" Always seek mutual consent with one another ... "
They said to him, ' What is the place to which we are going? ' The Lord said, ' Stand in the place you can reach! ' " Mary said, ' Everything established thus is seen. ' The Lord said, ' I have told you that it is the one who can see who reveals. '
A Working Timeline for How Modern Christianity Strayed From Its Origins: Part 1
Since it’s the Holiday season and I’m now off work for a few weeks, I’ve been thinking about the Early Church. I’ve been trying to piece together how early Christianity morphed to provide the framework for today’s Christianity. I’ve wrote about Gnostics and true early Christianity before, but I thought it would be fun to dig in and provide the larger picture for how Christianity started and progressed to what it is today. Of course I’m no scholar, and I’m sure there are a lot of things I will get wrong. But I hope I can provide an interesting timeline with some reasonable evidence to point to a working theory.
I also thought this would be fun to do because readers could interject where they think I am right or wrong. I welcome both viewpoints. Don’t look at this as a post to prove one viewpoint over another, but rather as online discussion for those interested in early Christianity and how the Early Church developed. Maybe together we can get some really good discussions that will broaden all of our perspectives. I’ll be focusing on such things like Paul, which of his letters are authentic, Gnosticism, many of the early church fathers, the Roman Empire, Synods and councils, and the different beliefs and movements that have developed because of these events, especially in the Early Church.
I think this series of posts—they may turn out quite long if we get enough discussion—will be unique. Most scholarly works on the Early Church look at the small picture. They focus on particular time periods and events and never get into the bigger picture of how we got to where we are today as it concerns Christianity. This is understandable because it’s an immense topic that no one book could ever cover very thoroughly. But this blog isn’t meant to be scholarly and I think the broad topic can be tackled with some good results from mostly laymen writing (and some scholarly interjections).
I’ll start this post off in the series with a little bit of information and then pose questions to you, the reader. I hope to get some good feedback before the next post on your thoughts. Who knows? Maybe some of you will get me thinking in a direction I’ve never been down before. Perhaps we’ll get some reasonable arguments together that will help us to piece together a timeline that will make sense to the esoteric community and maybe even some believers in more traditional Christianity who are searching out problems with the traditional timeline, which clearly has some issues by the way.
I realize I’ve been inactive on the blog for a while, but hopefully this will jumpstart some good conversation again at SOS.
The Problem of Paul’s Works
I am going to start this series with Paul. I believe we have to look at Paul first for two reasons:
Paul (or the person who took that name) wrote most of the New Testament. The distribution of his works is responsible for giving Christianity its start.
Paul’s letters were the first books of the New Testament written. They were penned before any of the Gospels.
That being said, there are a few additional points that should be made. Almost all scholars agree that the seven epistles listed below were definitely written by Paul:
Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon.
There is a huge lack of scholarly consensus on the other six. They are:
Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus.
My personal opinion is that Ephesians and Colossians are also Pauline. But perhaps most importantly, MOST critical scholars (and myself) reject 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus as Pauline. I say perhaps most importantly because the latter three are known as the Pastoral Epistles, which deal directly with the structure of the Early Church. By structure I mean its leaders and the way certain issues should be handled. Why is this so important?
If most modern scholars reject the Epistles that deal with Church Structure, we have to ask the question: Is it possible that these Epistles were written at a much later date to advance Early Christianity in a direction that the original writer of the first 7 or 9 Epistles didn’t intend? I believe YES, absolutely.
Below I will lay this case out in more detail. We will come back to the above questions much later, so keep it in the back of your mind. For now, we’ll stick to Paul mostly.
Will The True Jesus of Paul Stand Up?
Who was the true Jesus of Paul? The traditional view is that Paul believed in a historical Jesus. But in the past few decades that consensus has begun to change. While most scholars still believe Paul preached a historical Jesus, I wouldn’t be surprised if that tide completely turns in the next twenty to thirty years.
I have come to the conclusion that Paul’s Jesus was a mythical one. I also believe that Paul’s Jesus was a spiritual power from the Old Testament, the same revelation of messiah that mystical Jews and Gnostics would have embraced. The greatest Gnostic teachers of antiquity such as Valentinus stated that Paul was their teacher. This is odd since later church fathers stated that Paul was anti-Gnostic, which is why I believe that most critical scholars can now say with complete confidence that the Pastoral Epistles were never penned by Paul.
Before we get into the scriptures I want to reiterate that Paul’s epistles were written BEFORE the Gospels. The Gospels are responsible for providing the historical framework for Jesus when interpreted literally. But we MUST remember that Paul was writing BEFORE any historical narrative of a literal Christ was put to parchment. In fact, no historical narrative of Jesus was penned until after Paul’s death. In today’s Christianity that fact almost seems backwards thinking, but it’s been firmly established by scholars. Why is this so important?
As I have discussed on this site before, Paul never mentions a virgin birth, a mother of Jesus by the name of Mary, or a father by the name of Joseph. His omission of such important events is a great clue as to who Paul’s Jesus really was. Could it be that his Jesus wasn’t the historical Jesus of the Gospels?
Whenever Paul does mention a seemingly historical point about Jesus, it’s cryptic instead of using language that would establish a definite link. In the next post I’ll show you why I think even the references that seem to point to a historical Jesus are not references to the same historical Jesus we know through the Gospels.
Paul claims that he has his own Gospel
Consider the scripture below;
“Now to him that is power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets…” (Gal. 25-26).
Galatians is the least disputed Epistle when it comes to Pauline authorship, and the above scripture shows that Paul had a personal gospel. What does that mean? He gives us the answer in Gal. 1:12:
“For I neither received it [the Gospel of Christ] of man, neither was I taught it…”
Hmm? Paul’s gospel is from no man. Not a man named Jesus, nor the apostles that supposedly walked with him, or any eyewitness accounts. How does any human learn of the historical Jesus? They are taught it through the reading of the New Testament Gospels and by other men who are relying on the New Testament Gospels. Paul, on the other hand, received his gospel through direct revelation. The only scriptures Paul had was the Old Testament, and his Jesus Christ would have to align with the spiritual understanding of messiah that can be gleaned from there. I think this point is often missed. Remember that the best Jewish scholars of the Old Testament reject that Isaiah prophesied about a future virgin birth for their future messiah. The translation of Isaiah’s prophecy does not match the language or context of a future virgin birth as presented in Matthew and Luke. Since the New Testament Gospels were constructed much later than Paul’s writings, we shouldn’t impose anything that they say into Paul’s belief system. This is only logical. Why? Because Paul himself states that he learned HIS gospel only from direct revelation.
Furthermore, the messiah that Paul speaks of above that is rooted in the Old Testament (his Jesus Christ), is veiled in symbolism and allegory. This site is all about that, so I won’t get into that here. But we should look at what Paul himself says.
That being said, let’s return to Galatians:
“For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. But he who was born of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. Which things are an allegory…” (Gal. 4:22-24).
The Greek word for allegory there means fable. Fables are meant to teach us lessons, but they are not literal nor real. It is rather the spiritual understanding that’s important, not the literal interpretation, just like Aesop’s Fables. Why would Paul call the story of Abraham’s offspring a fable? Paul gives us the answer to this question in 2 Corinthians, a definite authentic Pauline passage:
“…for the letter of the law kills, but the spirit gives life.” (2 Cor. 3:6).
