Paul's Many Versions of Christ
- Paul’s Reinterpretation of Jesus’ Teachings
- Paul’s Many Versions of “Christ”
- The True Identity of Paul’s “Christ”
Aggregated from I. Zeitlin, C. Rowland, & B. Wilson
Once Paul had his roadside epiphany, and had began his conversion to the Hellenistic teachings of Stephen’s separatist group, Paul behaved opportunistically where the law was concerned. To Jew and Gentile alike he made whatever concessions were necessary to win them over to the new religion: 'To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews; to those under the law I became as one under the law — though not being myself under the law -that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law — not being without law toward God but under the law of Christ - that I might win those outside the law' (1 Cor. 9:20-1). It appears to be true, then, as Roger Mohrlang has remarked, that 'There is nothing in his Paul's writings to suggest that his ordinary daily life and conduct are governed by legal regulations halakic-style, nor is such a perspective reflected in his ethical teaching'. But Mohrlang agrees that 'Paul's negation of the salvational and regulatory aspects of the law in no way denies the validity of its moral demands in his thinking.' Ultimately, Paul's Christ Movement cemented an esoteric version of God's Law that pared everything down to the most basic morals and ethics that were relevant to the specific group or 'church' he was writing to, at that given time. Paul's letters do not contain a further teaching of Jesus and his restoration movement, instead Paul's letters contain a wholly different theology. When Paul's Christ Movement parted ways with the original Jerusalem Jesus Movement that was the final act that accentuated "christianity" outside of the the 1st century restoration teachings of Jesus.
And yet one cannot simply shrug off the fact that Paul was influenced by the religious movements of the Hellenistic world of his day. W.D. Davies was among the first to argue effectively that Palestinian Judaism was no watertight compartment sealed against all Hellenistic influences, since 'there was a Graeco-Jewish atmosphere" at Jerusalem itself. And if there were Hellenistic influences in Jerusalem itself, then how much stronger were those influences in Tarsus, where Paul grew up, and in all the other cities in which he spent his adult life! Paul did not sit down and mechanistically put together a doctrine consisting of Jewish and Hellenistic elements. It was rather an 'unconscious interpenetration' of such elements. In Romans, for example, Paul's conflated and converted citations from the Torah roughly following the sequence of the Torah books themselves, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, etc. Paul refers to all three divisions of Scripture: Torah (Pentateuch), Nevi'im (Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings).
But one can go further and discern in Paul's letters more than Hellenistic literary influences. In 1 Cor. 11:1, Paul wrote: 'Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ'. 'With these words', writes Geza Vermes, 'Paul, deviating from the Jewish imitation of God, introduced intermediaries between the imitator and his ultimate divine model. Thus originated the trend, still conspicuous in the more ancient forms of Christianity, to multiply mediators and intercessors between the faithful and God: Jesus, Paul, Mary the mother of Jesus, the Martyrs, the saints. With increasing vehemence,' Vermes continues, ... the religiosity of primitive Christianity became trained on the Mediator in place of God. Prayers continued to be addressed to the father, but more and more frequently to 'the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ' (Rom. 15:6; 2 Cor. 1:3; 11:31, etc.).
Little by little the Christ of Pauline theology and his Gentile church took over from the holy man of Galilee. Subject to God, but already enthroned at his side (1 Cor. 15:28; Rom. 8:34; Eph. 1:20; Col. 3:1, etc.), he then—no doubt in response to the needs and hopes of the wholly non-Jewish Christianity—imperceptibly grew to be the 'image of God' (2 Cor. 4:4), the 'effulgence of God's glory and the stamp of his nature' (Heb. 1:3), and finally, the equal of God. 'I bid you', writes Ignatius bishop of Antioch to Polycarp bishop of Smyrna, in the first decade of the second century, i bid you farewell always in our God Jesus Christ' (Epistle to Polycarp, ch. 8) - and all this despite Jesus' own protest against being called 'good': 'No one is good but God alone' (Mark 10:18), and his reaffirmation of the first commandment: that 'the Lord our God, the Lord is one' (Mark 12:29-30).
H.J. Schoeps agrees that for all of his Jewishness, Paul departs from the Jewish world-view. What Schoeps has to say on the subject is so important that we need to present his analysis at length. Paul teaches that the ''Messiah has died and has risen again—an event which in Jewish end-times beliefs are not provided for or foreseen''. In 1 Cor 10:16-17 we read: 'The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?' (1 Cor 11:23-6). This whole conception, writes Schoeps, 'has ceased to be Jewish and reminds one rather of the Hellenistic mysteries. With Paul, the Eucharist becomes part of the "class of mystery cults'". From a Christological standpoint, it was a disappointment and an embarrassment 'that world history after the resurrection of Christ has proceeded just as before.....the fact that an atonement of humanity through the death of the incarnate Son of God appears impossible from a Jewish point of view springs from this, namely, that the idea of the Son of God in its Pauline form takes us outside Judaism'.
Although the separate elements of Paul's doctrine can be found separately in Judaism, his synthesis, the sum of all those parts is foreign to it. The elements which Paul combined were:
the idea of a vicarious, atoning sacrifice;
a suffering servant of God (Isa. 53);
the 'binding of Isaac'.
But Paul synthesized these elements combining them in such a manner as to violate the fundamental principle of monotheism. In Schoeps' words, the fact that Paul combined these conceptions with the messianically understood 'binding of Isaac' in such a way as to transfer the story from Abraham and Isaac to the eternal God himself and His incarnate Son, and thus exalted the Messiah beyond all human proportions to the status of real divinity - this is the radically un-Jewish element in the thought of the apostle. For this there is no possibility of derivation from Jewish sources, but - if indeed it is a question of derivation - it is impossible to refute the idea of a link with heathen mythological conceptions filtered through the Hellenistic syncretism of the time.
Jesus had called God 'Abba' and on Jesus' lips 'Abba' signified the uniquely intimate relationship he felt he had with God the Father. Among the disciples 'God's son' implied only the elevated rank of a Messianic King. Paul, however, took this honorific tide and transformed it into a mythological-ontological category of thought. For Paul, Jesus Christ 'is from heaven' (1 Cor. 15:47). 'All things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together' (Col. 1:17-18); he is 'seated at the right hand of God' (Col. 3:1; Rom. 8:34); at his Second Coming all human beings will 'appear before the judgment seat of Christ' (2 Cor. 5:10). For Paul, then, Jesus is nothing less than a supernatural being like the gnostic heavenly entities that descend to earth. Jesus thus became the rock from which all drank during the desert wanderings of the Israelites: 'they drank from the supernatural rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ' (1 Cor. 10:4). 'The equation of the Christos’ writes Schoeps, 'with God Himself, which cancels the line of demarcation between the God of the Old Testament and the Messiah, leads logically to the fact that Paul transfers all the Old Testament statements about God to the exalted Christos Iesous'. Thus Paul has, deified Jesus and gone outside the ideas current in the Jerusalem Jesus Movement. Pauline Christology and salvational ideas are a dogmatic impossibility from the standpoint of strict Jewish transcendent monotheism. Judaism of every tendency, both before Paul's time and during Paul's time rejected any compromise. Thus in the last analysis, the Christian doctrine of the incarnation must be utterly repudiated on the ground of the Jewish experience of God: that God as the formless cannot be embodied in any kind of form, that he as the Infinite, prior to all forms, and was the creator of every form.
As for the question of Paul's attitude towards the Law, here, too, Schoeps demonstrates that though Paul begins with some Jewish premises, but drawing un-Jewish inferences from them. Paul asserts that no man can be righteous before God by means of the Law (Gal. 3:10-13, citing Deut. 27:26). His underlying assumption is that no human being is capable of fulfilling the whole Mosaic law, injunctions and proscriptions. Paul 'solves' this problem by means of a one-sided emphasis on faith: the crucifixion of the Messiah was in truth his elevation, as was promised in Isaiah 52:13, and it took place in order to do away with the 'curse' of the Law by transforming the curse into a blessing. Schoeps' comment on this conception of things is that 'The problematic character of a complete fulfillment of the law was well enough realized, but the Jews have never despaired about the "fulfilability" of the law, and have never allowed its sacred character to be violated'. The 'unfulfilability' of the law for Paul led to his assertion that its manifest purpose was to increase sins. But 'Every child of the Jews,' writes Schoeps, 'whether the Diaspora or the Judaism of Palestine is in question, knows that the law had no other purpose than that of being given by God in order to be kept and not transgressed, in order to increase resistance to sin and not augment sin ... The Holy One created the evil impulse, but he also created the Torah as a remedy against it'.
Paul's fundamental misapprehension lies in his failure to remember the inseparable connection between the covenant and the Law. The covenant made at Sinai was a sacral, legal act of reciprocity: God commanded the children of Israel to obey his statutes and ordinances with all their heart and with all their soul, and if they do so obey him, then they shall be a people holy to the Lord their God (Deut. 26:17-18). This expresses quite succinctly what was understood by the election of Israel. God's blessing and curse are contingent upon the attitude and conduct of the people. Schoeps therefore concludes that:
Because Paul had lost all understanding of the character of the Hebraic covenant as a partnership involving mutual obligations, he failed to grasp the inner meaning of the Mosaic law, namely, that it is an instrument by which the covenant is realized. Hence the Pauline theology of law and justification begins with the fateful misunderstanding in consequence of which he tears asunder covenant and law, and then represents Christ as the end of the law.
Paul taught that the Law's salvational purpose was annulled with the coming of Jesus, but his Jewish contemporaries looked out of the window, so to speak, and saw that the world had not changed. If they understood Paul to mean that the covenant was also annulled, then it is little to be wondered at that they forcefully rejected his doctrine.
A Fence Around the Law
We need to recall that one of the major aims of the Pharisaic revolution in the time of the Maccabees was to find a means of ensuring the preservation of Judaism and preventing a recurrence of the type of crisis that had led to the Maccabean uprising. It was with this aim in view that the scholars and teachers sought, in the words of the Mishnah, to 'make a fence around the Law' (Mish. Aboth 1.5). It was precisely this fence that Paul's doctrine threatened to destroy. He rejected the validity of the values and norms of the twofold Law governing the everyday life of the Jewish people. Inasmuch as the adherence to these values and norms accounted for the distinctive religio-ethnic character of the Jewish people, an acceptance of Paul's doctrine would have been fateful in its effect: either the fence would have been torn down, or it would have rotted away. Intuitively if not consciously this danger was recognized not only by Paul's non-Christian Jewish contemporaries, but also by James the brother of Jesus and the other 'pillar apostles'. That is why they sought to establish an ethical minimum of the Law which would be valid and binding for the Gentile converts to the congregation of the Jesus Movement; and that is why they were so disturbed to learn that Paul was telling not only the Gentiles but the Jews as well that they need not circumcise their children or observe the customs and ordinances of Moses. Doubtless it was the 'pillar apostles' who were in harmony with Jesus' own understanding of the Law; and it was Paul who unwittingly laid the doctrinal foundation for the separation of Christianity from the Jewish people.
Paul Defectively Explains Jesus’ Teaching
Paul never quotes Jesus except the words of the Messiah at the last supper. There is actually one more exception. It is rarely explained because how poorly Paul botched the quotation of Jesus and, more fundamentally, how Paul misapplied Jesus’s point to a conclusion opposite of Jesus.
For instance, the passages found in Romans 13:8-10 and Gal. 5:14 teach Christians that we do not have to obey the Law. Christianity says these passages refute the idea that Matt. 5:17-19 tells us to follow the Law. Christian doctrine claims the Law per Paul is whittled down to just one basic principle, with no specifics any longer applicable. ‘Forget the specific rules’, Paul says in effect, ‘and just keep these generalities in mind, and you are just fine’. That means, implicitly, specific rules like Sabbath are just too much detail, and does not match the generalities that solely we must keep in mind.
In Rom. 13:8-10, we read: “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment [e.g., except keeping the Sabbath?], are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” What importance is this? “ For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Gal. 5:14).
