Posts Tagged Gnosticism

John the Baptist

Outside of Christian orthodoxy, John the Baptist has long been a figure associated with esoteric movements such as Freemasonry, the Knights Templar, the Mandeans and the Gnostics. According to the famous Masonic pontiff Albert Pike (33°) John symbolized the connection of esoteric Templar doctrine with early Christian Gnosticism (A. Pike, Morals & Dogma, pg. 817-18). In Mandean tradition John was regarded as the true Prophet in opposition to Jesus, who was condemned and denounced by the Mandeans (e.g. the Right Ginza; M. Meyer, The Gnostic Bible, pg. 550). And in Gnostic Christian tradition John is part of Sophia’s plan for salvation. The church father Irenaeus gives this report regarding this doctrine:

“They maintain that Sophia, herself has also spoken many things through [the prophets] regarding the first Anthropos (man), and concerning that Christ who is above, thus admonishing and reminding men of the incorruptible light, the first Anthropos, and of the descent of Christ. The [other] powers being terrified by these things, and marvelling at the novelty of those things which were announced by the prophets, [Sophia] brought it about by means of Ialdabaoth (who knew not what he did), that emissions of two men took place, the one from the barren Elizabeth, and the other from the Virgin Mary. (12) And since she herself had no rest either in heaven or on earth, she invoked her mother to assist her in her distress. Upon this, her mother, the first woman, was moved with compassion towards her daughter, on her repentance, and begged from the first man that Christ should be sent to her assistance, who, being sent forth, descended to his sister, and to the besprinkling of light. When he recognised her (that is, the Sophia below), her brother descended to her, and announced his advent through means of John, and prepared the baptism of repentance.” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1.30.11-12; cf. NHL: Testimony of Truth, 45; Valentinian Exposition, 40-41.)

In Gnostic thought & myth the original and spiritual act of repentance began with Sophia. And John the Baptist is the man, the vessel, through which her repentance is introduced to mankind. John is reported to have preached a “baptism for repentance and remission of sins” (Mt. 3:2, Lk. 3:3).

The theological context of John’s doctrine has long been a subject of dispute. In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus was challenged by the priests at Jerusalem. They inquired of him by what authority did he preach his doctrine (Mt. 21:23). Jesus turned the table and challenged them in return, saying “I will also ask you one thing, which if you tell me, I likewise will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, where is it from? from heaven? or from men?” (Mt. 21:24-25)

The priests declined to answer Jesus’s question because John was popular with the people. But privately they believed that John’s doctrine was heretical and contrary to the Law of Moses. Jesus likewise refused to answer their question. Now of course for the Gnostic reader Jesus was preaching on behalf of another God, which was why Jesus over-turned certain points in the Law of Moses on behalf of a “perfect” God as opposed to the “jealous” God of the Old Testament—providing that one is willing to recognize the contradictions in the Sermon on the Mount, between the passages in Matthew 5:17-19 & 5:38-48.

But outside of Matthew there is further evidence of the obscure nature of John’s theology. In the Gospel of John 1:17-18 this plain statement is attributed to John the Baptist:

“For the Law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No man has seen God at any time. The only-begotten Son, in the bosom of the Father, He has declared him.”

The theme that Moses does not represent the true God occurs throughout this gospel. In John 17:25 Jesus says plainly “Oh righteous Father, the world (kosmos) has not known you“. And in John 9:29 the Pharisees are reported to have responded to Jesus’s message thus: “We know that God spoke to Moses: as for this fellow, we not where he is from.” 

For open-minded and discerning readers it can be seen that there is the idea of another unknown God in the New Testament, and that this God and repentance is revealed through both John the Baptist and Jesus Christ. Now, setting the mythical narrative aside, we must consider the prospect that Jesus (or, the followers who invented “Jesus”) learned these ideas originally from John the Baptist. This prospect can be seen in the Gospel of Luke where the teaching connected with Jesus in Matthew 5 is attributed to John the Baptist in Luke 3:11, “He that has two coats, let him give to him that has none; and he that has meat, let him do likewise“. (cf. Mt. 5:41-42, Lk. 6:30a)

Like Matthew, Luke also has conflicting passages that reveal the presence of more than one theology, which in Luke can be seen in a comparison of Lk. 6:35-36 as compared with Lk. 4:8. Between these passages the discerning reader can see the contrast between the Good Father and the vindictive, Jealous God. (Surely it was conflicting passages like this that led Marcion to reject the version of Luke used by the Catholic Church of his day.)

Next we must note that in ancient sources the arch-heretic Simon Magus was also connected with John the Baptist and is said to have been John’s favorite disciple. Considering the evidence already presented above, we must consider the question: Did Simon also learn his ideas from John the Baptist?

According to another record known as the Clementine Homilies, which may originate from the Apostolic father Clement of Rome (a follower of Peter), it is stated that Simon was the favorite student of John the Baptist:

“But that [Simon] came to deal with the doctrines of religion happened on this wise. There was one John, a day-baptist, who was also, according to the method of combination, the forerunner of our Lord Jesus; and as the Lord had twelve apostles, bearing the number of the twelve months of the sun, so also he, John, had thirty chief men, fulfilling the monthly reckoning of the moon, in which number was a certain woman called Helena, that not even this might be without a dispensational significance. … But of these thirty, the first and the most esteemed by John was Simon…” (Clementine Homilies, 2.23; J. Donaldson, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 8, pg. 233.)

It is stated further in the Clementine Homilies that Simon eventually succeeded John the Baptist in the leadership of John’s order and ministry. Thus it is implied in this source that Peter’s struggle against Simon was a struggle against the movement founded by John the Baptist, subsequently under the leadership of Simon.

Moreover it is reported by the church fathers that Simon also taught the concept of another God above the God of the Mosaic Law. This passage from the Homilies is an example of Simon’s doctrine:

“When I went away yesterday, I promised to return today, and in a discussion show that he who framed the world is not the highest God, but that the highest God is another who alone is good, and who has remained unknown up to this time. … If then he is the Lawgiver, he is just; but if he is just, then he is not good. … Now a lawgiver cannot be both just and good, for these qualities do not harmonize.”  (Homily, 18:1)

One side-note here is that I do believe that the Clementine Homilies are ultimately a report of Peter’s battle against Paul, and is the back-ground of the conflict in Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians. In the interests of unity Catholic scribes replaced Paul’s name with Simon, thus allowing Paul’s ministry to be conflated with Simon’s ministry. On the other hand, it can be said that Paul and Simon shared many important ideas in common regarding theology, ethics and the Law of Moses. I provide a summary of these parallels in part two of my series St. Paul and the Apostolic Tradition: the Clementine Cover-up.

The passage quoted above is an example of a report from the church fathers accusing Simon of being the originator of Gnosticism, even in its Christian form–although Simon himself is said to have rejected Christianity altogether. Nonetheless it can be seen where Simon may have learned his ideas from John the Baptist. The church fathers report of Simon that he considered himself to be the supreme Being, that he himself was this other God. But these reports, which are derogatory and biased, have to be regarded with caution. Based on Simon’s teaching as preserved in the Great Announcement I understand Simon to mean that he was able realize what was present within himself as a potentiality. The church father Hippolytus is the one cleric who offers a rational comment on Simon’s teaching: “According to Simon, therefore, there exists that which is blessed and incorruptible in a latent condition in every one—potentially, not actually; and that this is He who stood, stands, and is to stand.” (Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies, 6:12)

Another example where John’s teaching may be echoed by Simon can be seen in the aforementioned Simonian treatise known as the Great Announcement as preserved by Hippolytus (Refutation of All Heresies, 6:11). In the passage cited, words are repeated that are also attributed to John the Baptist in Matthew 3:10 and Luke 3:9. Quoting from the Great Announcement: “If, however, a tree continues alone, not producing fruit fully formed, it is utterly destroyed. For somewhere near, he says, is the axe (which is laid) at the roots of the tree. Every tree, he says, which does not produce good fruit, is hewn down and cast into fire.” (ibid. 6:4, 11)

Reading the above passage it must be noted that the Great Announcement is not a Christian document. It is a work of Simonian philosophy and mysticism and has nothing to do with Jesus. Yet words are quoted here that resemble word-for-word a teaching attributed to John the Baptist. The context of Simon’s statement is that those people who do not bear spiritual fruit, meaning to realize the Divine potentiality within themselves, will be subject to a fiery condemnation. Is it possible that the Great Announcement contains the fullness of John the Baptist’s original teaching?

Now of course orthodox tradition makes out John’s words to be reference to the prophecy of Elijah in Malachi 4:1, 5; “For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.” … “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord”.

In my view there is not a clear match between John’s words and the passage above. The connection is purely the invention of orthodox scholars. Whereas it is entirely possible that the source and meaning of John’s words could lay elsewhere—hence the enduring connection of John with heresy or a whole other branch of philosophy.

Furthermore, the statement in the Gospels that John lived in the wilderness and wore a loin-clothe and subsisted on locusts and honey, may be regarded as an invention by Christians to make John appear inferior to Jesus. (Moreover, it may also be doubted that John ever literally deferred to Jesus as subsequent Christian traditions, orthodox or heretical, together maintain.) From the extant records it can be gathered that John was the son of a Jewish priest. This means that John was born into the upper class and had access to a good education. It is also known that the Jewish priesthood in Roman times was open to secularism; meaning that they were open to pagan culture and education in their private lives. Their very order existed because of King Herod (the Great) and the Roman state. It is within the realm of possibility that John was a highly educated man, educated in philosophy and Hellenistic culture. That John was known to Herod the Tetrarch and the religious leaders indicates that John was a man of respect. But then Herod came to resent John after he spread the family’s business among the people, if the report in the Gospels is accurate. Or Herod may have feared John’s popularity, as Josephus reports (Antiquities, 18.5.1-2).

Of course I am getting deep into speculation but I believe we should be careful of this traditional view that John was an eccentric who wandered around in a loin-clothe and ate insects. I suspect John was a man of much greater stature, and he had his own school. Some say that John was an Essene but there is not much by way of solid evidence to establish that connection. John may have had his own movement and his own ideas, and that’s why we never see John referred to as an “Essene” in historic texts. John is the man who may have inspired the early Hellenist & proto-Gnostic Christians like Paul, and perhaps laid the foundation for the Simonians and later the Mandeans. And it may very well be that because of the highly political nature of the evolution of dogma, that John the Baptist’s true place in that historic evolution has been concealed. To learn the truth about John is to pull on yet another thread that unravels the fabric of Christian orthodoxy. It is a veil that has remained in place for centuries. Nonetheless there is a counter-tradition of John the Baptist which has persisted like a shadow through the centuries. Mandeans, Templars and Freemasons all lay claim to an esoteric tradition that originated in part from John the Baptist. —jw

By Jim West. Copyright © May 5th 2015; revised May 10th, 2015.

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Proto-Gnostic Matthew: Introduction

Read the Proto-Gnostic Matthew, part I text part II text

In this project, the Proto-Gnostic Matthew, it is my hope to bring forth the spiritual essence of the Gospel of Matthew, which is to say, to bring forth the spiritual truth of the Gospel as the early Gnostics understood it. But it is important that my readers understand that this is not necessarily something that came straight from Jesus’s mouth, because the evidence in question is not that simple or harmonious. To be honest, I believe that the words compiled here were never literally spoken by an historical Jesus, and I will explain the reasons why below. Those words that probably were spoken by the historical Jesus will be compiled in a follow-up project called “Judean Matthew”. For me the evidence in Matthew shows that the spiritual essence of this Gospel emerged as part of a process of reflection and re-invention; a process which began when Jesus’s end-time prophecies failed to materialize, viz. that Jesus’s kingdom did not arrive at the end of his “generation” (e.g. Mt. 10:23, 16:28, 24:34-35).

All discerning readers and scholars are aware of this paradox and the fact that the Gospel message went through revision and re-invention. This evidence is still preserved in Matthew; and it can also be seen in the differences between Matthew and the Gospel of John. And the problem is stated explicitly in 2 Peter 3:3-8. In both the Gospel of John and in 2 Peter it can be seen how this original “end-time” Gospel message has been re-worked. In the Gospel of John the Kingdom becomes a spiritual reality and not an end-time expectation (Jn. 3:5-8). There is no clear end-time doctrine or second coming in John. And in 2 Peter we are introduced to the innovation that Jesus was never mistaken but that “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Pe. 3:3-8). Yet this is not what Jesus promised in Matthew: “Truly I say unto you, this generation shall not pass…” (Mt. 24:34, 10:23)

In Matthew it can be seen that two conflicting Gospel messages have been combined and one supercedes the other. In one Jesus sends his apostles to the Hebrews only; and he predicts an earthly kingdom, and that his disciples will not get through all the cities of Israel when it arrives (Mt. 10:5-6, 23). But then there is a second message which says that the Gospel must be preached in all the world first and then shall the kingdom arrive (Mt. 24:14, 28:18-20). What we have here is a process of reflection in which new ideas enter the picture.

From a Gnostic perspective the Gospel of John touches on the truth of the matter, that the kingdom is spiritual (whereas 2 Peter replaces one lie with another). And in John one can see where true spiritual inspiration has entered the process. The old end-time expectation has been replaced entirely by the spiritual Kingdom. And this was a situation where the Holy Spirit revealed itself through the writer’s process of repentance and reflection. A similar situation exists in the Gospel of Matthew: the old and original strata of the literal end-time prophecy is still present in the text (e.g. Mt. 10:23) and it even goes through a 2 Peter style twist (Mt. 24:14, 28:18f.). But even beyond this there was another teaching, and another meaning, that was introduced which was purely spiritual. This is what was inspired by the Holy Spirit upon repentance and reflection–that the true kingdom of Heaven, the kingdom of God, is a seed planted within a person, and not a literal worldly event.

In the Proto-Gnostic Matthew I endeavor to bring this latter message forth from the mainstream Gospel of Matthew as stated above, and to separate out the other theological and literal end-time elements, to get to the core of the true, spiritual message that is preserved in Matthew. Hence-forth the main-stream Matthew will be designated here as Catholic Matthew. And in my thesis there are at least three conflicting gospels preserved in Catholic Matthew: 1) the original Judean Gospel; 2) the Proto-Gnostic Gospel; and 3) the Catholic Gospel in which all these elements are preserved and which have been used to serve the interests of the later Catholic Church and reformations that followed. (Note: the Judean Gospel is comprised of two gospel themes: 1) the prophet who predicts the coming of the Messiah; and 2) the prophet who is identified with the Messiah. This will be documented in a seperate project which will be entitled Judean Matthew.)