By “letter of the law” Paul is speaking of the written Torah. He seems to be saying then that the spiritual, or lesson taught through the allegory or fable is what speaks to the spirit, and that the literal interpretation of the fable kills. Why does it kill? Because the literal interpretation of myth causes us to focus on the physical aspect instead of the spiritual aspect.
That is the key to Paul’s Jesus—it is a spiritual power raised within that has nothing to do with belief in a historical man.
Christians who state Paul’s Jesus was the historical Jesus of the Gospels will often use Galatians 4:4, which states:
“But when the fullness of time was come, God sent forth his son, made of a woman, made under the law…”
That scripture does not back up the traditional argument. In fact, just the opposite. When Galatians four is taken in context, Paul is using metaphor to discuss his theology. Remember Galatians 4:24, where the two covenants is allegory? Galatians 4:4 and in fact the entire chapter is no different. The women represents the flesh, and the law is the sin and corruption of that flesh. However, Paul says it is the SPIRIT of the Son that is sent into the heart.
Consider more of Galatians below:
“And because you are sons, God has sent forth the SPIRIT of his son into your hearts…” (Gal. 4-6).
Continuing with Galatians, Paul states that once we have this spiritual revelation, we shouldn’t again turn to the beggarly elements, where we observe days, and months, and times and years. (Gal 4: 10). In other words, how can you follow the letter of the law (any type of literal interpretation) and think that is what makes you spiritual?
Think about Paul’s next statements:
“And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus…” (Gal. 4:14).
Huh? Even AS Christ Jesus? Could an Apostle who knew of the historical Jesus of the Gospels say such things? If so, it’d be a little strange unless his Jesus was the mythical Jesus received in the heart, such as Paul discusses in Gal. 4:19:
“My little children of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed IN YOU…”
Again, it is the Jesus that is birthed IN YOU, not the belief in a historical Jesus story, that is important to Paul.
I realize that all my of above assertions will make much more sense if I can show where all other proof texts traditionalists use to say Paul’s Jesus was historical can be refuted, or at least given a reasonable alternative. That will be the focus of the next post.
The Forgery of the Pastoral Epistles and the succession of Mark, John, Mathew and Luke
If most critical scholars are correct and the Pastoral epistles were never penned by Paul, then things might begin to make some sense when discussing Paul’s mythical Christ. Perhaps these Epistles were written much later to impose a certain religious viewpoint that was developing during a time when the Roman Empire was going through many changes.
Consider this. Many figures in the Early Church stated that the Gospel of Matthew was penned first. This would support their cause, because this Gospel includes a genealogy of Christ that shows him to be a historical figure. The problem is that most scholars, including those that support the traditional Christian view, say that Mark was actually penned first. Furthermore, Mark contains no record of the Virgin Birth or genealogy narrative. Isn’t it odd that the first Gospel would omit this account? Scholars believe that Matthew and Luke were written from two independent sources, Mark and Q. Additionally, the Gospel of John, which also doesn’t mention the Virgin Birth, was written independently from all three and is sometimes cited as having Gnostic themes. Richard Carrier, the foremost scholar that believes Paul’s Christ was mythical, states that Matthew was written as a redaction Mark’s Gospel. In others words, let’s write a Gospel connecting Jesus Christ to a valid Jewish heritage with historical background. Recent scholarship on the dates and the themes of the Gospels make this a possibility.
Thus far we have covered the following points:
Paul wrote his epistles before any historical account of Jesus was penned.
Paul had his own gospel that he learned from no man, including Jesus or any eyewitness account of a historical Jesus
Paul believed that the Old Testament story of Abraham’s offspring was allegory. This and the first two points have huge implications when considered collectively.
Paul believed that the literal interpretation of the scriptures kills, whereas the spiritual revelation of them gives life. In my view, I believe this applies to the entire Old Testament.
Paul preached a Christ that was birthed WITHIN you, through personal revelation.
Most scholars agree that the pastoral epistles were never penned by Paul. This will become crucial in future post when we tackle the development of the Catholic Church.
I understand that these points in no way prove that Paul’s Jesus wasn’t the historical figure we have been taught through mainstream Christianity. The point may never be proven. But then the point that Jesus WAS a historical figure can’t be proven either. So let’s keep an open mind. My only motivation was to lay some groundwork that gives us a different picture than what we may have been traditionally taught.
In the next post I am going to get into the most widely used scriptures that traditionalist say support that Paul believed in a historical Jesus. We will dissect them one by one and give alternative viewpoints which support the mythical Gnostic Jesus instead of a historical one. I’ll be using Elaine Pagels and other scholar’s viewpoints, as well as some of my own thoughts.
I am traveling tomorrow to my wife’s parents for the rest of the Holidays, so I can’t say when I will get to it, but it will be in the next week or two. I think this works out good anyway because it will give plenty of time for discussion in between should any of you decide to participate. I would love to hear your thoughts! I only ask that you be civil if you disagree. Blessings!
How Modern Christianity Developed Part 2
In part one of this series, I spoke about the Jesus that Paul preached. I gave five or six reasons and presented more than a few scriptures to justify that Paul’s Jesus was in fact a mythical Christ that served as a model for deeper revelation. Today’s post will continue unveiling some of Paul’s sayings that point to Gnostic principles. This is important ground work and hopefully it will open many doors of understanding for us when we get into how and why the institutionalized church developed (It’s not all about Constantine).
In this post we’ll also unveil the biggest proof text used by traditionalist to state Paul believed in a historical Jesus. Many traditionalist believe that this proof text closes the debate down for good, but I believe they are sorely mistaken (respectfully, of course :)).
Before we break down some of Paul’s statements, we must make a few pertinent points about Gnosticism.
How the Gnostics Classified People
The Gnostics designated people into three groups: the pneumatics, the psychics, and the hylics. Let’s take a brief look at each of these designations:
The pneumatics were considered the highest order of spiritual humans who had realized gnosis, a personal, experiential knowledge allowing them to transcend the material world. Pneumatics had received the direct revelation of Jesus Christ, the inner truth, or divine spark of Sophia (wisdom). The emphasis on the pneumatic was an inner truth that couldn’t be received from any man, which birthed the higher nature in man.
(Keep this in mind as you remember Paul’s gospel which was received by the direct revelation of Christ rather than flesh and blood!).
The psychics were the middle order of humans who had potential, but had not yet reached gnosis. These people still believed that the scripture was literal. They emphasized a literal resurrection of a literal Jesus who also allowed for the bodily resurrection of the saints. The Gnostics found these beliefs absurd, and believed in a resurrection not at some future date, but in this earthly life.
The Gnostic pneumatics often worshiped side by side with these individuals, but then often met in secret to discuss the higher mysteries of spirituality outside of the more institutionalized church. (It is important to note that the institutionalization of the church was a process that took a few centuries, which we shall discuss more in this series later).
This class of person was considered by Gnostics to have no interest in developing the higher nature, basically a heathen, never being able to obtain the seed (in that life) that would develop the soul from the lower animal nature to the higher.
A brief note about Valentinus
Valentinus began the biggest Gnostic movement of the 2nd century, and was perhaps the most well-known Gnostic of all time. His teacher, Theudas, claimed to have been a direct disciple of Paul. This is plausible since Valentinus was born 100 A.D., a mere 40-45 years from the date that Paul wrote his epistles. Valentinus was known, even by his most fierce opponents (the literalists), as a “brilliant” and “eloquent” man.