First of all, Paul is obviously paraphrasing Jesus but does a terrible job of it. In Matthew 22:36-40, we read: “Then one of them who knew Torah asked testing him. “Teacher, which Commandment in Torah is the greatest?” Jesus’s answer: “You should love Master Yahweh your Elohim with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments.”
Here we find Jesus says the second important command is just like the first, because upon it with the first hangs the Law. But the first is the "great commandment" and comes first and has priority over the second. This first one is found in Deut.6:5, and the second one is from Lev.19:18 which is within the moral section of the Law. Notice Jesus said the Law hung on two laws—both Deut. 6:25 and Lev. 19:18. When Paul states a similar principle, he omits that it hangs also upon the Love of God addressed in Deut. 6:25. A major omission, and not slight at all.
Christian doctrine typically reads Paul to mean the Law is now reduced to moral platitudes—a singular principle from the Law—and all the specifics are abrogated. Is it true that now the Law's specifics which this single command to love one's neighbor supports are null and void? Christianity insists Paul implies we do not have to think about the specifics of the Law (like Sabbath) beyond this single generality. Just focus on the big single principle to love thy neighbor, and obey it, and you supposedly owe nothing else -- a principle itself crippled by not adding that Jesus said the more important command is 'love God with your whole mind, heart and soul."
Paul’s theology is inauthentic, his philosophy is incongruent with Jesus’ ministry. Yet, Christianity insist Paul is right, claiming the very gospel which Jesus is obviously defending (i.e., the Law is valid and continues, e.g., Matt. 5:17-19) is "another gospel."
Looking at Gal. 4: 10-11 we see Paul state, “You are trying to earn favor with God by observing certain days or months or seasons or years. I fear for you. Perhaps all my hard work with you was for nothing.” Compare this teaching to the “gospel” that Paul says we are to stand in 1 Cor.15:1-4 which he also states that following old traditions is believing in vain.
Unfortunately, Jesus’s teaching is another different than the one Christianity defends. Jesus’ teachings are this gospel that Paul is unwittingly condemning because Paul misunderstands Jesus’s point. By Jesus saying the Law hung on two principles from Deuteronomy and Leviticus respectively—as overarching principles and rationales for all the rest, Jesus was not abrogating anything.
Jesus is not expressing any intent to spell the end of the rest of the Law which are logically supported by the first two principles. Rather, Jesus is saying all the Law hangs on two principles. He means these two laws provide the rationale for all the Law's other principles. Jesus clearly means that if you took these top two commands away, and declared them void, all the Law would fall. The Law thus has one component of loving Master Yahweh and the other loving Man. Take either away, and the Law is crippled. Take both away, and Torah is nullified. One who claims just one of these two principles is all one needs to study and obey, as Paul evidently is saying, misunderstand entirely the point of Jesus. The root principle of every command in the Law derives from one of the top two principles. Far from abrogating anything but the top two or, as Paul does, reducing it to only loving one's neighbor, Jesus is explaining the Law fits together in a seamless whole, integrated by two over-arching principles that begin at the heart.
What is Jesus’ point?
Jesus is advocating the Law be written on the heart, and start with one or the other motivations in either Deuteronomy or Leviticus. Jesus does not want us to obey the Letter without following the Spirit of the Law. This lesson is far from the implication which Christianity sees that Paul teaches in Romans 13 and Galatians 5—you supposedly can ignore the letter of the Law entirely.
In other words, Christianity, and their leader Paul, sees this truncated explanation in Paul's epistles as an abrogation of the Law. Indeed, that would be a very different “gospel” than what Jesus taught. And that abrogation began by Paul lopping off the love of God as an important principle—a poor and fallible re-teaching of what Jesus taught.
Is Paul A Qualified Teacher of Jesus’ Principles?
Would any pastor today who summarized Jesus’s teaching, and left off the Love of God as the first and great commandment be deemed competent? I don't think so. And would the point of such a pastor that the specifics of the Law other than the single principle to love one's neighbor are safely ignored be deemed a sensible interpretation of Jesus?
It is obvious Paul had misunderstood Jesus besides misquoting Him in explaining this passage—which incidentally is the only close paraphrase Paul ever had of Jesus from the “Gospels”. Instead, Jesus was teaching that the heart-principle is what the Law wants first and foremost -- love of Yahweh and love of man—and if you see that, then all the Law makes sense and requires obedience with that loving spirit, and not with a ritualistic focus on the specifics with a heart far from Yahweh.
Paul proves again to be a rather poor disciple of Jesus the Messiah while instead being the creator of the law-free Christ. His explanations are so reckless and loose that his explanations undermine if not contradict Jesus' teachings. To this very day, Paul is used to undermine important principles. In fact, Paul fails to even touch upon the Kingdom Restoration theme that permeated Jesus’ authentic and historic ministry.
Essay excerpted from:
Irving Zeitlin. Jesus and the Judaism of His Time. Polity Press, 1988
Christopher Rowland. Christian Origins. Cromwell Press, 2002
Barrie Wilson. How Jesus Became Christian. St. Martins Press, 2008
--all rights reserved the respective authors
Aggregated from S. Sinclair, P. Frederikson, M. Casey, & W. Boussett
Paul is "the eternal Jew par excellence" ... as well as "a genius in hatred, ... a morbid crank", according to Nietzsche. For Jews, he is the Jew who became the great enemy of Judaism. Kaufmann Kohler says that his theology was "far more pagan than Jewish in type". Solomon Schachter says, "Either the theology of the Rabbis must be wrong, its conception of God debasing, its leading motives materialistic and coarse, and its teachers lacking in enthusiasm and spirituality, or the Apostle to the Gentiles is quite unintelligible".’
Paul rarely quotes Jesus although he does occasionally use the term ‘saying of the Lord’ in an historical sense without specifying a particular saying (1 Thess. 4:13). The historic Jesus preached to Jews for whom the Torah was relevant, the theology of the historic Jesus is from a Jewish messianology. Paul was preaching to Gentiles for whom the Torah was not relevant, the theology of the historic Paul is from a Hellenistic christology. Paul preached the resurrection and the end-times significance of the crucifixion, not the life of Jesus. Paul strategically leaves out of his letters all of Jesus' teachings from the Gospels. The text of Paul’s letters reveals virtually nothing of the historical Jesus, they do not quote Jesus, nor anything about his personal life. Where Jesus was a Jew concerned with fellow Jews, Paul and his message came from his vision of the a risen christ figure. Paul showed little interest in the historical Jesus and his earthly ministry. When Paul states the preference for not getting married he states it comes not from Jesus (1 Cor. 7:25) but uses his own example unlike the other married Apostles (1 Cor. 9:5). Why does he not use Jesus’ unmarried status? ‘Even if we were once familiar with Christ according to human terms, we do not know him that way any longer’ (2 Cor. 5:16). Paul is disinterested in the historical Jesus; in that way he differs from the other Apostles and the synoptic Gospels.
Paul inherited much of his theology from the Hellenist Separatists of the Jerusalem Jesus Movement, who had gone to the Diaspora before him. But Paul insists that his christologies were not passed on to him by someone else (Gal 1:12). Instead, scholars are in agreement that Paul's many christologies were developed over time and for differing audiences. Through Paul's cosmic roadside revelation he is convinced that the non-Jewish universal mission, as enacted by the Hellenist Separatists, has become his mission.
Paul's Conflicting Natures and Roles of Christ
Paul teaches a different Christ in each epistle, with each of these dominant christologies being distinctive, with a distinctive nature and role not seen in the Gospels or within the messianology of Jesus' teachings. In fact, "Christ" and "Messiah" are different words, with different social and religious contexts. Therefore, the original Jesus Movement recognized Jesus as the "Messiah" and "the Son of Man", whereas Gentile Hellenists of the Christian Movement thought of Jesus as Christ the "Lord" and the "Son of God". Paul had reinterpreted the original nature and role of the Messiah into that of the atoning Christ.
Without exception each of the epistolic christologies has some slant which seldom or never occurs in the other undisputed epistles. Outside of Romans Paul never suggests that Christ is savior of the Jews first. Outside of I Corinthians he never specifically equates Jesus with God's wisdom or makes Jesus part of a detailed, explicit hierarchy; and almost never (Phil. 3:21) refers to Christ's spiritual body. Outside of II Corinthians, he almost never (I Cor. 1:18-2:5) suggests that Christ strengthens for service by means of weakness. Outside of Galatians Paul does not teach that Christ has already freed Christians from this age. Outside of Philippians he does not state that Jesus humbled himself and was exalted to the extent that Philippians 2:6-11 claims. Outside of I Thessalonians he never says that Christ will personally come for the living and the dead.
At this point we should also note that the dominant christology of each letter has at least one supporting element which is in tension with Paul's usual theological position. The claim in Romans that Jesus will save all Israel (Rom. 11:26) is in tension with Paul's usual assumption that salvation is not automatic for anyone (e.g. I Cor. 9:24-10:12). The claim in I Corinthians that Christ is the head of man and man the head of woman (I Cor. 11:3) is in tension with Paul's statement in Galatians that in Christ "there is no male and female" (Gal. 3:28), and this latter statement seems to have been part of the baptismal liturgy Paul accepted (Gal. 3:26-27).2 The claim in II Corinthians that Jesus became weak (II Cor. 13:4) is in tension with Paul's normal emphasis on the unconditional power of Christ (Rom. 15:18-19). The claim in Galatians that the law cursed Jesus when he died on the cross (Gal. 3:13) is in tension with Paul's contention elsewhere that the law itself is holy and becomes demonic only because of sinfulness (Rom. 7:7). The contention in Philippians that Jesus is equal to the Father (Phil. 2:6-11) is in tension with the subordinationism which Paul normally assumes and which the titles "Father" and "Son" imply. The odd detail in I Thessalonians that Jesus will come "with the archangel's voice" (I Thes. 4:16) suggests that Paul usually delegated the raising of the dead to an archangel rather than Jesus himself (Dan. 12:1-3).
Paul's Universal Role of Christ
It can be confidently stated that the starting point and the foundation of Paul's "systematic" Christology was the crucifixion, the resurrection, and the cosmic presence of Christ's spirit. This is antithetical to the Gospels and Jesus' teachings, Paul's "systematic" christology goes against the grain of the Messianology of the Jewish Jesus. The Messianology of the Gospels places all emphasis on Jesus' life and teachings. Whereas, in I Cor. 2:2, Paul claims that he "resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Christ and him crucified." What Paul means by this is that the crucifixion of his "Christ" was for him the focal point of all his theology and preaching. Paul reaffirms this in Rom. 3:21-26, after identifying the revelation of God's righteousness in the crucifixion as the heart of his epistles. Since Paul used the crucifixion and resurrection as the primary justification for each of his different his pastoral christologies, then this is the basis for his global understanding of the significance of "Christ". For Paul, the crucifixion, resurrection, and the cosmic presence of Christ's spirit are not, of course, merely facts; rather, they are means and pointers. They are the means through which God grants the possibility of salvation and the pointers to how we can receive that salvation. So it is that the different pastoral christologies based on the crucifixion, resurrection, and the presence of the Spirit emphasize in each epistle how Christ helps or delivers or condemns.
Because Christ is the one who saves and judges through his crucifixion, resurrection, Paul must reject any theology which places the primary locus of salvation and judgment elsewhere. To be sure, Paul can supplement christological appeals to the cross, resurrection, and the Spirit, by invoking Christ's preexistence (especially Phil. 2:6), his earthly teaching (e.g., I Cor. 7:12), even his life under the law (Gal. 4:4). However, whenever Paul senses that something else might compromise the centrality of cross, resurrection, and Spirit, he has to draw back. So it is that in Romans, even when he emphasizes that Christ is the son of David and the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament, Paul never goes on to say that such things by themselves effect salvation. Instead, salvation continues to be through the cross, resurrection, and the Spirit. So it is that in Galatians Paul can simply reject a legalistic christianity—which presumably included a legalistic christology—and he protests, "If righteousness is through the law, then Christ died to no purpose" (2:21).