An important note on the difference between the terms Gnostic and Proto-Gnostic, and how this applies my evaluation and editing of Catholic Matthew: The term Gnostic refers to the heretical movement as described by the Catholic Fathers. They describe a Gnostic movement that made full use of Catholic Matthew and attributed the diverse and conflicting elements to Sophia or the Demiurge (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.2.1.). The term Proto-Gnostic refers to an earlier period before the Catholic Church was organized and Catholic Matthew existed. In that earlier period the Gospel of Matthew existed in a different form as may be witnessed in the Gospel quotes of Justin Martyr and Clement of Rome (viz. 1 Clement). In both the sources mentioned the Gospel texts and passages from Matthew are quoted that do not match the Gospel of Matthew we know today, which first appears with the Catholic Fathers. In this context, the term Proto-Gnostic refers to a writer who was already expressing ideas that resembled and certainly did inspire later Gnostic thought, viz. the theme that Jesus came to reveal an unknown Father, a spiritual kingdom and a spiritual seed. Our present Gospel of Matthew contains these ideas which were added to the Judean Gospel at a time before Catholic orthodoxy was clearly defined, and gentile Christians and Hellenist Jews were open to a multitude of concepts that did not conform to the original Judean Gospel. Both of these conflicting themes, these conflicting forms of theology and spirituality, remain preserved in our present Gospel of Matthew, viz. Catholic Matthew.

In light of the confusion that remains preserved in Catholic Matthew I believe that modern Gnostics (or aspiring Gnostics) need their own version of Matthew and I submit this text as an alternative–mostly cleansed of other ecclesiastical or theological agendas. These teachings are a rich source of spiritual insight and can allow modern readers to understand why the Gospel of Matthew was so important to early Gnostics.

It may be a helpful note here for some readers, for the sake of context, that the diseases and curses healed by Jesus were the very curses prescribed in the Law of Moses, in Deuteronomy 28:15ff. Jesus is portrayed as accomplishing these things by the power of a “secret” and “perfect” Father who was unknown to Moses. These statements can be found in the text, and with so many irrelevant passages removed, I hope this message will be more clear and coherent.

Proto-Gnostic Matthew part I covers the first 13 chapters of Catholic Matthew, with either parts or all of chapters 1, 2, 4, 10 and 11 removed; and the remaining text edited and re-organized into 11 new chapters. Proto-Gnostic Matthew part II continues with the beheading of John the Baptist which begins with chapter 12 (Catholic Matthew 14) and covers chapters 14 – 26 of Catholic Matthew, with most of chapters 15 – 26 edited or removed, and chapters 27 – 28 omitted. The remaining text is consolidated into six new chapters, 12 – 17. Part II ends with a concluding essay on the Crucifixion myth. This text is subject to revision at any time as may be necessary due to further study or helpful feedback from readers.

And finally, if you consider yourself a Gnostic and you choose to believe that Jesus actually did speak the words compiled here, then I want to assure you that I respect your position–and there is nothing in the text that will threaten or interfere with your vision. I have stated my position here in the Intro not to dictate correct doctrine, but so that you the reader would know something about my mindset and my method for compiling this text. — jw (revised June 10, 2013)

Read the Proto-Gnostic Matthew, part I text part II text

By Jim West. Copyright © April 7, revised November 18, 2013. All Rights Reserved.

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Proto-Gnostic Matthew I

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PROTO-GNOSTIC MATTHEW, PART I

[Catholic Matthew 1:1-17, Christ’s geneology; omitted. In Gnostic thought Christ is sent from above and his connection to any earthly family is irrelevant (cf. Jn. 7:40-44). In the gospels of Mark and John the geneology is omitted; and a contrary geneology is recorded in Luke.]

[Catholic Matthew 1:18-2:23, the Nativity; omitted. The Nativity has been omitted based on the following factors: Both Mark and John omit the Nativity and Luke contains a contradictory account. Moreover the Gnostic tradition of the Nativity more often reflects the Lukan account as opposed to Matthew (e.g. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1.30.11-12; cf. the Mandean Ginza viz. John the Baptist, M. Meyer, The Gnostic Bible, pg. 550). And finally, the version in Matthew is contradicted by other passages internally which show that no miracle ever took place that was connected with Jesus’s mother, viz. CM. 12:46-50, 13:54-58. The passages cited indicate that the Nativity was never part of the original text of Matthew; it was added later.]

I. THE MINISTRY OF JOHN THE BAPTIST. JOHN CONDEMNS THE SADDUCEES AND PHARISEES AND TESTIFIES OF JESUS, THAT HE WILL SEPARATE THE WHEAT FROM THE CHAFF (THE SPIRITUAL FROM THE MATERIAL). JESUS IS BAPTIZED BY JOHN. [CM. 3:1-17]

(A note on John the Baptist for context: in at least two historic sources John the Baptist is credited as being the god-father of Gnosticism. The Mandeans considered John to be the Christ of their sect. And in the Clementine Homilies Simon Magus is said to have learned his doctrine from John [1]. Most noteworthy here is John’s doctrine of wrath. Simon had a similar doctrine that condemned false religion and predicted a final dissolution of the cosmos, presumably dissolved in fire, so that Simon’s elect can be redeemed, viz. the Great Announcement; Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies, 6:14; Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1.23.3.) 

In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord (Kuriou), make his paths straight” (Isaiah, 40:3). And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey. (Note: in Gnostic thought Isaiah 40 can be seen as a cryptic reference to Sophia. Cf. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1.5.3.)

Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: And think not to say within yourselves, that you have Abraham for your father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. (Cf. John 8:39, 44; 1:17-18)

And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. (Note: this passage can be compared to Simon’s teaching from the Great Announcement as reported by Hippolytus: “If, however, a tree continues alone, not producing fruit fully formed, it is utterly destroyed. For somewhere near, he [Simon] says, is the axe (which is laid) at the roots of the tree. Every tree, he says, which does not produce good fruit, is hewn down and cast into fire”; Refutation of All Heresies, 6:11. Cf. NHC: Gospel of Philip, 83)

I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit, and with fire: Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. (Cf. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1.3.5. Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies, 6:11. Note: it is not assumed here that John’s words have any connection with the prophecy of Elijah in Malachi 4:1-6. [2])

Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him. (Note: John’s supposed subservience to Jesus is more than likely an invention of the proto-Gnostic writer and we should not assume that this was part of John’s original doctrine. In Catholic Matthew 3:1-17 it may be understood that Jesus’s ministry and teaching are connected symbolically with the dispensation of John the Baptist. In the bias of Proto-Gnostic Matthew (and Catholic Matthew) Jesus is assigned priority over John; but at the same time, Jesus’s ministry and wisdom begin with John.)

And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

[Catholic Matthew 4:1-10, the Temptation; omitted. This passage runs contrary to Gnostic thought as Jesus here appeals three times to the Lawgiver of the books of Moses. In other parts of Matthew Jesus appeals to another, unknown God, e.g. CM. 5:43-48, 6:6, 11:27. These passages are contrary to the theology in CM. 4:1-10.]

II. JOHN THE BAPTIST IS IMPRISONED. JESUS GOES TO CAPERNAUM AND BEGINS PREACHING THE GOSPEL OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. SIMON PETER, ANDREW, JAMES AND JOHN ARE CALLED. JESUS PERFORMS HEALINGS AND EXORCISMS. [CM. 4:12-5:2]

Now when Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison, he departed into Galilee; he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying,

“The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles; The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.” (Isaiah, 9:1-2)

From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed him.

And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them. And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him.

And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people.

And his fame went throughout all Syria: and they brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatick, and those that had the palsy; and he healed them.

And there followed him great multitudes of people from Galilee, and from Decapolis, and from Jerusalem, and from Judaea, and from beyond Jordan. And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him:

And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,

III. THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT: THE BEATITUDES; ON JUSTICE, NEIGHBORS AND ENEMIES [CM. 5:3-4, 6-10, 20, 38-39, 25, 40-48]

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

[Catholic Matthew 5:5, “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth”; omitted. This phrase is part of the failed end time prophecy which I have discussed in the Introduction, e.g. CM. 10:23, 24:34. The rest of the passage, viz. CM. 5:3-10, is consistent with a spiritual teaching.]

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.

Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. (The Sermon on the Mount continues with CM. 5:38 below.)

[Catholic Matthew 5:11-16, on persecution and being a light to the world; omitted. These themes are contrary to the teachings in CM. 6:1-6 where the disciples are told to perform their alms and prayers in secret, and that they have no reward if they perform them openly.]

[Catholic Matthew 5:17-19, not one stroke or dot of the Law has passed; omitted. This passage is an injunction from a Jewish Christian directed against St. Paul. Internally, the passage is absolutely contrary to what follows in CM. 5:38-48.]

[Catholic Matthew 5:21-37, on murder, grudges, adultery, divorce and oaths; omitted. This passage contains the ideas of a Jewish Christian reformer who seeks to establish a new ethic within the boundaries of the Law of Moses, and not contrary to it. What follows in CM. 5:38 onward is completely contrary to the Law and all the ideas preceding from CM. 5:17-37. Starting with verse 38 parts of the Law are being abolished. Also, I find it unlikely that the rhetoric about the “valley of Hinnom” (translated as “Hell” in the KJV [3]) would have come from a proto-Gnostic writer.]

Ye have heard that it hath been said, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” (Ex. 21:24, Lv. 24:20, Dt. 19:21): But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Truly I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing. (Cf. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1.25.4.)

And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.

Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.

Ye have heard that it hath been said, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy” (Lev. 19:18, Dt. 23:3-6).

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? (Cf. Catholic Matthew 10:5-9, 15:22-26)

Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

IV. SERMON ON THE MOUNT: ON THE GIVING OF ALMS, ON PRAYER TO THE SECRET FATHER, ON FASTING AND MATERIAL POSSESSIONS, THE SINGLE EYE LIGHTS THE BODY [CM. 6:1-13a, 14-34]

Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.

Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Truly I say unto you, They have their reward.

But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee. (Note: Clearly this contradicts the words in the Similitudes, viz. CM. 5:14-16.)

And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Truly I say unto you, They have their reward.

But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret (krypto); and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee. [4]

But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the hypocrites do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.

After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: (Note: this phrase in Catholic Matthew 6:13b “for thine is the kingdom, and power, and the glory. Amen” is not found in the earliest and most reliable manuscripts.)

For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Truly I say unto you, They have their reward.

But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee. [3]

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

The light of the body (somatos) is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.

But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?

Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?

Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?

And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?

Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

V. SERMON ON THE MOUNT: JUDGE NOT; THE HOLY AND THE PROFANE; SEEK AND YE SHALL FIND; THE GREATEST COMMANDMENT; THE NARROW GATE; THE GOOD AND EVIL FRUIT. [CM. 7:1-20, 24-29]

Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?

Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?

If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?

Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.

Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.

A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

[Catholic Matthew 7:21-23, “Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord… depart from me ye that work lawlessness”; omitted. This passage is evidently a polemic against St. Paul and his teaching on the Law of Moses.]

Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.

And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.

And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.

VI. JESUS HEALS THE LEPER, AND THE CENTURION’S SERVANT; THE “OUTTER DARKNESS”; PETER’S MOTHER-IN-LAW IS HEALED; THE SON OF MAN HAS NOWHERE TO LAY HIS HEAD. “LET THE DEAD BURY THE DEAD” THE SEA IS STILLED; DEMONS ARE CAST INTO SWINE [CM. 8:1-9:1]

When he was come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed him. And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean?

And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.

And Jesus saith unto him, See thou tell no man; but go thy way, shew thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them.

And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him, And saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented. And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him.

The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed.

For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it. (Cf. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1.7.4.)

When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Truly I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.

And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour.

And when Jesus was come into Peter’s house, he saw his wife’s mother laid, and sick of a fever. And he touched her hand, and the fever left her: and she arose, and ministered unto them.

When the evening was come, they brought unto him many that were possessed with devils: and he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses. (Isaiah, 53:4)

Now when Jesus saw great multitudes about him, he gave commandment to depart unto the other side.

And a certain scribe came, and said unto him, Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.

And another of his disciples said unto him, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead.

And when he was entered into a ship, his disciples followed him. And, behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves: but he was asleep. And his disciples came to him, and awoke him, saying, Lord, save us: we perish.

And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm. But the men marvelled, saying, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him!

And when he was come to the other side into the country of the Gergesenes, there met him two possessed with devils, coming out of the tombs, exceeding fierce, so that no man might pass by that way.

And, behold, they cried out, saying, What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God? art thou come hither to torment us before the time?

And there was a good way off from them an herd of many swine feeding. So the devils besought him, saying, If thou cast us out, suffer us to go away into the herd of swine.

And he said unto them, Go. And when they were come out, they went into the herd of swine: and, behold, the whole herd of swine ran violently down a steep place into the sea, and perished in the waters.

And they that kept them fled, and went their ways into the city, and told every thing, and what was befallen to the possessed of the devils.

And, behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus: and when they saw him, they besought him that he would depart out of their coasts. And he entered into a ship, and passed over, and came into his own city.

VII. JESUS CLAIMS THE POWER TO FORGIVE SINS; IS ACCUSED OF BLASPHEMY. MATTHEW IS CALLED. PHARISEES ACCUSE JESUS OF CAROUSING WITH PUBLICANS AND SINNERS. THE FOLLOWERS OF JOHN THE BAPTIST LIKEWISE ACCUSE JESUS AND HIS DISCIPLES OF IMPIETY. JESUS SPEAKS OF THE BRIDAL CHAMBER; A WOMAN WITH AN ISSUE OF BLOOD IS HEALED. A RULER’S DAUGHTER IS HEALED. TWO BLIND MEN ARE HEALED; JESUS IS BETRAYED. A DEMON IS CAST FROM A DUMB MAN; THE DUMB MAN SPEAKS. THE PHARISEES ACCUSE JESUS OF DOING THE DEVIL’S WORK. THE HARVEST; JESUS CALLS HIS TWELVE DISCIPLES [CM. 9:2-10:4]

And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee. (Cf. Dt. 28:15ff., 28:21-22)

And, behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, This man blasphemeth. And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts?

For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk? (Note: if Jesus has the power to forgive sins, then why is it necessary for him to go to the cross as a “ransom” as stated in Catholic Matthew, 20:28?)

But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house. And he arose, and departed to his house.

But when the multitudes saw it, they marvelled, and glorified God, which had given such power unto men.

And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him. (Note: Matthew obviously did not write this.)

And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples.

And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?

But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice (Ps. 40:6): for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

Then came to him the disciples of John, saying, Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not?

And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bridechamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast.

No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse.

Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.

While he spake these things unto them, behold, there came a certain ruler, and worshipped him, saying, My daughter is even now dead: but come and lay thy hand upon her, and she shall live.

And Jesus arose, and followed him, and so did his disciples.

And, behold, a woman, which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind him, and touched the hem of his garment: For she said within herself, If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 2.20.1.)

But Jesus turned about, and when he saw her, he said, Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole. And the woman was made whole from that hour.

And when Jesus came into the ruler’s house, and saw the minstrels and the people making a noise, He said unto them, Give place: for the maid is not dead, but sleepeth. And they laughed him to scorn.

But when the people were put forth, he went in, and took her by the hand, and the maid arose.

And the fame hereof went abroad into all that land.

And when Jesus departed thence, two blind men followed him, crying, and saying, Thou son of David, have mercy on us.

And when he was come into the house, the blind men came to him: and Jesus saith unto them, Believe ye that I am able to do this? They said unto him, Yea, Lord.

Then touched he their eyes, saying, According to your faith be it unto you.

