Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Paul's Sruggle Against the Gnostics part 2

Jesus shows Thomas His Wounds

II.Paul's Jewish Background.

A. Resurrection is Flesh and Blood.

In speaking about Jewish concepts, N.T. Wright tells us "within this spectrum two points need to be made very clear: first, though there was a range of belief about live after death the word 'resurrection' was only used to describe reembodiment, not the state of disembodied bliss. Resurrection was not a general word for 'life after death' or 'going to be with God' in some general sense. It was the word for what happened when God created newly embodied human beings after whatever intermediate state there might be." (N.T. Wright The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering who Jesus was and is," Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter varsity Press, 1999, p. 134)

B. Flesh and Blood Messiah

The Jews expected a flesh and blood Messiah! They never looked forward to a mere ethereal being. Gnosticism did originate in Judaism but not as "Christian Gnosticism" which developed in the second century (with forrunnigs in the first).

C. When Did Paul Become a Gnostic?

The theological background for a Gnostic redeemer myth existed among Jewish sources, but Paul was not a Gnostic.

Paul was a Pharisee, a student of great Rabbi (Gamaliel) he was very proud of his tradition. He could not be further removed form gnosticism. There is no point in assigning to him a Gnostic ethereal theory of the universe when plainly he did not hold to such clap trap. there is simply no reason to think that he believed this.

III. Paul Battles the Gnostics

A. Doherty's assumptions of secret teachings in Paul


Doherty says:

Paul and other early writers speak of the divine Son of their faith entirely in terms of a spiritual, heavenly figure; they never identify this entity called "Christ Jesus" (literally, "Anointed Savior" or "Savior Messiah") as a man who had lived and died in recent history. Instead, through the agency of the Holy Spirit, God has revealed the existence of his Son and the role he has played in the divine plan for salvation. These early writers talk of long-hidden secrets being disclosed for the first time to apostles like Paul, with no mention of an historical Jesus who played any part in revealing himself, thus leaving no room for a human man at the beginning of the Christian movement. Paul makes it clear that his knowledge and message about the Christ is derived from scripture under God's inspiration. [See "Part Two" and Supplementary Articles Nos. 1 and 6.] (Doherty)

As We have seen above this is totally false. There are Pre-Pauline and Pre-Markan references to Jesus as a flesh and blood man, and the basic historical setting of the Gospels existed in wrttien and oral traditions from at least the middle of the century. We have no reason to assume that this doesn't' reflect the basic facts of the original events and Jesus' actual sayings. Even though Doherty tries to connect his theory to the Mystery cults, it really belongs more firmly in the realm of Gnosticism. The Gnostic redeemer myth was that of a ethereal being whose participation in history was marginal and whose fleshly appearance only illusory. The Gnostics traded in "secret knowledge" and "hidden wisdom." It is really the Gnostics that fit the theory better, but they do not fit Paul at all.

B. Gnosticism at Corinth

Fred Layman,
Northwestern Nazarene University
Wesley Center Online
"Male Headship in Paul's Thought"
april 2004

Historical studies have increasingly shown the pervasive presence of Gnosticism in the background of several New Testament books, especially those which are important for this discussion-1 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, and the Pastorals. At this stage Gnosticism was not so much a defined religious philosophy as it was a radical pneumatic disposition which was diffused throughout many religions including Judaism and Christianity. (for his sources see below)

This does not mean, however, that Gnosticism is the basis of the teaching in the NT books, rather the basis of the heretical ideas being combatted! That is the is the context of the above statement.

Paul Does seem to know a wisdom saying source for Jesus' sayings but it is one that is also reflected in the canonical Mark. The believers in Corinth seem to have a different take on the Gospel than many others. In the first couple of chapters of 1 Cor. Paul uses a different terminology than he uses anywhere else. Mainly this consists of words like "wise" and "wisdom." He uses these 10 times in the first chapter, but only four times in all the rest of his corpus. These terms bring up a set of sayings from Mark that are noted as distinctly different from Jesus' other other sayings. Mark: 11:25,27, 13:16-17--Luke 10:21-24. The contrast between terms "wise" and "clever" found there are used nowhere else in Jesus' sayings. These refer to Isaiah 29:14:"I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart." Paul refers to this saying. Other contrasts include hidden and revealed. All of these concepts pertain to Gnostic ideas of the secret knowledge and those who possess it vs. those who possess it not. In 1 Cor. 4:5 "the Lord who will illumine the hidden things of darkness and reveal the councils of the heart." This is parallel by Mark 4:22 and also has a parallel in the Gospel of Thomas.

What's going on here? Does this mean that Paul was a Gnostic? It means that there was a Gnosticizing element in the early church, one which complied an early sayings list, and fragments of that list are used in the canonicals (perhaps because Jesus really said them?) But the Gnosticizers put their own Gnostic spin on these sayings. Such a faction existed at Corinth. Paul is entering their scheme and their language to deal with them. In other words I'm arguing that either Gnostic perverted real sayings of Jesus or they use a common background document that was an authentic saying source and all we have is some Gnosticized version like the Gospel of Thomas that contains some potentially authentic sayings of Jesus mixed in with latter Gnostic lore.