The crucifixion, resurrection, and the cosmic presence of the Spirit each contribute a particular emphasis as to how Christ saves and judges. The crucifixion emphasizes that Christ saves by suffering to show God's love even for sinners (Rom. 5:6-11, II Cor. 5:14-21, Gal. 2:19-21) and judges by exposing the wickedness and folly of a world which kills God's redeemer (e.g., I Cor. 2:6-8, Gal. 3:13,1 Thes. 2:14-15). Accordingly, the crucifixion teaches that we must suffer to show God's goodness and must resist spiritual accommodation to this age. The resurrection emphasizes that Christ saves by triumphing over death and the rulers of this age and judges by exposing the weakness and transitoriness of this world (e.g., I Cor. 15; I Thes. 4:13-5:11). Accordingly, the resurrection teaches that we must hope for apocalyptic salvation in which we will share Christ's final triumph and be transformed into his risen likeness (I Cor. 15:45-49, Phil. 3:21). The presence of the Spirit emphasizes that Christ saves and judges by enabling us to have the "downpayment" (II Cor. 1:22, 5:5) of that apocalyptic salvation already in the present (Rom. 8:15-17, Gal. 4:6-7). This downpayment leads to such paradoxes as the power to work miracles (Rom. 15:17-19,1 Cor. 12:9-10, Gal. 3:5) in the midst of weakness and the power to be joyful in the midst of suffering (Rom. 5:2-5,1 Thes. 1:6).
However, there is an irreconcilable duality when it comes to Paul's interpretations of salvation. Paul's interpretations have two distinct spheres of salvational discourse. On the one hand there is the juridical language, in which salvation is described in terms of changes in status from one situation to another. On the other hand there is the mystical language in which salvation is conceived in terms of believer's sharing with the Christ in the process of death and resurrection. These are dual conceptions that Paul's teachings are not been able to homogenize.
Paul's Figure of Christ
Paul believed that Jesus had existed before his earthly life. We have seen this belief taken over from two basic sources, Wisdom christology (Col 1.15) and comparison with Adam (Phil 2.6). Both of these pauline aspects are not supported by the Hebrew Scriptures nor are ever taught by Jesus. However, the Adam speculation also legitimated the claim that Jesus was "in the form of God" when he was pre-existent, so exalted that he had to empty himself to live a human life (Phil 2.6-7). The appropriation of static parallels from Wisdom speculation legitimated the view that Jesus was involved in the creation of the world (cf 1 Cor 8.6, Col 1.15). Paul says nothing about Jesus' earthly life nor Jesus' earthly ministry, save for Paul's unsupported assertion that Jesus was sinless during his earthly life (2 Cor 5.21; Rom 8.3).
Paul's Titles and of Christ
Paul used three major christological titles, "Lord", "Christ" and "Son of God". "Lord" occurs over 200 times in the Pauline corpus. Paul (and the Hellenistic primitive christian community) did not take over the Kyrios or Christos titles from the original Jesus Movement. The Hellenistic community preferred the designation ho Kyrios. From a linguistic examination of the Aramaic equivalent of Mari, the absolute title ho Kyrios could not have arisen in the Jewish community. In everyday Aramaic, Mari was a very respectful form of polite address, well above "teacher" and similar to rabbi. In Greek this has at times been translated as kyrios. While the term Mari expressed the relationship between Jesus and his disciples during his life, the Greek kyrios came to represent his lordship over the world.This is consistent with its being the most common christological title in the relatively early Thessalonian epistles (c. 40 occurrences).
In taking over Philippians 2.9, Paul shows his awareness that "Lord" could function for the name of God. He does not however repeat this, but it is none the less evident that Paul could use "Lord" to express the complete submission and devotion of the Christian to the person who brought about salvation. At 1 Corinthians 12:3, he uses it, in the form of the earlier confession "Jesus (is) Lord", as a decisive indication of whether a person is inspired by the Holy Spirit. His varied use elsewhere includes greetings and exhortations "in the Lord". The beginning of the christian life may be described as being called "in the Lord" (1 Cor 7:22), an expression which may function effectively as a description of Christian being (1 Cor 9:1-2; 15:58; Phil 2:19).
"Christ" is the most common christological term in Paul's works, being used some 250 times in the major epistles (Rom, 1 Cor, 2 Cor, Gal, Phil). Paul generally assigns it as a personal name. He seems to have regarded it as the most appropriate term for expressing certain aspects of the believer's appropriation of salvation history. We can only conjecture the reasons for this. "Jesus" was the everyday name of the Jesus of history, and might therefore not appear suitable on its own in descriptions of the present cosmic christian life. "Lord" and "Son" both point to Jesus' status rather than his function, and "Son" was not yet a common term. "Christ" had however originated as a functional term. For Paul Jesus had been anointed to carry out the most fundamental task in his interpretation of salvation history. This had led to the salvation of the Gentiles in a universal community of Jews and Gentiles, and his task would shortly be consummated at his second coming. As well as being functional, the term was also distinctive, so much so that it gave rise to the term "Christian" (Acts 11.26). "Lord" had also originated as a description of the exalted Jesus, so "Christ" may have become the normal term in the context of the main events of salvation history before "Lord" was conventionally used for the Jesus of history. These may be the reasons why the term "Christ" is so dominant in Paul's functional contexts. It is extensively used in the expression "in Christ", or "in Christ Jesus", a common expression in descriptions of the Christian life as a whole and of the major events in it.
The third major christological title is "son", or more fully, "son of God". In contrast to their frequent use of "Lord" and "Christ", however; the Pauline epistles have this title only 15 times. The term was already in use with reference to any faithful Jew, and we have seen that Paul transferred this usage from Jews to Christians. We should deduce that its use of Jesus in particular was a recent development, preceded only by the use in the pre-Pauline piece at Romans 1:3-4, where Jesus' position as "son of God in power" is dated from the resurrection. We are not in a position to know whether Paul was himself responsible for the next development, by means of which "son" became a distinctive term for Jesus without reference to any particular moment. Paul tends to use it in passages of especial theological importance, as for example at Romans 5:10: "For if, being enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son...." Here, as elsewhere, the term "son" was useful to Paul because it both indicates a close and direct relationship to God and yet allows for the prime initiative, uniqueness and superiority of God himself. Paul, however, makes no attempt to define this in metaphysical terms.
We should not go further than this, especially not by associating "son" with particular features of the few contexts in which it occurs, or by regarding any more or less formulaic statements as pre-Pauline. Galatians 4:4 may have been assumed, by a person who wrote or took over 1 Corinthians 8:6 and Philippians 2:6-7, to imply the pre-existence of Jesus. The sentence itself, however, does not necessarily mean this. The term "son" is used because it gives Jesus a pre-eminent place close to deity, at the same time as it attributes the action to God himself. Galatians 1:16 uses the term "son" for the same reason, and it should not be associated with Acts 9:20. The report of Acts is prepositional in form, having Paul preach that Jesus "is the Son of God". This prepositional statement has neither Pauline parallel nor a satisfactory "life setting" as early as Luke places it, for it could not yet have had sufficient meaning to be so important. We must therefore conclude that it is a Lukan summary of the true historical fact that Paul preached the universal centrality of Jesus for salvation soon after his conversion. The sending of the Son in passages such as John 3:17 and 1 John 4:9 cannot turn Pauline sentences into pre-Pauline formulae because the Johannine literature is later in date, and the recurrence of the sending of the Son has a firm background in God's sending of prophets and the increasing function of the term "son" as christology rose. The term "son" is used at Romans 8:3 and Galatians 4:4 because it is so functional. The beginning of Christ's earthly life was both an action of God and the beginning of the most important life in Paul's interpretation of salvation history, the life of a person who has reached the verge of deity in Pauline theology. It is that combination which made the term "son" functional enough to be used at climactic points before it became common. It became central only in the Johannine community, when the deity of Jesus was declared.
"Christ", "Lord" and "Son": pre-existent in the form of God, the central figure in salvation history, whose death and resurrection brought salvation to mankind, Jew and Gentile alike. Was this figure in Paul's view actually God? There is one text which appears to say so. Romans 9:3-5 may reasonably be translated: "I might pray that I personally be anathema from Christ for the sake of my brothers and relations according to the flesh, who are Israelites, whose is adoption, the glory, the covenants, the Law, the Service and the promises, whose are the patriarchs, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed for ever, Amen." The first of these two views is perhaps to be regarded as the more probable. It is generally assumed that this passage shows Paul's Christ was at least co-equal to God. It is intelligible that a figure with all the functions of Paul's Christ, and the three major titles, should be termed "God" by him in one passage. This description does not however recur but this is one context in which Paul's description of Jesus as God should be seen. Colossians produced another striking expression, "in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily" (Col 2:9) which places Paul's nature of Christ as also co-equal to God.
Paul's various christologies also gives us a conception of two beings in Heaven before Christ came—one was God and the other had an "equality with God." Paul says Jesus had an "equality with God" but himself was created by God as the "first born of creation." (Col. 1:15.) This non-eternal Son while "equal to God" (although not eternal) also was the creator of everything else. (Col. 1:16.) Hence, a non-eternal being, as Paul depicts Christ, was the Creator of the heavens and earth including Man. After doing so, this Son then emptied himself of godhood, and came to Earth in the "likeness of men." (Phil.2:7.)
According to Paul, the emptied shallowed-out previously equal-to-God Son—Jesus Christ—only became equal to the God-of-Sinai again at some point prior to His death. His death then symbolized the death of the husband to Israel (YHWH), thus dissolving the Law between the husband-God and his wife. (Romans 7:1-7.) Then when Jesus was resurrected, Jesus was a different husband than the husband-God at Sinai (Yahweh) and no longer required obedience to the Law given Moses.
Paul is able to tie this cosmic understanding of his previously equal-to-God Christ to the mystic salvation Christologies by preaching an internalizing of the Law in a vastly different way than the historic Jesus taught. In Romans 8, Paul presents a portrait of a transformed humanity in whom the law has been internalized by means of the Spirit. Torah itself has been transformed from an external letter, written merely on stone, into the indwelling Spirit of Christ, who as the living law now fulfills the law in and through them. This transformed Torah ("the law of the Spirit of life") is intimately linked with the transference of humanity from flesh to Spirit and with the transformation of Christ himself from flesh to Spirit in his death and resurrection (Rom 1:3-4). The Torah (7:14) could only be internalized if humanity were transferred into a new cosmological realm, since the written letter was weakened in the cosmological realm of the flesh.
There is a distinct dichotomy, from Jesus to Paul, in their teachings and message. In the teachings and message of Jesus (contained in Q and the Gospels) there is a Jewish messianology whereas in Paul's epistles there is a Hellenistic christology. While Jesus teaches a direct, inclusive, and personal message for life, Paul instead teaches a universal and impersonal message concentrating on the event of Jesus' death. The nature and image of the Jewish Jesus in Q and the Gospels stands in direct contrast to the nature and image of the cosmic Christ in Paul's Epistles, they are not one and the same nor are they parallel. Simply put, the messianology of the historic Jesus is contrary to the christology of the historic Paul and they cannot be rectified or reconciled, they are two separate and distinct theologies.
Essay excerpted from:
Sinclair, Scott G. Jesus Christ According to Paul: The Christologies of Paul's Undisputed Epistles and the Christology of Paul. Sheffield Press, 1988.
Frederikson, Paula. From Jesus to Christ: The Origins of the New Testament Images of Christ. Yale University Press, 2000.
Casey, Maurice. From Jewish Prophet to Gentile God. Westminster John Knox, 1992.
Boussett, Wilhelm. Kyrios Christos: A history of the belief in Christ from the beginnings of Christianity to Irenaeus. Abingdon Press, 1970.
--all rights reserved the respective authors
Excerpted & Aggregated from V. Martin, J. Klausner, G. Vermes, M. Casey, & B. Wilson
What we have in Christianity and some forms of the Messianic Movements today is Paulinism, or Paulinity. It is the religion envisaged and vigorously promoted by Paul and given a respectable history by the Book of Acts. It is a Hellenized religion about a Gentile Christ, a cosmic redeemer, and it is through that perspective that the later gospels are read. It is not the religion of the Jewish Jesus, the Messiah claimant and proclaimer of a Kingdom of God. That religion—the religion of the Jesus Movement— for all intents and purposes as the originating and governing body of Jesus' teachings, died out not long after the Fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD.
