St. Paul and the Apostolic Tradition II

(Sub-title: Paul, the Book of Acts, and the Clementine Cover-up)

The book of Acts represents one particular view of the history of the early church. Another tradition is reflected in the so-called Clementine literature (also referred to as “pseudo-Clementines”). The Clementines are divided into two parts known as the Homilies and Recognitions. Scholars have theories as to where these two parts came from and the relationship between them [1]. The Clementines are believed to have been written during the second century and reflect the Jewish/Ebionite Christian tradition of the early church and its history. The texts are attributed to one of the Apostolic Fathers, Clement of Rome (c. 30–100). According to this account Clement knew Peter personally and he kept a record of Peter’s ministry and doctrine. One notable theme is Peter’s ongoing conflict with Simon Magus and the theological issues debated between them. Also of note is that some of these issues of conflict actually resemble conflicts that are recorded in Paul’s letters, and are actually relevant to Paul, not Simon. This has led some historians to propose the theory that “Simon” in the Clementines is really a code name for Paul; and that the Clementines are actually a record of the conflict between Peter and Paul as seen from the Jewish Christian point of view [2]. (The Catholic Fathers reported that the Ebionite Christians regarded Paul as an Apostate who wrongly preached against the Law; e.g. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1.26.2; Eusebius, Church History, 3.27.)

It cannot be known for sure if the Clementines actually originate from something that Clement wrote. What is apparent is that the Clementines reflect an early Jewish Christian tradition that places priority on Peter and the Law, and attacks certain teachings of Paul which are presented under the name of Simon. In some respects the Clementines provide alternative insights on the history of the Apostles and their doctrine, and may in turn fill in the blanks and answer why the accounts of Paul and Acts do not match (see part I of this series).

There are five main issues in the Clementines that correspond to certain issues between Paul and Acts. 1) The role of the Law of Moses in early Christian life; 2) Paul’s relationship to Peter and the early Church/ Apostolate; 3) The issue of conflicting systems of theology and hermeneutics; 4) The criteria by which one is defined as an Apostle; and 5) The counter-ministry against Paul.

If the Clementines really are a veiled attack on Paul, as they appear to be, then Paul is accused of the following offenses corresponding to the five points above: i) Paul overturned the Law of Moses in his ministry. ii) Paul was an adversary against Peter and the early Apostolic establishment. iii) Paul construed a theology from the scriptures that was wholly at odds with the original Apostolic standard as established by Peter and James—according to the Clementines. iv) Paul laid claim to Apostolic authority on the basis of a criteria that was not sanctioned by the Apostles before him. v) Paul was spreading heretical and blasphemous doctrines among the gentiles and otherwise misrepresenting the Church at Jerusalem. The true Apostles must intervene and set the record straight.

Let us begin by first looking for evidence in the Clementines where certain attacks on Simon, or his teaching, are actually applicable to Paul. Our first piece of evidence is a letter that is attributed to Peter and was addressed to James, the brother of Jesus and head of the Church at Jerusalem. Here are the relevant passages from the text:

“For some from among the Gentiles have rejected my legal preaching, attaching themselves to certain lawless and trifling preaching of the man who is my enemy. And these things some have attempted while I am still alive, to transform my words by certain various interpretations, in order to the dissolution of the Law; as though I also myself were of such a mind, but did not freely proclaim it, which God forbid! For such a thing were to act in opposition to the Law of God which was spoken by Moses, and was borne witness to by our Lord in respect of its eternal continuance…” [3] 