Remember the three spiritual classifications (pneumatic, psychic, and hylic) the Gnostics assigned to man? Valentinus taught his disciples that Paul’s epistles instructed on two levels: the pneumatic and the psychic. In other words, a literal and spiritual level. But do not be confused. Valentinus would have also said that Paul used a literal interpretation of scriptures only to help develop the higher nature of man, hoping that they would one day move from a psychic understanding (literal interpretation) to a pneumatic understanding (gnosis, the direct revelation of Christ). For Paul, at least according to Valentinus, the literal interpretation was of no real value in the end. It only served as a foundation with which to begin spiritual training.
Valentinus would have also claimed that Paul did with his disciples just as Jesus did. Remember that Jesus told the disciples it was given to them to know the mysteries (gnosis?) of the kingdom, but to the multitude (the psychics?) he taught in parables. In like fashion, Paul makes many scriptural claims that seem to point to the same line of reasoning. Could Paul indeed have tried to pull the psychics up by their bootstraps and initiate them into the higher mysteries, possibly being his main mission to the gentiles? To answer this question, let’s look at some important and controversial New Testament scriptures.
Paul’s method and Christ
Let’s begin with Hebrews and Corinthians. I will admit that my overall argument has one weakness as it pertains to Hebrews. Did Paul really write it? Most literalist say he did, and on this point I must concur. In an early codex (late second century) Hebrews was assigned to Paul immediately following the epistle to the Romans. The Church of Rome later disputed Paul’s authorship, which I believe was because many of Paul’s sayings in Hebrews sounded too Gnostic. At any rate, the write had Gnostic beliefs. Consider Hebrews 6:1-2:
“Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go onto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith towards God, of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of the resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment…” (Hebrews 6:1; 6:2).
I don’t think many traditionalists stop long enough to ponder what this verse is really saying. Notice that the author (if not Paul than certainly a Gnostic) desires to get away from doctrine. Isn’t doctrine what gives the institutionalized church and the hierarchical structure therein their authority? Why would the author, if he was a literalist, motion to leave it behind? The obvious answer is that this author also believed in a mythical Christ. Pneumatics hated doctrine. Doctrine is the literalist’s main weapon. To the Gnostic pneumatic, it serves no real purpose because it cannot impart gnosis, the direct revelation of the spiritual Christ. Notice how the author wants to leave the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. This is important, because, according to the Gnostic, the resurrection happens while one is physically alive through a direct experiential knowledge of the spiritual Christ.
The Gnostic Gospel of Philip states this about the resurrection:
“People who say they will die first and then arise are mistaken. If they do not first receive the resurrection when they are alive, once they have died they will receive nothing.”
Whether Paul wrote that verse in Hebrews or not makes little difference when we consider his other sayings that are very similar. In comparison, Paul has stated the following in 1st Corinthians 15:50:
“I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.”
Think about this statement. If Paul believed in a literal resurrection of the dead, why would he say this? If flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, then a literal resurrection makes no sense. Jesus made it specifically clear to his disciples through the Gospels that he was flesh and bone, even enjoying a meal of fish! Is that the Jesus that Paul knows? It certainly isn’t the resurrection of Jesus that he preaches. On the other hand, if Paul taught a direct experiential revelation of Christ through gnosis, then the above scripture makes sense. It is a completely spiritual experience having to do with the mind and spirit, and nothing to do with the physical body.
Furthermore, in 2nd Corinthians 6:2 Paul claims that “…now is the day of salvation.” In other words, it’s not a future event that Christians should look forward to. Rather, it is an event that can be experienced now.
Returning to Hebrews 6:1-2, where the author wishes to leave doctrine behind, the author seems to be in effect saying, c’mon you psychics, let’s move to the level of a pneumatic. Paul states in Romans:
“For I am a debtor both to the Greeks, and to the barbarians; both to the wise, and the unwise” (Romans 1:14).
Is it possible that Paul is stating the wise are the pneumatics, and the unwise are the psychics? Paul seemed to have a genuine compassion for all people. I think his mission to the gentiles would make sense in this light. Let’s consider more scripture:
“And I, brethren, could not speak to you as spiritual (pneumatic?), but unto as carnal (psychic?), even as babes into Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto you were not able to bear it. Neither are you yet now able to bear it. For ye are yet carnal…” (1 Cor. 3:1-3).
We know here that Paul is blasting the Corinthian church for being carnal. In the above scripture Paul seems to be saying that “babes in Christ” are in fact the very ones who refuse to leave behind a literal doctrine and interpretation of Christ. What is the milk? It is literal doctrine. What is the meat? It is the pneumatic revelation. Paul also says,
“But the natural man receiveth not the things of the spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him…” (1 Cor. 2:14).
In other words, the natural man, or the psychic, cannot understand the pneumatic or spiritual things of God. They seem “foolish” because they are only experienced through direct revelation, just as Paul is claimed to have on the road to Damascus. If one reads that encounter in Acts closely, it’s hard to see it any other way than Paul’s inner experience with a mystical Christ. Remember again, Paul didn’t receive his gospel from man, nor flesh and blood, nor a historical Jesus. He never met Jesus.
Romans Proof Text for Traditionalists
Now we come to the nail that the traditionalist says proves Paul was preaching a historical Jesus. The scripture reads:
“Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David, according to the flesh; and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:3-4).
At first glance the above scripture does seem to make a strong case that Paul taught a historical Christ. He mentions the seed of David and the term flesh. This is the only verse in all his epistles that strongly links Paul to a literal historical figure. But not so fast, if you are willing to believe that Valentinus was correct in saying Paul was a Gnostic. Remember that Valentinus claimed Paul taught to both the pneumatics and psychics. Elaine Pagels, in her book, The Gnostic Paul, breaks this scripture and concept down for us:
“Paul now demonstrates how he preaches the “gospel of God” in two different forms: first he proclaims the one who “came into existence of the seed of David according to the flesh,” and second, the one “designated Son of God…according to the spirit.” What does Paul mean? Does he refer first to the savior’s human lineage, and second to his relation to Yahweh, the creator? So the psychics understand Paul’s message; but the Valentinians reject such “literal” exegesis. The initiated reader learns from secret tradition that here again Paul is speaking symbolically. “David” signifies the demiurge himself—an appropriate metaphor, first in that he dominates his creatures like any petty king; and second, in that, as demiurge, he has formed and “fathered” mankind “according to the flesh.” Paul characterizes in 1:3, then, the psychic preaching of the savior “according to the flesh,” as son of the demiurge (David); but in 1:4 the pneumatic proclamation of Christ “according to the spirit” as “one designated son of God”—of the Father.” (Pg. 14).
Wow, that was a mouthful! Let’s break it down. Pagel relates to us that Paul was teaching both psychics and pneumatics in this opening to the Romans. By including verse 1:4 immediately following 1:3, Paul knew that the initiate would understand that the Jesus he was referring to was the mythical power that could be birthed within. This is why he emphasizes “according to the spirit” in 1:4.
Why would Paul tie Christ to the lineage of David in the first place? The answer is easy, and is found in Romans 1:2:
“Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the Holy Scriptures” (Romans 1:2).
Remember in our first post of this series I mentioned that Paul’s Christ was a mythical, mystical messiah rooted firmly in the Old Testament scriptures, much akin to what mystic Jews would have believed about their messiah. Paul already said the story of Abraham’s two sons was an allegory in Galatians 4:24. He is simply using the same method here to teach a deeper mystery.