The Christ of Paul
Paul adopted a completely new stance in his attitude to Jesus which distinguishes him not only from the more "historical" Mark, Matthew, and Luke, hut even from John. In ignoring the man from Nazareth and his activities in Galilee and Jerusalem, Paul had no need to incorporate into his synthesis traditional elements of the portrayal of Jesus. For him, the history of Christ began with "the night of his betrayal" (1 Cor. 11:23) and ended three days later with his resurrection. The term "Jesus" on its own appears only about ten times in the letters of Paul, nine times in Hebrews, and is invariably connected with the only aspects of the earthly Jesus which were significant to Paul: his death and resurrection. Neither did Paul use the Semitic title "Messiah," encountered in John, although he was not averse to quoting Aramaic words from Christian prayers, for instance Abba, "Father" (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6), or Maranatha, "The Lord has come" (1 Cor. 16:22).
Paul pays no attention to the biblical expectation of a king Messiah or its fulfillment in Jesus the Christ apart from the vague mention of his descent from David (Rom. 1:3, and 2 Tim. 2:8 in the post-Pauline literature). The original Greek epithet, the Christ ("the anointed"), qualifying Jesus as Messiah, fast evolves into a kind of double-barreled proper name, Jesus Christ. Since his Gentile followers had no grounding in the messianic hope of Judaism, Christ for them was a Savior figure who achieved his redeeming function not as the final occupant of the royal throne of David who would defeat God's enemies and subject the world to the rule of divine justice, but in a totally idiosyncratic way through his death and resurrection. The biblically untrained Christians in Ephesus, Corinth, or Rome were unaware that Paul was twisting the Jewish Messiah concept. For Jewish listeners, however, the message would have sounded inept: since the Messiah was not expected to die, there was no need for him to be raised from the dead.
Paul would never have dreamed of calling Jesus a "prophet," which was not sufficiently grand to fit Christ. And predictably the title "Son of man," often used with different meanings in the Synoptic Gospels and in John, is completely foreign to him. Therefore, of all the preexisting traditional designations of Jesus, only "Son of God" and "Lord" continued to flourish in Paul's writings.
The Figure of Jesus in Paul
Paul believed that Jesus had existed before his earthly life. We have seen this belief taken over from two basic sources, Wisdom christology (Col 1:15) and comparison with Adam (Phil 2:6). Adam speculation also legitimated the claim that Jesus was "in the form of God" when he was pre-existent, so exalted that he had to empty himself to live a human life at all (Phil 2:6-7). The appropriation of static parallels from Wisdom speculation legitimated the view that Jesus was involved in the creation of the world (1 Cor 8:6, Col 1:15).
Paul says little about Jesus' earthly life. He does however assume the absolute authority of Jesus' teaching. The classic passage is 1 Corinthians 7.10-17, where Paul knows Jesus' remarkable prohibition of divorce, but has to apply it to a new situation, in which one partner is Christian and the other is not. This led him to distinguish with great clarity between his own judgement and the teaching of "the Lord". This is a significant point of contact with the transmission of the synoptic tradition. Jesus' authority as a teacher was one aspect of the starting-point of christology, and it was not dropped in the Pauline churches as the soteriological and cosmic significance of his death and resurrection were worked out. The fundamental significance of the historical Jesus is implied equally strongly by the preservation of Abba (Rom 8.15; Gal 4.6), and by the use of his words at the Last Supper (1 Cor 11:23-5).
Jesus' death and resurrection were extensively developed. A sacrificial interpretation of Jesus' death was put forward by him at the Last Supper, and the regular repetition of the words of institution will have facilitated further development of this aspect of it. Jewish sacrifices were frequently used as symbols for the forgiveness of sins, and in the early formula at 1 Corinthians 15.3 Christ is said to have "died for our sins." At Romans 3:21, Paul sets forth "the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation, through faith, by means of his blood." This event is placed in the centre of salvation history. Sin entered the world with the sin of Adam, bringing death. Jesus' obedience in going to his death is to be contrasted with Adam's disobedience, and it brought to an end the domination of sin (Rom 5:12-21). God had to punish sin in order to be righteous, but in previous times he had in his forbearance passed over the punishment of sin, storing it up for the Day of Wrath. Now Jesus had taken this upon himself and the righteousness of God had been shown forth, and his people, being justified by faith, would be saved from the Wrath (Rom 3:25-6; 5:9). Thus we have redemption in Christ Jesus (Rom 3:24), or, "being enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son" (Rom 5:10). In Colossians, the cosmic significance of Jesus' death is further developed by the assertion that on the cross he defeated the evil powers (Col 2:15).
These developments are a fruitful context in which to see Paul's assertion that Jesus was sinless during his earthly life (2 Cor 5:21; Rom 8:3). This view first appears in Paul. While Jewish patriarchs might be perceived as sinless because they obeyed the Law perfectly, a view which the earliest apostles did not have thought of applying to Jesus of Nazareth. Paul, not having known the historical Jesus, puts forward his sinlessness in the context of his death. This is at one level a consequence of the sacrificial interpretation of his death, for sacrifices had to be without blemish.
Jesus' resurrection was just as fundamental as his death: "if Christ has not been raised, your faith is empty - you are still in your sins" (1 Cor 15:17). His resurrection involved the conquest of death itself. It did more than remove the effects of Adam's sin, and it is a foretaste of the general resurrection (1 Cor 15:20-23). Paul took over the earlier belief that Jesus is now in heaven at the right hand of God. He had seen Jesus in glory at least on the occasion of his conversion (cf also Acts 7:55-8.1; 2 Cor 12:1). Paul adds that he is interceding for us, and sends grace and peace from him, associated with God, to the recipients of his epistles. Paul took over the earlier belief that Jesus would come soon at the last day (1 Cor 16:22; Phil 3:20-21; 4:6), and he expected that Jesus himself would take part in the eschatological judgment (2 Cor 5:10; 2 Thess 1:7-8). 1 Thessalonians 4.13 gives a graphic picture of meeting the Lord in the air when the dead are raised, and at 1 Corinthians 15:24 Paul draws on scripture to give a picture of the final events. This has Christ in a dominant position as ruler of the universe, though at the same time subordinate to God himself.
All these events are properly eschatological, that is, they belong to the last days. Since the death and resurrection of Jesus had already occurred, Paul had to make some adjustments to the standard apocalyptic scheme of the last days. The common hope was that God would establish his kingdom soon. In the conviction that he would do this, some Jews saw the events of their own time as belonging to the last days. For example, the authors of the book of Daniel saw the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes as a decisive event which belonged to the last three and a half years of normal human history. They portrayed the Seleucid kingdom as the last kingdom, to be destroyed by God after a number of events of their own time recognizable in the activities of the little horn of the fourth beast. The author of 4 Ezra 11-12 altered the identification of the fourth kingdom to the Roman, and created a new set of details to ensure that the events of his own day were recognizable as belonging to the last times.
Paul's apocalyptic scheme was formed by means of the same generative pattern of change. He shared the belief of those authors that the End was at hand, but he believed that the decisive salvific act of God in Jesus had already occurred. Thus for the first time the decisive act of salvation is placed before the end of all things, whereas non-Christian Jewish documents place the evil events before the End, such as the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes, and the suffering of the righteous.
Identity and Mission in Paul
"There is no Jew nor Greek, there is no slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Galatians 3:28 puts the social function of Pauline theology in a christological nutshell, and with it the key to the success of the Gentile mission. From a Jewish perspective, the differences between Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female, were the biggest differences between people in the Greco-Roman world. That between Jew and Greek was at the centre of Paul' s mission. Jesus could hold together a mixed community of Jews and Gentiles only if he embodied the community's identity. The acceptance of Gentiles by Jews was not without precedent: but if they obeyed what were later regarded as the Noachic rules and attended the synagogue on the sabbath, they remained in a subordinate position. If they were to approach equality with ethnically Jewish people, they had to become proselytes. That meant circumcision for men, and for everyone it meant undertaking to keep the Law. Even then proselytes, though superior to Gentiles, were not wholly on an equal footing with ethnically Jewish people.
This gives us some measure of the revolution which Paul sought to bring about. What is more, ethnically Jewish people who did not have faith in Jesus were thereby excluded from the covenant community. In Romans 9-11, Paul seeks to explain this with a midrash including the supernatural hardening of Israel (11:25). He predicts that they will finally be converted and join the community, much as the Qumran community imagined that the congregation of Israel would join them in the last days (1Q Sa Llff; cf 4QpNah HI, 1-8).
The acceptance of Gentiles led Paul to redefine the term "Jew" itself:
A Jew is not a person who is visibly a Jew, nor is circumcision the circumcision which is visible in the flesh. But a Jew is a person who is a Jew secretly, and circumcision is circumcision of the heart in the spirit not in the letter, for which praise is received not from men but from God (Rom 2:28-9).
This dramatic redefinition shows how seriously assimilated Paul himself was. It effectively excludes non-Christian Jews from salvation. Observant Jews were bound to conclude that Paul had abandoned Judaism.
The Pauline epistles were written to communities which included both Jews and Gentiles, but which were predominantly Gentile (1 Cor 12:2; Gal 1:16; 2:9; 3:2-5; 4:8; Phil 3:2-4; Col 2:11-13,16; 3:5-7; 1 Thess 1:9; 2:14). It is fruitful to analyze how Jewish the Pauline Christians had to become, using the eight identity factors: ethnicity, scripture, monotheism, circumcision, sabbath-observance, dietary laws, purity laws, and biblical holy days. They did not have to be ethnically Jewish, and Paul was strongly opposed to the circumcision of Gentiles. He objected to the observance of the sabbath, and of Jewish festivals (Rom 14:5-6; Gal 4:10; Col 2:16), and there was no question of the observance of purity laws.
Monotheism is the only identity factor of the Jewish community which was maintained, and it was highly functional. If the new community was to be clearly marked off from the Gentile world, it had to be significantly different from it. Monotheism guaranteed the uniqueness of the community's revelation, and it appealed to cultured Gentiles. From the inside, it was the center of Judaism as a religion. It also involved everything that assimilating Jews felt was right, because God was held to have revealed Jewish morals.
Two identity factors show signs of being problematic. The dietary laws were bound to be troublesome. Some basic prohibitions were deeply ingrained in Jewish feelings, intensified as these were by persecution and Gentile scorn, as well as the lengthy habituation of tradition, commanded in scripture. Moreover, some of the meat eaten by Gentiles was sacrificed to a deity before being sold: eating it could therefore be perceived as idolatry. Paul argued in favor of eating Gentile meat, for this was virtually inevitable in predominantly Gentile communities. He argues strongly against eating in an idol temple, because this put Christians in the wrong community, a point reinforced by the concept of other gods as demons (1 Cor 10:16-22, 8:4). He argues however that Christians should not enquire about the origin of meat bought in the market or served to them by a non-Christian (1 Cor 10.25-27): only if someone makes a fuss should one refuse to eat it, and that is because of the other person's conscience (1 Cor 10:28-29). AtRomans 14:2-3, he likewise argues for the acceptance of the "weak" Christian who eats only vegetables, the natural reaction of an observant Jew who does not have access to kosher meat, and at 1 Corinthians 8:13, faced with Christians who insist upon their freedom, he declares he would prefer never to eat meat rather than to scandalize his brother. He himself clearly felt that it was right to eat any meat, but in practice he sought the most sociable compromise, with allowances for "weaker brethren" to hold the community together.
The second problematical identity factor was scripture. Paul believed and taught the divine authority of a collection of sacred books which approximates to the Christian Old Testament. Nevertheless, Paul uniquely would append a verse of Hebrew Scripture, in a few places he used biblical quotation to replace his own words and in many instances he seems to have lifted a verse or phrase from Scripture simply because it suited his needs. In his scriptural quotations Paul exhibits various acts of citational omission, conflation, addition, substitution, insertion, and conversion of the written Greek Tanakh. Careful examination of Paul’s “combined” and “conflated” citations has demonstrated further the skill with which these composite units have been knit together and adapted for their present use shows that it was no careless lapse of memory, but rather a conscious editorial hand that produced such sophisticated pieces of literary and rhetorical artistry.
