THE JESUS PUZZLE
Was There No Historical Jesus?
THE SOUND OF SILENCE
200 Missing References to the Gospel Jesus in the
New Testament Epistles
GALATIANS, EPHESIANS, PHILIPPIANS, COLOSSIANS
ź 64. - Galatians
11For I would have you
know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according
to man. 12For I neither
received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a
revelation of Jesus Christ. [NASB]
Nothing could be more clearly stated. Paul has arrived at
his knowledge and doctrine of the Christ he preaches through personal revelation.
He denies receiving anything from other men, by teaching, by passed-on
apostolic tradition. We are entitled, therefore, to regard the gospel he
spells out in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, as well as the information he gives
the Corinthians about the Lordís Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:23f, as a product
of revelation, and not handed-on tradition from others. (He uses the same
verb, paralambano, in all three places.) This conclusion is thoroughly
argued in my Supplementary Article No. 6: The Source
of Paulís Gospel.
Paul obviously considers that the revelation he has received
from God is more valid and important than anything which other men might
have to teach him. But is it conceivable that he could so blithely disparage
and reject the value of anything which the apostles who had accompanied
Jesus in his earthly ministry might have to offer? Indeed, we never get
a hint that Paul derived any information about Jesus from the Jerusalem
apostles. Such a turning up of the nose at oral tradition from the men
who had known and heard Jesus himself would have drawn justifiable criticism,
not only from the Jerusalem apostles themselves, but from other Christian
preachers in the field, and Paul would have been forced to respond to it.
Some hint of that criticism and its basis would have surfaced in his letters
when he discusses the value and validity of his own apostleship and gospel.
None ever does.
In such an absence, we can see Paulís point here. The
superior apostle is he who is blessed with direct revelation from God.
Others might teach Christ, but they relied on learning about him from those
who had favored access to the pipeline of divine disclosure.
We should stand in astonishment at this picture of the
premier apostle of the period passionately defining the highest measure
of reliability and authenticity for a Christian preacherís gospel: not
that it had its roots in the things Jesus had done and taught on earth,
not in Jesusí own delegation of authority during his ministry, not through
any apostolic channel which went back to a genesis in the Lordís own life,
but through a divine revelation, the spirit of God bestowed individually
on chosen Christian prophets! Amazingly, Paul is acknowledging no gospel
of Jesus going back to Jesus. He is allowing for no primacy of any gospel
held by those who had seen, heard and followed the Lord while he was on
earth, no superiority of any apostle who had been appointed by Jesus himself.
Either Paul was guilty of the most supreme arrogance, or else such concepts
simply did not exist for him.
ź 65. - Galatians
You have heard what my manner of life was when I was
still a practicing Jew: how savagely I persecuted the church of God, and
tried to destroy it. [NEB]
A church founded by the followers of the earthly Jesus, who
had personally chosen them as apostles and had directed them to teach all
nationsóand yet Paul calls it "the church of God"? On the other
hand, if that church had formed as a result of Godís revelation through
the Spirit (as Paul and other epistle writers repeatedly say), with Jesus
merely the content of that revelation, the term is perfectly apt.
ź 66. - Galatians
But as for the men of high reputation [or, seeming to
be important]ónot that their importance matters to me: God does not recognize
these personal distinctionsó [NEB]
Here Paul disparages the importance of Peter and the other
Jerusalem apostles as being neither of any concern to him, nor to God for
that matter. How could Paul, as self-important as he is, dismiss with such
disdain the very chosen apostles of Jesus, particularly the one on whom
Jesus is supposed to have "built his church" (Mt. 16:18)? Paul then goes
on (next passage) to parallel his own appointment to apostleship by God
with Peterís appointmentóalso by God. Paul not only ignores any superior
position of Peter by virtue of having been chosen and elevated by Jesus
himself, he excludes it!
ź ó Galatians 2:8 - See "Top
ź 67. - Galatians
But when I saw that their conduct did not square with
the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas, before the whole congregation,
"If you, a Jew born and bred, live like a Gentile, and not like a Jew,
how can you insist that Gentiles must live like Jews?" [NEB]
Perhaps no issue in Christianityís earliest period loomed
larger and had a more divisive effect than this one: to what extent were
gentile converts to the faith required to conform to the Jewish Law, particularly
in regard to circumcision for males and to eating practices? If ever there
were a compelling need to draw upon the teaching and example of Jesus,
it would be in the context of these crucial debates. Yet in passages like
this one, in which Paul recounts how Peter suspended his willingness to
eat with gentiles, we get not a hint of any such appeal.
Gospel scenes such as Mark 2:15-17 and Luke 5:30-32 have
Jesus defending himself against criticism for sharing his table with tax
collectors and sinners. Could this exemplary behavior not have served Paul
as an argument against Peterís unwillingness to share meals with gentiles?
(The tax gatherers may have been mostly local Jews, but the principle was
still the same: engaging in table fellowship with the unclean.) Such considerations
belie the whole rationalization that Paul felt no interest in the earthly
life of Jesus and would not have wished or needed to draw upon it in his
missionary work. The opening line of the above passage should really have
read: "But when I saw that their conduct did not square with Jesusí own
conduct . . ."