Who is the enemy of Peter in the above passage? Simon? Paul? We have noticed elsewhere that Paul’s writings contain ample evidence of a man who preached against the Law among the Gentiles. And in Galatians 2 Paul opposed Peter (and James) at Antioch, and otherwise condemned anyone who preached the Law among the gentiles, declaring them to be “anathema” (Gal. 1:6–9, 5:4). Were Paul and Peter ever reconciled after the altercation at Antioch? Tradition tells us that Paul and Peter settled their differences and went on to preach the gospel together in Rome—but what do the scriptures actually tell us? The letter of 2 Peter portrays “Peter” as referring to Paul as a “brother” (2 Peter 3:15–16) but this letter is an obvious forgery, and it was rejected by many Catholics as Eusebius reported (see below). In Paul’s own letters the evidence shows that he had no lasting relationship with Peter [4]. In these letters Paul regularly defended himself against attacks by other Christians who questioned his authority and credibility (e.g. 1 Cor. 9:1f., 2 Cor. 11:23, 12:11). In none of these passages does Paul ever make an appeal to Peter or any of the “Twelve” for support. In light of this it is indeed significant that when Paul does discuss his past relationship with Peter he refers to a quarrel in a letter where he openly declares his independence from the Apostles before him (i.e. Galatians). Over all, there is no evidence in the scriptures that Paul and Peter ever settled their differences. Even the book of Acts gives no account of Paul’s relationship with Peter after the Apostolic council at Jerusalem (Acts 15).

Of note is that Acts does mention an altercation at Antioch following the council (15:36ff.) which seems to correspond to the events in Galatians 2. However, in Acts this conflict is described as an altercation between Paul and Barnabas over John Mark. Barnabas wants John to accompany the two on another mission to the gentiles; but Paul wants to exclude him. A heated argument ensues and Paul and Barnabas end up parting ways. We should briefly note that John Mark is another possible piece to this puzzle. According to Acts Paul adamantly refused the company of John on another mission because the latter abandoned him in Pamphylia (15:38). In Acts 13:13 we learn that John suddenly left Paul and returned to Jerusalem. What is the source of this conflict between Paul and John Mark as implied in Acts? Is it possible that John Mark abandoned Paul in order to report on him to the Apostles at Jerusalem? We can only speculate; but the evidence in Acts could be construed to mean that John Mark was responsible for stirring up the controversy over Paul. Or it may be that the writer of Acts insists on believing that the altercation at Antioch was between Paul, John Mark and Barnabas as opposed to Paul’s own account that the conflict was between himself and Peter and in which Barnabas sided with Peter (Gal. 2:11–13). Both Acts and the Pauline Letters agree that Paul had no further contact with Barnabas and Peter after the altercation at Antioch.

Getting back to the subject at hand, Paul does fall within the lines of the accusations made by “Peter” in the letter quoted above, i.e. Paul preached against the Law among the gentiles, and that he opposed Peter. Paul’s letters provide supporting evidence that such conflicts could have existed. Paul also made numerous statements against the Law. For example, in Galatians 3:10 he wrote,

“For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse…”

And in 3:13,

“Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the Law…”

And also in Galatians 5:4,

“Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the Law; you are fallen from grace.”

And again in Romans 3:20,

“By the deeds of the Law there shall no flesh be justified…”

And in 2 Corinthians 3:6–7 the Law of Moses is referred to as the “ministry of death.”

And finally there is this proclamation against the Law of Moses as made by Paul in Philippians 3:5–8:

“Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the Law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the Law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge (gnosis) of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but rubbish, that I may win Christ.” (Italics added.)

Clearly Paul painted a negative picture of the Law among the gentiles. And Paul’s statements are applicable to Jews as well. Paul believed that Israel was under the curse of the Law, and that without Christ they could not be saved (Rom. 10). So again, Paul’s writings can be shown to lend credence to the charges made by “Peter.” And this ties back into my points of concern as outlined above: Relevant to 1) is that Paul disagreed with the other Apostles in regard to the purpose and role of the Law in the life of a Christian. Relevant to 2) is that this disagreement led Paul into direct conflict with Peter, et al., and that they actually opposed each other. (Note also that Paul never confirms that Peter ever had a ministry to the gentiles as reported in Acts 11 and 15. In Galatians 2 Paul reports that Peter preached to Jews only; and that Peter was unwilling to accept uncircumcised gentile converts; see part I.)