Paul saw it fit to use that Scripture any way possible to prove his hellenistic points. This helped the community to maintain its identity as it changed. Paul needed the Old Testament for the exposition of salvation in Jesus and for legitimation of the new community. On the other hand, the Old Testament contains injunctions to do the Law, with a large number of detailed regulations which would have prevented most Gentiles from entering the community. Paul was determined to drop them. He therefore produced lengthy arguments from these same scriptures to demonstrate that salvation came from faith in Jesus, without the works of the Law. Two midrashim, in Galatians 3 and Romans 4, use the story of the pre-Mosaic patriarch Abraham for this purpose. Paul argues from Abraham's justification by faith to the justification of Christians by faith, and therefore without the works of the Law. 2 Cor 3 tackles the question of which community's use of scripture is right, arguing that the veil which covered Moses' face on Mt Sinai remains over Jews who have not accepted Jesus: "For until the present day the same veil remains unremoved at the reading of the old covenant, for it is done away in Christ. But to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their heart: but whenever one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed" (2 Cor 3:14-16, interpreting Ex 34:34).
At Romans 9-11, Paul again argues that salvation is for those who are children of the Old Testament promises, not those who are ethnically Jewish. His interpretation of Deuteronomy 30.14 is almost programmatic: "But what does it say? 'The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart' (Deut 30:14). This refers to the word of faith which we preach, for if you confess 'with your mouth' Jesus as Lord, and believe 'in your heart' that God raised him from the dead, you shall be saved" (Rom 10:8-10). Paul concludes by arguing that the ethnic group of Israel will be saved when the Gospel has been preached to the Gentiles. Thus Paul could perceive himself and his converts as accepting scripture. Other Jewish people, however, might conclude that they did not accept scripture, because they had not taken upon themselves the yoke of the Law.
Thus Gentile converts in a Pauline church took on about one and a half “Jewish” identifying factors, even though Paul might accept them as real Jews as Paul was prepared to redefine that term, but this correctly represents the obvious fact that, from a Jewish perspective, Gentile converts did not become Jews when they became Christians. What has this to do with the development of christology? It is a major factor in explaining the need for it. We are very clearly in stage two of christological development. There were communities and fellowships that contained many Jews, including apostles from Jesus' historic ministry. At the same time, Pauline churches contained mostly Gentiles. How were Christians to hold together in one community? Paul met this situation with further development of the figure of Jesus, a commitment for which his conversion on the Damascus road ideally prepared him.
Paul persecuted the Hellenist Separatists of the original Jesus Movement when it was a Jewish sub-group with Jesus as its only specific identity factor, and it is against that separatists group that he is known to have struggled. The blinding flash supposedly brought a vision of Jesus, speaking Aramaic with a purely Greek metaphor, as only the vision of a bilingual person could. "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" (Acts 9:4). Not, as one might have thought, "Why do you persecute my servants?", or "the righteous who preach the good news". No, Jesus was already central, hence "Why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads" (Acts 26:14). Paul did not know what had hit him. "Who are you, Lord?" "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting." Again the centrality of Jesus, the sole identity factor of the earliest successful messianic movement. The longest account of the conversion follows with the call to be a missionary to the Gentiles (Acts 26:17-18). Though this account may have been somewhat written up in transmission, the basic fact of the call to evangelize the Gentiles is central to the witness of Paul himself (e.g. Gal 1:16; 2:2, 9; Rom 15:15-16). It is not however clear that he concluded immediately that the Gentiles need not do the Law, a view which he may have reached during his time in Arabia or even later(cfGal 1:15-24). It was 17 years before he laid before Peter, Jacob, John and others the Gospel which he preached to the Gentiles (Gal 1:15-2:10), a Gospel which by that stage included justification by faith.
None of the extant epistles were written soon after Paul's conversion. All come from a time when stage two of christological development had been in existence for some years. The Christian community had a profound need for the developments which Paul voiced. While the Jewish community was held together by ethnicity and by a whole culture expressed in the Mosaic Law, the mixed Christian community now proceeded to hold itself together by the generation of more christological belief. The mode of development did not however change. We have seen that the figure of Jesus was developed in the same way as other messianic and intermediary figures. Paul was culturally Jewish, and he too proceeded to develop Jesus in the same way, but with more vigor because of his acceptance of the philosophies he experienced with the teachings of the Hellenist Separatists from the Jesus Movement.
Particularism Negated for Universalism
In Paul’s teachings he not only rejects the whole of the Mosaic Law as the method of salvation instead upholding it only as a moral standard of conduct in the new Christian Movement, but Paul also promotes the decentralization of the Temple in the same manner as the Hellenist Separatists from Jerusalem. Why did the prospect of an a-temporal and universal version of Judaism appear so startling to the Jewish synagogues of the Diaspora as well as to the Jesus Movement in Jerusalem? With a sure instinct they knew that once universalism was accepted by the Jewish people as their main orientation, their particular Jewish culture would in no time be divested of its historical uniqueness and their community would be rapidly absorbed by the surrounding milieu. The uniqueness of Israel had its source in the election by the living God of one particular people out of all the nations, an election not out of time and space, but fully inserted in the makeup of this world. Israel was that part of creation which from all eternity God had reserved for himself, to whom he had revealed himself, and whom he had hoped to mold as the prototype of his intimate relationship with humanity. If the function of prototype was going to be restricted to Jesus of Nazareth and if all the Gentile nations were to be included in the election of Israel before the "end-times" and without grafting themselves to Torah, the specific role of Israel in salvation history as "the priestly people" (Exod 19:6) would become non-existing, except as a nostalgic memory.
The Jews listening to Saul of Tarsus knew that they were a separate nation by God's choice, called to fulfill a priestly role and a holy function among all the other nations. Paul was now telling them that from now on the chosen nation will be chosen no more, and that only two realities still existed: humanity and Jesus of Nazareth, risen and glorified. It was saying to them: Surely, Christians ought to be grateful to the Jews for giving birth to Jesus, but from now on his kinsfolk have become irrelevant.
With this universalistic view in mind how could Paul write that Israel is the root that supports the Gentile Christians (Rom 11:18)? How could Israel fulfill such a function if its uniqueness and its rootedness in this world were not permanent and somehow related to eschatology and universalism? In his sensibility Paul felt that the Jewish people had a unique role to play. He affirmed that as regards to election they are beloved of God because God's gifts and calling are irrevocable (cf. Rom 11:28-29). He suggested that without them the body of Christ is partly disabled. He used a term that no exegete has been able to explain satisfactorily, "what will their acceptance be but life from the dead!" (Rom 11:15). In his feelings Paul was truly experiencing Israel as the existential root of the Christian community, but in his mind Israel as "root" seemed to mean nothing more than a remembrance of the earthly life of Jesus of Nazareth as being a Jewish life. The rest of the Jewish story could be forgotten. In truth, even that earthly Jewish life of Jesus was a kind of past history. And if "everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!" (2 Cor 5:17), then there is no need for any existential root or foundation other than the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
Notwithstanding a deep spiritual need to be rooted in the Judaism of his youth, the past remained for Paul just the past, simply a hopeful promise for the future. The intensity of his eschatological vision did not allow ongoing history to have any deep meaning, except for the development of more moral stamina. Despite the feelings of his heart, in his mind Christianity was eschatological, Judaism was historical, and the twain didn't meet. By giving to the Jews of the Jesus Movement and to the Synagogue Jews the impression that they had become "antiques," to be cherished but not to be used, Paul was deeply hurting their self-respect, their sense of identity. He was denying the eternal validity of Israel's election as God's own people in the flesh—while at the same time seeming to affirm its existence in reminding the Romans that the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable (Rom 11:29).
Paul never completely harmonized heart and mind. He searched all his life for a concrete way to allow Jews and Gentiles to live together as the Israel of God. History will show that he did not succeed. Nevertheless, he persevered in the darkness of faith, because the risen Jesus had made him understand that being a bona fide member of a Jewish community was not strictly necessary to become a child of God and a brother of Messiah Jesus. His mission was to bring this good news to the Gentiles.
Each time Paul was successful at pulling some Gentiles away from their idols, the Orthodox Jews might have been willing to cheer him up, but when he was pulling some pious God-fearers and even some observant Jews away from the Synagogue, teaching them that Judaism was behind the times and that there was now a better way, they must have been indignant and deeply hurt.
Christology and Experience
The Christian community could not be held together only by abstract theology. Paul's christological developments can be traced without much reference to experience because they were so closely related to experience that they were confirmed by experience. This experiential grounding was fundamental to holding the community together. It began with conversion. Not everyone saw a blinding light on the Damascus road. Everyone however had to turn afresh towards God to join a Pauline community, and the story of Paul's conversion appealed so much to the author of Acts that he tells it three times. At this stage, conversions into a community centered on Jesus must have been a normal feature of life in it. Conversion was followed by baptism. Paul's theological development of this experience perceived it as participation in the death and resurrection of Christ, and as the cause of Christian behavior. Pauline Christians were necessarily reminded of their own baptism whenever new members joined the community by means of this dramatic, and dramatically interpreted, ceremony.
The gift of the Spirit was also perceived early in the Christian life, so much so that Paul could remind Galatian Gentiles that they had received it before they began to observe the Law. He was then able to use this fact to legitimate his view that salvation was through faith in Christ crucified (Gal 3:1). A list of gifts of the Spirit is given in 1 Corinthians 12, beginning with a basic confession: "No-one can say 'Jesus is Lord', except by the Holy Spirit" The gifts include prophecy, speaking with tongues, healing, words of wisdom and of knowledge. The effects of these gifts on christological development will have been partly direct, as when a passage of scripture was newly interpreted to refer to Jesus' saving work. Indirect effects will have been equally important. Any act of commitment to, or participation in, the Christian community worked towards christological development because it made the community more important, and the community's increased importance was bound to be reflected in the development of its distinctive identity factor. Paul facilitated this process by declaring that events such as his imprisonment became known "in Christ" (Phil 1:12-14).
Another major community event was the Lord's Supper. Eating together was generally very important to the community, because Jewish dietary laws might prevent Jews from eating with Gentiles. Hence the significance of the quarrel at Antioch when Jewish Christians refused to eat with their Gentile brethren (cf Gal 2:11-21). Paul's report of the question which he put to Cephas reveals his standard of judgement: "If you, being a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel Gentiles to judaize?" (Gal 2:14). The assumption is that the community must eat together, so if Jewish Christians will not eat with Gentiles, Gentile Christians will have to eat Jewish food. That would be the thin end of the wedge, for if Jewish Christians compelled Gentile Christians to observe one of the basic identity factors of Judaism, the observance of other identity factors was bound to follow.
In this context, the Lord's Supper was the most important meal of all, because it became the symbolic meal of the community. In seeking to regulate behavior at the Lord's Supper in Corinth, Paul repeats a developed version of Jesus' words at the Last Supper (1 Cor 11.23-5). This reinforced the community's identity. Despite the fact that it consisted largely of Gentiles, the community identified itself as the same community as the disciples gathered round Jesus on the night of his betrayal. The developments include the double command to do this in memory of Jesus, a command which legitimates the existence of the obedient Pauline community. Paul's immediate comment relates this both to Jesus' death and to his second coming (1 Cor 11.26). He goes on to argue that anyone who eats and drinks unworthily is guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, and he attributes sickness and death in the Corinthian community to their misbehavior at this meal (1 Cor 11.30). This makes the most of the common view that sickness and death were due to sin. The whole passage is a classic example of secondary legitimation.
We have noted two other old traditions, the repetition of which will have helped to maintain the community's identity. One is the tradition of Jesus' resurrection at 1 Corinthians 15.3-7.16 Paul validates it with the resurrection appearances, beginning with those to Cephas and the twelve. This could not fail to reinforce the community's identity by reminding it of its origins in the saving acts of God. Paul then uses the resurrection of Jesus to demonstrate the correctness of the Pharisaic belief in a general resurrection. This is a perfect example of a Pauline shift. Paul had believed in the general resurrection when he was a Pharisee: he now made that belief dependent on the story of the vindication of the Christian community's central identity factor. He thereby made the community more dependent on its own identity, and divorced his belief in the resurrection from its Pharisaic origins.