[ Note that it would not matter if Jesus had actually pronounced
on the issue under debate or not. The needs of such polemical situations
would inevitably have led to the development of a tradition that he had
something. What we see in the Gospels, of course, is this process in reverse.
General developments by reform-minded sectarian circles (here, relaxing
the purity rules to allow mixed table fellowship) became focused and personified
in a founding figure who had actually taught such things and to whom appeal
could now be made for authority. This was one of the paramount purposes
served by the Gospels. ]
ź 68. - Galatians
23Before this faith came,
we were close prisoners in the custody of the law, pending the revelation
of faith. 24Thus the
law was a kind of tutor in charge of us until Christ should come [or, tutor
to conduct us to Christ], when we should be justified through faith;
now that faith has come, the tutorís charge is at an end. [NEB]
In the passage leading to these verses, Paul is explaining
and justifying his suspension of the Jewish law as a requirement for salvation.
In its place stands only "faith in Jesus Christ" (verse 22). And what is
it that marks the great turning point, the passing away of the lawís term
of effect and usefulness? Not the arrival of Christ himself, not his career
on earth, but the beginning of faith in him, meaning the response
of believers to the gospel, revealed to and preached by apostles like Paul.
Verse 24ís "until Christ came" (NEB and a few others)
is a wishful translation of a simple eis Christon (to Christ), which
although conceivably translatable as "to the time of Christ," benefits
from the more common translation of "leading one to Christ," meaning to
faith in him; alternatively, it could mean to the time of Christís revelation.
Either one fits the thought voiced in both flanking verses which speak
of the arrival of faith, not of Christ himself. Note that in verse 23 Paul
speaks of the "revelation" of faith, or the "faith to be revealed." Such
an expression makes sense only in the context of what the epistles are
continually saying: that the doctrine about the Christ, the very existence
of the Son, is something that has been revealed by God in the present time
to apostles like Paul (Romans 16:25-27, 1 Peter 1:20, etc.)
ź 69. - Galatians
4But when the fullness
of time came, God sent forth his Son, born of (a) woman, born under the
law, 5in order that
he [God] might redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive
the adoption as sons. 6And
because you are sons, God has sent forth the spirit of his Son into our
hearts, crying "Father!"
you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through
Many point to this passage as "proof" that Paul knows and
is speaking of an historical, human Jesus. I deal with this passage extensively
in my Supplementary Article No. 8: Christ As "Man",
and it will also be discussed in the Appendix to this feature. Here I will
point out the basic difficulties in so relying on this passage.
The two "sent" verbs of verses 4 and 6 are exactly the
same, yet the latter specifies that it is the Sonís spirit which God sends,
not his bodily person. And when is it that God "sent his son"? When "we
were children" (4:1) in order to confer the rights of sons, which happens
when God sends the Sonís spirit, all of which happens in the Pauline present.
Most perplexing of all, why in the phrase "to redeem those under the law"
is it, grammatically speaking, God who is doing the redeeming and
not Jesus himself? The same oddity occurs in verse 7. As the NEB phrases
it: "You are . . . also by Godís own act an heir." Why is Paul incapable
of focusing on Jesus, in his recent incarnation and historical deeds of
redemption, as the source of all these benefits?
[ I often quote Burtonís observation (International Critical Commentary,
p.218-19) that, grammatically speaking, the phrases "born of woman [Burton
prefers it without the article], born under the law" are not necessarily
linked temporally with the "God sent his Son," but are simply stated characteristics
of the Son. And why is Paul bothering to say at all that Jesus was born
of (a) woman? Would this not be self-evident if he was an historical man?
Rather, he needs to make a paradigmatic parallel with those being redeemed,
who were themselves born of woman and born under the law. Heavenly counterpart
figures could guarantee certain effects on their initiates precisely because
they reflected, or underwent, the same features and experiences as their
earthly counterparts. Can a spirit world deity be Ďborn of womaní? He can
in the mythical sense (as with the savior god Dionysos), and he can if
scripture says that he was. The famous Isaiah 7:14, "A young woman is with
child, and she will bear a son and will call him Immanuel," was a prominent
messianic text which early Christians could not ignore. Even the "born
under the law" might, in Paulís very imaginative use of scripture, be derived
from his interpretation of Christ as Abrahamís "seed" in Galatians 3:16.
ź 70. - Galatians
For it is written that Abraham had two sons . . . (etc.)
In Galatians 4:22-31, Paul makes his own interpretation of
the story of Abraham and the two sons he had by his two women. The first
woman is Abrahamís concubine, the slave Hagar; she gives birth to Ishmael,
who stands for the Jewish race who still exist in slavery under the Law
and the old covenant. That race and that covenant is represented by Mount
Sinai. And what is the other half of the parallel? The second woman is
Abrahamís legitimate wife, the free-born Sarah; she is the mother of Isaac,
the true inheritor of Godís promise, Abrahamís spiritual heir. In a manner
unspecified, Paul links his gentile readers with Isaac; they too are children
of the promise, children of Sarah who is symbolized by the heavenly Jerusalem.
This represents the source of the new convenant.