The Philippians passage above is also relevant to point number 3 and the notion that Paul’s doctrine on the Law was based on some other system of theology in conflict with the 12. As this concerns the Philippians passage, it seems implausible that Paul can refer to the Law of God as rubbish if he truly believed that the Law of Moses was the Law of God. There is no way that Paul can write this statement about the Law and still pass himself off as a worshipper of YHWH: who gave the Law to Moses. This may in turn be an example of where Paul’s theology, and impiety, can be compared with the impious teachings of Simon as described in the Clementines. Simon taught that there was a higher God above the Creator, and that the Lawgiver was an inferior, lesser god (Rec. 2:38–39, Hom. 18:1). Paul’s rhetoric regarding the Law is consistent with these ideas (see below).

On the other hand, there are no passages in Paul that have any direct resemblance to the plain theological language as attributed to “Simon” in the Clementines. Simon’s statements in the latter resemble the later ideas that the Catholic Fathers attributed to Marcion and the Gnostic teachers of the second century. Two of the most obvious examples are where Simon claims that the Creator is not the highest God; and that the Creator is just, but not good (ibid.). These ideas are never clearly stated in Paul’s letters, and reflect a later debate. The Clementines actually present a conflicting view of Simon’s doctrine. In some passages Simon claims that he, himself, is the supreme Being, and in other passages he speaks as a Gnostic theologian of an unknown God above (ibid., cf. Rec. 2:12, Hom. 2:22). This portrayal may have served the purposes for which the Clementines may have been intended in the second century: they represent the debate between orthodoxy and heresy, with Simon being the fictional symbol of the heretical position. (However, I also think that the Clementines were based on an earlier source which had a much different and more controversial purpose; which I will explain below.)

If Paul’s theology has any affinity to the doctrines of Simon (viz. the Clementines) then this can only be deduced from Paul’s enigmatic statements as they stand in his letters. Paul equates the Law, and by extension its God, with the authority of angels (Gal. 3:19), and with the “elements of the world” (Gal. 4:3) and with “rubbish” (Phil. 3:5–8) and with “death” (2 Cor. 3:6–7, 4:3–4). Again, Paul’s statements can be construed to represent a very negative assessment of traditional, biblical theology.

There is one unique point on which Paul and Simon share common ground. This involves the peculiar method by which both of these men interpret the Old Testament. In the Clementines Simon confesses to interpreting the scriptures in such a way that he discovers a God which is not found there (Rec. 2:54; see below). Paul likewise can be shown to have interpreted the OT so as to extract equally radical theological ideas. I have presented some examples of this in other articles and I will briefly summarize them here. 

  • In Galatians 3 Paul taught that circumcision was ordered by angels, and that Abraham was accepted by God through his faith alone (Gal. 3:6–9, 19). But this is not what Genesis 17 says. The latter says that Abraham accepted circumcision from the Lord as a sign of his faith. As a sign of his faith in God Abraham circumcised himself and his entire clan as “God” commanded.
  • Another example is 1 Cor. 2:9 where Paul quotes Isaiah 64:4. Here again Paul has inverted the passage. In both the Hebrew and Greek texts the Isaiah passage refers to God’s plan as being known to the world, meaning that ‘neither eye, nor ear, nor heart’ has known of anything accept what the God of Israel has proclaimed via the prophets. But Paul quotes this passage so as to refer to a divine plan that no man has known.
  • Yet another example is in Romans 10:4–9 where Paul quotes Dt. 30:12–14 as referring to the grace that comes through Christ, and that righteousness cannot be gained via the Law. The discerning reader will note that there is in fact no reference to Christ in the Dt. passage, and that these verses are in fact an injunction to keep the Law. Once again Paul has forced OT verses into meaning the opposite of what they actually mean in their original context.  

Undoubtedly Paul projected ideas into scripture which are not obvious in the original text and are derived from an inverted interpretation. Of note is that Simon Magus actually professes a similar method as the source of his own theological ideas. In Recognition 2:54 these words are attributed to Simon:

“Thus, then, since he who made man and the world is, according to what the law relates, imperfect, we are given to understand, without doubt, that there is another who is perfect. … Whence also I, knowing that it is every way necessary that there be some one more benevolent and more powerful than that imperfect god who gave the law, understanding what is perfect from comparison of the imperfect, understood even from the Scripture that God who is not mentioned there. And in this way I was able, O’ Peter, to learn from the law what the law did not know.”  (Rec., 2:54)