The Mystery of Christ's Death and Resurrection
Paul's conviction that he was liberated from sin and engulfed in the love of God was founded on his belief that Christ "died, yes ... was raised from the dead ... is at the right hand of God ... indeed intercedes for us" (Rom. 8:34). Ultimately this amounts to a myth-drama of salvation. This "myth" is not used in any pejorative sense, but as an interpretative concept entailing what is often a poetic explanation attached to death, burial, life, revival, etc. The Pauline myths understood in this sense do not depend on what Jesus taught or even on what he did, but on the consequences, assumed to be providential, of what happened to him. In this respect, Paul's perception is unique and is clearly distinguished from that of the Synoptic evangelists and John. In the Gospels, Jesus is a teacher who delivers a message to his followers; in the epistles he is the object of the message devised and disseminated by Paul, with the exception of the few examples where he claims to transmit "the words of the Lord." Nevertheless, though he was aware of being the father of his Gentile spiritual children, Paul was fully conscious that he was not their savior. "Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?" he asked the Corinthians (1 Cor. 1:13).
In Paul's portrait of Jesus the two most essential features are, negatively, that of a deliverer from sin and death through the cross and, positively, that of an agent of justification and rebirth through his resurrection from the dead. Further elements are the Law, typified in a polemical context by circumcision, and the tomb of Jesus, venue of the resurrection, which is symbolized by the baptismal pool of water. Once the significance of these constituents of the picture have been determined, it is possible to focus on the grand design, Paul's overarching mythical/mystical mural of man's salvation starting with the creation and culminating in the Parousia, or second coming.
To understand Paul's mind, one has to be familiar with some of the presuppositions of his Jewish religious culture. Both in the Bible and in early postbiblical Judaism, sin was seen as a rebellion against God, punished by sickness and ultimately by death. Virtue was the result of obedience to God, rewarded by health and a long happy life, and by the time of Jesus and Paul by the prospect of eternal life or renewed existence in a resurrected body. The latter belief was championed by the Pharisees (to whose party Paul claimed to belong), but not by other religious groups such as the Sadducees who rejected the idea of an afterlife, and the Essenes who, according to Flavius Josephus, believed only in the survival of the soul. The evidence of the Dead Sea Scrolls in this respect is equivocal, and in any case possible allusions to bodily resurrection are few and far between. But while in the Gentile milieu of his ministry Paul had no great difficulty in abandoning other Pharisee teachings, such as the centrality of the strict observance of the Torah (circumcision, ritual laws, etc.), the doctrine of bodily resurrection became an indispensable part of his majestic mystery drama.
A second major underlying factor in Paul's understanding of the cross as a redemptive sacrifice is the account of the intended but unrealized immolation of Isaac by his father, Abraham. The cruel story is preserved in chapter 22 of Genesis, but what is more important is its reinterpretation in the intertestamental period, and later in the age of the rabbis, then known as the tale of the Binding (or Akedah) of Isaac. The Bible recounts the story of the heroic and blind faith of Abraham who without hesitation follows the inexplicable and perplexing divine command to sacrifice his only son, miraculously born to him when he was a centenarian and to his ninety-year-old wife, Sarah. The father and the young son set out on a three-day journey to Mount Moriah, identified in later Jewish and Christian tradition as a mountain in Jerusalem on which both the Jewish Temple and the cross of Jesus would stand. There Abraham built an altar and placed his unsuspecting child on it, but God through the intervention of an angel prevented the execution of the terrible act.
The fundamental difference between the biblical report and the account reshaped by Jewish teachers from the second century B.C. onward—in the Book of Jubilees, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Josephus, Pseudo-Philo, and rabbinic literature—concerns the active role of Isaac in the drama. Instead of being a young boy, unaware of what was happening, Isaac is portrayed as an adult—aged twenty-five in Josephus, thirty-seven according to the rabbis—who was told by his father of God's order. Isaac gladly consented, and ran joyfully to the altar; he asked Abraham to tie his hands and feet and stretched out his neck toward the knife of the slaughterer. Thus the sacrifice which Abraham was to offer also became a fortiori the (unaccomplished) self-immolation of Isaac.
Jewish tradition supplies two further details unknown to the Bible, but of major significance. The first concerns the effect of Isaac's self-offering. Every future deliverance of the Jewish people and their final messianic salvation would be seen as resulting from the merit of the sacrificial event of the Akedah. Each time God recalled the Binding of Isaac, he would show mercy to his children. The idea expressed in a later prayer was certainly familiar among first-century Jews: "If the Jews are guilty and are on the point of being slain, remember Isaac their father who stretched out his neck on the altar to be slain for your name's sake. May his immolation take the place of the immolation of his children" (Exodus Rabbah 44:5). In other words, Isaac's willingness to be sacrificed was transformed in Jewish religious thought into a redeeming act of permanent validity for all his children until the arrival of the Messiah.
The second new element inserted into the story as early as the second century B.C. (Jubilees 17:15; 18:3) is the date, determined by month and day, of the Binding of Isaac. It happened on the fifteenth day of the first month (Nisan), the date on which the Law of Moses would subsequently ordain the celebration of Passover.
Because the reshaped version of the sacrifice of Isaac was a familiar idea among first-century Jews, Paul was able to formulate his teaching about Jesus' death on the cross, freely suffered, as the perfect fulfillment of the redeeming self-offering of Isaac. But in Paul's eyes the main distinguishing mark of the sacrifice of Christ was its universal effect. It affected the whole of mankind and not only (or primarily) the Jews as the Binding of Isaac was expected to do.
Indeed, it is hard not to see in certain passages of Paul allusions to the reinterpreted Abraham-Isaac narrative of Genesis 22. Paul's statement in the letter to the Romans, "If God is for us, who shall be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but surrendered him for us, will he not grant us every favour with him?" (8:31-2) depends on Genesis 22:16, "By myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this and have not spared your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you." The Greek verb "to spare" used by Paul in connection with God and Christ is the same as the word employed in the Septuagint version of Genesis 22:16 apropos of Abraham and Isaac; this was in fact recognized in the third century by Origen, the greatest Christian Bible expert in antiquity. Again, "Christ redeemed us ... so that by Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come upon the nations" (Gal. 3:13-14) echoes Genesis 22:18, "and through your seed [Isaac] shall all the nations of the earth be blessed." This obvious influence of the recast Isaac story on Paul's imaginative mind seems to justify the surmise that Genesis 22 was the text hinted at by him without quoting chapter and verse: "Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:3). This also accounts for the predilection of the ancient church fathers, among them Tertullian, Cyril of Alexandria, and Augustine, for seeing in Isaac a prefiguration or typology of Jesus.
Having discovered the mold which Paul used to shape his theology regarding the atoning death of Jesus, his thinking becomes easier to follow. In Paul's view "the wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23), and since death has always been and will remain the fate of man—"death is the final enemy" (1 Cor. 15:26)—it follows that every human being must have sinned. But this sin-death syndrome took an entirely new shape and significance because of the death of Christ on the cross. To Paul the obedient and sinless Son of God appeared in the likeness of "sinful flesh" and he was "made to be sin who knew no sin" (2 Cor. 5:21). The purpose of God in this cruel drama was to condemn "sin in the flesh" (Rom. 8:3) through subjecting Jesus to death on the cross. There the crucified Christ would first agree to "become a curse for us," and then redeem us "from the curse of the law" (Gal. 3:13-14) by giving himself for our sins and thus delivering us (Gal. 1:4). So every Christian who by faith unites himself to the death of Christ mystically participates in his death and resurrection. In Paul's own words, "We are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, that those who live might live ... for him who died for their sake" (2 Cor. 5:14-15).
Perplexing though these statements may appear to detached or un-involved readers, for believers who see them through the eyes of faith they are full of meaning. For them, the crucifixion of Christ is a "mythical" event which needs no explanatory detail. Paul does not even specify by whom and for what reason Jesus was killed. Nevertheless Golgotha is placed in the center of world history, and accounts for Paul's insistence on preaching nothing but "Christ crucified" (1 Cor. 1:22). The focusing is absolute: the primary concern of Paul is not the risen and glorified Lord, but the Jesus who expired on the cross. "I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2).
How did the death of Christ benefit others? Here again the Pauline belief is simple and powerful, more assertive than explicative. Christ died for all sinners (Rom. 5:8), redeeming them and so potentially saving them. To convert potential salvation to reality, they need a faith that applies to the individual the merits of redemption by Jesus. Occasionally, and superficially, Paul recalls the biblical idea of atoning sacrifice, an animal victim figuratively representing sinful man and expiating his transgression. To satisfy the Jewish theological principle that "without blood there is no atonement" (bYoma 5a; Heb. 9:22), it is explicitly stated that Christ offered universal "expiation by his blood" (Rom. 3:25). Moreover Paul on one occasion associates the death of Jesus more specifically with the saving role of the Passover lamb: "Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed" (1 Cor. 5:7). But Paul was not really sacrificially minded; he seems to have been more profoundly influenced by the story of the spiritual self-oblation of Isaac than the blood-shedding ceremonies in the Temple of Jerusalem. In his mystical vision, it is God-given faith that unites believers with the crucified Christ and allows them to appropriate for themselves the fruit of the cross. Such spiritual communion with the death of Jesus allegorically terminates sinful existence and opens the door to a new life. "We know that our old self was crucified with him [Christ] so that the sinful body be destroyed and we might no longer be enslaved to sin" (Rom. 6:6).
Paul repeatedly stresses the personal, subjective aspect of faith by formulating his statements, negative and positive, in the first person. "Far be it for me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified for me, and I to the' world" (Gal. 6:14). And again, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Gal. 2:20). He also uses the first person plural: "If we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him" (Rom. 6:6, 8). We, formerly enemies of God, have been reconciled to him "by the death of his Son" (Rom. 5:10).
Death and resurrection, liberation from sin and sharing the new life imparted by the Redeemer are facets of the same spiritual reality in Paul's theological contemplation. And although at the end the glory of the resurrection outshines the despondency of the cross, the cross must precede it; the resurrection of Christ is seen as the necessary sequel and vindication of his death.
This statement must not be misinterpreted; it would be foolish to imply that for Paul the resurrection of Jesus was only of secondary importance. Without it his splendid doctrinal edifice would have collapsed like the walls of Jericho at the sound of Joshua's trumpets. Reacting to doubts circulating among Corinthians about the reality of the resurrection itself, Paul vehemently voiced his outrage: "Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is vain" (1 Cor. 15:12-14).
In Paul's eyes, resurrection is the straight counterpart of the cross: the Lord Jesus was put to death for mankind and raised for mankind (Rom. 4:25). His rising from the dead symbolically disclosed his absolute triumph over the grave: "Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him" (Rom. 6:9). But beyond the detached image of life overcoming death, the risen Son of God is seen by Paul as the source of rebirth for the believer: in Christ all shall be made alive (1 Cor. 15:22).
This revival has a twofold meaning: the first is symbolical or in church jargon sacramental, the second eschatologically real, that is to say, it is expected actually to happen at the second coming. In this connection, Paul's imagery presupposes a tomb (1 Cor. 15:4) out of which the dead Christ is believed to have been raised by God. No one knows exactly what Paul thought had happened, but he stressed that the risen body of Christ (or any risen body) was not physical and earthly, but spiritual and heavenly (1 Cor. 15:42-49). Nevertheless this spiritual body is visible, as it has been seen by apostles, disciples, and finally by Paul himself (1 Cor. 15:5-8). He does not know or explain where the body of the risen Christ has gone; after a series of apparitions in the early days, weeks, or months after the resurrection it was no longer thought to be on earth. Indeed, it may be deduced from Paul's accounts of the second coming that the risen Christ ascended to heaven, to return later as "the first fruit of those who have fallen asleep" (1 Cor. 15:23), leading the splendid procession of those belonging to him.