Paul strains for some of this allegory, but on the surface
the whole thing might seem to hang together. Yet something seems to be
missing here, something we would expect to find, especially as Christ "born
of woman" is still fresh in Paulís mind. He is talking about mothers and
sons. Why is Mary not worked into this analogy, if only as a secondary
part of the interpretation? She was after all the mother of Jesus himself
who established the new convenant. She is surely a type to Sarahís archetype
(meaning a later representation of some archetypal figure in scripture;
or to put it another way, the scriptural figure or element prefigures the
later one). So is Jesus himself to Isaac, both symbols of sacrificed victims.
(Even though Isaac was not actually killed, he assumed this significance
in Jewish thinking.)
Paul has spent much of Galatians 3 linking the gentiles
to Abraham through Christ as his "seed": why not double such a link through
Mary and Sarah? Could not Mary be allegorized as the mother of Christians?
Where, for that matter, is the thing which should have been obvious as
the symbol of the new covenant, in parallel to Mount Sinai as the symbol
of the old one: not the heavenly Jerusalem but the Mount of Calvary where
Jesus was crucified, site of the blood sacrifice which had established
that new convenant?
Paul once again shows himself to be totally immune in
his thought and expression to all aspects of the earthly life of Jesus
ź 71. - Galatians
For the whole law can be summed up in a single commandment:
ĎLove your neighbor as yourself.í [NEB]
This is the second time (cf. Romans 13:8) that Paul expresses
himself exactly as the Gospel Jesus does and speaks of the whole Law being
summed up in this one rule from Leviticus. In neither place does he show
awareness of any tradition that Jesus had made this a centerpiece of his
teaching (eg, Mt. 22:39). Paul may, if we are to believe the usual rationalization,
have had "no interest" in Jesusí ministry and the things he did on earth,
but if he knew the bare fact that Jesus had taught (and how could he not?),
he must have heard that the love commandment had figured prominently in
that teaching. It is hard to believe that his lack of interest was so profound,
indeed so pathological, that he would in several places in his letters
speak of the ethics of Christian love and yet refuse to even suggest that
such teaching had anything to do with the historical preaching Son of God.
ź 72. - Ephesians
(After speaking of the redemption and forgiveness of
sin gained through the blood of the Son) 7.
. . Therein lies the richness of Godís free grace lavished upon us, 8imparting
full wisdom and insight. 9He
[God] has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good
pleasure which he determined beforehand in him(self)ó10to
be put into effect in the fullness of time, namely that the universe, all
things in heaven and on earth, should be brought into a unity in Christ.
A somewhat convoluted and ambiguous passage in the Greek,
but one thing is clear: the absence of any historical Jesus in the thinking
of this pseudo-Pauline writer. If Christís "blood" is regarded as spiritual
and shed in the mythical realm, the rest of the sentence speaks of Godís
revelation in Paulís time, of the mystery that the sundered universe (it
was one of the concepts of the era that the evil spirits had divided heaven
from earth) was to be brought back into a unity through the Sonís spiritual
sacrifice. The "fullness of time" (v.10) is marked, not by the sacrifice
itself, let alone by any life and ministry of the Son, but by the revelation
of Godís intentions to such as Paul, and the reunification of things earthly
and heavenly; the latter is an entirely mythological event which was hardly
verifiable through historical or material world observation. Note also
that verses 7 and 8 speak of Godís grace being lavished upon us, but is
that grace the person and event of Jesus of Nazareth? No, it is the "wisdom
and insight" which God has bestowed, again fitting the context of revelation.
(This is followed in verse 9 by a revelation word, gnoridzo.) Revelation
the Son, not the arrival of the Son himself.
There are many uses of "in Christ" in this passage (see
1:3f), but all of them fit the context of Christ as spiritual channel and
divine agency operating in a mythical setting; what we do not find is the
phrase attached to any mention of an historical event.
ź 73. - Ephesians
19. . . They (Godís resources
and power) are measured by his strength and the might 20which
he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead, when he enthroned
him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21far
above all government and authority, all power and dominion, and any title
of sovereignty that can be named, not only in this age but in the age to
22He put everything
in subjection beneath his feet, and appointed him as supreme head to the
church, 23which is
his body and as such holds within it the fullness of him who himself receives
the entire fullness of God. [NEB]
I quote this passage to make a point about one of the vast
and fundamental silences found in the epistles, in their frequent portrayal
(cf. Col. 15-20, Heb. 1:2-3, etc.) of Christ in such lofty terms. Never
is there mention that this cosmic Son of God, on whom is bestowed full
divinity and power over all things, filling and sustaining the entire universe,
to whom believing humanity is mystically united, was formerly on earth
as a humble Jewish preacher known as Jesus of Nazareth. Nowhere does anyone
deal with the bizarre and blasphemous phenomenon that a crucified criminal,
ignominiously executed on a hill outside Jerusalem, has been raisedóamong
Jews, no lessóto such an exalted and unprecedented status, the equal of
God himself. No one ever speaks of or defends the need for Christians to
believe in this startling transformation of a human man. This is undoubtedly
the single greatest silence that resounds throughout the early Christian
ź 74. - Ephesians
17And he came and preached
peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near, 18for
through him we both have access in one spirit to the Father. [NASB]
Is verse 17 a reference to Jesusí teaching ministry on earth?