And their eyes were opened; and Jesus straitly charged them, saying, See that no man know it.

But they, when they were departed, spread abroad his fame in all that country.

As they went out, behold, they brought to him a dumb man possessed with a devil. And when the devil was cast out, the dumb spake: and the multitudes marvelled, saying, It was never so seen in Israel.

But the Pharisees said, He casteth out devils through the prince of the devils.

And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.

But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.

Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.

And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease.  

Now the names of the twelve apostles are these; The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip, and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the publican; James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus; Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him.

[Catholic Matthew 10:5-33, Jesus’s instruction to his Apostles, viz. preach to Israelites only, the kingdom will arrive before all the cities are reached (CM. 10:5-6, 23, etc.); omitted. This entire passage clearly belongs to the earliest stratum of the Judean Gospel and is contradicted by other passages in Catholic Matthew, e.g. CM. 24:14, 28:19.]

VIII. JOHN THE BAPTIST’S FOLLOWERS QUESTION JESUS. BOTH JESUS AND JOHN ARE REJECTED BY MANY IN SPITE OF THEIR WORKS. “SOPHIA IS JUSTIFIED BY HER WORKS” [CM. 11:2-9, 11-13, 15-21]

Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, And said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?

Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see:The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.

And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.

And as they departed, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind? But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses.

But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet. Truly I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.

[Catholic Matthew 11:10, 14, John the Baptist is the fore-runner and messenger for Jesus, John is Elijah, Malachi 3:1, 4:4-6; omitted. The passages from Malachi 3:1, 4:4-6 may originate from a Catholic scribe who wanted to place John within a prophetic theological framework that made him subordinate to Jesus and also a follower of the Law of Moses. But it is an open question as to whether John followed Jesus or the Law–as this overall passage already suggests, implying that John rejected Jesus. Regarding John’s doctrine and the Law see CM. 21:23-26 and also Clementine Homilies, 2:23, where Simon Magus’s teaching is said to originate from John the Baptist.]

But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows, And saying, We have played the flute unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented.

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil. The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners.

But Sophia is justified by her works (sophia apo ton ergon autes).

Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not: Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.

[Catholic Matthew 11:22-24, condemnation of the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum; omitted. The condemnation prophesied here belongs to the original Judean “end time” theme and is inconsistent with the repentant spirit of the proto-Gnostic Gospel, i.e. rejecting the literal end-time prophecy.]

IX. JESUS COMES TO SET MAN AT ODDS WITH THE DEMIURGE, FAMILY AND TRADITION. JESUS SPEAKS AGAINST THE AUTHORITY OF MOSES: “ONLY THE SON KNOWS THE FATHER”. [CM. 10:34-42, 11:25-30]

Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. (Cf. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1.3.5.)

For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. (Cf. Malachi, 4:4-6)

He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. (Irenaeus, ibid.)

He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.

He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.

He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward; and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward.

And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, truly I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.

At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord (kurie) of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. (Note: the Greek word for Lord in this passage is Kurie rather than Kurios; the latter being the word used in reference to a divine being; cf. Catholic Matthew 4:10 “for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God (Kurion ton Theon), and him only shalt thou serve”. Whereas Kurie is informal and is the equivalent of calling someone “sir”, e.g. Catholic Matthew 13:27 “So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir (Kurie), didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares?“)

Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight.

All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him. (Catholic Matthew 11:27. Note: Irenaeus refers to this passage as the “crown” of Gnostic doctrine, viz. the Marcosians; Against Heresies, 1.20.3.)

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

X. THE PHARISEES ACCUSE JESUS AND HIS DISCIPLES OF VIOLATING THE SABBATH. JESUS HEALS BUT COMMANDS SILENCE. THE PHARISEES PLOT AGAINST JESUS AND BLASPHEME THE HOLY SPIRIT. THE SIGN OF JONAH IS GIVEN. JESUS REJECTS HIS FLESHLY MOTHER AND BROTHERS [CM. 12:1-40, 46-50] 

At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungred, and began to pluck the ears of corn and to eat.

But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day.

But he said unto them, Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungred, and they that were with him; How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests? (1 Sam. 21:6, Lev. 24:5-9, Ex. 29:32)

Or have ye not read in the law, how that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless? (Numbers 28:9-10) But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple.

But if ye had known what this meaneth, “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice”, (Hosea 6:6, Ps. 40:6) ye would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of man is Lord (Kurios) even of the sabbath day. (Note: Hosea 6:6 and Psalms 40:6 are key passages that contradict the Law of Moses.)

And when he was departed thence, he went into their synagogue: And, behold, there was a man which had his hand withered. And the Pharisees asked him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days? that they might accuse him.

And he said unto them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out? How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do good on the sabbath days.

Then saith he to the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it forth; and it was restored whole, like as the other.

Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him. But when Jesus knew it, he withdrew himself from thence: and great multitudes followed him, and he healed them all; And charged them that they should not make him known: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying,

“Behold my servant, whom I have chosen; my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased: I will put my spirit upon him, and he shall shew judgment to the Gentiles. He shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory. And in his name shall the Gentiles trust.” (Isaiah, 42:1-4 LXX. Cf. Catholic Matthew 10:5-6, 15:22-26)

Then was brought unto him one possessed with a devil, blind, and dumb: and he healed him, insomuch that the blind and dumb both spake and saw. And all the people were amazed, and said, Is not this the son of David?

But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils.

And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand: And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand?

And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children cast them out? therefore they shall be your judges. But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you.

Or else how can one enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house.

He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad. Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit shall not be forgiven unto men.

And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this aion, neither in the one to come.

Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and its fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by its fruit.

O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. For by your words ye shall be justified, and by your words ye shall be condemned. 

Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee.

But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonah (Jonah, 1:17): For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Note: the words expressed here can be taken to be symbolic of the death and rebirth of god as taught in the Mystery religions. See my essay at the conclusion of Proto-Gnostic Matthew part II for more details.)

[Catholic Matthew 12:41-45, the men of Ninevah and the queen of the south will rise to condemn this “generation”; omitted. Again, this is the expression of a failed prophecy and is an expression of condemnation that is inconsistent with the spirit of repentance and mercy.]

While he yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him. Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee.

But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren!

For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother. (Note that there is no mention here of the miraculous role that Jesus’s mother supposedly played in his own conception and birth! This can only mean that the infancy narrative was never a part of these teachings. This passage here was a very important factor in my decision to remove the Nativity as found in Catholic Matthew 1:18-2:23.)

XI. THE PARABLE OF SOILS. JESUS CONCEALS THE MYSTERIES OF THE KINGDOM IN PARABLES. THE PARABLE OF THE WHEAT AND TARES (A METAPHOR FOR PSYCHIC AND HYLIC SOULS) . THE PARABLES OF THE MUSTARD SEED, THE LEAVEN (SOPHIA), THE HIDDEN TREASURE, THE PEARL, THE NET, THE HOUSE-HOLDER. JESUS REJECTED IN NAZARETH. [CM. 13:1-58]

The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the sea side. And great multitudes were gathered together unto him, so that he went into a ship, and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore.

And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow; And when he (auton) sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up: Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.

And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them: But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.

And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables?

He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.

And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, which saith,

“By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.” (Isaiah, 6:9-10)

But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear. For Truly I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.

Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower. When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side.

But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and immediately with joy receiveth it; Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.

He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.

But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.

Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, “Sir (Kurie), didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares?”

He said unto them, “An enemy hath done this”. The servants said unto him, “Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?” But he said, “Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.” (Note: the reference to the “enemy” and the “tares” would be meaningful to cosmic dualists who held that there was a completely separate, evil principle in the universe that was outside of God’s control and existed in spite of God’s will and not because of it.)

Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.

Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.

All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, “I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.” (Psalms, 78:2/ 77:2 LXX)

Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field.

He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man [5]; The field is the kosmos; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; The enemy that sowed them is the devil (diabolos); the harvest is the end of the Aion; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this Aion. (Note: the reference to the “devil” and “children of the wicked one” would be meaningful to cosmic dualists such as the Manicheans and Albigensians, who taught that there was an evil principle that existed separate from and was outside of God’s control.)

The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; that which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: Which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away. So shall it be at the end of the Aion: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Jesus saith unto them, Have ye understood all these things? They say unto him, Yea.

Then said he unto them, Therefore every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old.

And it came to pass, that when Jesus had finished these parables, he departed thence. And when he was come into his own country, he taught them in their synagogue, insomuch that they were astonished, and said, Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this man all these things? And they were offended in him.

But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house. And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief.

Read the Proto-Gnostic Matthew, part II text

Notes

1] The Mandean sect and John the Baptist, viz. the Right Ginza; M. Meyer, The Gnostic Bible, pg. 550. Simon Magus learned his doctrines, viz. “Helena”, from John the Baptist, Clementine Homilies, 2.23; J. Donaldson, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 8, pg. 233.

There are at least three concepts in Catholic Matthew 3:1-17 that resonate with Gnostic thought:

i) John’s opposition to the Sadducees and Pharisees who symbolize the established, organized religious order; ii) the tree which does not bear good fruit cf. Jesus’ saying that an evil tree cannot produce good fruit, CM. 7:18-20; iii) the separation of the wheat from the chaff, which in Gnostic thought represents the separation of spiritual and material substance cf. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1.3.5., NHC: Gospel of Mary, 7-8, Paul, 1 Corinthians 15:50.

The rhetoric about the “wrath to come” and the burning of branches need not be construed to be a reference to an end time Messianic prophecy but may refer to a cosmic dissolution as taught by Simon Magus or the Valentinians (e.g. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1.7.1., 1.23.3.; Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies, 6:11, 14). 

2] In orthodox tradition John the Baptist’s doctrine of judgment and the burning of branches is connected with the prophecy of Elijah in Malachi 4:1, 5; “For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.” … “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord”.

Whether or not there was an original connection between John and Elijah is a whole other matter. It is also, in my view, an unproven assertion that the words attributed to John in CM. 3:10-12 ever had any connection with Malachi; while it is obvious that these words do resonate with the words attributed to Jesus in CM. 7:18-20 and the teachings of Simon Magus, who is said to be the disciple of John. Again it must be noted that Simon Magus also had a doctrine that condemned false religion and predicted a final dissolution of the cosmos, presumably dissolved in fire, so that Simon’s elect can be redeemed (viz. the Great Announcement; Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies, 6:11, 14; Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1.23.3.).

3] The valley of Hinnom (Gehenna) was located on the South side of the ancient city of Jerusalem. In pre-Israelite times it was said to be a place where human sacrifices were carried out. In Roman times it was said to be a place where the residents of Jerusalem dumped their refuse, and where corpses that did not merit a proper burial were burned.

Among Jews and early Christians the valley of Hinnom became a metaphor for a place of punishment in the after-life. In the King James translation Gehenna was translated as “hell”, and “Gehenna tou puros” as “hell fire” (e.g. CM. 5:22).

4] The King James translation has “the Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward you openly”. However the oldest and most reliable Greek manuscripts have no word for “openly” or any reference to openness.

5] Catholic Matthew 13:37, “He that soweth the good seed (sperma) is the Son of man“. An insight on how Gnostics read this passage and how they conceptualized the “Son of man” may be seen in this passage from the Nag Hammadi text Eugnostos the Blessed, 81-82: “Then Son of Man consented with Sophia, his consort, and revealed a great androgynous Light. His masculine name is designated Savior, Begetter of All things. His feminine name is designated Sophia, All-Begettress. Some call her Pistis (faith).”

By Jim West. Copyright © March 11; revised September 16, 2013. All Rights Reserved.

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St. Paul and the Apostolic Tradition I

(Sub-title: Did Paul really submit to the so-called “Twelve” Apostles?)

Back in the days of the Catholic Fathers early Christianity was a deeply divided movement. Based on what the Fathers reported, early Christians often shared little in common other than the name “Christian” and a belief in someone named “Jesus.” Aside from this, the early “Christian” movement had no unity or sense of itself. The early Christian movement was divided among numerous dissenting sects which disagreed radically on even the most fundamental dogmas. Thus one Christian’s “Creator God” was another Christian’s “devil.” And one Christian’s “flesh and blood” Messiah was another Christian’s other-worldly phantom. Some Christians believed that Jesus came to save the flesh; others believed He came to destroy the flesh. Some Christians believed that Jesus wanted his followers to obey the Law of Moses; others believed that Jesus came to destroy the Law. Some Christians believed that the Law was given by God; others said this Law was given by lower angels who opposed God. Indeed no other religious movement in history was so profoundly divided as were the early Christians.

Yet another issue which divided early Christians was the basic concept of history. What was the history of the early Church and the Apostles? What did the Apostles teach—and did they agree on what Jesus taught? Who was the most important of the Apostles? Was it Peter?—or Paul? Were Peter and Paul brothers in the ministry? —or were they enemies? Once again early Christians were divided over these kinds of questions (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.13f., 15; Tertullian, On Prescription Against Heretics, 23f.).

The writings of the Catholic Fathers provide a valuable historic record of one faction—the Catholic Church—which tried to provide the ‘correct’ answers to all these questions, whether they concerned history or theology. All of the ‘correct’ answers came to be known as “orthodoxy” and all of the wrong answers came to be known as “heresy” —meaning that all the wrong answers were derived from the numerous “sectarian” churches or factions. Our word “sect” is the modern English equivalent of the ancient Greek word for sect(s) “aireseis” (=heresies). Today “heresy” is synonymous with wrong or evil doctrine. In ancient times it was associated with the ‘wrong’ or ‘evil’ doctrines which were taught by other sects which also called themselves “Christian” and who professed to know the sacred history of the Gospel. The Catholic Father Tertullian described the word “heresy” also in terms of the word choice, which is another meaning of the word. This refers to the notion that sectarians split from the original church and doctrine because they chose to believe something different (Tertullian, ibid., 6).

In opposition to all the other “Christians” (i.e. the Gnostics, Marcionites, Ebionites, etc.) the Catholic Fathers advanced their ‘correct’ version of history which they referred to as the “tradition of the Apostles” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.3.1., Tertullian, On Prescription Against Heretics, 20, 21). Also referred to as the “Apostolic Tradition”, this term refers to the standard theology and history which are at the foundation of all Christian orthodoxy. This “tradition” maintains that all the Apostles were 1) in complete agreement on the doctrine that Jesus taught, 2) that Jesus was a “flesh and blood” being, and 3) that Jesus revealed no other God above the Creator as the heretics often insisted. The Apostles in turn imparted this ‘correct’ tradition to their disciples who are designated, according to tradition, as the “Apostolic Fathers” (e.g. Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Papias, Polycarp of Smyrna, etc.). The “Apostolic Fathers” were those men who supposedly spent their youth in the company of the Apostles and learned directly from them; and who in turn handed the ‘correct’ tradition down through a succession of Catholic bishops.