1) Paul adopts "wisdom" Schema to deal with faction

Koester tells us "Paul not only alludes to the sayings where were evidently of crucial importance to his opponents, he also adopts their schema of revelation which speaks of the things that were formerly hidden, but have now been revealed. This scheme is characteristic of the Q sayings...though it is not really typical of the Synoptic Saying Source as a whole. In the genuine Pauline letters, it is used only in 1 Cor 2:6-16, while it occurs frequently in the deutero-Pauline letters and also appears in the secondary ending of Romans" (16:25-26).(Koster p.59)

"For the Corinthian wisdom theology this revelation schema, of central importance for their understanding of salvation, it related to the sayings tradition by another element, namely, the recourse to the authority of certain persons: Paul, Appeals, Cephas, possibly Christ "(1 Cor 1:12, 3:4-5, 22).(Koester p 62)

There are three elements which together call for an answer: (1) the Corinthians knew saying which they took to be a hidden wisdom saying source. (2) Paul rejects that his calling had anything to do with Baptism (1 Cor. 1:15-17) the claim of belonging to a specific person may have entered into this. (3) Several other sources indicate that Apostolic Authority and the name of a specific Apostle played a role in transmission of sayings for both Orthodox and Gnostic. These sources include: Gospel of Thomas, The Apocrypha of James and Ptolemy's Letter of Flora.

Koester concludes form all of this that at Corinth Paul faced a Gnosticizing faction which believed that they had been initiated into secret knowledge through baptism. "They understood particular Apostles as their Mystagogues from whom they received sayings from which they received life giving wisdom...Paul's arguments against this understanding of Salvation become quite clearer if they are understood against this background." (Koster, p.62).

2) Paul never adopts this vocabulary again

As pointed out already, he only uses these terms of Wisdom and wise four other times in his whole corpus. Koester says that with this background in mind the way he speaks of the cross as hidden wisdom before the ages becomes understandable, because he is dealing with this Gnosticizing faction in their own terms. It is also important to note that the Cross was "hidden" to human understanding. The only verses about it in the OT are "hidden" and require interpretation, which even the Jewish people don't' accept today (Is 53, Ps 22, Zach.10:11). In other words Paul is creating the impression in the minds of the Gostic "I will show you the real secret knoweldge and wisdom, it's knowing Jesus."

3) never speaks of the Cross this way again.

Moreover, as Koster states: "Nowhere else does Paul speak about the Cross of Christ in such terms." (p.62). Doherty is merely confused and reversing Paul's meaning to place him in a position the opposite of which he was taking.

4) Paul is arguing against the Corinthian position!

It does not require much persuading to get most knowledgeable Bible readers to agree that Paul was not pleased with the Corinthians, that only when he was flattering them to coax them into submission was he saying positive things about their behavior. In the opening chapter he is clearly arguing against everything they think. He denies the importance of attaching one's self to a famous Apostle but one should only follow Christ. He denies that his mission was baptism precisely because they thought baptism by an Apostle or noteworthy was initiation into the secret mysteries. That's why he says "I thank God I did not baptize any of you." The rest of the time he is telling them they are not wise. They do not have the full truth, they are immature.

Note: There probably wasn't a full blown Gnosticism at Corinth since this doesn't show up tied to Christian Doctrine until the second century. The Corinthians probably didn't deny that Christ was a flesh and blood being, but just believed that they had "secret wisdom" that other churches didn't have. That is why Paul doesn't just come out and say explicitly "this is wrong, Christ was in history..."

C. No Grounds for the Charge of non-historical crucifixion

Paul's repudiation of the Gnostic faction at Corinth can be seen as a repudiation of all Gnostic positions, especially any position that would detach Jesus Christ form Jesus of Nazareth, the Jesus of flesh and blood and history. Paul clearly rejected the hidden wisdom schema, why than assume that he rejects the rest of the Gnostic schema? Moreover, Doherty sites this Gnostic vocabulary as grounds for the assumption that Paul is working in the Mythos of a mystery cult. Yet Paul repudiates the mystery cult diatribe. Let's look further at some of the verses Doherty sites.

1) The Charge that Paul does not
Place crucifixion in Spiritual Realm.



