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Paul and Where He Differed?

June 24, 2013

Searching for other things in the New College Library this a.m., I noted that we’d acquired a volume of collected studies by Morton Smith:  Studies in the cult of Yahweh, Vol. Two:  New Testament, Early Christianity, and Magic, ed. S.J.D. Cohen (Leiden:  Brill, 1996).  Scanning the table of contents, one title caught my eye:  “Paul’s Arguments as Evidence of the Christianity from which He Diverged” (pp. 254-60).  (The article originally appeared in Harvard Theological Review, 79 [1986] 254-60.)

I’ve argued that the conspicuous silence in Paul’s letters about any christological differences with, e.g., Jerusalem believers, was significant indication that there was no substantial difference between them in this area.  His silence on this matter is conspicuous because Paul does indicate that he had differences with some other early Christian leaders, and is not hesitant to indicate what they were (see, e.g., my discussion in Lord Jesus Christ [Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 2003)], 165-67).

In this article, Smith contended that Paul fought on two fronts on the issue of Christian behavior:  against a “libertine” view that Smith ascribed to Kephas (Peter), and against a legalistic/rigorist view that Smith ascribed to James (“the Just”).  Whatever the merits of Smith’s contention (and I think it’s flawed, esp. in his ascription of the sources of the “libertine” view), I find it interesting that he noted no differences over christological matters. 

Smith could hardly be accused of any Christian apologetic motive!  And so his inability to find any significant christological issue between Paul and Jerusalem is all the more interesting. 

It’s a frequently echoed-but-ignorant claim that Paul “founded” Christianity, broke with prior Jesus-followers, and radically invented a new view of Jesus.  There are plenty of other reasons for thinking otherwise, and plenty of other scholars with whom I join in doing so.  And we can count Morton Smith among them!

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12 Comments
  1. Ross Macdonald permalink

    Dr. Hurtado,

    What are your thoughts on the role of the Hellenists (Acts 6.1ff) in terms of the development of the Gentile mission which Paul identifies with? If I remember correctly, the great Martin Hengel found the division between the Hebrews and Hellenists so thoroughgoing that he could follow F. C. Baur in recognizing the initial divergence between a more Jewish-based ethnocentrism and what would become the Pauline “law-free” mission to the Gentiles. It seems to me that there is more work to be done at this intersection, beyond Craig Hill’s monograph and more recently Steve Walton’s excellent summary (in Hengel’s WUNT festschrift edited by Bird and Maston); perhaps along the lines of inculcating the redemptive-historical dimensions of the early church’s concerted effort toward Gentile inclusion, specifically Paul’s self-conscious identification with the mandate for the ingathering of the nations. In your work on early Christianity have you sorted through such things?

    • Ross: Hengel’s view of the Hellenists is one of the few topics on which I disagreed with him. I’ve expressed my own take on them in my book, Lord Jesus Christ, pp. 206-14. In my view, Hengel needed the Hellenists for theological reasons. He had a “problem” in wanting Jesus essentially to teach a Pauline type message (as Hengel saw it), involving supersession of the temple, light on Torah, and an inclusion of gentiles. But Hengel knew that the Jerusalem leadership of Peter, James, et al., didn’t seem to realize that this was the game. So, it left Paul out there innovating, and a gap between Jesus and Paul. And for a very traditional Protestant, this was a big problem. So, the Hellenists ride to the rescue. They (posited Hengel) got it. They alone got Jesus’ real intention & message, and were the connecting link between Hengel’s Jesus and Paul.

      But this is all driven too much by this theological/apologetic need, and involves a lot of speculative construction. I’m still persuaded by Craig Hill’s critique of work on the Hellenists. And I think we simply have to take Paul’s candid profession that he had been given a new commission, the gentile mission. He didn’t get it from others, but felt himself specially called (like an OT prophet) to initiate this programmatic inclusion of gentiles.

      • Ross Macdonald permalink

        Thank you for the page references. Yes, Paul certainly seems to have a prophet-like calling in terms of being the “apostle to the gentiles”; but even if we disregard Hengel’s exclusive dichotomy between the Hellenists and the Hebrews there may be more behind Luke’s report of the persecution breaking out in Jerusalem as a result of Stephen’s testimony; after all, the growing numbers of converts in those early days must have been taxing on the organizational skills and endowments of Galilean fishermen… as is evident in the neglect of the Hellenist widows. The appointment of the Seven may have been a calculated measure to ease tension between ‘hometown’ Jews and those returning from the diaspora. This facet (esp. the testimony of Stephen) would be a crucial context for Paul’s self-alignment with and enactment of the eschatologically-charged notion of the Gentile mission.
        I’ve been meaning to read Mike Bird on this latter issue between his ‘Jesus and the Origins of the Gentile Mission’ and also the survey of Second-Temple Judaism’s proselytizing efforts (‘By Land and By Sea’); it would be interesting to study contemporaneous views about non-Jewish ‘mission’.