On the historical record Irenaeus of Lyons (c. 130–202) was the first Catholic writer to set forth this concept of an Apostolic Tradition and succession (Irenaeus, ibid., 3.2.2–3). It must be noted of course that Irenaeus’s concepts were directed against other traditions which were advanced by the “Gnostics” and other heretical groups who had their own versions of the “Apostolic Tradition” (e.g. Ptolemy, Letter to Flora)[1]. Irenaeus’s basic summary of the ‘correct’ Apostolic history and theology is described in the following words:

“For after our Lord rose from the dead, the apostles were invested with power from on high…who indeed do all equally and individually possess the Gospel of God. Matthew issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon his breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia. (2) These have declared unto us that there is one God, Creator of heaven and earth, announced by the law and the prophets; and one Christ, the Son of God. If anyone do not agree to these truths, he despises the companions of the Lord; nay more, he despises Christ Himself the Lord; yea, he despises the Father also, and stands self-condemned, resisting and opposing his own salvation, as is the case with the heretics.” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.1.1–2. Emphasis added.)

I wish to stress the point to my readers that that the whole “orthodox” notion of history has its beginning with the words of Irenaeus above (A. Harnack, History of Dogma, vol. 2, pg. 16; W. Bauer, Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity, pg. 151; Eusebius, Church History, 4:21). Moreover, Irenaeus is the first to quote the New Testament Gospels and Epistles by all the names we know today. Irenaeus is the first to quote scripture by the names of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and to quote all of Paul’s letters by name. Before him the Gospels are never quoted by name in the literature of the Apostolic Fathers. Justin Martyr, who lived in the generation before Irenaeus, quoted the Gospels as “memoirs of the Apostles” but never by name (Harnack, ibid., pg. 41). Only with Irenaeus do these writings all of a sudden have names—although the extant manuscripts to this day have no one’s name on them. Nonetheless, since the time of Irenaeus the four New Testament Gospels, being anonymous in and of themselves, have been regarded exclusively as authoritative witnesses to the original Apostolic Tradition. (Irenaeus makes his case for these writings in book 3:11 of his massive anti-Gnostic treatise Against Heresies. Irenaeus claims to have learned this tradition from Polycarp, who in turn received the “tradition” from the Apostle John, ibid. 3.3.4.)

It must also be noted that Irenaeus is the first on the historical record to introduce and quote the “Acts of the Apostles” in support of his “tradition” (ibid., 3.13.3f.). There are of course numerous problems with the book of Acts as used by Irenaeus. First, there is no record of the existence of this book before him. Second, there is no evidence by which to verify that this book (and the Gospel section) were written by a companion of Paul named “Luke” as Irenaeus claims (ibid.). Third, and most important, is that the account of the early Church in Acts does not match with Paul’s account as recorded in his letters, viz. Galatians and Corinthians [2]. The lack of harmony in these accounts is our primary concern here. The Acts account provides a picture of the early church that is ideal, and in which there is little in the way of controversy. Paul and the “twelve” Apostles are portrayed as working together, and Paul has a subsidiary role; whereas in Paul’s letters the opposite is true (see below).

The differences between these sources in turn carry profound historical and theological implications—just as much today as in Roman times. Behind this is the essential question of authority. Who indeed possesses the true doctrine of Jesus which was handed down by His Apostles? Was it the Catholic clergy with their four conflicting and anonymous Gospels/Acts? —or was it the Gnostics and their secret tradition? Or was the true doctrine imparted through Paul alone as the Marcionites insisted? Or was Paul to be blamed for profaning the Gospel, as the Ebionites insisted? (E.g. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1.26.2) The Jewish Ebionites insisted that the true doctrine was imparted by the “Twelve” only, via “Matthew”, and that the only true Christians were those who remained steadfast in the Law of Moses (Mt. 5:17f.).

What I have just described are the four main historical factions within early Christianity, and the diverse and conflicting concepts of Apostolic history and authority that they embraced. Everyone knows of course that the Catholic version of the ‘tradition’ eventually won the popular consensus. This consensus was eventually established as the law of the Catholic Roman state; and to question this tradition, or to espouse contrary views, meant jail time or exile (or worse). However, to this day neither popular opinion nor the rule of law can resolve one simple question regarding the Apostolic Tradition: Is this tradition based on a unity that can be found in the New Testament? Were Paul and Peter really buddies who preached the “Gospel” together at Rome? Were Paul and Peter, et al., ever in agreement on the ministry to the gentiles? —and did Paul really uphold any edict from the “Twelve” to the gentiles? If we believe the book of Acts then the basic answers to most of these questions are yes. But if we look to Paul’s letters, and the testimony of Paul himself, a radically different picture emerges. [3]

Let us now take a look at the evidence and see whether Acts provides a coherent account that is consistent with Paul’s own account, in his own words. An obvious problem is the blatant contradiction between the Acts account of Paul’s conversion, and his first visit to the JerusalemChurch, as compared with Paul’s account of these same events which he recounts under oath in Galatians 1:15–24.

In Acts 9 we learn that Paul was miraculously converted while on the way to Damascus [4]. After Paul’s conversion he obeys Jesus and goes straight to Damascus where he is anointed by one Ananias. Paul then preaches boldly for “many days” in the synagogues of Damascus until it becomes apparent that the local Jews are conspiring against him. Paul escapes from Damascus and goes to Jerusalem. According to Acts 9:23 the time span from his arrival to Damascus to his departure for Jerusalem is described as “many days,” which would surely be no longer than several weeks.

Paul’s stay at Jerusalem also appears to be of a relatively short duration. Paul preaches boldly with the Apostles “coming in and out of Jerusalem” (Acts 9:27–28). But then he gets into a dispute with certain Greek-speaking Jews who decide to kill him. And so the brethren pack him off to his home-town of Tarsus. In Acts 9:31 we learn that “Then had the churches rest throughout all Judea, Galilee and Samaria, and were edified…”

According to Acts 9 the time-span from Paul’s arrival to Damascus to his departure from Jerusalem for home was probably three months; maybe six months maximum. We are definitely not talking about a period of years. I bring this up because of the extent to which this account is in conflict with Paul’s own words in Galatians 1:15–24. According to Paul, once he was converted he went immediately into Arabia and then returned to Damascus (in Syria). And then, only after three years, did Paul visit Jerusalem; and he stayed for only two weeks, and the only members of the Church that he met was Peter and James. Paul denies meeting anyone else and he expressly states in Galatians 1:22 that he was “unknown by face unto the churches of Judea…” (cf. Acts 9:27–28) Then Paul writes that after two weeks he departed for Syria and then Cilicia (Tarsus).

There is a major difference between the testimony of Acts and the testimony of Paul. Acts says that Paul was in Damascus for only a short time after his conversion; and that he had to flee to Jerusalem because of the ruckus he allegedly caused. Yet Paul mentions no such trouble in Galatians. And we must remember that Paul swore an oath regarding this matter (Gal. 1:20). So Paul himself was out to set the record straight. Accordingly, he states that after his conversion he spent the next three years in Arabia and in Syria. He mentions no ruckus or trouble whatsoever. And only after three years does Paul decide to pay Peter and James a visit. And he denies meeting or becoming acquainted with any of the other members of the churches in Judea. Paul also does not mention any preaching activities, or any trouble, during the two week stay with Peter and James. Paul indicates that his stay in Jerusalem was quiet and uneventful. (Paul’s writings in general show a different profile of his character as compared with Acts. 1 Cor. 2:1–5 and 2 Cor. 10:10 indicate that he was not an eloquent speaker so much as he was an effective writer. In the latter passage it appears that Paul was answering a charge of cowardice: viz. that Paul speaks boldly in his letters, but is timid in person.)

Yet in the Acts account of Paul’s visit to Jerusalem we get a completely different and libelous story. In this account Paul is portrayed as a belligerent trouble-maker, who stirs up so much trouble for the churches in Judea that the brethren put him on a boat for Tarsus! And the writer implies that Paul was to blame for the trouble that went on. And we learn that the churches of Judea had rest and were edified once Paul was gone. At this point it seems that one of these writers is not relating the truth. If Paul’s friend Luke was the author of this account then he certainly does not have the story straight, and he has done his friend and mentor a disservice.

Another discrepancy of note is the Acts account of Peter’s ministry to the Gentiles. The problem here is that according to Paul, in Galatians, there was no such ministry. And Paul makes the following statement regarding his second visit to Jerusalem where the Gentile ministry was discussed. Galatians 2:7–9, 

“But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcised was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcised was unto Peter; (8) [for he that worked effectively in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcised, the same worked effectively through me toward the Gentiles] (9) And when James, Peter and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go to the Gentiles, and they unto the circumcised.” (Emphasis added. Note: verse 8 in brackets is a creed inserted later by a scribe [5].)

And following this passage is the infamous account of how Peter and his fellow Jews withdrew the right-hand of fellowship toward Paul and his non-Jewish and uncircumcised converts at Antioch. And this gives us further insight into what Peter’s attitude towards Gentiles actually was: Peter was compelled to adhere to traditional Jewish cleanliness laws which forbade Jews to come into contact with uncircumcised gentiles. In other words: Peter was a Jewish bigot who regarded non-Jews as filthy people. (Note in Paul’s words above his lack familiarity with the Apostolic leaders “James, Peter and John.” Paul remarks that these men “seemed to be pillars” or leaders. This type of language reveals Paul’s lack of connection with the Apostles at Jerusalem.)

According to Paul’s testimony in Galatians, Peter preached only to Jews and was unwilling to even accept uncircumcised non-Jews into the church. Yet according to Acts the opposite is true. And in Acts 11 there is an eloquent speech attributed to Peter in which he defends his ministry to the Gentiles. Yet according to Paul there was no such ministry on Peter’s part; which means that this speech never happened. If we are to believe what Acts says, then there should have been no controversy as that in Galatians: because the whole circumcision controversy had already been resolved by Peter; who was already preaching to the Gentiles before Paul made his second trip to Jerusalem to resolve the issue (cf. Gal. 2:1–10, Acts 15).

Acts 15 covers Paul’s second visit to Jerusalem where the issue of circumcision was discussed. And in Acts 15:7–11 statements are placed in Peter’s mouth which are flatly contradicted by Paul’s testimony of the second visit in Galatians 2:7–14. Either the words attributed to Peter are true, or the words of Paul are true—but not both. In Acts 15 Peter is reported to have said “God made a choice among us that the gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel… And [God] put no difference between us and them…” (15:7, 9) James, the Lord’s brother, is shown to be in complete agreement with Peter (15:19–20). Yet in Galatians Paul reports that Peter preached to Jews only; and that Peter was unwilling to break bread with gentiles on account that James might find out (Gal. 2:8, 12). Clearly these accounts cannot be reconciled; and Paul’s testimony indicates that James never accepted the gentile ministry in the way that is reported in Acts.

Briefly we must note that both Acts and Galatians indicate, and agree, that James was the leader (or bishop) of the Jerusalem church and had the final say over everything. In Galatians 2, Peter submits to James when emissaries from the latter arrive at Antioch. In Acts 15 James has the final say over the edict agreed upon by the Apostolic council. A peculiar note however is that Acts does not list James as one of the ‘12’ (cf. Acts 1:14, 25–26).

A further problem with the credibility of Acts appears in chapter 10, and which further calls into question the historical veracity of Peter’s ministry to the gentiles. This is in regard to Acts 10:9–28 where Peter has the vision and the revelation that he is to begin preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles. This passage contradicts Luke 24:47 where Jesus stated His intent that the gospel was to be preached to the gentiles, but only that the Apostles were to wait for the Holy Spirit (Lk. 24:49, Acts 2:1–4). Moreover in Mark 16:15 and Matthew 28:19 there is strong language from Jesus commanding a ministry to the gentiles. This command is among Jesus’ last words before His ascent to heaven. Yet according to Acts 10 Peter was ignorant of any command to preach to the gentiles and that this ministry had just been revealed to him in a vision. Peter’s alleged ignorance of Jesus’ commission is evident in these words from Acts 10:28, “…You know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God has showed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.” From these words we learn that Peter and the other apostles had never received a command from Jesus to preach to the Gentiles–according to Acts. (cf. Acts 2:5, 10:28)

The scriptural comparisons above clearly show that Acts is at odds with the Gospels as well as with Paul in Galatians.

The next problem to be addressed is whether Paul upheld the Apostolic edict toward the gentiles as recorded in Acts 15:29. This is in reference to the final pronouncement by James at the council which took place during Paul’s second visit to Jerusalem. Both Acts 15 and Galatians 2 agree that this council was to discuss Paul’s ministry to the gentiles and the question of circumcision. Acts reports the final agreement and decree that was reached, and was affirmed by James. This edict in turn set forth the basic rules that gentiles were to abide by if they wanted to be Christians. They were absolved from most of the Law of Moses, and were required to abide by the following points, which Acts attributes to James:

“That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well.” (Acts 15:29)

The problem of course is that Paul does not recall the agreement this way in Galatians 2. Paul tells the Galatians (swearing all the while that he is telling the truth) that the only requirement was that “we remember the poor” (Gal. 2:10). This meant that Paul was to send money to the churches in Judea.

At this point it will be helpful to understand the purpose behind Paul’s letter to the Galatian churches, and why Paul was compelled to swear to them that he was telling the truth. Emissaries had been sent from Jerusalem who were denouncing Paul and were telling Paul’s Galatian gentile converts that they needed to be circumcised. Paul defended himself by implying that he wasn’t in need of the approval of James and Peter, and that he had received his apostolic authority directly from Christ Himself (Gal. 1:10–17). Paul makes clear that he received his gospel directly from the risen Christ and that this had nothing to do with the Apostles at Jerusalem. Paul states that he only went to Jerusalem (the first time) a full three years after his conversion. Paul then swears that he does not lie (1:20, “behold, before God, I lie not”) and he explains the nature of his second visit, some 14 years later.

According to his account, Paul returned to Jerusalem a second time, after 14 years, in order to explain his doctrine to them. Paul indicates his lack of familiarity with the Apostles by stating that he sought out those who “were of reputation” and who “seemed to be pillars” (2:2, 9). He reports further that some members of the church required that Paul’s gentile companion, Titus, be circumcised. Paul steadfastly refused. He then reports that an agreement was reached to the effect that Peter would lead the ministry to the circumcised (i.e. to Jews), and that Paul would lead his own ministry to the gentiles (Gal. 2:7–9).

For reasons I have explained above, I see no reason to believe that Peter ever had a ministry to the gentiles, and that the more plausible historical reality is that Peter and the Jewish Church had always been concerned solely with preaching to Jews. Peter seems to have accepted Paul as a fellow missionary and the notion of a gentile wing to the Church. But this agreement later fell apart at Antioch when Peter withdrew under pressure from James (Gal. 2:12). This event was followed by a counter ministry against Paul, in which emissaries were sent to discredit Paul, and to inform gentile converts that they had to be circumcised. This was the onslaught Paul was reacting against in Galatians: and in this context he informed them that his authority and doctrine came directly from Christ alone, and that he recognized no such agreement that gentiles must be circumcised.

