Wednesday 26 May 2010

Paul for the Sensitive New Age Evangelical

Paul says in Galatians:

... if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you have received, let that one be accursed! (1:8-9 NRSV)

The Paul of Galatians famously comes across as an egotistical ranter. He simply doesn't handle theological diversity well! It's his way or the highway, no matter that senior figures in the early Christian movement (Peter, James) have quite a different take on things than he does. Forget all the elevated prose you might find elsewhere - the fruit of the spirit, the love chapter - in Galatians Paul lets the mask slip, and it's not a pretty sight.

And thus, ever since, the apologists have fretted over this ugly self-portrait. Poor Paul, the commentators usually say, he was so passionate in defending the Galatians against heresy he did get rather worked up, but who can blame him?

There are other ways of looking at passages like this. The obvious one is that Paul was a deeply threatened and insecure man, well aware that his claim to apostleship was built on shaky ground, and out of step with the rest of the church. In short, the apostle protesteth too much. I don't see that this is too much of a problem for Christians to come to terms with in that, after all, Paul was obviously a flawed human being just like the rest of us.

Bibliolatrists will of course disagree.

A second approach is that we misread Paul's hissy-fit. He didn't really mean to curse anybody. It's all a terrible misunderstanding. Mark Edgecombe takes this view in the latest issue of Stimulus.

What does Paul mean when he wishes eternal condemnation - not once, but twice - on those preaching a gospel other than the gospel of Christ? ... perhaps he means this: that those who preach the law are wilfully opting into ongoing subjection to a curse.

Yeah, right. You see, they're doing it to themselves. It reminds me of the woman I once met at a parent-teacher conference who appeared with facial bruises. The community knew very well that her husband was a drunken sot with a long record of domestic abuse. I was new to the job and aware that it wasn't my role to say anything, but the shocked expression on my face must have spoken anyway. The first thing the woman said, in a tone that dared me to contradict her, was that she'd walked into a door!

No, Paul didn't curse anyone, oh my goodness gracious no. If they were cursed it was their own fault, silly people, as they had wilfully opted into a beating.

Let's back up a bit. Is Paul is defending the "gospel of Christ"? We've got to concede that if he was, his opponents (fellow Christians) thought they were doing that too. No, he's defending the gospel of Paul: "the gospel that was proclaimed by me." Go through just chapter one of Galatians and notice all the 'me' and 'I' statements. It's an eye-opening exercise.

Galatians is about a territorial dispute, and Paul is marking his territory. So does he mean to lay down a curse or not? It seems a no-brainer. It doesn't much matter whether you want to understand accursed as hell-bound or excommunicated, it amounts to the same thing. Like an abusive husband Paul can mutter sweet nothings when necessary, but to accept them on face value is naive in the extreme. Shades of megalomania (a term Edgecombe actually refers to)? Quite possibly.

I persevered through the article, and was unsurprised when the writer went on to beat up on Richard Holloway and Lloyd Geering (or did I get that wrong - maybe they slapped themselves silly.) Anyway, of these two figures he writes, "it's the kind of stance that Paul wouldn't have a bar of."

Well at least he got that right.

Not to bother, Lesslie Newbigin gets a pat on the head.

I can't wait for the next installment to find out what kind of creative exculpatory rereading will be applied to Galatians 5:12!


  1. Gavin,

    Enjoyed your post! I quoted from it and linked to it today on my "Author's blog" because it fits well with major themes of my novel.

    I note you have an Amazon widget on your site. Is my book, A Wretched Man, available far across the globe?

  2. He also comes across as either a misogynist or a latent homosexual; but that is another story.

  3. Where, by the way, is the "Gospel According to Paul"?

    Was that one of the many gospels that got tossed in the fire by the ones who decided on what was the "inspired" word and what was not?

    Since Constantine ordered 50 copies of the NT to be made, was it Eusebius who decided the Canon?

    Paul's gospel must have gotten lost in the shuffle. Of course, Marcion of Sinope claimed to have a copy of the one and only gospel of Paul but it seems to be only the gospel of Luke modified a lot.

    However, since all of Marcion's stuff was destroyed, I reckon we'll never know anything other than what the RCC says about it.

    Considering the contradictions between The Acts and Galatians concerning Paul's conversion, did the letter even exist before Marcion came up with it? Could Marcion be the actual author of Paul's letters?

    Paul's letters weren't quoted by any of the early church fathers until after Marcion brought his collection of them.

    I suppose we'll never find that gospel that quotes Jesus as saying, "it is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35).

    That would be Paul's gospel, wouldn't it? It also shows that Paul was more for people giving (and knowing preachers) Paul probably did the receiving.

  4. "Bibliolatrists will of course disagree."

    I also disagree. For different reasons: I don't believe "Paul" ever existed. Price's theory seems the one that makes the most sense, to me. But then, I always did have a bit of a gnostic bent, so take that with the huge grain of salt, it so rightly deserves.

    As far as I'm concerned, they never should have let Marcion bring those confused, confusing, and all-around anti-Semitic, hateful to the point of being psychotic, pseudepigraphia, into the Christian canon, to begin with. Christianity as it is today, would certainly have a different face altogether, if "Paul" and all "his" disputed "writings" (Didn't someone on here or AW once suggest Marcion was the actual author of all the Pauline texts?), had been declared heretical, and anti-thetical to Christianity...those particular texts certainly go a long way towards actively making Christianity anti-thetical to its own alleged principles.

    That's my take on it, anyway. Down with Paul!

  5. Whoops, I posted before reading Corky's comment. LOL, I agree with Corky; the provenance of the "Pauline" texts is very, very suspect, is the existence of the man himself...

  6. Suspicious about all that bragging by "Paul" regarding his academic background? Well so am I; looks like the creator of these epistles is employing the old "Appeal to Authority" tactic.

  7. I am just scouring the web looking to enlighten idiotic conversations about Marcion. I have uncovered that the great Protestant New Testament scholar Adolf Hilgenfeld argued that Marcion was a form of the name Mark:

    If you look at the post that follows I show that there are no examples of people named 'Marcion' before Marcion the heretic. The point is that this has to be an artificially created 'heretical boogeyman' created by someone in Rome in the third century.

  8. Rand Zacharias13 July 2010 at 03:58

    Didn't the rise of the word "appauling" start right here with this poor confused, and conflicted, soul? Yes, I mispelled appalling.

    Imagine the soul-searching Paul would have had to go through; what with his hierarchical schooling. He was trained in the way of the Jew, was he not?

    Paul's misogyny would have been in keeping with men of that time--no matter what their religious background--except for tribesmen that worship the fertility goddesses, of course.

    Paul didn't exist? Does anyone ever really exist?

    Paul was a latent homosexual? Well, I've heard that of Jesus, David, Jonathan (though, in the case of David and Jonathan it is expounded that it wasn't so latent), and every priest, father and reverend in every faith so what's new?

    There's a great deal of sado-masochistic symbolism in Christ on the cross, so it is small wonder that a person like Paul who's got passion to first destroy the faith--then build it all on his own--might have some severe issues, n'est pas?