Is this also the source of Paul’s theology and system of interpretation? Is it possible that Paul believed scripture, and the Law, and its God, to be an imperfect shadow or reflection of a higher and perfect reality? Is this the concept behind Paul’s remark that the fleshly Israelites worship an “idol” at the Temple Altar–as stated in 1 Cor. 10:18–19? In numerous ways Paul can be shown to be dualistic, in that he often worked out dichotomies between spiritual and fleshly realities (e.g. Gal. 4:25–26, 2 Cor. 4:18). The passage above may be an important insight into the Hellenistic world of ideas from which Paul developed his own theology and mode of interpretation. This would explain how Paul arrived at the truth that Abraham was justified by faith alone, and that the Law was “ordained by angels.” Paul extracted these interpretations of scripture by looking for the higher spiritual reality that he believed was behind the overt language and meaning of the passages. I believe it is possible that this may be the historic truth about Paul, and his theology, that is concealed in the Clementines.

Paul’s peculiar mode of Bible interpretation corresponds to point number 3 as outlined above. Paul interpreted the Bible in such a way so as to deny that the Law was given directly by God, and to deny that observing the Law was necessary for salvation. Certainly this is in opposition to the priority that “Peter” placed on the “Law of God” in the Clementines as we have seen above. Paul’s devaluing of the Law, and of attributing the Law to angels, in turn corresponds to Simon’s impious opinion that the Lawgiver is not the supreme Being (Homily, 18:1; see archive article: On God and Justice).

Our next issue involves point number 4 and the criteria by which Apostolic authority is established. One aspect of this criteria is the question of whether one knows the teaching of Jesus better through supernatural visions, or through direct flesh and blood contact. This debate between Peter and Simon turns into a polemic against Simon that is completely out of context with his literary character—and only makes sense in the context of Paul. The first clue to this divergence is evident in Homily 17:14 where Peter attacks Simon because the latter claimed to have learned the teachings of Jesus through visions. In fact, Simon nowhere in the Clementines claims to have learned the teachings of Jesus from a vision; and he is portrayed as a critic of Jesus. The change in theme may very well be a clue that this polemic was originally directed against Paul, not Simon.

Paul in fact established his Apostolic authority on the basis of the claim that he encountered Jesus through supernatural visions. We have already noticed where in Galatians 1:16 Paul claims to have received his authority directly from Christ and not from any “flesh and blood” person—as claimed by the Twelve. In 2 Corinthians 5:13 Paul indicates that he was in the presence of the Lord while outside of his body. And in 2 Cor. 12:1–4 Paul again describes a supernatural experience where he ascended to the “third heaven.” And in Acts, a different form of this supernatural experience is attributed to Paul: where he encounters the risen Christ while on the road to Damascus, in what is meant to be understood as a supernatural encounter. For the skeptic or critic all of these claims either made by or attributed to Paul can be regarded as dreams or visions. In the Clementines “Peter” makes the point that a man who has such visions cannot be of greater authority than someone who was taught by the Lord in the flesh. Here are the words attributed to Peter:

“If, then, our Jesus appeared to you in a vision, made Himself known to you, and spoke to you, it was as one who is enraged with an adversary; and this is the reason why it was through visions and dreams, or through revelations that were from without, that He spoke to you. But can any one be rendered fit for instruction through apparitions? And if you will say, ‘It is possible,’ then I ask, ‘Why did our teacher abide and discourse a whole year to those who were awake?’ And how are we to believe your word, when you tell us that He appeared to you? And how did He appear to you, when you entertain opinions contrary to His teaching? But if you were seen and taught by Him, and became His apostle for a single hour, proclaim His utterances, interpret His sayings, love His apostles, contend not with me who companied with Him. For in direct opposition to me, who am a firm rock, the foundation of the Church, you now stand (Mt. 16:13–19). If you were not opposed to me, you would not accuse me, and revile the truth proclaimed by me, in order that I may not be believed when I state what I myself have heard with my own ears from the Lord, as if I were evidently a person that was condemned and in bad repute. But if you say that I am condemned (Gal. 1:9, 2:11f.), you bring an accusation against God, who revealed the Christ to me, and you inveigh against Him who pronounced me blessed on account of the revelation. But if, indeed, you really wish to work in the cause of truth, learn first of all from us what we have learned from Him, and, becoming a disciple of the truth, become a fellow-worker with us.” (Homily, 17:19)