Instead of taking the opportunity to refer to some of those teachings (such
as Mt. 5:23 which speaks of "peace" with oneís brothers, or the message
that is to be brought to "all nations"), the writer quotes Isaiah 57:19,
which supposedly speaks of an end-time reconciliation between peoples.
Even the preliminary words about preaching good news is based on Isaiah
This passage is not a reference to an historical event,
but an interpretation of scripture, an expression of the early Christian
idea (found notably in Hebrews) that the Son inhabited the spiritual world
of the scriptures and spoke from there. Another common idea was that Christ
had "come" through his revelation by God to Christian prophets. He was
now active in the world and speaking through those prophets (the verb euangelidzo,
to proclaim good news, is used to describe the work of apostles like Paul).
Verse 18 also reflects the role of the spiritual Christ in providing a
channel to the Father.
In this connection we might ask why the writer would have
passed up Gospel sayings of Jesus about himself as providing access to
God, such as John 10:7, "I am the door," or 14:16, "No one comes to the
Father except by me," or Luke 10:22, "No one knows who the Father is except
the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him."
(This passage will be dealt with again in the Appendix.)
ź 75. - Ephesians
You are built upon the foundation laid by the apostles
and prophets, and Christ Jesus himself is the foundation-stone. In him
the whole building is bonded together and grows into a holy temple in the
A telling omission here. The foundation of Christian belief
and the movement itself is the work of apostles and prophets like Paul.
This entirely ignores the career of Jesus himself. Christ Jesus as the
"foundation stone" is simply the object of the faith laid by the apostles.
If Jesus of Nazareth had lived and begun the movement in his name, no Christian
writer could have failed to designate Jesus as the initial, primary builder
of the church. And where is Jesusí own quote of Psalm 118:22, referring
to himself: "the stone which the builders rejected has become the main
cornerstone," as recorded in Mark 12:10?
C. L. Mitton (Ephesians, p.113) suggests that the
meaning of akrogoniaios (cornerstone) in LXX Isaiah 28:16 determines
its meaning in Ephesians, but this merely serves to show that the idea
has been derived not from historical tradition but from scriptural exegesis.
Mitton also suggests that the apostles and prophets are to be regarded
as part of the foundation as well, alongside Christ, but there is no justification
for this in the text.
ź 76. - Ephesians
4In reading this, then,
you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5which
in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now
been revealed to Godís holy apostles and prophets through the spirit, 6that
through the gospel the Gentiles are to be fellow heirs and fellow members
of the promise in Christ Jesus. . . . [NIV]
Here we see the sole mechanism of revelation at work in the
preaching of apostles like Paul, the revelation of the mystery, the secret,
about Christ. It is not on passed-on tradition going back to Jesus himself
and his immediate followers that Christian apostles base their knowledge
and authority, but on the action of the spirit sent from God. It is true
that, while other passages, like Colossians 2:2, speak of Godís long-undisclosed
mystery as being Christ himself, here (and compare Col. 1:27) the secret
is narrowed to something specific, namely the inclusion of the gentiles
in the redemptive effects of Godís salvation through Christ. This specificity
is often appealed to as rendering the thought valid within the context
of an historical Jesus, on the assumption that the inclusion of the gentiles
was not an identifiable mark of Jesusí own preaching.
But is this really a legitimate Ďoutí? Would apostles
preaching such a doctrine not seek to find its legitimacy and precedent
in the preaching of Jesus, to anchor it in the example of Jesus welcoming
the sinner, having contact with non-Jews, etc.? It is virtually impossible
that they would not, for sectarian impulses are always to give the sectís
important doctrines the strongest possible foundation and authority. Indeed,
it is unthinkable that in all the references to revealing the secret of
Christ, whatever its nature, no Christian writer would ever express the
thought that the first and primary revealer of such secrets had been Christ
himself during his ministry on earth. This silence is a devastating one.
Besides, what of Jesus directives (Mt. 28:19, Acts 1:8)
to go and preach to all the nations, an instruction which would automatically
have encompassed Ephesiansí idea here that the gentiles were to be included
in the redemptive promise? How could this writer not possess any tradition
of such a directive (even if not an historical one) by Jesus? Mitton (p.123)
states (based on the Gospels) that "this breaking down of barriers (between
Jew and gentile) had been the mark of Jesus in his life and teachings,"
but if modern scholars can recognize the obvious, can we believe that Paul
and other early writers did not, or chose to ignore it?
[ Consider verses 10-11: "(Godís hidden purpose was concealed for
long ages) 10in order that now, through
the church, the wisdom of God in all its varied forms might be made known
to the powers and authorities in the realm of heaven, 11in
accord with his age-long purpose which he effected in Christ Jesus our
Lord." Again, the long-hidden wisdom of God in all its forms is revealed
not by an historical Jesus in his life and ministry, but only now, in Paulís
time, by apostles like himself and "the church." The role of Christ in
verse 11 relates to that "age-long purpose" and not specifically to the
present time, in which (as in v.10) Christ plays no role alongside the
church that reveals Godís wisdom. Mitton (p.128) insists on interpreting
the "in Christ" as referring to the actions or example of Jesus of Nazareth
in his earthly life, but it better fits the general meaning of this kind
of phrase as used throughout the epistles: God is the agent, Christ is
the Ďenabling forceí he employs for both redemption and intermediary communication,
all of it within a mythological and spiritual setting in keeping with the
philosophy of the time.
