2007-04-14

A gnostic mind game with Paul and Mark

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by Neil Godfrey

Elaine Pagel’s The Gnostic Paul cites the many gnostic interpretations of Paul’s letters. The point is well made that our interpretation of Paul is inherited from the founders of the orthodox church today. Yet this interpretation was not so universal in the second century. Irenaeus took issue with the gnostics for claiming to have secret traditions that they claimed had been handed down from Paul in order to explain the spiritual (“pneumatic”) understanding of his letters. Continue reading “A gnostic mind game with Paul and Mark”


Gospel of Mark — modern meets gnostic interpretation?

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by Neil Godfrey

The Gospel of Mark is a parable or largely allegorical according to scholars such as Kelber, Tolbert, Weeden, and others Thus Galilee and Jerusalem have theological meanings, the former representing the Kingdom of God and the latter, opposition to that kingdom. The twelve disciples led by Peter are the seed found in rocky soil that sprouts quickly with promise but just as quickly whithers into failure. And so forth.

Such modern interpretations of Mark sit in remarkably close conjunction with the (second century) Valentinian allegorical interpretations of Paul’s letters as explained by Elaine Pagels in her The Gnostic Paul: Gnostic Exegesis of the Pauline Letters. And is it significant that the Gospel of Mark is sometimes argued to be embedded in Pauline theology? Continue reading “Gospel of Mark — modern meets gnostic interpretation?”


2007-04-13

Another round in the Battle for Paul

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by Neil Godfrey

More notes (earlier notes from same book here and here) from Dennis MacDonald’s The Legend and the Apostle (though with my own twist in presentation) Continue reading “Another round in the Battle for Paul”


2007-03-14

Pastoral interpolation in 1 Corinthians 10-11

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by Neil Godfrey

The question of the authenticity of the Last Supper passage (1 Cor. 11:23-26) in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians came up in a discussion recently, and having not long ago read Winsome Munro’s Authority in Paul and Peter (1983) I found myself presenting a case that not only that passage, but a good slice of its surrounding material, is also a later (“nonpauline”) addition to the original letter.

So here is my take on Munro’s argument for this section of 1 Corinthians: Continue reading “Pastoral interpolation in 1 Corinthians 10-11”


2007-02-15

Pastoral Epistles & the Acts of Paul (+ canonical Acts)

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by Neil Godfrey

The Acts of Paul show a remarkable series of affinities with the pastoral epistles, particularly 2 Timothy. There are differences as well, but they are the sorts of differences that one expects to find in stories repeated orally. Someone is labelled as a coppersmith, now was that Alexander or Hermogenes? Paul always teams up with “two’s”: now was it Demas and Hermogenes or Phylelus and Hermogenes in this particular scene? That sort of variation.

In both the Acts of Paul and 2 Timothy we find:

  • Onesiphorus welcoming Paul
  • Paul staying with Aquilla and Priscilla
  • Paul imprisoned and rescued from a lion
  • Paul being deserted by his followers and defending himself in a court alone
  • Demas deserting Paul for love of material things
  • 2 false missionaries preaching the resurrection was a past event
  • Persecutions at Antioch, Iconium and Lystra (although 2 Timothy’s account contradicts the circumstances in both the Acts of Paul and our canonical Acts)
  • et al etc etc et al

A full list of the differences and citations can be found online at Acts of Paul and the Pastoral Epistles.

Most commentators have concluded that the Acts of Paul draws on the Pastorals as a source for its narrative details. If so, as MacDonald discusses in The Legend and the Apostle, one is unable to explain the differences between the details in the Acts of Paul and 2 Timothy. Why the different names for the 2 missionaries who are undermining households by preaching the resurrection is a past event? for example.

The explanation that does explain both the similarities and the differences, and is consistent with the types of differences we find (mentioned above), and that is discussed in MacDonald’s book and in part sourced to Harnack in Hennecke’s New Testament Apocrphya, is that the author of the Acts of Paul was relying on oral traditions. MacDonald argues that the author of the Pastorals was likewise drawing on the same or similar oral traditions.

Historicity of canonical Acts?
One sometimes hears that evidence for the historicity of our canonical Acts lies in part in its accord with names, places and events in the “genuine Pauline epistles”. If the mere fact that names, places and events appear in two genres of literature by different authors is testimony to historicity, then the same argument would inform us that the Acts of Paul and Thecla is also historical. Unless one says that comparing the “genuine” Pauline letters with the Pastorals is “no fair”. 2 responses:

  1. the fact that names, places and events found in “genuine diaries” are repeated in a later story does not and never can be a criterion for assuming the story to be as “true” as the original diaries or letters (c.f. movies “based on” books or real life events);
  2. how is it possible to decide which letters of Paul are genuine from the self-attestation of the epistles themselves? See my notes from of Ancient Epistolary Fictions by Rosenmeyer.

2007-02-07

Pastoral Epistles and the Acts of Paul

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by Neil Godfrey

The main point of the following is to present reasons for understanding the author of the Pastoral Epistles was not drawing on our canonical Acts for his Paul’s biographical data but on popular oral legends circulating about Paul and that became incorporated into the Acts of Paul. (I do not discuss the discrepancies between the Pastoral Epistles and our canonical Acts assuming they are well enough known already.)

