

Remarkable, isn’t it?

Comment by Steven Carr — 2013/03/20 @ 7:53 am