Again, the above speech is completely out of context with Simon and his activities. Simon is not portrayed in the Clementines as claiming to be an Apostle and expositor of Christ’s teachings. Both the Homilies and Recognitions make clear that Simon believes that he, himself, is God; and it is in this context that he is the adversary of Christ and the Apostles. The accusations made by Peter above actually apply to Paul: It was Paul who claimed to have gained his Apostleship through supernatural encounters, or visions, of Jesus (Gal. 1:16, 2 Cor. 12:1). It was Paul who spread teachings in conflict with what the Apostles had learned from Jesus, and as preserved in the Gospel (cf. Mt. 19:16–17, Rom. 3:20, Gal. 5:4, 2 Cor. 3:7). It was Paul who mostly conveyed his own “gospel” apart from the teachings of Jesus as preserved in Matthew. It was Paul who opposed Peter at Antioch and who declared anyone as anathema who insisted on following the Law (Gal. 1:9, 2:11f.). It was Paul who conducted his own independent ministry apart from the 12 at Jerusalem—as Paul himself declared to the Galatians.

These points are relevant to point number 4 as outlined above. Paul established himself as an Apostle on the basis of a criteria that was not approved by the Apostles before him. And, there is evidence in both Galatians and Matthew to show that Paul used his authority to preach his own “gospel” and to oppose Peter (and James) at Antioch.

The natural consequence of Paul’s self-proclaimed Apostleship (as viewed by his critics) is that the Apostles before him found it necessary to arrest Paul’s ministry. This is relevant to point number 5; and there is evidence in the Clementines of a counter-ministry against Paul. Aside from the fact that Paul’s name is never mentioned in the Clementines there is the further glaring fact that only the “12” Apostles are mentioned, and no more. In this context the absence of Paul’s name is conspicuous. Only the 12 Apostles are allowed, and no more. Paul was never one of the 12. In light of this let’s consider this passage from the Recognitions:

“Wherefore observe the greatest caution, that you believe no teacher, unless he bring from Jerusalem the testimonial of James the Lord’s brother, or of whosoever may come after him. For no one, unless he has gone up thither, and there has been approved as a fit and faithful teacher for the preaching of the word of Christ—unless, I say, he brings a testimonial thence, is by any means received. But let neither prophet nor apostle be looked for by you at this time, besides us. For there is one true Prophet, whose words we twelve apostles preach…”  (Rec., 4:35)

In Recognition 4:36 “Peter” gives these examples of the false teaching of the false apostle:

“If any one withdraw from God the Father and Creator of all…” (Rec., 4:36)

And also,

“…to partake of the table of demons, that is, to taste things sacrificed [to idols].”

Note in Recognition 4:35 the mention of the exclusivity of the twelve apostles. This was undoubtedly directed at Paul because he definitely was not one of the Twelve. And in the first quote from 4:36 there is the question of theology: The twelve apostles hold YHWH to be “God the Father and Creator of all” (cf. Rec. 2:43). But it appears that Paul does not fit into this category. And we have noticed elsewhere that Paul’s theology is at variance with typical Judeo-Christian ideas. Paul claims that the Law was ordained by angels and does not admit that circumcision was given to Abraham by God. It may in turn be true that Paul does not believe in the same “Father and Creator of all” that the original Jewish Apostles identified with YHWH. Paul’s negative teachings on the Law can be construed as a rejection of YHWH.

Moreover Peter’s accusations cannot refer to Simon Magus because nowhere in the Clementines does Simon profess to be a follower of Christ or an apostle thereof. Thus Simon could not be construed to be an apostle, and he is presented as not wanting to be (Homily 17:20). Simon’s only goal in the Clementines is to refute Peter and preach his own doctrine in opposition to Christianity.