        Would you say Hill’s arguments are unsurpassed in terms of understanding Acts 6; or perhaps only in his critique of Baur/Hengel?

      • Ross: It’s entirely plausible, even likely, that there were cultural differences and perhaps some tensions between “Hebrews” and “Hellenists” Jews in the Jerusalem church. The questions are these: (1) Were there any significant theological differences between them? (2) Were the Hellenists more lax in Torah-observance? (3) Were they anti-temple? (4) Were they pro-gentile-mission? These questions have often been answered “yes”, but to Hill’s credit he showed persuasively (to my mind) that there is scant basis for this widespread view.
        It is an understandable apologetic concern to establish as much of a link as possible between Paul and Jesus, and there were certainly historical and religious links. Indeed, to my mind it is entirely plausible to think that Jesus (familiar with the OT prophecies) foresaw a time when gentiles would stream to the God of Israel. But Paul describes his gentile mission as a personal revelation, not something he took over from Jesus. Surely, if he were able to claim the latter he would have done so.
        For ancient Jewish views on gentile salvation, see esp. Terence L. Donaldson, Judaism and the Gentiles: Jewish Patters of Univeralism (to 135 CE) (Waco: Baylor Univ Press, 2007).

  2. Let’s not forget Irenaeus and Tertullian are witnesses to the statement:

    We did give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. (Gal 2:5)

    That little οὐδὲ makes all the difference. Removing it and οὐδὲν from 1 Timothy 6:7 would have the associate of Paul convince his readers that we have brought something into the world and we can take anything out of it. The fact that Irenaeus and Tertullian are witnesses to it makes it very probable it was the original reading (at least for the orthodox canon). In short, it allows for the possibility that at least some thought Paul was a crypto-Christian, that he went along with inferior minds in order to bide time for him to get his act together.

    • Stephan,
      First to the specifics in your comment. There is no textual variation at 1 Tim 6:7 over the negative, ουδε. The variation is the presence/absence of αληθες (“truly”), which appears in Bezae and a few other “western” text witnesses. So, there’s no point in mentioning this verse.
      As to Gal 2:5, the absence of ουδε, again in a number of known “western” text witnesses (Irenaeus of Lyon is often a witness to this text-tradition too), see, e.g., the comments in B.M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (1994), pp. 522-23. The omisssion appears deliberate (for reasons given in Metzger), and yields a sentence that smooths out the grammar but goes against the thrust of the larger passage.
      But, more to the point (that there is no evidence that Paul and Jerusalem differed significantly over christology), even if you prefer the “western” reading at Gal 2:5, what Paul would have yielded on was the terms of admission of pagan converts, not christological matters. So, your text is a red-herring.
      Further, to reiterate what I noted previously (it seems necessary for some), the rich contacts between Paul and his churches and Jerusalem (the early Christians were networking maniacs) made it nearly impossible for Paul to keep secret from his churches or from Jerusalem any major differences. And he doesn’t. He frankly (even stridently) notes them (e.g., Gal. 2:11ff.), and specifies what they were. So, again, this makes the absence of any reference to christological matters a highly significant silence.

      • Just to make clear – I wasn’t claiming that there was textual variation at 1 Tim 6:7. …

        Clearly though the missing negative in Gal 2:5 is intended to convey something like – ‘I could have said something but I didn’t.’ . . . You don’t say ‘we did give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you,’ unless you and the community in question had at least some differences. What are you ‘giving in to’ if not something objectionable however slight?

        But I do think that is a blind spot in your analysis . . . Once we open the possibilities that crypto-Christians existed . . .

        The idea of crypto-religion is hardly controversial. There were crypto-Jews in the Catholic Church in Spain and Poland. There were crypto-Muslims in Greece and Turkey as recently as yesterday (the example of the Dönme immediately come to mind). In every generation, at every time in history there a secret sect hiding within a broader religious body essentially ‘at odds’ with the authorities – albeit secretly.

        I have never understood your rejection of the concept of ‘secret gospel’ (perhaps you only reject Morton Smith’s discovery but accept the possibility that something like this existed in antiquity). It is apropos because you – not I – brought up Mr. Smith. But of course the heretics read Paul in the manner I am describing. What on earth does he mean in 1 Cor 2:7 – λαλοῦμεν θεοῦ σοφίαν ἐν μυστηρίῳ τὴν ἀποκεκρυμμένην? Over and over he was taken to mean that he had a secret teaching which was at odds with the ‘authorities’ which he only revealed to the few.

        So to your point, yes he never openly declares that there was a disagreement was between him and the Jerusalem Church – but so what? To infer from that he was ‘in agreement’ with them is like assuming that because we don’t see fish walking around on land there is no such a thing as ‘marine life.’ They exist in another medium (= water) in the same way that Paul’s disagreements with the Jerusalem Church don’t appear in writings – they were ‘apocryphal.’