At this point I will state my suspicion as to why the edict in Acts 15:29 does not match Paul’s account in Galatians 2:10. I suspect that the Acts account covers up the reality that the Jewish Apostles did in fact require circumcision, and whoever wrote Acts refused to admit that this was true. Paul in turn never agreed to this requirement, at least not in spirit. Paul only agreed on his end to send money; and that’s what he reports to the Galatians. Paul in fact never agreed to any requirement for circumcision, or that gentiles abstain from meats sacrificed to idols. (Paul also never mentions anything about blood, or things “strangled.”) I believe these are the historic undercurrents behind the discrepancies between Acts 15 and Galatians 2. My readers should also bear in mind that there is a Jewish Christian counter-tradition to Acts which maintains that the Apostles always required obedience to the Law, and that Paul was an apostate. However, I will stop short of accusing the author of Acts of lying. But I do believe that this writer reports the ‘history’ of what he wanted to believe, and not what the facts actually were. It’s possible that the writer of Acts was presenting a tradition that he accepted and believed in good faith.

Getting back to the edict in Acts 15:29, I want to address the question of whether Paul upheld that edict as Acts reports. The first point of the edict is that gentiles abstain from meats offered to idols. An example of Paul’s position can be seen in these words from 1 Corinthians 8:9–11:

“But take heed lest by any means this liberty of your’s become a stumbling block to them that are weak. For if any man see you which has knowledge (gnosis) eating meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols; and through your knowledge shall the weak brother perish for whom Christ died?”

Obviously the concern of Paul has nothing to do with obedience to the ordinances of either the Law or the edict of the Apostles. And it is evident that Paul specifically allowed for certain members of the CorinthianChurch to eat meat sacrificed to idols: with the stipulation that this should not be done in the presence of the weaker brethren who lack gnosis (1 Cor. 8:7). Let us note here that this peculiar concept of knowledge is the source behind Paul’s concept of liberty and his variance from the Apostolic standard as reported in Acts.

The reality is that there is no evidence in any of Paul’s letters that he enforced an edict from the Apostles which prohibited the eating of meat which originated from idol sacrifices. Paul’s concern was not about the meat itself, but about who might get offended; hence the statement in 1 Corinthians 10:23, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient.” Paul’s meaning is that while idol meats are “lawful”, it is not expedient to eat this meat in front of someone who will have a crisis of conscience, or who lacks “gnosis” (1 Cor. 8:7, 10:27–29). Paul also advises that “Whatsoever is sold in the meat-market, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake…” (1 Cor. 10:25) Otherwise, Paul does not prohibit anyone from eating meat in the “idol’s temple” or “feast” (a pagan religious festival) as long as no one has a crisis of conscience because of it (cf. 1 Cor. 8:9–11, 10:27).

Paul’s own words show that he allowed the eating of sacrificial meat: which was forbidden in the Law of Moses and the Noahide ordinances, and by edict of the Apostles. Thus what tradition expressly forbids as unclean or unlawful, Paul responds with the notion that “all things are lawful.” Hence Paul’s decisions on whatever he chooses to indulge in, or avoid, is not dictated by the Law, but by whether or not a given activity is spiritually edifying. Paul’s statements could be construed to mean that the traditional ordinances were to be regarded with indifference. Thus we read in 1 Corinthians 8:8,

“But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse.

In short, Paul’s doctrine and reasoning do not reflect the Apostolic standard as reported in Acts. In the same vein, Irenaeus attacked the Valentinians for eating meat sacrificed to idols, “…they make no scruple about eating meats sacrificed to idols, imagining in this way that they can contract no defilement” (Against Heresies, 1.6.3). Yet Paul’s own words in 1 Corinthians 8 and 10 show that Paul himself did not live up to the standards of Irenaeus and the “tradition” that he sought to impose on all Christians everywhere (ibid., 1.10). The Catholic Fathers quote Acts 15:29, but Paul’s letters actually say something different.

In some respects Paul’s logic is also applicable to the question of his position on the issue of fornication. Certainly there is language in the letters in which Paul states plainly that he is opposed to fornication. But then Paul on this occasion also expresses extraneous rhetoric to the effect that “all things are lawful” (e.g. 1 Cor. 6:12f). Why doesn’t Paul just condemn fornication as unlawful and sinful and leave it at that? Why the qualification? (See my article On the Ethics of St. Paul.)

Overall, the evidence in Paul’s letters shows that he was not concerned with any edict from the Apostles as alleged in Acts 15:29. And the Galatian letter basically amounts to Paul’s declaration of independence from the 12 and the JerusalemChurch. Note the following comments of Paul toward the Jewish Apostles who had actually walked with Jesus. Paul refers to them as men who “seemed to be pillars” and Paul further says of them that “whatsoever they were” (i.e. being witnesses to Christ) that they “added nothing to me” (Gal. 2:6, 9). And this is all part of Paul’s message to the Galatians that he received his “gospel” and his Apostolic authority directly from the risen Christ and not from any man (Gal. 1:11–12). Paul can also be construed to have condemned the Apostles. Paul says that any man who preaches another gospel (in reference to circumcision) is “accursed” (Gal. 1:9, anathema). If the Jerusalem Apostles were ultimately behind the counter-ministry against Paul then they are the inevitable target of Paul’s condemnation. There is no evidence in any of Paul’s letters that Paul could depend on the 12 for support, or that the conflict in Galatians with Peter and James was ever resolved. (In 2 Corinthians 3:1–2 Paul admits that he has no letter of commendation from the Apostles.)

Paul’s ongoing conflict with the JerusalemChurch can also be seen in 2 Corinthians 11 and 12, where the rhetoric is notably heated (e.g. 2 Cor. 11:4–5, 13–15, 22–23; 12:11–12). Here again Paul defends himself against accusations that he has not seen the Lord the way the other Apostles did (i.e. in the flesh), and that Paul’s authority is lacking. In part II of this series we will look at how the Jewish-Christian Clementine literature fills in the blanks on this conflict. 

 

Acts vs. Paul in history

The inherent problems between Acts and the writings of Paul were also part of the historic controversy between the Catholic Fathers and the Gnostic/Marcionite factions. The Catholic Fathers appealed to Acts in order to oppose the heretical view of Paul. In this case, the Catholic Fathers had to address a persuasive Gnostic argument which alleged that Paul had been a Gnostic sage who worked independently of the 12 Apostles and was spiritually superior to them. On the basis of this formula the Gnostics used Paul as a vehicle by which to establish the apostolic authority of their doctrine over against the Catholic clergy: The latter claimed its authority via an established line of apostolic succession which supposedly went back to a unified group of Apostles which included Paul. The clergy maintained that Paul and the other Apostles were unified, and that they preached the same orthodox doctrine (i.e. the “Apostolic Tradition”).

Paul was useful to the Gnostic cause because of such controversial statements as found in Galatians 1:1, where Paul described himself as an Apostle “not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ…” And in verses 11 and 12 Paul expressly denied that he received his gospel from any man, i.e. Peter or the other Apostles. For the Gnostics Paul’s statement would constitute a negation of the institution of Apostolic succession; and his testimony in Galatians was construed to mean that any man could have a revelation directly from the risen Christ and become an apostle. The approval of the ‘Twelve’ was not needed: nor was there any need for the approval of the Catholic clergy.

The Gnostics also tied Paul’s independent status into the notion that he rejected the traditional theology of the Jewish Church. And they would have recognized Paul’s spiritual independence from both the Jewish tradition and apostolic authority in his rejection of the Law of Moses; which was in turn imputed to symbolize his covert rejection of the Creator of the world. This was the basic theological spin which the Gnostics placed on the history of Paul and his doctrine. It was therefore necessary for the Catholic Fathers to counter all evidence in the Pauline letters which might support the Gnostic view of Paul: which the latter used effectively to lure proselytes away from the Catholic Church and into the Gnostic schools; and into the worship of a God other than the Creator of the world. In order to refute the heretical interpretation it was necessary that the Fathers demonstrate that Paul had been in submission to the original 12 Apostles. This would in turn validate the institution of Apostolic succession, and the Apostolic Tradition itself, and thereby refute the Gnostic claim to apostolic authority via the example of Paul and the notion of his independent ministry to the Gentiles.

Again the book of Acts was the primary document which the Catholic Fathers used to validate their ‘correct’ view of history. (In my view it is no coincidence that Acts was first quoted in history in direct reference to this conflict.) But the use of Acts also led to certain awkward problems: and this points back to the fact that Acts and Galatians do not really fit together, and that somebody is not telling the truth. The result is that the Catholic Fathers were forced to twist Paul’s words in order to force him into harmony with Acts. An example can be seen with the Catholic Father Clement of Alexandria and the way he twisted 1 Corinthians 8:11 and 10:25 so as to force these passages to fall into line with Acts 15:29.

In regard to the question of meat left from idol sacrifices Paul advises in 1 Corinthians 10:25, “Whatsoever is sold in the meat-market, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake…” But Clement’s reading and interpretation of the same passage are remarkably different:

“For the Apostle says All other things buy out of the meat-market, asking no questions with the exception of the things mentioned in the Catholic epistle of all the apostles… which is written in the Acts of the Apostles, and conveyed to the faithful by the hand of Paul himself. For they (the Apostles) intimated that they must of necessity abstain from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication, from which keeping themselves, they should do well (Acts 15:29).” (Clement, Stromata, 4:15; italics identify phrases from 1 Cor. 10:25 and Acts 15:29.)

In Clement’s statement it is obvious that 1 Corinthians 10:25 has been interpolated and subjected to Acts 15:29, and thereby Clement maintains the orthodox consensus that Paul was in submission to the Twelve. However, this consensus is maintained only upon violence done to the passage. Thus Clement has forced Paul to say that the Corinthians can buy anything in the market except meat sacrificed to idols; whereas Paul in fact said that it is ok to buy the meat, just don’t ask where it came from.

A more bizarre twist in Clement’s exegesis is that he justified his misrepresentation of Paul in accordance with the exact same principle by which Paul justified the partaking of idol meats: gnosis. Thus, according to Clement, Paul obeyed the injunction of the Apostles because “not all have gnosis and lest our liberty prove a stumbling block to the weak. For by your gnosis he that is weak is destroyed” (i.e. 1 Cor. 8:9–11; ibid.). Clement’s twist on Paul’s gnosis was of course designed to rescue Paul from the heretical theology which the Gnostics believed was implied in Paul’s rhetoric. The word “gnosis” in this case referred to Paul’s belief that the Law of Moses was “ordained by angels” and was not from the supreme Being (Gal. 3:19, 4:1–9).

Another example of such twisting can be seen in the way that both Irenaeus and Tertullian twisted Paul’s words in Galatians 2:5. In this case the purpose was to prove that Paul did submit to the Apostles and allowed his gentile companion Titus to be circumcised. Thus in Gal. 2:5 both Fathers removed the negative “not” so that the passage read “to whom we did yield by subjection…” whereas all manuscripts accepted by orthodox churches today read “to whom we did not yield…” In both cases Irenaeus and Tertullian twisted the passage in order to refute the Gnostics and Marcionites, and to establish that Paul did submit to the 12. Of course this is not what Paul said; and no orthodox theologian or historian engages in these tactics today. Obviously Irenaeus and Tertullian could not rely on the scriptures for what they wanted to establish in terms of a ‘correct’ historical account. Paul’s words do not fit the consensus in Acts and cannot be used in full, consistent support of the Apostolic Tradition without twisting in the process. (See Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Paul, pg. 104; see also Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.16.2; Tertullian, On the Flesh of Christ, 19)

In direct conflict with Paul’s position, in Galatians 2:5, is the report in Acts that Paul circumcised Timothy (Timotheos; Acts 16:1–3). Yet in Paul’s own testimony, under oath, he vehemently refused to circumcise Titus because he believed it was a compromise against everything that the Gospel represents: “that the truth of the Gospel might continue with you” (Gal. 2:5). Can we really believe the book of Acts when it reports that Paul made such a compromise in regard to Timothy—when Paul’s position is so passionately stated in his own words?

The contrast between Paul’s testimony and the book of Acts constitutes an irreconcilable account of ‘Christian’ history. The book of Acts portrays the early church and its leaders as a unified institution: but Paul’s testimony shows that the opposite was true. Paul’s testimony shows that there was no original apostolic consensus or unity. Moreover this lack of cohesion is evident in certain other New Testament sources and themes when these are compared with Paul. One of the most obvious examples is the diverse teachings on the Law as found in the Gospel of Matthew and Paul’s letters. In Matthew 5 and 19 Jesus teaches that the Law is the path to salvation, and that his followers should obey it. Whereas Paul teaches that no salvation can come through obedience to the Law. Hence the Apostle wrote: “Therefore by the deeds of the Law shall no flesh be justified” and “Christ has become of no effect unto you; those of you who are justified by the Law, ye are fallen from grace” (Rom. 3:20, Gal. 5:4; see my article On the Ethics of St. Paul). These conflicting elements show that there was no original unity or consensus of doctrine, or theology, among the earliest Christian leaders. There was no original Apostolic Tradition, but instead there were many traditions; and all of these diverse elements are preserved in the New Testament. Orthodox tradition claims that there are no contradictions in the New Testament or any other part of the Bible. But this is yet another lie that needs to be laid to rest.

In part II of this series we will look at the similarities and differences between Paul’s letters, the book of Acts, and the Clementine Homilies and Recognitions. In this presentation we will see how that Paul’s letters and the Clementines tend to corroborate each other, and together contradict the book of Acts. This interrelationship will show once again that the real history of the Apostles and their doctrine(s) was something radically different than the ideal picture that “orthodox” Christians derive from the dubious book of Acts. –jw

 

Notes

1] Ptolemy writes to Flora that the Gnostic secrets will be revealed to her if she is “judged worthy of the apostolic tradition which we too have received by succession” (Letter to Flora, B. Layton, Gnostic Scriptures, pg. 314). Numerous books in the Nag Hammadi Library portray Jesus as imparting secret Gnostic teachings to his Apostles. Many of the Gnostic texts are named accordingly; hence there is the Apocryphon (“secret book”) of James, the Apocryphon of John, the Book of Thomas the Contender to the Perfect (Initiates), the Apocalypse of James, and the Apocalypse of Peter (Apocalypse = revealing of secrets). The Gospel of Mary also contains this theme where Jesus imparts a secret teaching to Mary Magdalene just as he has done with the other apostles. See my archive article Orthodoxy, Heresy & Jesus, IV: Did Jesus Teach a Secret Doctrine?.

2] Tradition tells us that Paul’s intimate friend Luke wrote the Acts account. But critics have expressed doubt on the basis that the Acts account of Paul’s life, ministry and doctrine cannot be reconciled with Paul’s writings: e.g. W. Kümmel, Introduction to the NT, pp. 181f., 183.  R. Grant, A Historical Introduction to the NT., pg. 145f. Ernst Haenchen, The Acts of the Apostles, pg. 133.

3] My presentation on the conflict between Paul and Acts is based in part on the research of the late Unitarian theologian Arthur Powell Davies and his excellent book The First Christian: A study of St. Paul and Christian origins. See also the sources cited in note 2 above.

4] Of note is that Paul never writes of this incredible conversion experience: which is repeated three times in Acts, and each time the story changes (cf. Acts 9:1–8, 22:4–11, 26:13–18). Would we accept such testimony in court where we swear our oaths on the Bible?