I want to back up briefly to Elaine’s Pagels explanation of David being compared to the demiurge. That might have surprised some of you, unless you are already familiar with the concept of the demiurge. Before I understood more about Gnostic thought, I was appalled at such imagery. I was also appalled that Gnostics compared Yahweh of the Old Testament to the demiurge as well. But then the light bulb came on when I learned more.
How the Gnostics used the Old Testament
In his book, The Secret History of the Gnostics, Andrew Smith states:
“The only problem that the Gnostics had with the Bible as that they didn’t agree with it. Yet their disagreement led neither to a search for some other source of myth, nor to a simple rejection of God or religion, but to a creative engagement with the Hebrew myths. The Gnostics turned the Bible on its head: they made biblical heroes into tools of the evil demiurge…” (pg. 12).
I believe that first sentence by Smith is a little harsh. It’s not that the Gnostics didn’t agree with the Old Testament, it’s just that they knew it wasn’t meant to be taken literal, just as Paul confirms in Galatians chapter four. Therefore they used it accordingly to teach to the initiated. Smith has written a great book that should be read by anyone interested in Gnosticism, but I think he has missed one fundamental issue here. The Gnostics didn’t turn to other scriptures because they wholeheartedly accepted the fact that they were great spiritual tools and myths that spoke to the human psyche and soul. AND THAT WAS THEIR AUTHOR’S ORIGINAL INTENTION.
Yes, it is true that the famous Gnostic Marcion rejected the Old Testament, but I believe that’s because Marcion didn’t understand the original intention of its authors like Paul and other Gnostics did.
Who was the demiurge?
Many Christian scholars have demonized the demiurge simply because the Gnostics seemed to do the same, but that is only because Christian scholars have failed to understand who or what the demiurge, according to the Gnostics, really was.
The demiurge was not some literal lesser God of the Old Testament. The demiurge was a part of all humanity. Gaskell tells us that the demiurge is “A symbol of the Archetypal man—the self completely immersed in the matter of the lower planes—who is the World-soul and progenitor of the human race…The Higher Self, or World-soul, descending into matter, becomes perfected as the Archetypal Man from whom matter drops away. He is then the potential pattern of humanity to become actual in the perfected souls of all.”
When I was still young and inexperienced in allegorical interpretation of the Old Testament, I thought the Gnostics were doing a terrible thing to call Yahweh or King David the demiurge. But this is only because originally I thought the Gnostics were saying that the demiurge was a literal “lower” God when in fact the Gnostics believed the demiurge to be a phase necessary in the spiritual development of humanity. Yes, their language demonized him, but only according to the level that a psychic would understand him. The pneumatic would know that the demiurge was simply part of the bigger plan for spiritual development. Ah, the lightbulb goes off! The Gnostic teaching begins to make a lot of sense!
If we take all this information and combine it with the first post, we can see a more than plausible pattern that shows Paul preached the mythical Christ. As a side note, a few popular websites have claimed that Paul’s teaching can be divided into three views: the literal Christ of history, the mythical Christ, and the mystical Christ. But this is where I believe they are wrong. There is only two views, because the mythical and mystical Christ are ONE. The camp that teaches Paul can be divided into 3 categories muddies the waters too much and has little understanding of the true meaning behind the allegory and myth behind the Old Testament scriptures.
I hope these first two parts in the series helped you understand a little more about Paul’s Christ. Even if you reject that Paul’s Christ was mythical, I hope you now have a better appreciation for why anyone could make such a claim. In the next posts I am going to begin to explain why I believe the institutionalized church developed, clearly against the wishes of the earliest Christians. It was important to discuss Paul and Gnosticism because I believe I can make a very good case that traditional Christianity developed directly because of Gnostic Christianity! At any rate, modern scholarship has proven that the two theories began a fierce battle beginning in the early second century, some 60-70 years after Paul began writing his epistles. Both viewpoints claimed Paul as their hero. But as of yet the church was not institutionalized! This point is crucial as we’ll see. I believe traditional Christianity came about as a reaction to an earlier belief system.
The Development of Christianity: Part 3
In the first two posts of this series we laid some important groundwork about Paul and Gnosticism. Today I’m going to lay a little more groundwork about the synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of Thomas. This is all necessary before we get into the meat of how Orthodox Christianity and the Early Church formed.
Let’s do a brief recap.
We’ve already focused on Paul and his Christ. I presented both scriptural and historical evidence to support the conclusion that Paul’s Christ was the mystical Christ born within us. In addition, almost all scholars, both Christian and secular, agree that Paul’s Epistles were written before any of the Gospels. By Paul’s own admission, his gospel was received through direct revelation. He wasn’t influenced by any man (including the apostles and Jesus himself). Paul never mentions the Virgin Birth or Christ’s lineage, which seems a bit odd considering his prolific writing. These points set the stage for more oddities as it concerns the first synoptic Gospel to be written.
The Gospel of Mark
I want to focus on two key details concerning the Gospel of Mark: Its date of writing and the author’s theology.
It was once accepted that the Gospel of Matthew was written first, based on Orthodox tradition and the words of early church fathers. Almost all scholars unanimously agree that is now false. Mark was written first. In fact, strong evidence suggests Mark was compiled from an earlier source known as “Q.” The length of this post will not allow getting into that evidence, but it is more than compelling. But even if the Gospel of Mark were not taken from an earlier source, we still have what I see to be a glaring problem.
Mark was compiled about 65 AD. That’s about thirty years after the supposed death and resurrection of Jesus. This is significant because Paul’s epistles were composed between 50 and 55 AD, and came before any Gospel account. My glaring problem is this: Not only do Paul’s epistles (the first text written about Christ) not contain any Virgin Birth account or valid genealogies, but neither does the first Gospel account!
This is not a fact we can whisk away with theological retort. Believe me, I’ve seen all the arguments from both scholars and laymen on both sides of the fence. But I believe that anyone who dismisses this point as unimportant is only fooling themselves. Think about it: if the miraculous Virgin Birth really happened, it should be included in ALL narrative accounts of Jesus’s life, not just Luke and Matthew. In addition, it should be in the FIRST Jesus narrative account. It isn’t. But wait. The evidence continues to build. I believe the theological context of Mark’s Gospel also supports the fact that it was meant to be allegorical, and never addressing a historical person.
Mark’s gospel presents Jesus the miracle-worker and exorcist. The actions of Jesus in Mark, such as when he uses spittle to heal a blind man, are much akin to a magician. This imagery and method agrees with other mythological saviors across a broad range of religions at the time. In other words, it was a common story.
Jesus also conceals his identity. Even the disciples have a hard time understanding who he really was based on the parables that he uses. Again, this seems to paint the picture of a mythical person. Could Jesus be the inner light that is concealed behind the ego that makes up us all?
I will admit that Mark’s Gospel mentions the resurrection in chapter 16. It is widely believed that verses 16:9-20 are spurious, which basically means they were not part of the original and added later. Verse 9 mentions Jesus (although the word Jesus is omitted from the earliest texts) and seemingly tries to establish a historical view. But, Mark 16:1-8 attests to Jesus’ resurrection through an angel figure. In allegorical spiritual literature, angels were symbols of spiritual influences that minister to the soul. According to Gaskell, “They are messengers of the inner light to arouse the higher faculties.” In other words, angels are aspects of the higher-self received through mental impressions upon the waking conscious.
Isn’t it odd that the earliest Christian manuscripts, first Paul’s letters and then the first Gospel, never mentions the Virgin Birth or try to establish Jesus’ lineage? Perhaps at this time in history it wasn’t yet important to think of Jesus in this way. Perhaps that came later with tradition.