And who, in these verses, is the recipient of that long-hidden wisdom
of God? If there is any passage which stops us short and indicates that
the writer is operating in a different realm of thought from our own, it
is this one. The revelation of the wisdom of God is being aimed at the
rulers and authorities in the realms of heaven, so that they will become
aware of Godís plan and the worldís destiny! In other words, the hostile
spirits and wicked powers are real and key elements in the world view and
theology of the New Testament writers. (Mittonís "rather surprisingly"
is an understatement, and his suggestion that "this may have meant little
more to the writer than it can mean to us, except as rhetorical flourish,"
reflects the inability of many a modern commentator to perceive and accept
the gap that exists between the ancient mind and ours, and with it how
shaky are all the assumptions and mindsets we often bring to the originators
of the Western worldís faith. See also Ephesians
6:11-12, #85.) ]
ź 77. - Ephesians
I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have
received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one
another in love. [NIV]
No reference to Jesus here as an example of such behavior,
or to the teachings which contained such recommendations. Yet Matthew (11:29)
records a saying by Jesus in which he describes himself using precisely
these two words: humble and gentle. "Take my yoke upon you and learn from
me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your
souls." One might expect this to be a well known saying in the Jesus tradition,
one that provoked controversy for its audacity when it was first spoken.
Yet the writer passes up the chance to quote it, to reinforce his own urging
by pointing out that Jesus had described himself with these selfsame words,
providing the ideal example. Even if the saying itself was not widespread,
surely the tradition that Jesus was "meek and mild" enjoyed wide currency.
In reality, this is a wisdom saying, similar to those
placed in the mouth of personified Wisdom in documents like Proverbs, and
was eventually placed in the mouth of the Gospel Jesus.
ź 78. - Ephesians
8Scripture says: "When
he ascended on high, he led captives in his train, and gave gifts to men."
the word Ďascendedí implies that he also descended into the lower parts
of the earth. 10He
who descended is no other than he who ascended far above the heavens, so
that he might fill the universe.
these were his gifts: some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists,
some pastors and teachers, to equip Godís people for work in his service,
to the building up of the body of Christ. [NEB/NIV]
As extremely revealing passage. The writer uses the Psalm
quote (68:18) for two purposes. One is to Ďproveí that Christ descended
to earth, since the act of Ďascendingí on high implied that he had done
so from a lower level. (Some translators point out that "lower parts of
the earth" could mean the underworld, but this is not likely since the
writer speaks of Christ acting among men, not in Sheol.) But why would
he need to appeal to such Ďproofí if Christ had lived a recent life in
full view of all? This strange, even bizarre, thought suggests that what
was lacking in the writerís mind was the historical knowledge that indeed
Jesus had been on earth.
And what had he done while in that lower location? In
fact, the writer seems not to be trying to imply a Ďlifeí at all, no physical
presence on earth. Certainly there is no description of physical events,
let alone Gospel details. Rather, he is concerned with Christís bestowing
of gifts which are spiritual in nature (and bestowed through spiritual
channels), namely the calling of various people to roles in the spread
of the faith, in the building up of the body of Christ, which is an entirely
mystical concept. The gifts enumerated betray no sense of the Gospel career
of Jesus of Nazareth, but fit the concept that the spirit of God or Christ
had implanted inspirational qualifications for a call to Christian community
service. This is the second purpose of the Psalm quote, to indicate that
Christ had come down to bestow these giftsóalthough to do so the writer
reverses the actual content of the Psalmís verse, where the figure addressed
is receiving gifts from men. Such were the liberties of midrash.
Note that the significance for the writer of the "captives
in his train" relates to the cosmic powers of the heavens, over which Christ
is said to triumph through his spirit world sacrifice. (Compare Col. 2:15
and, as always, 1 Cor. 2:8.)
ź 79. - Ephesians
You must be made new in mind and spirit, and put on the
new nature of Godís creating. [NEB]
Here the writer seems to be unaware of Jesusí teaching that
we must be "born anew," as in John 3:3.
ź 80. - Ephesians
If you are angry, do not let anger lead you into sin.
The writer fails to bolster his admonition by quoting the
words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5:22): "Anyone who nurses
anger against his brother must be brought to judgment." One of the ironies
found in most commentaries, such as that of Mitton on Ephesians, is their
unfailing habit of faithfully recording such Gospel parallels without asking
why, in contrast, the writers of these epistles pervasively fail to point
to Jesus as the source of such ethical directives.
ź 81. - Ephesians
Be generous to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving
one another as God in Christ forgave you. [NEB]
Here, too, the writer fails to quote not only Jesusí teachings
on the subject of forgiveness (e.g., Mt. 6:14: "For if you forgive others
the wrongs they have done, your heavenly Father will also forgive you,"
Mt. 18:21, etc.), but Jesusí own exemplary words from the cross: "Father
forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Lk. 23:34). The latter would
have been a powerful illustration of forgiveness under even the most dire
of circumstances, and if such traditions and teachings existed, there can
be no doubt that the writer of Ephesians would have called attention to
ź 82. - Ephesians
Live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave
himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. [NEB]
Yet another passage which urges love on the believer without
noting that this had been a pillar of Jesusí teaching on earth. We might
also take note of the atmosphere of the writerís reference to the crucifixion.