Also from Recognition 4:36 is the second quote in which there is the allegation regarding meat sacrificed to idols. And we know from 1 Corinthians 8 and 10 that Paul was very permissive on the issue of meats sacrificed to idols (cf. 1 Cor. 8:8–11; 10:25; see part I). Again, Paul’s flexibility on this matter is inconsistent with the edict from the Apostles at Jerusalem as per Acts 15:29, which edict is not corroborated by Paul in Galatians 2:10. From these diverse passages it is clearly evident that Paul was at variance with the Apostles at Jerusalem. The fact is that Paul ate meat sacrificed to idols, and he did not have a problem with his converts doing the same as long as it was not done in front of the weaker brethren (1 Cor. 8:7, 10).

We know furthermore that Paul inveighed against the Law overall in many of his letters; as we have noted above.

Next we must note that Recognitions 4:35 can be understood as referring to a counter-ministry against Paul. In this context the word is going to the churches that no teacher or “apostle” is to be accepted apart from the 12, and those “teachers” who bear a letter from James. Paul cannot be one these teachers because he declared himself to be an “Apostle.” The letters of Paul in turn reflect this counter-ministry and the accusations that were made against him. In 1 Corinthians Paul inquires regarding his accusers: “Am I not an apostle? Am I not free? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?” (1 Cor. 9:1). And in 2 Corinthians 11–12 Paul defends himself against adversaries who question his loyalty to Judaism and accuse him of being inferior to the Apostles (2 Cor. 11:1ff., 11:5, 11:22, 12:1ff., 12:11–12). And in Galatians Paul can appeal only to Jesus for support and not to the Apostles at Jerusalem (Gal. 1:10–12). To the contrary, Paul must explain why the opinions of the Apostles at Jerusalem don’t matter. And then in 2 Corinthians 3:1–2 Paul confesses that he has no letter of commendation from the Apostles. He writes instead to the Corinthians that “Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men.” Why can’t Paul appeal to Jerusalem for his authority?

The evidence above answers to point number 5 that the Clementines allude to a counter-ministry by the Apostles against Paul. Paul’s letters reflect a counter-ministry of some sort which inevitably leads to a discussion of the Apostles by name—and whom Paul declares his independence from. An important detail in relation to this is that Acts contains no account or insight on the adversaries that Paul struggled against while in Asia and Greece, and as alluded to in Galatians and 2 Corinthians 11, etc. And indeed there are numerous other passages throughout the Pauline letters which show that Paul is in the constant shadow of detractors who question his authority. Why does Acts say nothing about these adversaries who opposed Paul in Asia and Greece? Perhaps it is the Clementines which provide the clue—the clue moreover that no ‘orthodox’ Christian wants to accept. The Clementines fill in the blanks left by Acts and show that Paul’s enemies were none other than the Jewish Christians before him under the leadership of Peter and James.

The most important implication of the Clementines is that the early Church was deeply divided; and that Paul and Peter were the leaders of two primary quarrelling factions. Peter was head of the faction that emerged later as the Catholic Church (or was laid claim to by the latter). Paul was head of the faction which later emerged in the form of the diverse Gnostic movement. In the next section we will look at evidence from Acts, Paul and the Clementines which shows that the JerusalemChurch was in fact a deeply divided institution at a very early stage. And it may indeed be no coincidence that Paul, Simon Magus, Nicolaus and Stephen are all tied to a certain element within the early church; and which was at variance with the original Jewish Apostles from the beginning. (This issue will be addressed in part III of this series The Hebrew and Hellenist churches.) 

 

Why don’t the Clementines name Paul?

As a final word, I want to propose a theory as to why the Clementines don’t actually mention Paul by name. This omission may be due to the implications involved. It may be that the Clementines originate from a primary source that set forth a history that later Christians (i.e. Catholics) did not find edifying, and did not conform to popular but misinformed opinions (as reflected in Acts). I propose the theory that the source of the Clementines derives from an early Jewish/Ebionite Christian source that in turn derived from the original Jewish Church. This source explicitly named both Simon and Paul as enemies of the Church. This source later passed into the hands of early Catholic scribes. These scribes recognized the historical veracity of the source, but also felt that the source would only cause more division in an already deeply divided Christian movement. The Catholic clergy was insisting that Peter and Paul had no lasting feuds and were essentially unified. But the Clementine source said something different. Thus in order to promote the unity of the Christian movement (under Catholic authority) certain Catholic scribes redrafted this source and expunged Paul’s name from the text, and merged Paul’s character almost wholly into Simon’s. And for this reason the extant texts of the Clementines to this day contain poorly disguised attacks on Paul.