I have compiled a list of similarities between the Pastoral Letters of Paul (mostly 2 Timothy) and the Acts of Paul from Dennis MacDonald’s The Legend and the Apostle: The Battle for Paul in Story and Canon. MacDonald discusses three possible models to explain these similarities. (Note that I do not refer to all of MacDonald’s discussion points. There is more in his book. So presume any weaknesses here are the fault of the transmitter, not the original author.) Continue reading “Pastoral Epistles and the Acts of Paul”


2007-02-04

Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Chapter 5a

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by Neil Godfrey

5. The Twelve

The role of named individuals in the formulation and transmission of traditions of Jesus’ words and deeds largely disappeared from the normal awareness of New Testament scholars as a result of the form-critical movement in Gospels scholarship in the early twentieth century. (p.93)

Bauckham continues with Birger Gerhardsson’s dismissive tone of critics who “did not think much of the information which the ancient church provides concerning persons behind the Gospels”. This is quite astonishing given what is known about the methods and agendas and selective survival of writings of ancient church authors. Continue reading “Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Chapter 5a”


2006-12-24

Did Paul wish he could be cursed from Christ for sake of Israel?

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by Neil Godfrey

Reading Troels Engberg-Pedersen (Paul and Stoic teaching techniques etc) and studies in rhetorical/literary analyis (narrative voices and all that) have led to a different perspective on that famous passage in Romans where Paul writes:

I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh…. (9:1-3)

It’s a pretty flamboyant expression that certainly has the effect of getting readers’ attentions and getting them to gawk in some awe at their superior apostle. I wonder if the author is rhetorically identifying himself with Christ or the interceding Spirit, which is the theme of the preceding chapter.

Continue reading “Did Paul wish he could be cursed from Christ for sake of Israel?”


2006-12-20

Paul and the Stoics 1

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by Neil Godfrey

Have got the basic content from my past reading of Engberg-Pedersen’s Paul and the Stoics tidied up and am finally placing the first part of this on the web for central access. The formatting, I notice, is still rough and very stark around the edges, but that will be fixed before part 2 gets up. This is one more step in a long journey I am undertaking in getting up all my notes and reviews and thoughts from biblical studies up in web format. Who knows how long the whole project will take….

Neil


2006-12-10

Paul believed his own life was of more value than Christ’s

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by Neil Godfrey

Paul’s lack of interest in the physical life of Jesus is often explained as a consequence of 2 Corinthians 5:16 “Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Chrsit according to the flesh, yet now we know him thus no longer.”

Fair enough, let’s accept that. But then what does that say about Paul himself?

One might think after reading 2 Cor. 5:16 that his focus is always on Christ in heaven and that one’s earthly existence is not worth thinking about, let alone study.

But not so. Paul was clearly interested in using his own life in the flesh as a model of the life of Christ for his readers. Philippians 1:20 “So now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life of by death”. He is keen to talk about how his own life in the flesh shares in the “fellowship of Christ’s sufferings” (Phil.3:8-10).

Paul will not hesitate to boast about his life in the flesh when it comes to proving his authority over his churches (2 Cor.11:22-33) but cannot find anything he must have heard about the life or teachings of Christ to persuade his readers to keep the faith.

So Paul thinks his own life demonstrates Christ more effectively than Christ’s life itself ever did for the benefit of his readers? Continue reading “Paul believed his own life was of more value than Christ’s”


2006-12-02

Ancient Epistolary Fictions / Patricia A. Rosenmeyer (2001). Review

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by Neil Godfrey

I’ve written this “review” essentially as a commentary on what we can know about the genuineness of the New Testament epistles. The commentary bits are in eyesore bold italics.

I read Rosenmeyer’s Ancient Epistolary Fictions (Cambridge University Press, 2001) to inform myself of the literary culture behind the New Testament epistles as part of my interest in understanding the nature of the historical evidence for Christian origins. So my review comments here are in that context. Letters, Rosenmeyer informs us, were a popular form of entertainment (and instruction) whether under the real name of their composer or a pseudonym. Letters were a popular composition both within novels and as collections of fictional or didactic correspondence. The most interesting discussion for me was the training authors received in how to add touches of realism in fictional or didactic letter compositions.

I was reminded of how often the strongest arguments for the authenticity of the Pauline epistles rely on seemingly incidental realistic touches such as requests to bring a cloak for winter, remarks on his health, etc. After reading Rosenmeyer personal details like these are ripped away from any case for authenticity: they are the very things authors were trained to throw in, even across collections of letters, not just in singular epistles. It is naive to interpret these personal asides from the main theme as marks of genuineness. As the magic wand of the trained author they are designed to distract the reader’s attention from the otherwise artificiality of the exercise and to draw the reader into the “reality” being artfully created.

Ditto for the argument of “emotional sincerity and passion”. Again, this is the very thing one would expect to be conveyed by trained authors in such didactic compositions. None of this means of course that the Pauline letters are not genuine, but it does mean that arguments for their genuineness need to be based on external controls, not their internal content or style. From this perspective it is not irrelevant that the earliest such external pointers are securely established no earlier than the second century, when the Pauline epistles emerge for the first time as a collection and in the midst of controversy and dialogue over the history and role of Paul in early christianity. Continue reading “Ancient Epistolary Fictions / Patricia A. Rosenmeyer (2001). Review”

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