5] The phrase in Gal. 2:8, “for he that worked effectively in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcised, the same worked effectively through me toward the Gentiles” is more than likely a creed added by a later “orthodox” scribe—with the purpose of uniting Paul and Peter. The clue to this is the conflicting context between the statement above as compared with Paul’s statement in verse 9 that Peter “seemed” to be one of the “pillars.” If Paul really believed that Christ “worked effectively in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcised” then there would be no question that Peter was one of the “pillars” or leaders of the church at Jerusalem.

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

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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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St. Paul and the Apostolic Tradition III

(Sub-title: The Hebrew and Hellenist churches; and the hidden origins of Gnostic Christianity)

It is difficult to know for sure just how much of the book of Acts can be regarded as a trustworthy historical record. Certainly Acts provides a distorted picture of Paul, as I have shown in part I of this series. What else is distorted or wrong in Acts? It may be tempting at this point to completely discard this text as unreliable and biased. But to do so is to throw away what is undoubtedly one of the earliest attempts at compiling a history of the early church. I believe it is a mistake to presume that there are no elements of historic truth in the text. And indeed the book of Acts contains some subtle paradoxes which indicates that this account is the product of someone’s effort create harmony out of a history that was filled with conflict [1]. An important clue in this is that Acts attributes ideas to some of its characters which do not fit the “orthodox” theology that this book supposedly represents. This presence of unorthodox elements in turn implies that the theology of the earliest Christians was not as unified and harmonious as the “orthodox” historians would have us believe. In this article we will examine some of these unorthodox elements, and we will consider the implications of this material as this applies to the “orthodox” theory of history: which revolves around the notion that there was a single uniform theology among the earliest Christians and their leaders. Inevitably we must question whether the book of Acts itself can really support this thesis.

An example of unorthodox material in Acts appears in the account of St. Stephen’s speech and martyrdom (Acts 7:1–57). Stephen’s remarks regarding the Law and the angels resemble certain Hellenistic Jewish ideas of the day as found in the writings of Paul, Philo, and other Hellenistic Jewish sources [2]. Among Hellenistic Jews of this time period there was a tendency to regard God—in line with Greek philosophy—as a transcendent Being far removed from the world; and that the various acts of God as portrayed in scripture were to be regarded either as allegory or as the intervention of lower angels. Like Paul or Philo, Stephen also shows this same pattern of reducing the biblical God to an angelic status (see below; see also my archive article On God and Justice). Like Paul, Stephen believed that Moses had received the Law from an “angel” on Mt.Sinai, and that the “Law” was received through the “disposition of angels” (Acts 7:38, 53). These ideas are out of line with either Jewish or Catholic orthodoxy, and in this case shows that Acts preserves an early stratum of Christian thought that is inconsistent with the overall theology of Acts (cf. Acts 3:46–47, 7:48) and of the Catholics who used this book against the heretics (e.g. Irenaeus and Tertullian).

Again, “orthodox” Judeo-Christian tradition maintains that either God the Father, or His Son Jesus, appeared to the patriarchs and prophets in the Old Testament. But both Stephen and Paul can be shown to have attributed these appearances to angels and not the Son or the Father. This in itself shows that Paul and Stephen were of a different school of theology than the Catholic Fathers, and that this other theology was embraced among the earliest Christians. It is also highly ironic that while Acts contains so much disinformation about Paul, at the same time this book contains a description of Stephen’s doctrine which is actually consistent and is corroborated in Paul’s own writings. Stephen says that the Law was given through the “disposition of angels” (Acts 7:53, diatagas aggelon) and indeed Paul himself wrote in Galatians, using similar language, that the Law was “ordained by angels” (Gal. 3:19, diatageis di’ aggelon). I believe this is solid evidence that Stephen’s speech is based on an authentic source that is likewise reflected in Paul’s writings. Hence, this speech is not purely the work of the ‘historian’ who wrote Acts and the dubious history of Paul therein.

The Acts account of Stephen raises questions regarding the state of the early church’s theology. And, under closer scrutiny it seems that the Acts account may actually conceal some important differences between early Christians like James and Peter, and other such Christians like Stephen, Nicolaus and Paul. The implication here is that the early JudeanChurch was not simply one homogenous cultural or theological entity. The book of Acts contains insights which implies that the original Christian Church in Judea was divided into two distinct Jewish and Hellenist groups or factions. These insights are not obvious to the uninformed reader; but they become obvious once they are pointed out.

Our first clue appears in Acts chapter 6 where the author reveals a new detail regarding the early church: The Church at Jerusalem was already at this time comprised of two cultural groups, viz. the “Hebrews” and the “Hellenists.” And, there was some form of strife between these two groups. According to Acts the source of this strife is the murmuring among the Hellenists, who accused the Hebrews of neglecting the Hellenist group and of not tending to the needs of their widows. The “twelve” then convene the entire church and they appoint seven men from among the Hellenists to take care of the widows. The “twelve” further state in their decision that they cannot be distracted from preaching the word to “wait tables.” (Acts 6:1–6)

The notion here that the Apostles were somehow expected to “wait tables” seems implausible. The appointment of certain “deacons” to feed the widows is really a non-event and was more than likely one issue in a much larger complex of problems that divided Hebrews and Hellenists. I think the reality behind this account is that the “seven” were actually the leaders of the Hellenist group and they were recognized as such by the “twelve.” I suspect that the reason we do not find a clear statement of this in Acts is for the same reason we do not find a clear statement of Paul’s character. In both cases the interest of this historian is in smoothing over conflicts and making the early Church appear as a unified institution. (Paul’s letters alone show that this was not the case.)

The seven deacons were more than likely the leaders of the Greek-speaking Jewish Christians. Their names are as follows: Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus. Some of these men are notable for the following reasons: We already know Stephen for his controversial teaching regarding the Law and the angels which resembles Gnostic doctrine. Philip is notable for his conversion of Simon Magus; who is later credited as being an instigator of heresies, and of the more exaggerated claim that Simon is the father of heresies. Nicolaus likewise was known as a father of heresy, and the book of Revelation actually assigns notoriety to Nicolaus above Simon Magus. The Catholic Fathers acknowledge the role of Nicolaus in promoting heresy; and an elaborate and blasphemous theology is attributed to him in Catholic sources (see below). To the legacy of these men we can also add the name of Paul, who was also a Hellenist and was attached to the Hellenist wing of the church. Paul’s writings also figure prominently in the legacy of heresy (2 Peter 3:15–16); and his doctrines tie into some fundamental differences between the Hebrew and Hellenist factions.

As the Acts account progresses evidence emerges which indicates that the Hellenist church had a life, ministry and theology of its own. This clue first appears with Stephen and his preaching. And it becomes obvious that Stephen was preaching a doctrine and incurring accusations, and persecution, that never involved Peter or the Twelve. (And again, Stephen’s doctrine resembles something that was preached later by Paul, and was also controversial; as may be seen in the Galatian letter.)

According to Acts Stephen was hauled in before a Jewish tribunal on a charge of blasphemy, of speaking “blasphemous words against Moses, and against God” (6:11). The author of Acts places a speech in Stephen’s mouth which, as I said above, must have been based on an authentic source. When this speech is examined closely the nature of the accusations against him become obvious; and it also becomes obvious that Peter and the Twelve were never accused in this manner; as will be shown below.

Stephen defends himself before the Jewish tribunal with a lengthy speech in which he attempts to explain his conviction that the Pharisees and Sadducees, and their forefathers, have completely misunderstood the Law and the Prophets. Stephen admits the biblical truth that God appeared to Abraham and he admits that God gave to him the rite of circumcision. However, like Paul, Stephen does not take this rite literally (see below). Stephen also admits that God sent Abraham to Canaan; and he repeats the rest of the early history in a theologically correct manner. This may be authentic, or it may be part of the general reconstruction of Stephen’s speech as attempted by the author of Acts, in which the offending elements are included. And certainly there is evidence in this regard that Stephen’s speech is comprised of both orthodox and heterodox elements.

The heterodox side of Stephen’s speech appears at three main points: 1) Against the testimony of scripture Stephen declares that Moses received the Law from an angel on Mt.Sinai (Acts 7:38, 53). 2) Stephen does not admit that God commissioned King Solomon to build the Temple (2 Sam. 7:12–14, 1 Kings 5:5). Stephen speaks of Solomon as if he disobeyed God: “But Solomon built him a temple. Howbeit the Most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands” (Acts 7:47–48). This is clearly against the testimony of scripture as cited above. 3) Stephen ridicules his accusers for engaging in a literalistic interpretation and practice of the Law: and he accuses the Jews of being “uncircumcised in both heart and ears” (Acts 7:51) thereby implying that he does not accept the literal practice of circumcision—just as Paul didn’t. Stephen’s speech concludes with the accusation that the orthodox Jewish authorities have persecuted the prophets, and have received the Law of Moses from angels, which they have failed to obey (7:52–53). With these words the Jews become enraged (v. 54) and Stephen is dragged out and executed for blasphemy.

On these three points Stephen’s speech shows a pattern that is remarkably similar to Paul as mentioned above. In part II we noticed where Paul has this practice of quoting scriptures in an inverted fashion in order to extract some other interpretation. Simon Magus is portrayed in the Clementines as engaging in a similar practice: in which Simon inverts the Old Testament in order to discover the higher God above. This practice is based on the concept of dualism: which entails the notion that all worldly forms are shadows of higher realities. One of Paul’s interpreters attributed this concept to him. Thus in Colossians we read that the rudiments of the Law “are a shadow of things to come” (Col. 2:17, cf. Heb. 10:1). An example from Paul himself can be seen with the allegory of Jerusalem in Galatians 4:26; where Paul states that the earthly Jerusalem is an earthly type of the Jerusalem above. And then there is the most remarkable statement in 2 Corinthians 4:18 where Paul says plainly that “we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (Cf. Plato, Phaedo, 79)

These types of statements are supporting evidence which may help to explain why Paul inverts the scriptures and otherwise denies the obvious. An example once again being where Paul denies that God gave the rite of circumcision to Abraham. Stephen in comparison admits that God gave this rite to Abraham, but he denies that it was a physical ordinance. What may explain this interpretation is that both Paul and Stephen inverted Genesis 17 and looked for the spiritual reality behind it. Hence God never wanted man to engage in genital mutilation, and that what God intended was a spiritual ordinance. This would also explain why Stephen and Paul attribute the Law to angels rather than God: these men believe that the outward worldly law was given by lower powers, angels, and that the Law is based on a higher, spiritual archetype that was from God. In this context Stephen and Paul only acknowledge the spiritual Law and reject the worldly, fleshly Law; and insist that no salvation can be obtained through the observance of this fleshly Law (cf. Rom. 3:20, 7:22–23). This concept would also explain why Stephen denied that God commissioned King Solomon to build the Temple. Stephen doesn’t believe that the real spiritual God would have ordered Solomon to construct a physical Temple, because the “the Most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands.” (cf. Paul in 1 Cor. 10:18–19)

These three points in Stephen’s speech indicate that Stephen subscribed to a radically different system of theology, and indeed, a whole different paradigm. The points of connection with Paul show that Stephen’s ideas were not an isolated case. The ideas shared in common by these two men indicate that their opinions represent a theological consensus that was embraced among the Hellenists. The ultimate implication in this regard is that Stephen and Paul don’t see God directly in the Bible. But, like Simon Magus, these men see the scriptures as a shadow of that perfect God above. This is why neither Paul nor Stephen could simply admit that the Law of Moses was given by God: because these men did not believe that the scriptures contained a pure revelation of God.

The question now is whether Stephen’s ideas were ever shared by Peter and the Jewish Church as reported in Acts? The fact is Peter and the Jewish Apostles were never accused of the kind of offenses that Stephen was accused of. In every situation where Peter and his companions are dragged in before the authorities the charge is preaching Jesus as the Messiah, but there was no charge of blasphemy (Acts 4:15–21, 5:17–42). The Jewish authorities were concerned that Peter, et al., were advocating Jesus as some kind of political cause: i.e. that Jesus was the Messiah who would restore Israel and drive out the Romans. There was no question of wrong theology or impiety.

According to Acts the first major persecution against the Church was the result of Stephen’s testimony before the Jewish tribunal in which he was charged and convicted of blasphemy. In Acts 8:1 we learn that Stephen’s execution was followed by a great persecution against the Church at Jerusalem, and that the church was dispersed throughout Judea; and that Paul (named Saul) participated in this persecution. A curious note is that the Apostles are reported to have been unaffected by this. According to this passage, all of the Christians were dispersed from Jerusalemexcept the Apostles. But why should the leaders remain unmolested while the rest of their followers are dispersed? Certainly the Jewish authorities would have wanted the leaders more than the followers. The best way to stop a movement is to decapitate its leadership. Yet the Apostles remained. Is the picture really that simple? Or was this persecution directed against the Hellenists only, and the Jewish Apostles and their followers were left unmolested? A further clue is offered with Saul/Paul. Saul is reported as participating in the persecution and of being a notorious leader thereof. Yet Paul reports in his own account that he was “unknown by face to the churches of Judea” (Gal. 1:22). Thus it is doubtful that Paul played the role that Acts describes; and it is doubtful that all Christians at Jerusalem were the victims of this persecution. The real target was the Hellenists, not the Hebrews; and the author of Acts admits that the Apostles were unaffected. The accusations against Stephen did not involve them, and they were never summoned before the Jewish Council to begin with.

At this point I am tempted to present and compare the case of Paul in Acts and how the pattern resembles that of Stephen. But I have already shown that the Acts account of Paul’s conversion, and his stay at Jerusalem, and the circumstances of his departure, cannot be squared with Paul’s own account in Galatians. The Acts account must be discarded as fiction. What may be gathered however is that Paul did visit the Jerusalem Church three years after his conversion, and he stayed with Peter and James for two weeks—and then departed for Cilicia. I propose that the truth behind this is that Paul did not learn his doctrine from the Apostles, but from the Hellenist wing of the Church that he once persecuted. As I have explained above, Paul’s doctrine is derived from the same doctrine that was attributed to Stephen. Paul was a member of the Hellenist faction; and he preached the doctrine of that wing of the Church. (Acts also mentions Paul as being present, and as consenting to the execution of Stephen for blasphemy. If this is true, could Paul have heard the gospel first from Stephen? —and that Paul later adopted Stephen’s faith out of guilt for what happened to him?)

I believe there is a discernable pattern in Acts in which the author has tried to smooth over the differences between the early Hebrew and Hellenist Christians. But on close examination holes begin to appear in this story. Peter’s doctrine and fate are not the same as Stephen’s. And the Acts account of Peter and Paul, and their doctrine does not hold up when compared to Galatians (see part I). If we are willing to accept the veracity of Paul then there really is no way that Peter and James accepted any ministry to uncircumcized gentiles. These guys were Jews to the end; and their Messiah was Jesus. The plausible elements in both Galatians and Acts show that Peter and James were Jewish Christians who embraced what may be described as a traditional, Judeo-Christian theology. Hence: God the Creator gave His Law to Moses and the Israelites. But the Israelites failed to obey the Law and the Israelites were punished with national catastrophes. But God also provided for the redemption of Israel. God revealed His plan through the Prophets: A chosen one or Messiah would be sent to redeem Israel and to bring all nations under God’s rule in a new age. That Messiah was Jesus of Nazareth. This is really the simplicity of the primitive Jewish Christian gospel. But it seems that the Hellenists could not maintain this simplicity without question. In Stephen’s speech we learn that there is a lot of other theological baggage as well—and this is carried over into Paul, and further on, into the theology of the Gnostics. The Gnostics also denied that the Law was given by a supreme Being or that the Old Testament was the pure revelation of that Being.