"Paul does not locate the death and resurrection of Christ on earth or in history. According to him, the crucifixion took place in the spiritual world, in a supernatural dimension above the earth, at the hands of the demon spirits (which many scholars agree is the meaning of "rulers of this age" in 1 Corinthians 2:8). The Epistle to the Hebrews locates Christ's sacrifice in a heavenly sanctuary (ch. 8, 9). The Ascension of Isaiah, a composite Jewish-Christian work of the late first century, describes (9:13-15) Christ's crucifixion by Satan and his demons in the firmament (the heavenly sphere between earth and moon). Knowledge of these events was derived from visionary experiences and from scripture, which was seen as a 'window' onto the higher spiritual world of God and his workings." (See "Part Two" and Supplementary Articles Nos. 3 and 9)

2) The Charge Refuted

As we have seen, Paul most certainly did place the Crucifixion in history, even tying it to historical witnesses Peter and James, and the Resurrection. But moreover the Pauline Verses (and Hebrews) Used to place the Crucifixion in this ethereal realm of The Gnostic Redeemer myth are totally misconstrued. Of course these other sources he uses, the Ascension of Isaiah for example, has nothing to do with Pauline letters and was produced late in the first century. He can't tie that to Pauline thought at all. Paul actually does say Jesus was flesh and blood in Romans 1:3 where he speaks of his linage. He even uses the Greek word for Felsh calling it his fleshly line, but Doherty who is not a Greek Scholar fudges on the meaning of the term.

a. Crucifixion in Space? 1 Cor. 2:8

This is a very deceptive statement Doherty makes above, for while many scholars do believe that the phrase "rulers of the age" could refer to demon powers, very few of them actually believe that Paul places the crucifixion in some ethereal Plaroma or nether world. In fact the statement does not have to be understood this way at all. The word Archon (ruler) merely means "firt" or "commander." It is used of human commanders and rulers all the time. While Aeon, "age" just means a period of time, or this epoch in history. So this statement could just as easily describe human rules as demonic ones. The statement , taken by itself, just in terms of its language, could as easily place the crucifixion in history as outside it. Since we have already shown so many ensconces where Paul thinks of the crucifixion as historical, it is foolish and absurd to make this one enstance into anything more, especially when we know that he is adopting the terminology of a Gnsoticizing faction in order to coutner their heresy.

b. Rulers of the Age are in history.

Now it is probable that Paul did use this phrase of demonic powers. But he believed that demonic powers played a hand in the running of the world, the affairs of state, that they controlled governments. They were able to motivate the crucifixion for this very reason. That still means however that the crucifixion was in history. It is the demonic powers influence over human affairs of which he speaks, not some ethereal events in some realm removed form history (Whiteley, Theology of St.Paul Fortress:1965, 229).

2:7 "No we speak of God's secret Wisdom. A wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rules of this age understood it for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory. "(8)

He adopts the language of the Wisdom faction at Corinth while arguing with them. This is a basic Pauline strategy "I become all things to all men that I might win some for Christ." He's merely striving to appeal to his audience. Nothing in this statement implies that the crucifixion was not in history. Rather, it was motivated by the demonic powers since they control the worldly reigns of power, through their stooges the humans who are not clinging to God but sold out to the "worldly powers." This is clearly an event in history.

E. St. Paul and the Mystery cults

1) Cross cultural fertilization

The framework of Palestine in the first century was a melting pot of several cultures cross fertilizing each other. "It must be remembered that Jewish and Hellenistic thought both grew up together in the Eastern end of the Mediterranean, both owed a little bit to Egypt and a great deal to the civilization of the Trigris-Euphrates valley. Both alike derived something form Aegean culture." (D.E.H.Whiteley, The Theology of ST Paul. Philadelphia: fortress press, 1964, p.5) It is not surprising then that some concepts and expression, modes of thought would be cross fertilized and "borrowed." This is a far cry form the "copy cat" savior theory that skeptics such as Dohrety often go in for.

2) St. Paul Not indebted to Mystery cults

As for the notion that Christianity was a mystery cult, D.E.H. Whiteley one of the greatest Pauline scholars tells us, "the subject need be considered only at the level of popular misconceptions. Most of our evidence for the extant mystery cults comes from after the time than that of ST. Paul. For example Apuleius whose Golden Ass is one of our sources for these cults wrote in the third quarter of the second century...St. Paul does not seem t have been the sort of man to barrow from pagan sources. He was brought up as a strict Jew...Col. 2:8 'do not let your minds be captured by hollow and deceptive philosophies' is a warning against the kind of thinking we find in the mystery religions." (p. 2). Moreover Whiteley points out had Paul borrowed from the mystery religions we should expect to find his "Judaizing opponents" attacking him for that.

3) Paul Warns against Mystery cults

"St. Paul does not seem to have been the Sort of man that we should expect to find borrowing from Pagan sources. He was brought up as a strict Jew (Phil 3:5) Col 2:8 'do not let your minds be captured by hollow and deceptive speculations'...this is the kind of thinking we find in the mystery religions: it is not directed against philosophy in any modern sense of the word." (Whiteley, p. 2).

(The sources used in the Layman article)

12Constance F. Parvey, "The Theology and Leadership of Women in the New Testament," in Reuther, Religion and Sexism, p. 121.13Ibid., pp. 121f.14Walter Schmithals, Gnosticism in Corinth (New York: Abingdon, 1971), pp. 160f.15Ernst Kasemann, New Testament Questions of Today (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971), p. 71.)


tinythinker said...

So you are replying to someone conveying an evangelical atheism that is possessed of the same literalist tendency as fundamentalist religion.

Metacrock said...

It looks that way. That guy was "Grog" on CARM, the Jesus myther