      • Stephan,
        I’ve edited your unnecessarily long comment to preserve what seem to be your points you want to raise. I’ll answer them more briefly.
        –The textual variant by all accounts has no Marcionite connection. It apparently arose to avoid the “anacoluthom” in the sentence, i.e., the apparent interruption of syntax, a feature of Paul’s writing. There is no evidence or reason that the variant arose from some esoteric version/sect of early christianity. Irenaeus would have hardly used it if so!
        –To be sure, “gnostic” believers saw secret teaching and “higher/deeper” truths in anything. But Paul’s references to “mysteries” are in context ironic: the “mystery” of God for him is the open declaration of the crucifixion of Jesus as “the power of God unto salvation”. Read the context in judging meaning.
        –Again yet again: There WERE differences between Paul and some in Jerusalem. We know this precisely because he did not cover them up, but wrote of them openly. So we know what they were: over the terms of pagan converts being included. Period.
        –The silence in Paul about other differences is therefore meaningful and a valid argument from silence. If we don’t find fish where we ought to, then THAT is significant.
        I think you’ve flogged your line of thinking sufficiently. We’re done.

  3. Silence on a topic can have many reasons. An obvious possibility in the case you mention is as follows: Paul didn’t want to point out that James and Peter did not acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God because his readers might have been tempted to abandon this high christology on the basis that the original disciples surely knew Jesus better than Paul did.

    Furthermore, why was Mark so critical of Peter? Peter is presented as having been called “Satan” by Jesus, as three times falling asleep in spite of being asked to keep awake, and as three times denying his master. Such bitter criticism can only have been made part of the story of Jesus because Peter had rejected the very thing Mark wrote to proclaim, namely the gospel according to Paul, which included the “Son of God” christology.

    • Ron: Wrong on both counts. There was in fact ample opportunity for Paul’s converts to become acquainted with the views of Peter and even other Jerusalem leaders. Peter/Kephas visited Antioch, and likely Corinth (1 Cor. 1:10-17), and people apparently linked with Jerusalem visited the Galatian and Corinthian churches (as reflected in Paul’s need to defend his gentile mission in Galatians and 2 Cor in particular). There was no way Paul could keep from his converts any substantial differences with Jerusalem. Indeed, he confronts them directly, and they had to do solely with the terms on which former pagans could be treated as full co-religionists by Jewish believers.
      As for the treatment of Peter in Mark (which is another issue, but I’ll treat it briefly here), you fail to note the Markan texts where Jesus is pictured promising Peter’s full restoration, even after his denial of Jesus (14:27-31), and the reiteration of this in the words of the figure at the empty tomb in 16:7. NB: Peter singled out by name! There isn’t space here to develop the matter further, Ron, but there are plenty of scholarly resources available, if, that is, you care to learn from them.

      • Even if Paul’s converts knew of Peter’s lower christology, it would have been counter-productive to have reminded them because, as I said, they might have reverted to this lower christology, reasoning that Peter knew Jesus better than Paul did.

        Learning comes by the rational assessment of arguments, not by counting scholarly supporters. Mk 14:28 and 16:7 interrupt their respective contexts, and convey a message about Peter which is incompatible with the story of the denial and other derogatory passages in Mark. They are even incompatible with their immediate contexts because leaving a promise of Jesus unfulfilled, and ending with disobedient women, both detract from an otherwise good story. These verses were clearly interpolated in order to rehabilitate Peter. Nineham suggested it was a case of Mark interpolating into the tradition. But this cannot have been so because in addition to the blemished story, if Mark had been offended by the derogatory passages, he could easily have toned them down or even omitted them. Thus the interpolations must have been due to a later editor (though early enough not to have left a record of the changes in the extant texts). O.K., so my claim to scholarly support is limited to one old commentary, The Interpreter’s Bible (Vol.7, 1951). Nevertheless I contend that the majority have misunderstood the history of these verses, that in the original text Mark’s story left Peter in the dog-house, and that this was because Peter had rejected the gospel of the “Son of God” which was central to Mark’s message.

      • Ron, Learning comes by learning to do more than simply make simplistic assertions as if they were self-evident, when critical opinion shows that they are not, and are not even supported by others. In a field where expertise must be proven and must take on board the critical opinions of others who have demonstrated their expertise, mere assertions such as you make count for little. Indeed, they appear to comprise a not-so-clever strategem of simply setting aside evidence that is inconvenient to your assertions: e.g., your alleged “interpolations” in Mark. There is no basis for these other than their not fitting with your cherished assertions.
        As for your response on Paul, this too is mere assertion. As I’ve indicated, there was no way Paul could have kept his churches ignorant of the Jerusalem church and its views. Indeed, he spent several years arranging a collection for the Jerusalem church, thus investing considerable effort to maintain a relationship between his churches and Jerusalem. There is NO basis for your proposal.
        Unless you have something more than unsupported assertions to offer, let’s call time on this discussion.

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