Put more simply, for Paul and his Christians the resurrection of Jesus signified the availability of a spiritual renaissance for spiritually dead sinners, for those who through their union with Christ's death inherited a share in his new life. By means of a simple yet highly expressive ritual, reinterpreted by Paul, this mystical union could turn into reality for each believer. This ritual was baptism as conceived by Paul, which echoed the Oriental mystery cults widespread in the Graeco-Roman world of that era.
The primary imagery of baptism, originally a Jewish immersion rite, points toward cleansing, both physical and spiritual. It was a common and as a rule repeatable and repeated religious practice. It was prescribed for the ritual purification of Jews, priests, Levites, and lay Israelites before they could enter the sanctuary of Jerusalem and participate in Temple worship. On a more practical level, ceremonial bathing combined hygiene with allegorical lustration aimed at forms of uncleanness. It was imposed to mark the end of certain contagious diseases, such as dermatological and genital disorders designated by the umbrella terms of "leprosy" and "flux." A ritual bath also restored a state of purity after contact with a dead body, after sexual intercourse for both sexes, and after menstruation and childbirth in the case of women.
Some specific forms of Jewish baptism were performed only once. Such was the baptism of penitence preached by John the Baptist, which was meant to wash away the impurity of sin and indicate the turning toward a holy life leading to the Kingdom of God. It seems that the Qumran Essenes underwent a special ritual bath bound to spiritual renewal during the ceremony of entry into the sectarian covenant (1QS 5:13-14). Rabbinic Judaism, relying on a custom which probably goes back to the first century a.d., also compelled both male and female Gentiles who wished to convert to Judaism to undergo the so-called proselyte baptism in addition to circumcision in the case of men. However, whether reiterated or unique, Jewish baptism always retained its primary symbolism of bathing or cleansing by water.
In general, Paul shows no interest in Jewish ritual and if he uses the notion of impurity it is always in the moral sense. Baptism for him is endowed with an allegorical significance which has nothing to do with washing. The pool in which it takes place symbolizes first and foremost the tomb from which Jesus rose at Easter. So when those undergoing the initiation ceremony into the Christian mystery were immersed (i.e., buried) in the baptismal water, allegorically they embraced the death of Christ when they joined him in his grave; and when they were lifted up, they reenacted and mystically communed with Christ's resurrection. Henceforward they belonged to him. The drama is outlined by Paul in a few poignant words. "All of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. We were buried therefore with him by baptism into his death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life" (Rom. 6:3-4).
So by reinterpreting the original imagery of the baptismal rite, Paul offered Christians a means to make their own the virtue of both the cross and the resurrection. Needless to say, when with the generalized introduction of infant baptism aspersion was substituted for immersion in the administration of the sacrament, which originally was reserved only for adult initiates and performed at Easter, the powerful Pauline symbolism was killed stone dead.
In addition to the immediate result of this mystical union with the risen Lord which Paul envisaged as a substitution of a life in God's service "through Jesus Christ" for a sinful existence, the symbolic baptismal resurrection also provided the neophyte, or fresh initiate, with as it were a ticket for participation in the final real resurrection. The prospect of the ultimate triumph of Christ and of his adepts was not, in Paul's theology, an event belonging to a far distant future; it was expected within the lifetime of the apostle and his own generation. Indeed, Paul repeatedly outlined the scenario of the concluding ceremony.
Every detail was known to him. Christ, surrounded by his angelic guard, would descend from the highest heaven. The archangel, no doubt Michael—head of the heavenly host not only here, but also in the Pseudepigrapha and the Dead Sea Scrolls—would blow the trumpet to call to life the baptized dead. They would be joined by Paul and all the living Christians, their frames of flesh and blood transformed into spiritual bodies, and lifted up toward the Lord in the clouds. "Lo! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep [= die], but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed" (1 Cor. 15:51-52). Finally the triumphant and risen Lord to whom God had subjected everything, even death, will make obeisance to the Father so that "God may be everything to every one" (1 Cor. 15:28). To quote Paul further, "The Lord himself would descend from heaven ... And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord" (1 Thess. 4:16-17). The baptismal rising from the dead leads directly to the eschatological triumph of Christ and the Christians. In fact, the two coalesce, thanks to Paul's masterly brush, in one monumental fresco painted on the backcloth of the clouds of heaven.
After a moment of admiration in front of Paul's masterpiece, unease begins to creep into one's mind. The picture is incomplete. After this meeting with the Lord in midair, what will happen to the faithful? Will they all continue their journey on the cloud toward the seven heavens, or will they return to earth as citizens of a Jerusalem from above after it has descended to replace the earthly Zion? And what will happen to those who are not "in Christ"? Paul breathes not a word about them. Will they vanish or be annihilated?
Paul's picture of the end in Thessalonians contains no judgment scene. Here, as not infrequently in his writings, Paul is simply inconsequential. In Romans 2:16 he declares that according to his gospel "God judges the secrets of men by Jesus Christ," without specifying when and how. Elsewhere he refers to the judgment seat of Christ before which all will appear (2 Cor. 5:10). Even more explicit and harsh is his description of "the Lord Jesus revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance upon those who ... do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction" (2 Thess. 1:7-9). On the other hand, from other statements one might assume that Paul hoped for a universal conversion by the time of the arrival of the Lord. Christ will "bring to light the things now hidden in darkness ... Then every man will receive his commendation from God" (1 Cor. 4:5). It does not seem that Paul has made up his mind and his view oscillates between ultimate divine benevolence, a resurrection reserved only for the faithful, and the traditional division of the flock into sheep and goats with their appropriate reward and punishment.
Christ and Worship in Paul
The Pauline myth of redemption, though consistently structured, is essentially suprarational, and although designed with vaguely historical strokes as the culmination of a salvation mystery, the last Adam repairing the harm caused by the first, it is painted with faint, almost indistinguishable colors. The Jesus of Paul has no earthly identity, he is without human face or character. And since no evidence whatever is extant to suggest that his Christians had a Gospel or Gospels at their disposal—our written Gospels are all post-Pauline—Paul and his church members could seek only a spiritual-mystical encounter with the death and resurrection of a superterrestrial, meta-historical being.
How, then, does this Christ fit into the worship of Paul's churches? He is not the object of prayer; prayer is always addressed to God. Christ is rather the channel which carries the Christians' supplications or thank offerings to the Father; he is as it were the powerhouse of Pauline piety. Paul quotes the proclamation Kurios Iesous, "Jesus is Lord," and himself uses the Aramaic eschatological exclamation Maranatha, "Our Lord has come" or Maranatha, "Come, our Lord" (1 Cor. 12:3; 16:22; Rev. 22:20), which is also included in the first-century AD liturgical work, the Didache, or Doctrine of the Twelve Apostles (10:6).
Luckily a fairly detailed description of worship in the church of Corinth founded by Paul has survived, and it can no doubt be safely applied to worship organized by Paul in house churches, homes of better-off Christians such as Aquila and Prisca, Gaius and Nympha (Rom. 16:5,23; Col. 4:15), in his various communities in Asia Minor, Greece, and Rome. Its framework was a communal meal during which the participants recalled the death of Christ in the form of a symbolical reenactment of the Lord's Supper in remembrance of him. Without indicating how frequently this ritual was performed, Paul clarified its aim, which was to "proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Cor. 11:23-26), i.e., that the eucharistic meal was endowed with the significance of an eschatological reminder. He also insisted on good order as well as on an appropriate religious atmosphere, and castigated shortcomings on both counts.
In the first instance Paul had to legislate about headgear. It may surprise present-day Jewish readers that Paul ordered male worshippers to be bareheaded when praying in the church (1 Cor. 11:7). In fact for many centuries Jewish custom varied, and the compulsory covering of the head among the Orthodox did not become a general rule until the Middle Ages. By contrast, Paul would not tolerate a woman in church without a headdress; he considered a female person without a veil similar to one whose hair had been shaved off (1 Cor. 11:6). In addition to constituting an impropriety in human society, a woman's fully displayed hair was condemned as a potential temptation for susceptible angels (1 Cor. 11:10)! It would seem that the old myth preserved in Genesis, chapter 6, and in the Book of Enoch about heavenly beings ("sons of god" = angels) falling for the charms of pretty women still had a meaning for Paul, who as is well known was rather neurotic in matters relating to sex. He also strictly forbade women to open their mouths in church; if they needed some information, they could always ask their husbands (1 Cor. 14:34-35). It never occurred to him that the holy spirit might also inspire a female worshipper.
He had unexpectedly harsh words to say about the behavior of the congregation at the common table. Instead of partaking in one and the same meal served for all, groups tended to form separate companies and have their own food.and drink. So the rich showed off and humiliated the poor. Some even overindulged ("one is hungry and another is drunk," 1 Cor. 11:21). This was scandalous and disrespectful retrospectively toward the death, and prospectively toward, the second coming of the Lord.
It is noteworthy that at these gatherings we discover no hint of the Jewish custom of reading extracts of Holy Scripture followed by a sermon or homily, so commonly attested in synagogues. Additional rules of good conduct reveal further facets of the worship performed in the primitive church. Apart from the communal meal already outlined, the cult assembly described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 is a kind of cross, if I may use contemporary terms of comparison, between a Pentecostal service and a Quaker meeting. The various acts of worship were charismatic, consisting of inspirational utterances of wisdom, knowledge, and faith. The gift of discrimination between the words of the spirit of God and the evil spirit reminds one of the Instruction on the two spirits in the Dead Sea Scrolls (1QS 3:12-4:25) listing the works of truth and the works of falsehood. Healings and miracles, so prominent in the Gospels and in the Acts, are underemphasized by Paul, although according to the Acts of the Apostles he himself is credited with charismatic cures and exorcisms.
The two chief spiritual gifts which preoccupied him were prophecy, i.e., inspired, improvised, and intelligible teaching of which he approved, and glossolalia, or incomprehensible "speaking in tongues," which was impressive, popular, but in Paul's judgment unproductive unless it was explained by another charismatic who had the gift of interpretation. The kind of glossolalia to which Paul refers was different from the "speaking in other tongues" mentioned in Acts in connection with the apostles preaching on the first Pentecost (Acts 2:4-11). The glossolalia in the Pauline churches consisted of ecstatic noises presumed to be prayers to God, possibly "in the tongue of angels" (1 Cor. 13:1), but meaningless to the uninitiated. It was a cause of disturbance to other worshippers and of possible scandal to visiting outsiders. "If... unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad?" (1 Cor. 14:23). Hence Paul decided to reduce glossolalia to a minimum of two or three performances at one meeting and on condition that an interpreter was available. Otherwise "let each of them keep silence in church and speak to himself and to God" (1 Cor. 14:28). Finally, Paul recommended to the faithful the basic virtues of faith, hope, and especially love (1 Cor. 13:13). By love he meant the love of the neighbor which is "not jealous or boastful... arrogant or rude ... irritable or resentful" but is "patient and kind," "bears all things, believes in all things, hopes all things, endures all things" (1 Cor. 13:4-7). In short, Paul quite naturally fell back on essential religious attitudes taught by Judaism and by Jesus.
As a supplement to Paul's outline of primitive Christian worship, it should be noted that his perception of Jesus, and an understanding of God the Father, not in any terms of human characteristics, accounts for a twist in his religious orientation which distances him from the teaching and practice of Jesus and his immediate followers.
The fundamental direction of the religion observed and taught by Jesus was theocentric: in the traditional Jewish mold, he and his Galilean disciples endeavored to be imitators of God. "Be whole (in the Law) as your heavenly Father is whole (whole in the Law)" (Matt. 5:48), Jesus enjoined them. With a single exception in the inauthentic Epistle to the Ephesians (5:1), such direct imitation of God is absent from the letters of Paul. As next best he could have advised his followers to copy the example of Christ, but since there is little concrete about the Jesus of Paul, he instructed his novice Gentile Christians to follow his own example or the example of his close companions, who modeled themselves on Paul (1 Thess. 1:6). In the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul set himself as the focal point: "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ" (1 Cor. 11:1), and with even more emphasis he exhorted the faithful, "I urge you then, be imitators of me" (1 Cor. 4:16).