I believe the evidence shows that the theology of the Hellenists was influenced by the Greek philosophical view of God as the transcendent supreme Being. The Hellenists no longer accepted “God” in terms of the simple national war god of biblical tradition. This was why Stephen and Paul brought in the concept of angels. Inevitably the Hebrews and the Hellenists did not embrace the same theology, nor worshipped the same God. 

 

Paul, Nicolaus, Simon Magus and the legacy of heresy

On the historical record Paul, Nicolaus and Simon Magus all figure into the legacy of heresy. Anyone who has studied the Catholic Fathers knows that Paul was popular among the Gnostics. Paul’s writings are easily conducive to Gnostic thought, and Paul is not helpful in establishing any firm ‘orthodox’ standard in terms of theology, or in terms of a “tradition” passed down via Apostolic succession. As we have already seen, the Catholic Fathers can claim Paul only by disregarding the Apostle’s fundamental tenets (e.g. dualism, angels, etc.) and by twisting the meaning of his words; or by omitting words (see part I). Paul has been forced into orthodox tradition. He does not really belong there by nature [3]. The Catholic Fathers tell us that Paul obeyed the Apostles before him and that he abstained from meat sacrificed to idols. The book of Acts is quoted to support this view; but when we read Paul’s own words, his position on meats is vague at best, and Paul declared his independence from the Jewish Apostles in Galatians. If Paul received his doctrine from anyone on earth then it was from the historically murky, Hellenist wing of the early Church. Before Paul were people like Stephen (executed for blasphemy), Nicolaus and Simon Magus. In “orthodox” tradition the latter two names are connected with the spread of heresy/Gnosticism.

In the annals of Christian tradition Nicolaus has been assigned a reputation just as bad as Simon Magus. The Revelation of John implies that Nicolaus was a sectarian, and that the doctrine of the Nicolatians is something that the Lord “hates” (Rev. 2:15). This doctrine is not described in detail; but the Catholic Fathers offer some clues. Irenaeus, in this case, can confirm nothing beyond what he has learned from Acts and the Revelation of John. And the fact that he has anything further to report is only the result of his sloppy reading of the latter. Irenaeus conflates the “doctrine of Balaam” with the “doctrine of the Nicolatianes” when the text does not in fact identify the two as the same (Rev. 2:14f.; Against Heresies, 1.26.3).

The Father Hippolytus actually points the finger at Nicolaus as one of the prime instigators of the Gnostic heresies. He also confirms that Nicolaus was one of the seven deacons ordained by the Apostles (Hippolytus, Refutation., 7:24).

Next there is a text attributed to Tertullian by some, and to a certain Victorinus by others. This source also affirms that Nicolaus was appointed by the Apostles, but that he also devised a blasphemous theology that was inherited and expounded upon by the Gnostics. Here are the main points:

“A brother heretic emerged in Nicolaus. He was one of the seven deacons who were appointed in the Acts of the Apostles. He affirms that Darkness was seized by a lust, a foul lust, for the Light: out of this permixture…were born, moreover, daemons and gods and [the] spirits seven, and other things sufficiently sacrilegious… Enough it is for us that this heresy of the Nicolaitans has been condemned by the Apocalypse of the Lord…” (Against All Heresies, 1; from Tertullian or Victorinus)

Here Nicolaus was charged with inventing a theological myth: in which, before all creation there were two primeval beings Light and Darkness. Darkness lusted after and attacked the Light. From this unfortunate union emerged various gods, entities, and the seven celestial spirits which govern the cosmos. From these powers emerged the troubled world of mankind. In this myth the God of the Jews was not the supreme Deity above Darkness and Light, but was ranked instead among the seven celestial spirits; hence the blasphemous nature of this theology.

At a later time Epiphanius also confirmed that the Gnostic movement emerged from the Nicolatians and the teachings of Nicolaus; who was ordained originally by the Apostles (Panarion, 25).

In contrast with the above sources is Clement of Alexandria. Clement defends the character of Nicolaus, and claims that his followers (which includes the later Carpocratians) devised their heretical doctrines as a consequence of their misunderstanding of Nicolaus’ teaching (Stromateis, 3:4). If this is true then even this is part of a familiar pattern. The Gnostics were accused of misunderstanding Paul in a similar way. But then again, there is plenty in Paul’s writings that could be misunderstood and doesn’t represent an orthodox system anyway. And, to thicken the plot even more, the fact that Clement would even defend Nicolaus is even more significant if one is familiar with the esoteric piety of Clement himself (e.g. Stromateis, book 5). Indeed Clement shows much in common with the Gnostics. And considering his esoteric piety, one may even question whether Clement’s ‘orthodox’ theology is merely apparent. Later Catholic theologians had their doubts about him; and his status as a saint was disputed (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04045a.htm ).

Along side of Nicolaus is Simon Magus. In Acts 8 Simon, a sorcerer from Samaria, was converted by one of the seven Hellenist deacons, named Philip. But later Simon is rebuked by Peter because he offered to buy the Holy Spirit from him. The Canonical texts do not tell us what became of Simon after that. The book of Revelation mentions only the heretical legacy of Nicolaus, not Simon. Justin Martyr is the first to claim that Simon was the father of heresy. Irenaeus expounded on this and gave the legendary description of Simon’s system: Simon claimed to be the incarnate supreme Being. His first thought was an incarnate woman named Helene, whom Simon purchased out of a brothel in the city of Tyre. The primeval cosmology of Simon is told this way: In the beginning Simon used his “Thought” (i.e. Helene) to create angels. These angels in turn created the cosmos. At some point the angels became jealous of Helene and they took her prisoner. They molested her and then forced her into a cycle of re-incarnation among mankind—which the angels had created. Helene is said to have appeared as numerous illustrious women throughout her successive incarnations, including Helene of Troy. The supreme Being incarnated as Simon, and he finally located Helene in a brothel, in Tyre. The Simonians were a relatively small sect that worshipped Simon and Helene and believed that Simon’s teachings liberated them from the angelic rulers, and that Simon, the supreme Power, would someday destroy the world. In Simon’s system the God of the Jews, viz. the Lawgiver, was one of the angels (Against Heresies, 1.23).

Simon doctrines were in turn said to be the inspiration for the later Gnostic teachers and their schools: Menander, Cerinthus, Saturnilus, Basilides and Carpocrates. Irenaeus even established a counter-lineage of succession in opposition to the supposed ‘orthodox’ line of succession (ibid. 3.4.3 Clement Alex., Strom. 7:17). Thus, in opposition to the Catholic clergy, and the tradition it received from “Peter and Paul”, etc., there was the counter succession of Marcion, Valentinus, Carpocrates, Basilides, Saturnilus, Cerinthus, Menander and Simon (Irenaeus, ibid., 1.23ff., 2. pref.). And, I might add, Simon was in turn a member of the HellenistChurch who was converted by Philip.

It is highly doubtful or course that any of these schools actually received anything from Simon, or that they held him in any kind of esteem. To the contrary these schools were known for their belief in an Unknown God that had never been revealed to mankind, except through Jesus. The Catholic sources are also vague on exactly where Nicolaus fits into this counter-lineage. Was Nicolaus a disciple of Simon, or the reverse? Or did Nicolaus and Simon emerge separately? Or is it possible that the Simon story is mostly legend, and that the real heretical tradition emerged from Nicolaus and Paul (and Stephen)?

I think the latter scenario is the most plausible. And I think the argument can be made that Gnostic theology represents the legacy of the HellenistChurch and the teachings of Nicolaus and Paul. I think that Simon actually had less influence because the Simon myth is so outlandish. Simonianism is truly the doctrine of a small, eccentric fringe group that actually rejected Christianity. But the historical record shows that the Gnostic movement laid claim to Christianity. The Gnostic movement also had a comparatively large following, and was concerned with intelligent philosophical questions that would appeal to thinking people. The Gnostics admired Paul and recognized their own ideas in Paul’s writings. Paul was also a deep thinker; and his efforts to work out the paradoxes of the flesh and the spirit, and of the Law and the Gospel, led to ideas that were new and revolutionary.

Let us now investigate the question as to what extent the doctrines of the early Gnostic movement can be linked with Paul, Nicolaus, Simon and the HellenistChurch (Stephen). First I want to set forth a theory of the doctrines that Paul, Nicolaus, Simon, and even Stephen, shared in common. Most significant is that Paul and Stephen had unorthodox notions of biblical theology. I have set forth this evidence above. Paul and Stephen refused to believe that God was active everywhere in the Old Testament (2 Cor. 3:14) and that the Israelites were instead under the rule of angels—not God (Gal. 3:19, Acts 7:53). It is difficult to know for sure whether Paul and Stephen believed in a supreme Creator God, or of a higher God altogether. But it is a fact that Paul did not regard fleshly man as created in the image of God as indicated in Gen. 1:26 (1 Cor. 15:45–49). Paul associated the creation of man with Gen. 2:7 alone; hence man bears the image of the earth, “earthy” (1 Cor. 15:47). This leaves Paul’s theology and cosmogony open to interpretation. Paul also made clear that he did not regard God as completely sovereign over the world: but that the world was under the authority of rulers and enemies “and that the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” Indeed Paul wrote of a time to come when all rule and all power and authority would be put down, so that God the Father may “be all, and in all” (1 Cor. 15:24–28). In light of these statements one may conclude at the very least that Paul believed that the world was ruled by angels: and that the plan for salvation was orchestrated by God alone through the spiritual ministry of the Son. Paul made clear that he regarded the angels as rulers in Galatians 3:19–4:9. Stephen identified these angelic rulers as the “hosts of heaven” (Acts. 7:42).

It is possible that Nicolaus thought along similar lines. The passage quoted above from Against All Heresies is somewhat lurid, but the motif on which it is based is primitive: Darkness conquered and raped the Light and begat seven tyrannical angels which created the material cosmos. It is doubtful that Nicolaus invented the idea of the Darkness conquering the Light. But it’s possible that he regarded the world of his day as being ruled by the seven planetary powers which, in Jewish fashion, he would have identified with angels. Simon Magus also shared the idea that angels governed the world. These angels opposed the higher authority which Simon identified with himself.

The early Gnostic systems all share primitive themes that resonate with the consensus that can at least be established firmly with Paul and Stephen, and is reflected in Simon and Nicolaus. The early Gnostic teachers, i.e. Menander, Cerinthus, Saturnilus, Basilides and Carpocrates, all share the notion that the world was created and ruled by angels. They also agree that the God and lawgiver of the Jews was an angel. The supreme Deity is a lofty unknown Being that is revealed to Human kind through the Savior Jesus [4]. These fundamental themes can be regarded as mere expansions of revolutionary ideas that were introduced among the Hellenist Christians. All of the major Gnostic tenets can be traced back to Paul, and from Paul, to Stephen. Nicolaus and Simon are two suspects who were present in the vicinity at the time. The Catholic Fathers focus on Simon and Nicolaus as the culprits. But I suspect this is a cover story. The real story and the real consensus are preserved in the writings of Paul and the speech attributed to Stephen in Acts.

Paul and Stephen were part of a HellenistChurch that refused to assign the whole ugly story of the Old Testament directly to God Himself. The Hellenists had more complex and lofty ideas of the Deity as compared with their more primitive Hebrew counterparts. The Jewish Christians still believed in the jealous war God of the Old Testament. But this old traditional view had never been fully inculcated among the Hellenists, many of whom had been exposed to Platonic and Stoic concepts of theology. Indeed the author of Acts was familiar with such ideas; and these ideas were placed in Paul’s mouth in Acts 17, where the Apostle gives his speech regarding the “unknown god” before the Greek philosophers of Athens (on the Hill of Ares). The Hellenists did not have a purely Jewish view of God. And this caused them to interpret the Bible in ways that deviated from traditional Jewish doctrine, which the Hebrew Christians continued to embrace. Inevitably, the evidence at hand shows that the HellenistChurch had a different theology, and a different God, in comparison with the Jewish Church. This other theology and God of the HellenistChurch eventually emerged into the Unknown God of later Gnostic theology.

In my view the “orthodox” New Testament writings contain evidence which shows that Irenaeus’s “Apostolic Tradition” is nothing more than a façade which continues to hide the real history of the earliest Christians, and the highly peculiar nature of their doctrines. Without a doubt the early Christian movement represents one of the most fascinating and profound developments in the history of religious ideas. —jw 

 

Notes

1] Once again I am indebted to the research of the late Unitarian theologian Arthur Powell Davies and his excellent book The First Christian: A study of St. Paul and Christian origins.

2] E.g. Robert M. Wilson, The Gnostic Problem, pg. 43f. Wilson states his opinion that some Jews were willing to modify their beliefs in the face of “philosophical criticism.” If there was a passage in the Bible that seemed to present a crude anthropomorphic portrayal of God, then Jewish exegetes would re-interpret the passage as referring to an angel. See also J. Charlesworth, Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, vol. 1, pg. xxxi.

3] The famous scholar Wilhelm Bousset states that Irenaeus made Paul suitable for orthodoxy by “distorting the genuine Pauline ideas and divesting them of their essential nature” (Kyrios Christos, pg. 446). James Dunn states that the Catholic Fathers could only rescue Paul from the Gnostics by “abusing” him (Unity and Diversity in the New Testament, pg. 291). We have seen examples of this abuse in part I.

4] These points are affirmed by Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1.23–26.1. Even in Irenaeus’s own report he admits that all the Gnostics, in contrast with their supposed founder (Simon), all affirmed that Jesus was the Savior and Son of the unknown Father, whereas Simon made no claim to Christianity.

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

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Gnostic Insights in the New Testament Gospels

(Original title: Orthodoxy, Heresy and Jesus, II)

In my previous article, Can the Gospel Witnesses be Trusted?, I exposed the contradictions inherent in the literal “flesh and blood” interpretation of the Gospels. I also explained why it is unjust for so-called “orthodox” Christians to use the four Gospels as a standard by which to judge other Christians who refuse to read the Gospels literally. In this article I want to explain why the Gnostics, historically, made an appeal to these same Gospels and regarded them as sources of divine revelation.

When we hear the words “Gnostic scripture” we most often think of the Gnostic Gospels and treatises as found in the Nag Hammadi Library. But in ancient times the Gnostics were also known for their extensive use of the Gospels and Epistles that we identify today with the New Testament. And indeed these very writings were at the center of the controversy that raged between early Catholic and Gnostic factions. The Catholic Fathers provided a record of this controversy from their point of view; and they make clear that the Gnostic use of these writings was a major problem. The Gnostic use of such Gospels as Matthew, Luke and John threatened everything that the Catholic clergy wanted to establish in terms of a uniform and ‘correct’ theological standard. The problem was that the Gospels did not provide a clear standard in themselves. The Gnostics recognized the divergent themes and they allowed this diversity to shape their theology and myth.

