25 Jun 2011

Paul was a gnostic?

Submitted by theshovel
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Well Jim, this (Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 2:6-16) is why I have such a hard time with Paul. And somewhat, I agree with Elaine Pagels when she says that Paul was a gnostic. In fact, the term gnostic might be a bit overstated; as far as Pagels is one of them. But there is certainly in Paul, a certain attraction to the mysteries of the Bacchus of Thracia, where he made many sojourns (Philippi, Neapolis, Amphipolis.) Mysteries which embraced exalted ideas in regard to immortality and future life. Let’s not forget that Peter and James had a hard time with him; particularly James. —Rob

Rob, it is fully understandable that Peter, James AND John would have a hard time with Paul. After all, these men had been with Jesus, and they heard him speak first-hand. And they were there when Jesus sent them out with the good news. Paul was not. Instead, Paul persecuted those believed in Christ. We know this from Paul himself, for he did not try to hide it but to make it known publicly that he saw himself as least of the apostles. On the other hand, once Peter, James and John became convinced that Paul had been chosen by Christ to take the message of grace to the non-Jewish world — even though many Jews were included within the sphere of his ministry — they heartily endorsed him.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m assuming you know that Peter wrote of “our beloved brother Paul” in his 2nd letter (at least, the second that we know of). He wanted those to whom he wrote to be confident in the wisdom that God had given to Paul. For Peter knew they had received letters from him. That would have been a good time for Peter to have denounced Paul, or at least to caution against him. Perhaps you assume that Peter’s comment about that which was hard to understand had to do his own difficulties regarding Paul’s writings. However, I am more inclined to see it in context as those things that were twisted and distorted by the “untaught and unstable.” Peter didn’t actually claim that those things were hard for HIM to understand, just that they were the difficult words that people used to distort Paul’s meaning. If Peter’s purpose had really been to cast some sort of doubt upon the wisdom God gave to Paul, as found in the letters they had received from him, he wouldn’t have so highly endorsed Paul. In view of Peter’s statements, his concern was to make sure the believers understood that those who twisted Paul’s words were the same kind of people who twisted and distorted the rest of Scripture.

Why would you think that James especially had a hard time with Paul? I don’t doubt that James was put into a difficult situation as leader of the council in Jerusalem when the issue of circumcision was being argued by those who wanted to make the Gentiles comply by saying they couldn’t be saved without it. But he clearly sided with both Peter and Paul by declaring that the Gentiles were in no way under the Jewish Law. Not even regarding circumcision. James also gave to Paul “the right hand of fellowship” along with Peter and John. Paul’s strong comments in his letter to the Galatian believers about “certain men from James” did not indicate that either James or Paul had a problem with one another, rather that the news of the coming of particular men from James had stirred up intimidation within the believers. As a matter of fact, the intimidation was so strong that even the fearless Peter fell back into his old judgments of law by how he began to act around the Gentiles. And that’s why Paul called him out in front of everybody.

Peter, James and John got over their difficulties with Paul. They also learned much more of the grace of God because of it. Why? Because even though they walked with Christ Jesus while he was on the earth in bodily form, they had heard him with the ears of those who were on the dead side of the cross. Their short-lived insights along the way only accentuated the fleshly mind they tried to force Jesus into. Jesus even told them that they did not understand … but that they would. In sharp contrast to those who walked with Jesus and heard him speak, Paul’s experience as a Hebrew of the Hebrews and as a Pharisee and as being righteous according to the Law and born of the tribe of Benjamin gave him a unique insight. For he personally understood the extent of the Law and the deceptions of those who preached it. His understanding of the intricate details of the religious mind of Israel, and therefore that of the rest of the world, was all part of God’s gracious gift to the church in making known the far-reaching extent of the grace of God that was brought about in Christ. Don’t you realize that the ministry of the rest of the apostles were enriched by what God brought about in Paul?

So what’s your real reason for not getting over your problem with Paul, as did Peter and James?


You know, I think there have been many false assumptions as to how the other apostles regarded Paul, and vice versa. Of course, we could say the same thing about Jesus and his disciples. After all, there were many situations where the disciples not only misunderstood him but also gave him some real attitudes and a lot of grief. We don’t go around speculating as to the ongoing problems they had with Jesus, for we know they eventually saw him with different eyes.

Oh, something I forgot to mention with the whole situation recorded in Galatia about “certain men from James” is that it doesn’t even suggest that James specifically sent them, just that they had been part of the group. Notice how in Acts 15 it simply says “certain ones of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed.” I suspect the fact that Paul didn’t give their identities was significant for two reasons. The first is that I am sure they had heard all about how Peter’s testimony before James in Jerusalem helped to turn the tide against the movement being promoted by these men. In other words, they already had a good idea as to what kind of men they were. The other reason, that just like in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he didn’t want to give them any reason to boast by having been mentioned, for the notoriety may have been turned into some kind of promotion.

Now I don’t remember reading anywhere that the circumcision group took their toys and went home, which means that they were most likely still hanging around after the heavy debate and subsequent decision against their teaching. Just because they may have submitted themselves to James’ verdict didn’t mean that they agreed with it. Peter knew who these “certain men” were, and word that they were coming to his location shook him up pretty hard. Why? Because unless he made some quick changes, he knew what they would say about his behavior. And he was afraid of their judgment. Why? Because he had been living among the Gentiles without any misgivings based upon any requirements of the Law. Peter’s behavior, as Paul wrote to the Galatians was this: “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews.” In Antioch, before the intimidation of an impending visit from those he had so boldly stood against in Jerusalem, Peter didn’t even consider that his behavior was in any way out of place, for he was simply living as a free man among free men. All of a sudden, he was faced with how the cautions and warnings of legalistic Jews would seem very justified in view of how far he would appear to have fallen in their eyes.

I remember this kind of fear very well, for I have felt this intimidation many times from “dedicated” Christians before. And there is only one reality to stand firm in or we will trip and fall into the game of comparison along with them. That’s when we really need to remind each other where our life is really found. :)


Rob never addressed what I wrote

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