Now we can get into the real meat of this post which should give everyone lot’s to considerJ
The Gospel of Thomas
The Gospel of Thomas is a Gnostic work discovered in a little town of Egypt called Nag Hammadi in 1945. It has taken scholars years of interpretation to put all the pieces of the puzzle together, and there is still much interpretational work to be done. However, one thing is clear: it is one of the earliest Gnostic works ever complied and clearly depicts Jesus Christ as a mythical character that equates as the inner light we all contain. Jesus is seen as a wisdom teacher never meant to be literal, lacking any type of narrative.
Consider a quote from Elain Pagels work, the Gnostic Gospels:
“Quispel and his collaboraters, who first published the Gospel of Thomas, suggested the date of c. A.D. 140 for the original. Some reasoned that since these gospels were heretical, they must have been written later than the gospels of the New Testament, which are dated c. 60-110. But recently Professor Helmut Koester of Harvard University has suggested that the collection of sayings in the Gospel of Thomas, although compiled c. 140, may include some traditions ever older than the gospels of the New Testament, ‘possibly as early as the second half of the first century” (50-100)—as early as, or earlier, than Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John” (Pagels, 16-17).
In other words, like the “Q source” that was used to compile the Gospel of Mark, the Gospel of Thomas was compiled from earlier sources.
But Pagel’s is generous here of the date. According to Wikipedia:
Valantasis [Richard] and other scholars argue that it is difficult to date Thomas because, as a collection of Logia without a narrative framework, individual sayings could have been added to it over time. Valantasis dates Thomas to 100-110 A.D, with some of the material certainly coming from the first stratum which is dated to 30-60 AD.”
It is the bolded part of that last statement which is important and presents a problem for the orthodox view. Valantasis and others have argued that some of the source sayings from Thomas are earlier than anything from Mark and Paul. Even if Pagel’s more generous later dating is correct, that still puts the Gospel of Thomas as early as 50 AD, about the time of Paul’s epistles. Hmm?
Again, isn’t it odd that the earliest sources for Jesus, both Gnostic works and those considered non-Gnostic by the Orthodox, never mention genealogies or the Virgin Birth account?
Most striking is the fact that if Valatasis and a few other recent scholars are correct, the Gospel of Thomas was compiled from the oldest source.
The Gospel of Mark and Thomas compared
The evidence keeps building when we compare Mark and Thomas: The sayings contributed to Jesus are over 50% identical.
It is possible that either the author of the Gospel of Thomas drew from Mark or that the author of Mark drew from the Gospel of Thomas. There is still much debate on who drew from what. But in the end it doesn’t really matter, because neither include a Virgin Birth story or genealogy of Christ! Why would the manuscripts which have the earliest sources to date for the compilation be lacking these?
My conclusion here cannot not as yet be proved on evidence alone, but it certainly can be argued intuitively; something is amiss. So let’s summarize:
Paul’s epistles, written before any Gospels, don’t mention a genealogy or Virgin Birth.
Mark’s Gospel, which is the first, doesn’t either.
Mark’s Gospel was most likely compiled from an earlier “Q” source that scholars argue would be similar to logia, or wisdom sayings of Christ, not a historical narrative.
The Gospel of Thomas most likely was compiled from sources earlier than any Gospel. These sayings had nothing to do with a literal figure, but rather a wisdom teacher in the form of myth.
Differences between the genealogy of Matthew and Luke
Now we come to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke which scholars believe to have been written between the 80’s and 90’s AD. That’s another generation AFTER Mark and Thomas. But herein lies another problem. The genealogies between the two don’t agree. In Matthew, Jesus’s genealogy is from Joseph’s bloodline whereas in Luke it’s from Mary. In Matthew, Jesus’s bloodline is considered from Abraham to Joseph, while in Luke’s chronology it is considered from Adam to Mary. Nathan, not King Solomon, is the important link in Luke’s chronology. What’s the deal?
According to Wikipedia:
In Matthew’s genealogy, “The total of 42 generations is achieved only by omitting several names, so the choice of three sets of fourteen seems deliberate. Various explanations have been suggested: fourteen is twice seven, symbolizing perfection and covenant, and is also the gematria (numerical value) of the name of David.”
We should note that three wicked kings are omitted in the line above: Ahaziah, Jehoash, and Amaziah. These are deliberate omissions and point to an allegorical interpretation, not a literal one.
Luke’s genealogical record for Jesus is the only Gospel, (starting with Jesus and working back through Adam), that agrees completely with the Old Testament. Wikipedia further states:
“Modern scholarship tends to see the genealogies of Jesus as theological constructs rather than factual histories: family pedigrees would not usually have been available for non-priestly families, and the contradictions between the two lists are seen as clear evidence that these were not based on genealogical records.”
Of course these two accounts were not based on true genealogical records. We can see that Matthew’s record, with the omission of three kings, was only recorded in the way presented to satisfy and allegorical and mystical viewpoint, which compares Jesus to David, possibly as Paul did in Romans 1:3.
As I have emphasized many times on this site, none of this information diminished the greatness and authority of the Bible. In fact, in my own opinion it strengthens its authenticity. How? Because the Bible was never meant to be interpreted literally. To do so greatly diminishes its true intent. The original intent was to cause us to look within to find the truth, because that is where the Kingdom truly lies. As Jesus plainly tells us in Luke 21:17:
“Neither shall they say, Lo here! Or, lo there! For behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”
Many orthodox believes have stated that phrase means God and Jesus live in your heart. That sounds a lot like a Gnostic idea to me.
I have no problem with a literal Jesus if he were a real man. If I ever find out I was wrong, I would certainly pay all due respects. But my endless search throughout the years points toward and inward truth, not an outer one.
As always, comments are appreciated, even if you completely disagree. Robert had a great comment on the last post and certainly makes some compelling comments, but I still don’t think they outweigh the Gnostic alternative.
So Paul’s epistles were written first. They do not include a historical narrative of Jesus. Mark’s Gospel came before the others, and, it, too, does not include a genealogy or Virgin Birth narrative. In addition, Paul’s epistles, while used by the Orthodox Church for instructional pieces on theology and church structure, have too many Gnostic ideas to be considered purely orthodox. Not to mention that some of Paul’s epistles which deal with church structure, such as 1st and 2nd Timothy, were clearly forgeries in Paul’s name. Matthew’s genealogical record seems to indicate an allegorical interpretation and greatly differs from Luke. And it is possible that the Gospel of Thomas was compiled from the earliest material about Jesus of all. Something is amiss with the Orthodox view.
I would also like to say that I do not believe the Orthodox Church participated in some grand conspiracy in the first century to cover up the Gnostic view. I will explain more in the next post.
In the next series we will get into Marcion, Valentinus, and Irenaeus. The battle between the Gnostic and Orthodox Jesus truly begins to rage at the beginning of the 2nd century.
The Didache, Clement, Hermes and Marcion: Development of the Modern Church Part 4?
This post will continue our series on the development of Christian Orthodoxy and the Orthodox Church. In part three I said I would get to Valentinus and Irenaeus, but that will have to wait for part five. There is too much important information I couldn’t leave out, which we will discuss here first. We’ll be covering the late first century to the mid second century with just a few—albeit very important—events in our attempt to understand the broader movement and developments of Christianity.