Now some of my readers may scoff at my propositions and say that there is no way that pious Christians would engage in the production of such elaborate forgeries. And this affords me the opportunity to discuss what I believe is one of the best examples of a pious Christian forgery. I refer to the New Testament book of 2 Peter.

First of all it should be known that in Roman times 2 Peter was rejected by many in the Catholic Church as a forgery. The Church historian Eusebius reports that 2 Peter was commonly rejected along with the Epistles of James, Jude, 2 and 3 John and the Revelation of John. And to this day these epistles are still omitted from the official lectionaries of some East Orthodox churches. [5]

Eusebius does not explain why 2 Peter was doubted or rejected, but a critical reading of the text will yield some clues. The first of these clues can be seen in chapter 3. Here the writer obviously alludes to a post-Apostolic situation in which the Apostles and first generation of Christians have passed away, yet the kingdom has still not arrived as prophesied (e.g. Mt. 24:34–35). The author writes: “Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers…saying, ‘Where is the promise of his coming? For since the fathers died all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation’.” (2 Peter 3:3–4)

This statement betrays the fact that this letter was written after the Apostolic age and refers to a crisis among Christians in that the ‘End’ has not arrived as expected. The phrase “since the fathers died” clearly refers to the first generation of Apostles, and to the prophecy attributed to Jesus: “Truly I say unto you, ‘This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled” (Mt. 24:34–35). Once the “generation” had passed an explanation had to be developed in order to answer the “scoffers.” The author, addressing this crisis in Peter’s name, offers his solution: “But beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” (2 Peter 3:8) The reader is now left with the paradox in that where Jesus actually promised Peter in Matthew that the end would come within that generation, someone in Peter’s name now says that “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years.” Obviously this is not what Jesus promised to Peter according to Matthew. Any sensible reader will recognize that the author of 2 Peter is using a poorly disguised stall tactic.

Another clue to the post-Apostolic and forged nature of 2 Peter can be seen in reference to Paul. The author refers to the controversial nature of Paul’s letters in which “are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.” (2 Peter 3:15–16) The give-away here is that this writer refers to Paul’s letters as “scripture” (graphas). It is highly unlikely that Paul’s letters would have been referred to as “scripture” on par with the Law and the Prophets—in his own lifetime. Certainly Peter would not have referred to these texts as “scripture.” The above passage also reflects a later situation that is consistent with the reports of the Catholic Fathers: sectarian groups were interpreting Paul’s letters in ways that were radically different from the emerging Catholic consensus. The Catholic Fathers report that the Gnostics and Marcionites placed an important emphasis on Paul’s writings, and derived their theologies accordingly. 2 Peter reflects this later situation in which Marcion and others had in fact elevated Paul’s letters to the status of “scripture.” The Catholic Fathers followed suit.

One more point to be noted is that the author refers to Paul, in Peter’s name, as a “brother” (3:14). But do Paul’s letters reflect this? I suspect that in reality Peter no more considered Paul a brother anymore than he can be shown to be the author of this untimely letter which has been so blatantly forged in his name.

Scholars in modern times doubt 2 Peter because of the nature of the Greek text. They believe it is improbable that the Greek reflects the Hebrew of a simple Jewish fisherman from the back country of Galilee [6]. I personally wonder whether Peter would have used expressions that would have required the use of such Greek words as “phosphoros” (i.e. “light-bearer” or Lucifer in Latin). In 2 Peter 1:19 “Peter” refers to a proper understanding of prophecy in terms of the “light-bearer rising in your hearts.” The term “light-bearer” was identified among pagan Greeks and Romans as the morning star. This star was regarded as a god which the Greeks named Phosphoros (or Eosphoros in Homeric Greek) and which the Romans named Lucifer [7]. In Isaiah 14:12–14 the “son of the morning” (MT) or “Eosphoros” (LXX) was identified with the king of Babylon, and which some have seen as a reference to Satan and the myth of Satan’s primeval fall from grace. Is Peter really the source of this enigmatic language in 2 Peter 1:19? The more plausible answer in my view is that this Epistle was written by an unscrupulous gentile in the mid second century. And again, in Eusebius’ day many ‘orthodox’ Christians did not trust it.