It lacks all sense of the Gospel portrayal of that event as the ignominious
execution of an innocent man, an evil deed accompanied by betrayal and
taunts and false accusations, all of it provoking Godís divine wrath. (Compare
the similar lack of Gospel atmosphere in Romans 8:32.)
ź 83. - Ephesians
For though you were once all darkness, now as Christians
you are light. Live like men who are at home in daylight, for where light
is, there all goodness springs up, all justice and truth. [NEB]
Would not Jesusí own description of the believer from the
Sermon on the Mount (5:14-16) be apt here: "You are light for all the world
. . . and you, like the lamp, must shed light among your fellows, so that
when they see the good you do, they may give praise to your Father in heaven"?
Or Johnís words of Jesus (8:12): "No follower of mine shall wander in the
dark; he shall have the light of life." (Compare 12:36.)
The writer of Ephesians can know nothing about any teachings
of Jesus to so consistently fail to appeal to them in the many and varied
contexts of ethical admonition throughout his letter. In this, of course,
he joins company with every other epistle writer.
ź 84. - Ephesians
For you know that whatever good each man may do, slave
or free, will be repaid him by the Lord. [NEB]
Did Jesus not teach that the good will be rewarded? "Your
father who sees what is done . . . will reward you" (Mt. 6:4), "that man
will not go unrewarded" (Mt. 10:42), "the Son of Man will give each man
the due reward for what he has done" (Mt. 16:27), and so on. How much energy
would it have taken for some of these writers,
some of the
time, to give us a simple "as Jesus said" or "as Jesus taught us"?
ź 85. - Ephesians
11Put on all the armor
which God provides, so that you may be able to stand firm against the devices
of the devil.
our fight is not against human foes, but against cosmic powers, against
the authorities and potentates of this dark world, against the superhuman
forces of evil in the heavens. [NEB]
One of the resounding silences in both Ephesians and Colossians
is their failure to point out the victories which Christ on earth achieved
against the forces of darkness. Both these epistles illustrate the ancient
worldís preoccupation with inimical spirit powers (which they saw as inhabiting
the very air around them) and forces of Fate, and the evil effects these
had on human lives. This fear of demons, and the search for ways to neutralize
their activities through magic and the invocation of protective deities,
was especially strong in pagan society. The central declaration about Jesus
in both Colossians and Ephesians is that he is such a deity, that his death
has rescued mankind "from the domain of darkness" (Col. 1:13), that "every
power and authority (i.e., the spirits) in the universe has been subjected
to him" (2:10), and that a universe fractured by the power of those spirits
has been reunified by Christís sacrifice (Eph. 1:10, cf. 3:10). Ephesians
6:11-12 (above) demonstrates this obsession clearly. Many Christians even
today perpetuate a similar paranoia in their emphasis on Satan.
Every salvation religion of the day sought to fill this
need for "armor" and reassurance against the hostile powers. Any savior
god worth his or her salt had to possess power over such spirits and be
willing to exercise it on their followersí behalf; Isis, for example, held
a prominent role as just such a protector. But what of the great benefit
Christ possessed over all the others? How are we to explain the failure
of Ephesians and Colossians to point to dramatic, historical evidence which
the Gospels record, evidence that Jesus did indeed possess and had demonstrated
power over the demons and devices of the devil? For he had shown it even
while he was on earth. The unclean spirits had surrendered to expulsion
from the sick; they had cried for mercy. Even Jesusí apostles had been
given the power to drive out devils. Yet these two letters have not a word
to say about such healing exorcisms. Nor do they hold up Jesusí declaration
(Mk. 3:21-7) that his purpose was to overthrow Satan and all his house.
Given the pagan preoccupation with evil spirits, the claim
that Paul had felt no interest in Jesusí life and deeds is thoroughly discredited,
for this aspect of Jesusí career would have been an immense asset to the
appeal of his message, and of great interest to his listeners and converts.
More broadly speaking, Christ in his incarnation would have enjoyed a dramatic
advantage over his mythical Graeco-Roman rivals: for unlike them, he had
recently been on earth in flesh and blood, seen by countless thousands,
had dealt with evil forces first-hand, on humanityís own turf. In his personal
dealings Jesus had shown compassion, tolerance, generosity, all those things
men and women thirsted for in confronting a hostile, uncaring world. It
is simply unthinkable that Paul and the writers of such letters as Colossians
and Ephesians would choose to remain silent on all these advantages of
the human Jesus when presenting to their readers (gentile and Jew as well)
their agent of salvation.
ź 86. - Philippians
Of one thing I am certain: the One who started the good
work in you will bring it to completion by the Day of Christ Jesus. [NEB]
This statement in its few words sums up the picture of the
early Christian movement. Communities of believers have sprung up in various
centers, responding to the preaching of prophets like Paul, through the
power of the Spirit sent from God. (The "One" in the verse above is God,
as the sense of the sentence makes certain.) The concept that Jesus himself
had begun anything is completely missing from the landscape of the epistles.