It is important that you realize history is always written by the victor. Sometimes it is necessary to erase from our minds what we think we know about a subject so that we can be more objective. All of us have some preconceived notion of what Christianity was like and how it developed based on our experiences with the Bible, the church, our parents and family, scholarship and our own life experiences. Even those of us who were not raised Christian have preconceived notions. Forget those for the next few minutes, and consider what some of the evidence says. What is written in this series will in no way definitely prove anything, but it can give us insight that may alter what we think we already know. The study of the New Testament is a complicated, convoluted mess. In the first few centuries after Christ is supposed to have lived, everyone was arguing and bickering over the message of the scriptures. It continues to this day, even among those who share the common faith. It was much more so in the past, and different sects claiming to have the truth of the Biblical message was even more divided when Orthodoxy was fighting to take hold. That is because it took more than a few centuries for any kind of permanent New Testament canon to be formed. Even some of the greatest early church fathers who carried the message of the faith became heretics in later centuries because of diverging beliefs about Christ. It wasn’t until hundreds of years after the first century that any kind of uniform doctrine was solidified and the New Testament canon was formed, and this, I can promise you, no matter what the original intentions of its founders, was sometimes more about politics in the very end than about truth. At least that much I am certain.
This series is not an attempt to prove any one thing about early Christianity, but just to show you more of the complicated picture we have. Yes, I will share my personal beliefs about what happened, but I also admit that the entire situation is too complicated for any one person to understand without the original documents, which we may never see. That being said, let’s examine just a few of the early puzzle pieces.
The Didache, also known as The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, is an early Christian treatise with the intent of instructing the gentiles on how to live a Christian life according to the teaching of the apostles. Its contents focus on Christian ethics and rituals such as baptism, fasting, and the Eucharist.
Many scholars now place the Didache at about 100 A.D. (although some much later). The significance? The Didache shows that the earliest Christian communities were strictly rooted in Judaism. It was a form of Jewish Christianity that, as the scholar Aaron Milevac has stated, “…reveals more about how Jewish-Christians saw themselves and how they adapted their Judaism for Gentiles…” For example, the Didache teaches that it is best to follow the dietary laws for the Torah, but that it wasn’t absolutely necessary.
Why do I mention this?
The Didache is silent about so many important doctrines that Orthodoxy holds dear today. Even though the Didache is an instruction manual on Christian living, it says nothing about atonement and redemption. Could it be that most of the earliest Jewish-Christian communities had no such teaching? It’s a good possibility. The Didache lacks any doctrine about Jesus period. I find it hard to believe that such an early instruction manual on Christian living lacks any doctrine about Christ. It does mention the person of Jesus as the “servant of the Father,” and “Lord,” and the baptism formula included in the Didache mentions the trinity, but this last point is agreed by most scholars to have been added later by the Church Fathers, probably during the late second century.
What can we really conclude about the Didache? It focuses on living a pure moral life rather than having to believe in anything, which is more akin to Jewish theology, certainly nothing like Pauline Christology. What’s more is that Clement of Alexandria and Origen considered the Didache as scripture. Do you find it odd that an early instruction manual on Christian living doesn’t say anything about doctrine or belief? While it doesn’t prove anything, it is odd.
The scholar L. Hartman even went so far as to say that the community which produced the Didache were “…believers who think of themselves first as Jews, and perhaps who did not yet believe in Jesus.” I clarify that last statement by adding that they didn’t believe in the same Jesus that Orthodox Christianity gave to us. Jesus was certainly known about in this period, but was it the same Jesus of Orthodox Christianity?
We should seriously consider the above points because none of the typical themes found in Paul’s epistles, such as, forgiveness of sins or bestowal into one body through baptism, etc. are present. It’s like the writers give a formula for living without giving the real reason for doing it—i.e., the redemptive work of Christ. True, the Didache’s omission of these common Christian themes doesn’t prove they didn’t worship Jesus the way Orthodoxy said we must, but the omission does bring much speculation and leads one to believe that the Earliest Christians taught and practiced nothing akin to Orthodoxy. Rather, the Didache points to a community that followed strict moral observance of living a clean moral life for oneself and brother, just as the Jews would have stressed. By the way, still no Virgin Birth mentioned here. Did the early Christian community know of it? What we have already said in the first posts to this series and the rest of this one leads me to believe that they probably did not.
Pope Clement 1
At about the same time the Didache was written, we have an important authentic Christian epistle that surfaced. According to tradition, Clement of Rome was the third bishop of the city. We know he wrote a letter to the Church at Corinth that dates 90-100 AD, and is considered authentic by all scholars. Besides Paul’s epistles, it’s one of the earliest Christian writings. It is the content of the letter that is important for our discussion. The letter addresses what Clement calls “a rebellion” at the church of Corinth. However, Clement is not writing about heretics or false doctrine; the rebellion he speaks of has to do with authority. According to his letter, reputable leaders in the church were usurped by younger leaders. Clement becomes very upset by this. From his letter we can see that Clement believed God set up his divine authority on earth through the leaders of the church, namely through bishops, priests, and deacons. The scholar Elaine Pagels tells us that he believed obeying the bishop and deacons was so important that anyone who didn’t “bow the neck” to them “receives the death penalty.” This is the first example we have of a bishop who advocated God’s authority on earth through church hierarchy. Ignatius, about thirty years later, went so far as to argue that the laity should obey the bishop as if he were God himself! The beginnings of what we consider Orthodox Christianity and the church seems to have some of its beginnings rooted in politics.
The scholar Richard Carrier gives us a few more very important details about Clement that will be relevant to our discussion. First, Clements’ letter was considered scripture by many churches. This comes as no surprise, since it is the church with its hierarchy that would benefit. Secondly, at the time of the letter’s composition, between 90 and 100 A.D., Clement never refers to any Gospel, even though he quotes extensively from Paul’s Epistles. Now why would he quote Paul, but say nothing of the Gospels? This has led many scholars to conclude that he didn’t have any access to the Gospels, and most likely, was unaware of them. Although he mentions some sayings of Jesus, none of those sayings are quotes from the Gospels. This has led many scholars to believe that he only knew of an oral tradition. Strange, isn’t it? It is also important to point out that in the same letter he calls Paul’s epistles “wise council,” but only refers to the Old Testament as scripture, which he also quotes. This supports what we said earlier in the Didache: namely, that even as late as 100 A.D., most Christian communities were Jewish-Christians that held as the ultimately authority the Old Testament. As of yet, the Gospels and the theology associated within them hadn’t proliferated the known world yet. It is very possible that only oral traditions were yet popular, even as late as 90-100 A.D., and the Jesus we have in the Gospels today had not yet been born into the conscious mind of devoted followers. When one studies the scholarship available today, it would seem that the oral traditions of Jesus were used to bear witness to the Old Testament. Not even Paul’s epistles at this time were considered scripture. I am NOT saying that at this time there weren’t any written Gospels, but only that they weren’t elevated to the status of scripture yet and mostly the ideas of Christ were still being spread by the oral tradition.
You can read more of Richard Carrier’s very interesting article on the formation of the New Testament Canon below:
The Shepherd of Hermes was another early Christian work written sometime between 100 and 150 A.D. It was considered inspired scripture by many early church fathers, even the famous Irenaeus. It was included in the oldest surviving complete New Testament, called the Sinaiticus Codex (300 A.D.). It was widely circulated and extremely popular to Christians in the second and third centuries. What’s strange about this very popular work is that it was completely symbolic. It speaks of the church and the call to repentance. It contains five visions given to Hermes, a former slave. Twelve commandments and ten parables follow. What’s so strange is that some scholars consider the good shepherd as a symbol alluding to Jesus, while others say it alludes to a traditional pagan kriophoros, also know as a “ram-bearer.” We will not get into the details of this, but it’s worth noting.