Although pedagogically this was sound counsel to give the religiously untrained Corinthians, Paul's recommendation to them to do as he himself did established a new religious stance in which the worshipper found himself at one remove from Christ and at two removes from God. With a distant Father and a faceless Christ Paul's advice was reassuring for diffident new Christians; they could observe at close quarters someone they could trust. Thus began a trend, still conspicuous in Catholic and Orthodox Christianity, to introduce models, mediators, and intercessors between the believer and God. These intermediaries were Christ and Paul, and later (under Johannine inspiration) Mary, the mother of Jesus, who in some popular quarters of Christendom tended to be treated as a quasi-goddess, almost as a fourth person of a holy quaternity. They were joined in the early centuries of the church by the martyrs, and subsequently by the ever-increasing number of saints. Of the latter, Pope John Paul II alone has managed to add about a thousand new names to their register, turning the Vatican, as one wit remarked, into a beatification and canonization factory. Incidentally, it is quite amusing that Paul, the bastion of the Reformation (surely we must not call him its patron saint!), appears to be responsible for the legitimization of go-betweens, leading to that pet hatred of the Protestants, the cult of saints, and above all to "Mariolatry," reckoned by them to be the worst corruption of "popery.'
Having considered the bond in Paul's thought between Christ and divine worship, we can examine the manner in which he connected Jesus to the church and to individual church members. By now readers will have guessed that the relationship envisaged by Paul was of an allegorical, symbolical, and mystical character. His understanding of the eucharist provides the most helpful point of departure. The bread of the communal meal, the symbolical body of Christ, allegorically transforms the many who eat it in the church into a single mystical body (1 Cor. 10:17).
When he had to correct excesses, Paul was able to handle his people in a practical and down-to-earth manner, recommending in the famous hymn to charity the old-fashioned biblical love of the neighbor as the ultimate yardstick of genuine piety; yet in his visionary mind he always sought a deeper, "mythical" solution to the complexities of religious existence. His meditation on the fate of Christ did not induce in him primarily a moral reshaping of the self, but rather a mystical reenactment of the destiny of Jesus in one's own body. For Paul, life waslived as a recurrent mythical dying and rising with Christ every day (1 Cor. 15:30-32).
So the aim of ordinary daily existence, as well as of the special rites of baptism and the eucharist, was to effect a mystical union between the body of the faithful and that of Christ on two levels. "Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?" (1 Cor. 6:15). Mysteriously, individual Christians were seen as coalescing into the one spiritual frame of the Lord. No doubt for the nonbeliever in antiquity or in any age Paul's talk sounded like empty words, but the Pauline "myth" has always had an extraordinary power to move those who are inspired by faith. The outcome of this mystical union with the Lord was that Christians belonged to Jesus Christ, first allegorically as babes, then as children, and finally as adults (Rom. 1:6; 1 Cor. 3:1; 13:11). They had the mind and the spirit of Christ and emitted his "aroma" (1 Cor. 2:16; Rom. 8:9; 2 Cor. 2:15). In simple terms, through pertaining to Christ they belonged to God: "You are the body of Christ and individually members of it" (1 Cor. 12:27); "You are Christ's and Christ is God's" (1 Cor. 3:23). This is the first level of mystical union.
The second level is the corollary of the first. By becoming mythically part of the body of Christ, the baptized are also united to each other and form the spiritual body of the church. The relationship between the body and its members is one of Paul's familiar metaphors. "For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one spirit we were all baptized into one body" (1 Cor. 12:12-13). This union of believers as members of Christ's body once and for all dispenses with such basic distinctions as Jew and Gentile, free man and slave, man and woman. In more practical terms Paul deduced from it a moral lesson, namely, that irrespective of their status in secular society Christians were of equal importance before God and had to treat each other as such. "God has so composed the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior part, that there may be no discord in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer; if one member is honored, all rejoice together" (1 Cor. 12:24-26). Thus the necessity of harmony and love among members of the community springs from their forming simultaneously the body of Christ and the body of the church. Indeed, using yet another metaphor, Paul compares the connection between the members of the church and Christ to the marriage bond: "I betrothed you to Christ to present you as a pure bride to her one husband" (2 Cor. 11:2) .
Paul like John stresses the symbolical union between believers, Christ and God, but their approaches are very different. For John, the basis of the union rests on the "equality" of Father and Son, and their mutual indwelling in which Christians secondarily participate: Father, Son, and the faithful all being in one another. For Paul, on the other hand, the bond between Jesus and the members of the church resides in the participation in Christ's death and resurrection. Through his rising from the dead Jesus was elevated to the dignity of Son of God and through their faith in the Son of God his followers became the adoptive children of the Father.
The Church of Christ According to Paul
Judged by ordinary human wisdom, the abstract and mystical-mythical theology of Paul combined with his ardent belief in the imminence of the return of Christ, had only a very limited chance of succeeding. Especially as it was addressed to a religiously unsophisticated Greek audience which, apart from a small number of better-off merchants and artisans, and the odd official like Eratus, the city treasurer of Corinth (Rom. 16:23), was largely recruited from the lower classes of society. Yet compared with the ultimately failed ministry of Peter, James, and the other apostles among the Jews, Paul's Gentile Christianity turned out to be a lasting success. The secret of this success lies, I believe, in the influence of the Pauline "myth" seen as a spiritual liberation by Christ and as an equal treatment granted to the redeemed, whether great or humble, by their divine Father in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Though impervious to rational proof, Paul's gospel made a greater impact than the Judaeo-Christian attempt at demonstrating from biblical exegesis that Jesus was the Messiah promised to the people of Israel.
However, the powerful impact on simple souls of Paul's mystery of salvation would not account by itself, especially in an atmosphere of a burning eschatological expectation, for the consolidation, growth, and lasting survival of infant Christianity in the uncongenial surroundings of the Graeco-Roman world. For this we have to admire the organizational talent and pastoral zeal of Paul and his companions. Two of these, Timothy, Paul's favorite disciple, and Titus, are the addressees of the pastoral letters usually held to be deutero-Pauline, i.e., written after the death of Paul. The others—unless the Luke referred to in the letters to Philemon and 2 Timothy is actually the author of the third Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles—are slightly more than names. Silvanus was an early companion, mentioned in the letters to the Thessalonians; Sosthenes, Apollos, and Aquila figure in 1 Corinthians; and Mark, Aristarchos, and Demas in Philemon. Christianity is probably more indebted to these shadowy co-workers of Paul than most people imagine.
Apart from an incidental allusion to the existence of bishops and deacons in a church founded by Paul (Phil. 1:1), we learn nothing about such officials in the authentic corpus of his writings. However, from the post-Pauline first Epistle to Timothy and the letter to Titus, we gain a useful insight into the qualities required of bishops, presbyters (or priests), deacons, and widows or deaconesses, and into their respective duties. Since the detailed organization described in the pastoral letters is likely to belong to a period in which eschatological expectation was already on the wane, it probably corresponds to the decades which followed the death of Paul in the late sixties (1 Tim. 3:1-10; 5:9-12; Titus 1:5-11).
The functions of the various church leaders can be only approximately determined. It is odd that not a single word is said about their role in conducting the Christian cult. But perhaps in those early days the eucharist was genuinely a community celebration in which there was no need for specific clergy to take part. Baptism could be administered by any Christian. Paul emphatically stated that he was not sent by Christ to baptize, but to preach the gospel, and that he administered baptism only to two men, Crispus and Gaius, and also, he suddenly remembered, to the household of Stephanas (1 Cor. 1:14,16).
We learn that a bishop, described as "God's steward" (Titus 1:7), had a double obligation. First of all he had to be an "apt teacher" of "sound doctrine" and a skillful polemist against "empty talkers and deceivers" (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:9). Surprisingly, the chief culprits in this group came not from the ranks of heretics or Gnostics, but from Jewish Christians, ironically referred to as the "circumcision party," insisting on the strict observance of the Mosaic Law even by baptized non-Jews (Titus 1:10). The bishop's second job was to "care for God's church" (1 Tim. 3:5) as pastor or shepherd. Since Jewish communities were governed by a council of elders, for the nearest parallel to such an individual religious superior we have to look at the description of the Essene overseer or guardian in the Qumran Damascus Document. "This is the rule for the Guardian of the camp. He shall instruct the Congregation in the works of God. He shall cause them to consider His mighty deeds and shall recount all the happenings of eternity to them [according to] their [explanation. He shall love them as a father loves his children, and shall carry them in all their distress like a shepherd his sheep. He shall loosen all the fetters that bind them that in his Congregation there may be none that are oppressed or broken" (CD 8:7-10). It is quite possible that the office of the Pauline bishop was modeled on such an Essene spiritual leader.
The next figure in the ecclesiastical hierarchy is the presbyter, whose explicit function was to preach and teach (1 Tim. 5:17); but implicitly he was also in charge of the pastoral care of the local congregation (Titus 1:6). The presbyters (or priests) seem to have been the helpers of the bishop.
The third male office was occupied by the deacons. They are not given a clear job description in 1 Timothy. According to the Acts of the Apostles, deacons were charity workers in the church (Acts 6:2). The mention of a deaconess, Phoebe (Rom. 16:1), would suggest that formal involvement in the field of good works was open to women. Indeed, it is likely that the widows described in 1 Timothy represent a specific group of older ladies chosen, it seems, to look after the needs of the humbler members of the community since only those who had previously excelled in every kind of good deed could be selected for this role (1 Tim. 5:10). These "church" widows, as distinct from ordinary ones, had to pledge themselves not to remarry.
No one was eligible for a church appointment unless he or she was found to possess certain moral qualities. Curiously, celibacy was not among them, despite the fact that Paul himself boasted that unlike Peter and the other apostles, he had preached the gospel without being accompanied by a wife (1 Cor. 9:5). Bishop, presbyter, and deacon had to be the "husband of one wife," and the widow "the [former] wife of one husband"; since polygamy was out of the question in Christian circles this must mean that they were married only once. The fact of having successfully run a family, raised children, and kept them under control was seen as a guarantee that they would be competent shepherds, ministers, and helpers in the church (1 Tim. 3:2, 12; 5:9; Titus 1:6). A positive requirement for male candidates was first and foremost a hospitable temperament, as well as a sensible, blameless, dignified, upright, and holy personality capable of exercising self-control in tense situations. In the case of the widows, they had to be over sixty years of age and noted for their devotion to good deeds and charitable actions, such as "washing the feet of the saints" and bringing relief to the afflicted. Younger widows were excluded: they were thought to be too fickle: "When they grow wanton against Christ they desire to marry" (1 Tim. 5:11)!
Negatively, those in charge of selecting bishops and deacons had to make sure that candidates known as drunkards were rejected. As their exclusion is mentioned several times (1 Tim. 3:3, 8; Titus 1:7), addiction to "too much.wine" must have been widespread, as one might deduce from Paul's mention of inebriated partakers of the eucharistic meal in Corinth. Other negative traits to watch but for were quick temper, violence, quarrelsomeness, and arrogance, and also—bearing in mind that bishops handled charitable funds—lave of money.
The solid, carefully planned infrastructure which the builders of the Pauline communities devised and put into practice accounts without any doubt for the smooth development and enduring success of Paul's Gentile church in the Graeco-Roman world. Divorced from Judaism and even in a sense from the piety of Jesus, this well-organized institution dominated by the image of Paul's otherworldly Christ Redeemer in time blended with the more subtle and lofty Johannine ideal of the "divinization" of mankind. This new religion soon disposed of what remained of Paul's and Jesus' eschatological enthusiasm and evolved in the centuries that followed into a church run by bishops and councils to form the Christianity of late antiquity, the Middle Ages, and modern times.
Essay excerpted & aggregated from:
Vincent Martin, A House Divided: The Parting of the Ways Between Synagogue and Church. Stimulus Books, 1995
Joseph Klausner, From Jesus to Paul. Macmillan 1943
Geza Vermes, The Changing Faces of Jesus. Viking Press, 2000
Maurice Casey, From Jewish Prophet to Gentile God. James Clarke & Co. 1991
Barrie Wilson, How Jesus Became Christian. St. Martins Press, 2008
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