Whether Jesus had had any contact with the Philippians
or not, whether he was long dead before the Philippians were converted
or not, the image of the Son recently on earth as the force behind the
origin and growth of the faith could not help but be present in the minds
of preachers and believers alike. And yet it is consistently God who is
presented as the mover and Ďpersonalityí behind the spread of Christianity.
Christ Jesus may have provided the sacrifice, but as the above verse would
indicate, there is an unmistakable sense throughout the epistles that he
was not to put in an appearance on the earthly scene until the day he arrived
from heaven to bring about the judgment and transformation of the world.
ź ó Philippians 3:10 - See
ź 87. - Colossians
15(The Son) is the image
of the invisible God, his is the primacy over all created things. 16In
him everything in heaven and on earth was created, not only things visible
but also the invisible orders of thrones, sovereignties, authorities and
powers: the whole universe has been created through him and for him. 17And
he exists before everything, and all things are held together in him. 18He
is also the head of the church; and he is the beginning, the first-born
from the dead; so that he might come to have first place in everything.
God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him,
through him to reconcile to himself all things on earth or things in heaven,
by making peace through the blood of his cross. [NEB]
Rivaled only by Hebrews 1:2-3, there is no more cosmic and
exalted description of the Son to be found in the New Testament epistles
than this 'christological hymní of Colossians. The very image of God and
bearing his fullness, pre-existent with God before creation, the instrument
of that creation and serving as its ruler and sustaining power to preserve
its very existence. But the hymn writer has left out any mention of the
incarnation, the identity of the man who had been this cosmic Son on earth,
let alone anything he had done while in that human form. The writer, along
with every other epistle author, has also neglected to explain how a mere
man, a crucified criminal, could have been raised to such a lofty height,
especially within a Jewish milieu, where separating God from all things
human was an obsession. No defense of such an outlandish and blasphemous
elevation of Jesus of Nazareth is ever offered.
Raised from the deadóbut when and where is not stated,
and its purpose is to have Christ achieve primacy in all things, a mythological
concept in a spirit-world setting. As for being head of the church, Paulís
genuine letters show that this is intended in a purely mystical sense.
Why would all of these hymn writers (cf. Philippians 2:6-11, 1 Timothy
3:16, Ephesians 1:19-23) consistently remain silent on all aspects of the
Sonís earthly identity and activities?
The answer, of course, is that this languageómost graphically
here and in Hebrews 1óbelongs to the primary philosophical concept of the
age, the Son as the knowable image and emanation of a transcendent God
and an intermediary force between deity and humanity, an entirely spiritual
being. This concept is reflected in the Greek Logos and Jewish personified
Wisdom. (See Supplementary Article No. 5: Tracing
the Christian Lineage in Alexandria.) This is why the hymn describes
the Son in terms of what he is, a present, eternal entity, and not
with any sense of a human figure of the recent past upon whom this colossal
theological superstructure has been heaped. (See also the section "A Cosmic
Force" in my review of Burton Mackís book, Who
Wrote the New Testament?)
ź 88. - Colossians
25I have become (the
churchís) servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word
of God in its fullness,
mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now
disclosed to the saints. 27To
them God has chosen to make known among the gentiles the glorious riches
of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. [NIV]
A passage similar to Ephesians 3:4-6 (#76) in which God reveals
a long-hidden secret to apostles like Paul through revelation. As in the
Ephesians case, the secret is narrowed, this time to the mystical, Pauline
concept that Christ dwells in the believer, giving promise of future glory.
Again the point must be made that even if we have no record of Christ having
preached a specific doctrine like this (though some of Jesusí pronouncements
in the Fourth Gospel come close in spirit), the tendency would have been
to impute such a thing to him or to find pointers to it in the things he
did say. Moreover, the stark past-present dichotomyóa secret long-hidden
throughout past time, followed by its disclosure in the present, an idea
found throughout the Pauline corpusócasts not a glance at any intervening
career of the Son on earth, much less makes room for Jesusí role in revealing
anything about himself.
The next passage also deals with Godís revealed secret
of Christ, and this time there is no narrowing of the mystery.
ź 89. - Colossians
2I want them . . . to
come to the full wealth of conviction which understanding brings, and grasp
Godís secret. That secret is Christ himself; 3in
him lie hidden all Godís treasures of wisdom and knowledge. [NEB] (Compare
Here the secret long-hidden by God is not narrowed to a specific
element. It is Christ himself who has been revealed in the present time.
No thought is expressed that the Son had been revealed by the Son himself,
recently incarnated. And the dwelling of Godís wisdom and knowledge within
the Son is expressed in the present tense, when we might expect to find
a past tense, expressing the natural thought that such things had dwelled
in the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth. Instead, the present implies
a spiritual, eternal being, the intermediary Son of contemporary philosophy.
ź 90. - Colossians
8Do not let your mind
be captured by hollow and delusive speculations, based on traditions of
man (man-made teachings) and centered on the elemental spirits of the world
and not on Christ. 9For
it is in Christ that the complete being of the Godhead dwells embodied,
and in him you have been brought to completion. 10Every
power and authority in the universe is subject to him as Head. [NEB]
As in the previous passage, God is found in Christ in the
present and not in the past in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. And if,
as many judge (see Bauerís Lexicon), the "elemental spirits" (stoicheia)
of verse 8 refers to the divine entities which the ancients believed inhabited
the heavenly bodies and certain aspects of the physical world, where is
the contrast we should expect the writer to make between such spiritual
entities and Christ? Namely, that the latter had taken on humanity and
lived a life on earth.