But here’s the real kicker: If the symbols in parable five of Hermes do relate to Jesus, it suggests an adoptionistic Christology which stated that Jesus was initially only a mortal man who was then filled with a pre-existent spirit and later adopted as God’s son. The fact is that the Christology of the Shepherd of Hermes relates to none of the Christology of the New Testament we have today! And yet it was widely read and accepted as inspired scripture! Don’t you find it odd that such a popular Christian work that was considered inspired speaks of Jesus as only a mortal man who was filled later with God’s Spirit. I emphasize again, this book was widely circulated throughout the Christian communities, and cannot be said to be only read locally like perhaps the Didache was. And again, nothing miraculous about his birth. As you should see (if you have read my first three posts in this series), a pattern is developing here, which leads me to conclude that the Virgin Birth was never in the original oral teachings about Jesus. It was most likely added sometime in the second century, and solidified in the third and fourth.
Marcion of Sinope
No history of the church or the formation of the early cannon would be complete without Marcion of Sinope. This man is the catalyst for the New Testament canon that we have today. He was a wealthy shipbuilder that acquired a lot of wealth. He was raised by Christian parents and became somewhat influential in the early church. But Marcion eventually developed very alternate beliefs about the God of the Old Testament. For him, the God of the Old Testament taught an “eye for an eye,” while Jesus taught to “turn the other cheek” and to pray for those who persecute you. Therefore, Marcion concluded, the God of the Old Testament could not be the God and Father of Jesus. He also believed that Jesus was never mortal, but had always been a preexistent spiritual being. His teachings were quickly condemned by the church. Remember, most Christian communities still had strong Jewish roots and the Old Testament was seen as THE authority. About 144 A.D. Marcion decided to reform Christianity, much like the Great Martin Luther did. He compiled the first New Testament ever, and it looked nothing like today’s cannon. It consisted of ten of Paul’s epistles and only the Gospel of Luke. His cannon, the Evangelicon (Gospel according to Luke) and the Apostolikon (Paul’s ten Epistles), were as follows:
The Gospel according to Luke
Ephesians (Marcion called it Laodiceans).
The above list is the first New Testament cannon ever, and as late as 144 A.D. As you can guess Marcion was condemned and hated centuries later by the Orthodox Church, but his influence still abounded for hundreds of years. The purpose of this post isn’t to discuss Marion’s life, so you can do your own research if interested. I want to focus on his canon. The first thing I want to mention is that 1st and 2nd Timothy, as well as Titus were not included. I have already stated that modern scholarship agrees these were complete forgeries added much later by the Orthodox position. Marcion’s canon may lend support to this theory. Secondly, why did Marcion only include the Gospel of Luke? Why would he exclude Matthew, Mark, and John? Early Christian scholarship put total faith in the early church fathers that condemned him as a heretic. They taught that Marcion expunged them because they didn’t agree with his beliefs. But is this really true? Most scholars are certain Marcion knew of them, but recent scholarship is advancing the idea that Marcion had a source document for Luke known as UR-Lukas. The scope of this article does not allow us to provide evidence for this earlier source, but I believe it’s possible based on what is included in Marcion’s version of Luke. Marcion’s version of Luke did not include most of the first four chapters, and certain verses are missing from later chapters. Remember, Marcion did not believe Jesus was ever a mortal flesh and blood man, so many scholars have pointed out that it makes sense for Marcion to expunge Jesus’ Virgin Birth. But if Marcion had access to an earlier version of Luke, perhaps this earlier version didn’t contain the first four chapters and they were added later to refute him. Scholarship for this position first came out in Germany around 1850, but then went silent until the last decade or so. It’s being revived now because the evidence from new scholarship, interpretations, translations, etc. are showing evidence for this possibility. Now let’s consider a few points:
Paul’s epistles, the earliest known Christian writers, contain nothing of a Virgin Birth.
The Gospel of Thomas, which many modern scholars believe had verses and sayings of Jesus dated to at least as early as Paul, is completely symbolic and also contains no Virgin Birth.
The Gospel of Mark, which almost all scholars (both Christian and atheist) believe to be the earliest, also has no mention of a Virgin Birth.
The earliest Christian writings such as the Didache contain no Christology of the Jesus we have today.
Clements’ early letter to the church at Corinth quotes extensively from Paul but not any Gospel. Any mention of Jesus’ sayings lend support that he had access to an oral tradition, but no written accounts.
The first canon complied by Marcion including the Gospel according to Luke (which Marcion never names an author, implying it wasn’t attributed to Luke yet), also lacks a Virgin Birth.
That leaves a large historical gap following Jesus’ supposed life and death (about 33 A.D. – 144 A.D.) where we have no direct evidence for even the belief in a Virgin Birth of Jesus.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I’m no scholar, but something seems amiss. If you believe the early church fathers, you can say my point six and seven are irrelevant. And that’s fine, but perhaps modern scholarship on Marcion will continue to develop a good point. Maybe he really did have an earlier source to Luke that never included most of the first four chapters and other verses that are missing from Today’s Gospel of Luke (Marcion’s version also excludes the resurrection).
From our perspective today, Marcion’s Gospel of Luke looks suspicious, but this is only because we are used to thinking of the Gospels in their present form. We know that elements of all the Gospels were in existence during Marcion’s time, but it doesn’t mean they looked like the Gospels we have today. They could have been heavily edited from Marcion’s time into the next century. There is tons of evidence for this.
Perhaps we may now understand why the famous Gnostics like Balisades and Valentinus considered it foolishness to believe Jesus was a literal being and that the Gospels should be read literally during the early and middle second century.
It is also important to mention here that Marcion was the catalyst for the formation of the New Testament canon by the Orthodox Church. It is now widely considered that the Muratorian Fragment (dated between 170 and 375 A.D.), is the oldest New Testament canon that resembles anything of what we have today. The date range above is huge, and even 170 A.D., the earliest possible dating, is very late when compared to the time that Jesus, Paul, and the apostles are supposed to have lived!
This provides plenty of time for the Gospels to be added to and altered. It is also ironic that one of the most condemned heretics of early Christianity—Marcion— is actually the man responsible for the first New Testament canon in the first place, and subsequently, the New Testament cannon that we have today. Had it not been for Marcion, the New Testament canon may have turned out quite differently.
In conclusion, I believe there is much evidence to show that the Gospels weren’t fixed in stone until late in the second century. Yes, they existed in written form before the end of the first century, but it is highly unlikely they existed anything akin to their present form. In the next post I promise to get to the battle that raged between Valentinus and Irenaeus. This will continue to shed more light on the development of the Orthodox Church and Christianity.
In case you are interested, here is another interesting article with all the problems about the Virgin Birth. I know nothing about the author or his credentials, but I came across it while looking at some material for Luke and thought it provided some good food for thought.
Valentinus, the Bridal Chamber, and Meditation: Part 5 of the Development of the Orthodox Church
To finish our study and truly begin to understand how the Orthodox Church developed, we need to take a close look at Valentinus, who will play a large part of in verbal war of doctrine with Irenaeus and Orthodoxy. I will discuss the life and beliefs of Valentinus first, followed by Irenaeus, and then the exchange between the two as documented by later church fathers such as Tertullian. Looking into the life of just these two historical figures, though small in the grand scale of early church history, will provide us with a good picture of what was really going on in the second century and how the Orthodox Church with all its doctrine and Christology was able to get started. I believe you will find the next two articles the most informative and interesting ones yet. I say next two because I had originally planned to cover all this in one article, but Valentinus requires an article to himself. Part six will cover the development of Orthodox thought with Irenaeus.