My point is that some early Christians felt no restraint or shame about picking up the pen, and writing some piece in an Apostle’s name in order to serve some purpose. More nefarious in my view is the practice of taking an existing text, written by someone important, and inserting new ideas into it. The author of the Revelation of John pronounced a curse on any scribe who added or deleted from the text. Another example can be seen with the writings attributed to the Apostolic Father Ignatius. His writings exist today in a most shameful and scandalous state. Someone took his last farewell letters and rewrote them and added all kinds of material—so that now there are three categories of the Ignatian letters: 1) the short recensions which are regarded as mostly authentic (but still doubted by some), and 2) there are the long recensions which are obviously the corrupted versions; and 3) there are the letters which are regarded by most scholars as complete forgeries. Anyone who seeks to learn the history of Christianity should look at the Ignatian Letters so that they can have some idea of what they are up against. Some early Christians had very loose ideas of integrity; and the legacy of Christianity is littered with forgeries and corruptions.

Again, I suggest that the Clementines are another such corruption. The purpose is to obscure a record of history that the emerging Catholic establishment found to be no longer edifying, or of use. It was no longer what people wanted to believe, and popular opinion and ignorance had led to a whole different formulation of history that appeared in the book of Acts. (And again, the Acts account doesn’t square with Paul; but Paul’s account can be harmonized with the Clementines.) Rather than suppress the Clementine record altogether, certain Catholic scribes re-drafted the source into two conflicting accounts. The purpose was to obscure the source so that no one would know which draft was correct. And in the process, Paul’s name, and his conflict with the Church at Jerusalem, was expunged and obscured. If someone wanted to obscure what they knew to be the real history, but did not want to delete it altogether, this is how they might have preserved it. Again, this would explain why we find poorly disguised attacks on Paul in the Clementines; and why Paul letters seem to harmonize with the Clementines and yet contradict the ‘correct’ view of history as recorded in Acts. —jw

  

Notes

1] A. Roberts, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 8, pg. 69f. F. Cross, Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd revised ed., Oxford University Press: London (2007), “Clementine Literature”, pg. 367f.

2] Ibid. The early Baptist historian Albert H. Newman believed that the Clementines were a Jewish/Christian attack on “Paulinism” (A Manual of Church History, vol. 1, American Baptist Pub. Society (1904), pg. 177). See also H.J. Schoeps, Paul: The Theology of the Apostle in the Light of Jewish Religious History, pg. 82f.

3] Clementine Homilies: Epistle of Peter to James, 2. Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 8, pg. 215.

4] That Paul had no lasting relationship with Peter is demonstrated in 1 Cor. 1:11–12 and 3:4–6. Here Paul laments that the Christian movement has become divided among numerous factions; some support Paul, others support Apollos, and others support “Cephas” or Peter. It is indeed significant that in 1 Cor. 1–3 Paul can make no appeal in Peter’s name for unity or moral support (cf. 1 Cor. 1:11–12, 3:4–6).

5] Eusebius, Church History, 3.3.1. (see also fn. 4), W. Kümmel, Introduction to the NT, pg. 433f. B. Metzger, Canon of the NT., pg. 220. Metzger also documents the historic dispute over the Catholic Epistles in Roman times; which included the Epistle of 2 Peter (ibid., pg. 209f.).

6] A. McNeile, An Introduction to the Study of the NT., 2nd ed., pg. 246. W. Kümmel, Introduction to the NT, pg. 431f.

7] E.g. Cicero, De Natura Deorum, 20:21–22. See my archive article Lucifer the light-bearer for more details.

By Jim West. Copyright © 2008, 2013. All Rights Reserved.

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