The great Catholic Father Irenaeus informs us that the Gnostics had a peculiar critical approach to the Gospels. According to his report the Gnostics did not believe that everything in these Gospels was purely true or accurate. Irenaeus described the Gnostic approach this way: “When, however, they are confuted from the Scriptures, they turn around and accuse these same Scriptures, as if they were not correct, nor of authority, and that they are ambiguous, and that the truth cannot be extracted from them by those who are ignorant of tradition. … For they maintain that the Apostles intermingled the things of the Law with the words of the Savior; and that not the Apostles alone, but even the Lord Himself, spoke as at one time from the Demiurge, at another from the intermediate place (Sophia), and yet again from the Pleroma. But they themselves, indubitably, unsulliedly, and purely, have knowledge of the hidden mystery: this is, indeed, to blaspheme their Creator after a most impudent manner!” (Against Heresies, 3.2.1-2.)

In there own way the Gnostics recognized that the Gospels were composite in nature: hence some of Jesus’ sayings came from the Demiurge; other sayings came from Sophia, or the Pleroma. And the Apostles themselves confused Jesus’ teachings with the Law of Moses, and they preached under the “influence of Jewish opinions” (ibid. 3.12.12). According to the Gnostics only a certain element of the Gospels contained the pure, spiritual truth. In this present article we will look at an important example of what this truth actually was, and why the Gnostics used the Gospels as a license to blaspheme the Creator.

Let us begin by considering the question of what form the four Gospel texts existed in when they were used by “heretics” like Valentinus, Ptolemy and Marcion. These people conducted their activities around the middle of the second century. Catholic records from the same time period show that the Gospel manuscripts were not named and quoted as they were later with Irenaeus (c. 180). Irenaeus was the first Catholic leader to quote the Gospels by the names we know today. If we go back a generation to Justin Martyr (c. 160) we find that the Gospels are not quoted by name, and are referred to instead as “memoirs of the Apostles” (Adolph von Harnack, History of Dogma, vol. 2, pg. 41f.). The Gnostic Ptolemy lived in the same period as Justin. He alludes to the Gospel of Matthew in his Letter to Flora, which historians date between 150 and 160. Like Justin, Ptolemy does not mention or quote “Matthew” by name. A generation earlier we find Marcion (c. 140). Marcion used a form of the Gospel that Irenaeus later identified as Luke. But Marcion never identified that Gospel with Luke just as Justin didn’t. Also of significance is that Marcion used a different form of this Gospel (Luke) than the Catholic Fathers later used. The Fathers accused Marcion of “mutilating” Luke’s Gospel; but the valid question remains as to whether the present Gospel of Luke, which we have inherited from the Catholic Fathers, is truly comprised of unified elements which constitute an original, homogenous text (see below).

My point is that there is no evidence that the four Gospel traditions existed in the forms in which they were named later. An example of this problem may be seen in the letter of 1 Clement, which historians date at 90 AD. In orthodox tradition 1 Clement was written by one of the “Apostolic fathers” who was known as “Clement of Rome.” The term “Apostolic fathers” is a name for those early church leaders who were supposedly born and raised among the Apostles. Clement was said to have known the Apostle Peter personally and later succeeded him as bishop of the Roman church. The letter of 1 Clement was supposedly written by him. If this is true then this letter is the earliest ecclesiastical text outside of the New Testament (assuming all the NT writings are as early as claimed).

Like the other sources named above, 1 Clement does not quote any Gospel by name. But in one section there is a quote from certain elements of Matthew. The writer begins by saying “Remember the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, how he said, ‘Woe to that man [by whom offences come]! It were better for him if he had never been born, than that he should cast a stumbling-block before my elect. Yea, it were better for him that a millstone should be hung about [his neck], and he should be sunk in the depths of the sea, than that he should cast a stumbling-block before one of my little ones’.” (1 Clement 46, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1, pg. 17f.)

Of significance is that this passage from “Clement” is actually a conflation of diverse passages from Matthew 18:6 and 26:24. As these passages appear in our present day Gospel, they have no relationship to each other and are found in different parts of the book. Yet Clement quotes these passages as if they are from one statement. The above passage raises the following questions: Did this writer simply conflate two passages from different parts of Matthew? – or is he quoting from a source which framed Jesus’ words in a different order? (Think about it: Why would Clement, the bishop of Rome, quote Jesus in such a confused way in an official letter to the Corinthian Church? The more plausible alternative is that the author has quoted the words of Jesus from a tradition that was much different from the form that appeared later under the name of Matthew.)

All the evidence at hand shows that, before the Catholic Fathers (c. 180), the Gospel traditions were not named, and that these traditions were not organized in the forms that appeared later. In support of this point is that the four Gospel manuscripts today are anonymous: none of these texts identifies its author, or explains the nature of the relationship of that author to the Lord of whom he bears witness. It is amazing that the Gospels purport to be witnesses to the single most important event in history; and yet none of the authors will put their names on these documents! (Of note is that the author of John claims to derive his information from the “disciple whom Jesus loved”, Jn. 21:24. But neither the author nor the disciple are officially identified by name.)

Also in support of this point is that the Gospels contain internal, conflicting elements which appear obvious once they are exposed. One obvious example can be seen in a comparison of Matthew 10:5-6, 23 and 28:19. In the former passage Jesus instructs his Apostles to preach to Israelites only; and in verse 23 Jesus assures them that they “shall not have gone through all the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.”

Next, let us compare Matthew 28:19, “Go ye therefore and teach all nations…” And also Matthew 24:14, “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world…then shall the end come.”

The passages above contain irreconcilable statements. In Matthew 10 Jesus instructs his Apostles to preach to Israelites only, and that they will not have gone through all the cities of Israel before the kingdom arrives. Matthew 24:14 and 28:19 say that the Apostles must preach to all nations before the kingdom arrives.

It is obvious that Matthew 10 is derived from an early Jewish Christian tradition which regarded Jesus as a Jewish prophet who proclaimed that the “son of man”, viz. the Messiah, was coming soon. Matthew 24:34 is also part of this Jewish tradition: Jesus promises his followers that the kingdom will arrive before the end of their generation. In comparison, Matthew 28:19 is from a different source which no longer recognizes the imminent arrival of the kingdom; hence the followers of Jesus must now preach to the entire world before the end finally comes. Matthew 24:14 is also from a different source and is in conflict with Matthew 10:23.

Another example of contradictory elements may be seen in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5. In Matthew 5:17-19 Jesus informs his followers that no part of the Law of Moses will pass away until all things are fulfilled. As we read though the Sermon everything is consistent until we reach verse 38. At this point the Sermon takes a radically different turn, and “Jesus” begins annulling certain definitive points of the Law. Thus in verse 38 Jesus annuls the “eye for an eye” statute (Ex. 21:24) and commands instead that his followers “resist not an evil person.” And in verse 43 Jesus overturns the statutes defining the enemies of Israel (Dt. 7, 23:3). Jesus commands instead that his followers are to “love their enemies.”

Matthew 5:17-19 is consistent with the early Jewish tradition of Jesus as found in Matthew 10. Jesus tells his followers to keep all of the Law, and the Apostles are to preach to Israelites only. But Matthew 5:38-48 contains a doctrine and theology which is not consistent with the other elements. Either Jesus was deeply confused, or Mt. 5:38-48 originates from some other alternative tradition of Jesus.

The theology of Matthew 5:38-48 is also unbiblical and un-Jewish, and at this point a connection with Gnosticism becomes evident. In Matthew 5:48 Jesus makes an appeal to God as the authority behind the changes that he has made to the Law. Hence his followers are to resist not evil, and to love their enemies, so that they will be “perfect” as their “Father in heaven is perfect.” What is meant here by the idea of a perfect Father? And can this idea be reconciled with the jealous God and Lawgiver of the Old Testament? (i.e. the Demiurge) The Lawgiver expressly warned the Israelites to keep all of his laws: “For the Lord thy God is a jealous God among you lest the anger of the Lord be kindled against you and destroy you from off the face of the earth” and in the same passage “Ye shall diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and his testimonies, and his statutes, which he hath commanded you” (Dt. 6:15, 17). In Matthew 5:17-19ff. Jesus’s instruction is consistent with the Lawgiver/Demiurge; but in 5:38-48 the instruction opposes the Lawgiver in favor of a God who is perfect, and not jealous. The perfect God is not interested in revenge (an eye for an eye) or in keeping track of enemies (e.g. Dt. 7).

The unique ideas in Matthew 5:38-48 are reflected in the teaching of the Gnostic Ptolemy in his Letter to Flora. He reasons accordingly that the Law of Moses was not given by the “perfect God” because the Law itself is “imperfect” and in need of “fulfillment” (Bentley Layton, Gnostic Scriptures, pg. 308f.). Ptolemy understood Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon to mean that the Law itself was given by the Demiurge, and that Jesus corrected the Law under the authority of the higher, perfect Father. It is noteworthy that Ptolemy established his doctrine on the Gospel we know as Matthew, and not from any conventional “Gnostic” text.

Another point where Matthew contains a non-Jewish, non-biblical element is in Matthew 11:27. This was one of the passages that Irenaeus was most concerned about; and he remarked of the Gnostics that Matthew 11:27 was the “crown” of their system (Against Heresies, 1.20.3). This passage reads “All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son.” Irenaeus resorted to specious theological reasoning in order to explain this passage away, as if Jesus were simply speaking to orthodox Christians (ibid., 4.6). But the true, relevant question is what did these words mean to Jews and everything they believed about the scriptures and the Law? In that context what Jesus meant is that Moses had no knowledge of the true God. This is the proper context in which the passage in Matthew 11:27 is supposed to be understood. Hence: only Jesus knows the Father; Moses never knew the Father.

This theme regarding Moses is also found in the Gospel of John, and is a central underlying theme. In John 6:46 Jesus assures his disciples that “Not that any man has seen the Father, save he which is from God, he has seen the Father.” Jesus’s point here was to make sure his hearers understood that Isaiah (quoted in the preceding verse) had never seen the Father (cf. John. 6:45, Isaiah 54:13, Isaiah 6:1).

This theme is also reflected in the words of John the Baptist as reported in John 1:17-18. John testified of Jesus that “the Law was given by Moses; but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. No Man has seen God at any time.” John here denied that Moses had seen God and received the Law from God as is stated, e.g., in Deuteronomy 34:10, “And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom YHWH knew face to face.” (cf. Ex. 20:1f.)

The author of John makes a special point of supporting the correctness and infallibility of this theme that is introduced through John the Baptist. Thus in John 5:31-33 Jesus says: “If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true. There is another that beareth witness of me; and I know that the witness he witnessed of me is true. Ye sent unto John, and he bare witness unto the truth.”

In the above passage Jesus is made to confirm that John the Baptist’s testimony is “true” as found in John 1:17-18. Thus according to John the Baptist, Moses did not receive the Law from God, and that “grace and truth” came only through Jesus, not Moses. Thus only Jesus speaks the truth; whereas the Law came through Moses. The Law itself is not the truth. The Gospel of John further states that this was how the Pharisees understood Jesus when they rejected his message: “We know that God spake unto Moses: as for this fellow, we know not from whence he is” (John 9:29).

This theme is also found in John 17:25, “O righteous Father, the world has not known you…” (cf. Isaiah 64:4)

In the passages I have presented above we can see elements of a theology that does not conform to Judeo-Christian conceptions or doctrines. The theology of an unknown God is implicit in these passages. And this was why the Gnostics believed that there was a divine core truth in the New Testament Gospel traditions. And once these elements are pointed out, it is possible to see why the Gnostics attributed one part of the Gospel to the Demiurge, and another part to the Pleroma, as Irenaeus reported. The Gnostics recognized that there was more than one theology in the teachings of Jesus.

I would like to conclude with one last example from the Gospel of Luke as used by Marcion. The Catholic Fathers blasted Marcion and accused him of cutting up this Gospel. Supposedly Marcion removed the first three and a half chapters of Luke. And he took Luke 3:1 and attached it to 4:31, and created a new beginning for the Gospel which resumed at 4:31f. In the process Luke’s name was supposedly left with the other scraps on the cutting room floor.

But are these charges really true? Is it that simple; and did this Gospel really exist in the form in which we have received it from the Catholic Fathers?

Let us compare two passages from Luke 6:35 and 4:8. In the former passage Jesus tells his followers: “But love your enemies…and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and the evil.”

And in Luke 4:8 we read the words of Jesus, which are a quote from Deuteronomy 6:13, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.”

The discerning reader will recognize that the theology of Luke 6:35 cannot be reconciled with the words of Jesus in Luke 4:8/Dt. 6:13. In Luke 6:35 Jesus appeals to a God who is “kind unto the unthankful and the evil.” This is the diametric opposite of the God that is described in Dt. 6 and in the books of Moses in general. In these books God is a vengeful and jealous being who vigorously punishes transgressions; and also punished and slew the Israelites for their murmurings and ingratitude (e.g. Numbers 14).

In short, Luke 6:35 cannot be reconciled with the other elements of theology which are found in Luke, and which are found in Jewish and Catholic traditions. Marcion perhaps believed that his Gospel (Luke) was doctored up, and he tried to separate the elements that he recognized as true. Or it may be that Marcion had an earlier homogenous form of this text, and the Catholic Fathers slandered him and advanced their counter-text under the name of Luke.

For better or worse the New Testament Gospels (or certain elements thereof) were an important part of the emergence of Gnostic theology. The Gnostics were, and are to this day, those mystics who have revelation of the better God above it all. Some elements of the Gospels originate from such people; and they placed these ideas in Jesus’ mouth.

Also of significance is that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke can be shown to be composite in nature, and are derived from diverse elements which were not originally united. Some parts are Jewish Christian, other parts are proto-Catholic, and other parts are proto-Gnostic. These Gospels were pieced together from traditions that originated from different sects, and are the product of an attempt to reconcile diverse traditions and ideas into uniform and coherent accounts; all of which were intended to force these elements into conformity with the emerging Catholic, orthodox creed. But when these diverse elements are examined it becomes conceivable as to how Gnostics embraced the teachings of Jesus, but those teachings never originally included the notion of a “second coming” or a fleshly incarnation, or a Jewish theology, or a Mosaic priority. Again, as the Gospels presently exist, there is evidence to show that each text is comprised of separate elements which were never part of any original unity or consensus.

Now of course it may seem like a logical conclusion to state that if we look to the “Gnostic Gospels” that we will find a pure and uniform statement of Jesus’s doctrine. But here again it is not that simple; ironically the Gnostic writings also contain a diversity of doctrine. But it is true that Gnostic texts do contain a wider statement of doctrine that add context to those mysterious themes in the New Testament that are all too brief.

In the next installment of this series we will look at the puzzling diversity of the Gnostic traditions. But at the same time we will also look at some key doctrines that add context to those Gnostic themes in the New Testament Gospels. –jw 

By Jim West. Copyright © 2007, 2013. All Rights Reserved.

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