In verse 10 the writer, like the writer of Ephesians (6:12,
#85), fails to mention Jesusí ministry in which as miracle-worker and exorcist
he demonstrated for all to see that he did indeed have power over the evil
spirits. Such power is referred to in verse 15: "There (on the cross) Christ
stripped the demonic rulers and authorities of their power over him, and
in his own triumph made a public show of them." [Translator's New Testament;
whether Christ or God is to be considered the subject of this sentence
is uncertain.] But it is a power clearly exercised in the spiritual dimension,
supporting the view that the entire crucifixion took place in the spirit
ź 91. - Colossians
In him also you were circumcised, not in a physical sense,
but by being divested of the lower nature; this is Christís way of circumcision.
Both Nativity stories (Matthew and Luke) are probably products
of the early 2nd century, but if Jesus had lived, there would of course
have been the automatic expectation that eight days after his birth he
had been circumcised, like all Jewish males. Thus the words of this verse
might well have confused those readers who always assumed that "physically"
was precisely the way Jesus was circumcised.
Though the point may at first glance seem fatuous, it
actually bears some consideration. For if the Pauline outlook advocated
the rejection of the circumcision requirement for gentiles ("There is no
such thing as Jew or Greek . . .") in favor of being "in Christ Jesus,"
one might expect that some accommodation would have to be made for the
physical discrepancy between the believer and the historical Jesus. At
the very least, we would not expect a Pauline writer to come up with a
metaphor which not only ignored the discrepancy, but implied that it did
ź 92. - Colossians
2Set your mind on the
things above, not on the things that are on earth. 3For
you have died and your [new] life is hidden with Christ in God. 4When
Christ, who is our life, is revealed, you also will be revealed with him
in glory. [NASB]
A passage which vividly conveys the sense that Christ had
never been seen by anyone, had never been to earth. The believerís true
destiny, his new life, is "hidden" along with Christ who dwells with God.
Both are to "be revealed" when Christ arrives from heaven. In the orthodox
interpretation, this would surely be an odd choice of wordóphaneroo:
reveal oneself or be revealed, become visible, appear, usually entailing
the manifestation or the making known of something not hitherto known or
experienced. Since the same verb is used in both halves of verse 3óthe
Ďrevealingí of Christ and the Ďrevealingí of the believerís true lifeóone
can assume they have a parallel meaning. Since the believerís destined
new life is something which has not yet put in an appearance, the implication
is that Christ himself has yet to do so as well.
If Christ had recently been on earth and left it, what
writer would not simply have said the equivalent of "return" or "come back,"
some phrase which was cognizant of the fact that this would be a second
coming? Ironically, most Lexicons specify that one definition of this verb
is its reference to Christís Second Advent, but the examples given are
of passages like this one in the epistles, where such a meaning is read
into the word based on Gospel preconceptions. In actual fact, none of the
quoted passages (here in Col. 3:4, 1 Pet. 5:4, 1 Jn 2:28 & 3:2óthough
the latter refer to God) contain any suggestion of a previous Advent, making
such a definition circular and without foundation.
can mean to Ďput in an appearance,í
it is also one of several Ďrevelationí words used throughout the epistles
that clearly speak of the Ďmaking knowní of Christ in the present time
(eg, 1 Peter 1:20) which, if one sets aside Gospel preconceptions, tell
us that this is a revelation of knowledge about the Son and Savior in a
spiritual way, with no physical or visible presence, past or present, involved.
ź 93. - Colossians
9Do not lie to each other,
since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10and
have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image
of its Creator. [NIV]
Another passage suggesting Jesusí teaching that one must
be born anew (e.g., John 3:3), yet the writer makes no mention of it. We
might also note that the "image" of Christ must not be too strong in the
writerís mind for him to pass up having the reader put on the image of
Jesus, rather than God.
ź 94. - Colossians
12Therefore, as Godís
chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion,
kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13Bear
with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one
another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14And
over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect
What perversity could have led all the epistle writers to
speak in terms of the qualities Jesus was reputed to have possessed on
earth, to speak of the teachings he was recorded to have spoken, and yet
consistently fail to make even a passing attribution of such things to
Does "the Lord" in verse 13 refer to God or to Christ?
The Expositorís Greek Testament observes that "there is no reason
to God, since Jesus when on earth forgave sins."
But that is reading the Gospels into it, and in fact here the term is almost
certainly a reference to God. Not only has the writer just spoken of God
in the preceding verse, he speaks of God forgiving the readersí sins in
2:13. Even 1:14 has God doing the forgiving of sins "in the Son," the same
idea as that expressed in Ephesians 4:32. One might also point out that
since Jesus on no occasion forgave the sins of the Colossians, the writer
would not have tended to express it thus. Jesusí sacrifice made forgiveness
possible, but its source was God.
To File No. 6: 1 & 2 Thessalonians,
1 & 2 Timothy and Titus
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