Valentinus is hands down the most important early Gnostic we know through history. I admit that I am somewhat biased at that last statement; I feel in him a bit of a kindred spirit. If you’ve read any material on Valentinus from early Orthodox Church fathers, you might think he was a demon who tried to pervert the message of the Gospels, but I consider him one of the few that understood it. I also admit that it is hard to pin down exactly who he really was; there are so many conflicting views about his life and theology, even among modern scholars. But I think we can flesh out the beliefs and deeds of a man who was more of a compassionate hero than a vile heretic.
Valentinus was born around 100 AD. According to Tertullian, 160-220 A.D., Valentinus was running for the bishopric of Rome and lost by a very narrow margin. After his loss, he went on to found his own church in the same city and enjoyed great popularity, even in the mainstream Christian community. Valentinus went on to have enormous influence despite starting a school that we now know as being Gnostic. In fact, his teaching was so popular that even though he was branded a heretic by early church fathers in the second century, his school of thought continued to thrive until the fourth century, when Orthodoxy was all but finally established. This is the century that Orthodoxy made great progress in eradicating opposing belief systems. However, it should be noted that Valentinus was known as a great intellect, orator, and leader of Christian thought even by his Orthodox opponents.
What is interesting is that Valentinus continued to worship with the mainstream church of his time although he held secret meetings for the initiated into the higher mysteries where symbolism of the scriptures were taught, among participating in special rites such as the bridal chamber of Christ (more on this later). It has been argued by some scholars that Paul did the same thing, where all of his missionary destinations were known to have mystery schools already established. Why did Valentinus and his followers do this? They claimed they were emulating Paul, who became all things to all people in order to see them saved.
Valentinus’ Beliefs and Teachings
All of the information on Valentinus’ beliefs and practices below will come from the scholar Stephen Hoeller. If inclined, you can read an interesting article (from which I will summarize) written by him yourself:
Of course I will be interjecting my own views and thoughts as I summarize. When I do this, I will be writing in Italics so you do not get his thoughts confused with my own. I do this because I do not want put words in Hoeller’s mouth which he may not agree with, although I think he mightJ
Orthodox Christian and Jewish doctrine holds that all the evil in the world comes from the sin of man. In other words, all our sufferings are our own fault. Valentinus disagreed. Although he acknowledged that something was amiss, Valentinus believed that all evils and sufferings of the world were an inherit part of creation.
Common sense reveals this to be true. No doubt Valentinus could even sense this from the dog eat dog world of the animal kingdom. Though mainstream Christianity wants us to believe that the lion will become a vegetarian and will one day lie with the lamb, I can’t picture a great white shark doing this, can you?
Valentinus believed in the potential redemptive aspect of the human soul. He even goes so far as to blame the creator himself for the ills of the world, however, Valentinus’ creator wasn’t a literal being, but rather a myth. When Valentinus lays the fault of suffering on the creator (demiurge), he is speaking to a psychological problem inherit in the human ego, not some literal God being in the heavens. The Valentinians believed it was the human ego which creates illusion and suffering.
The Gospel of Philip gives us insight into this truth when it states,
“God created man and man created God. So is it in the world. Men make Gods and they worship their creations. The Gods ought to worship man.”
To an Orthodox believer, this sounds as blasphemous as one can could get. But no so fast. The gods or demiurge that the Gnostics are referring to above is simply part of the human condition, not an external power that resides somewhere in the heavens or cosmos. Once we understand this point, we can begin to unravel who the Gnostics really were. We might even paraphrase the above quote from Philip to mean something like,
“The ego in man should bow down and worship the divinity that is within man.”
The human ego, then, is the problem, and creates an illusion that blinds us from the truth that is only spiritually discerned. As Paul makes clear, the natural man cannot receive the true spiritual essence of consciousness.
Valentinus’ belief system is no different than the concept of Maya (illusion) taught in the Upanishads. The idea has always been found in Buddhism and Hinduism, and Gnosticism has much in common with these philosophies.
Valentinus did not believe that Jesus accomplished redemption of mankind by shedding his blood for original sin. How, then, is the human soul redeemed if not by the shedding of Jesus’ blood? It is through concept of Gnosis, or self-knowledge. But do not be confused. This self-knowledge is an experiential knowledge, not a kind of knowledge that can be gleaned from the intellect or the study of written scriptures.
The Gnostics believed it was this same self-knowledge that the apostle Paul experienced in the direct revelation of Christ on the road to Damascus, and the same self-knowledge that Paul speaks about in Corinthians:
“But we speak of the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom…” 1 Cor. 2:7.
It is hidden because the natural man (the ego) is a veil that hides a higher reality.
Gnostics believed that salvation comes from experiencing God, not holding to a doctrine or a belief. This experience of God was through the conduit of the inner Christ, which is also why Paul taught that the Christ within you is the hope of glory.Just as Paul said no human taught him his gospel, so the Gnostic believed that no redemptive knowledge could come from the teachings of men, even the apostles themselves.There is no need for creed, dogma, or doctrine. Only direct experience. If you search Paul’s epistles carefully, and even the epistles of John and the book of Hebrews, you will find the exact same concepts being taught, albeit often veiled in symbolism which I admit is hard to crack if you do not study Gnostic teachings.
So how do we interpret Jesus for Valentinus? Jesus was an important figure for the Valentinians. Valentinus writes with much admiration for him. It seems that Valentinus believed Jesus was a historical figure that taught the wisdom of Gnosis to his disciples, at least to the elect that were ready for such teachings.
If you look at the Gnostic Gospels, the obvious mode of connecting with the inner Christ, of which they say Jesus taught and represents, you will find that the answer lies in honorable moral conduct, selfless love towards one’s brother, and advanced meditation practices. Not the simple kind of meditation practice that is sold in bookstores and online courses across the internet, but an advanced meditation that allows the consciousness of the individual to transcend the duality of the material world and the lower human ego. It is the gradual practice of the development of the spiritual ego. This was most likely the core of Valentinus’ Bridal chamber experience, even though it is not directly stated in the literature. Consider a verse from the Gospel of Thomas to back this up:
“When you make the one into two, when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, WHEN YOU MAKE MALE AND FEMALE INTO A SINGLE ONE, so that the male will not be male and the female will not be female, when you make eyes replacing an eye, a hand replacing a hand, a foot replacing a foot, and an image replacing an image, THEN YOU WILL ENTER THE KINGDOM.” (Gospel of Thomas).
This is a reference to pushing beyond the illusion of duality and into single mindedness through advanced meditation. Remember, Jesus effectively revealed the same truth when he stated that the Kingdome of God is WITHIN YOU. (Luke 17:21). How else to realize the kingdom—if it is within you—than to explore methods of higher consciousness that can only be explained as that which is “within you.”
Christ and Salvation as soter
The original meaning of Jesus as savior that both the Gnostics and the Orthodox Christians understood during the second century has been essentially lost in modern Christianity. Now salvation has taken on the meaning of being saved from hell after physical death instead of what is really meant in the original Greek by the term soter. This term, of which salvation is translated, originally meant wholeness, health, becoming whole, and delivered from imperfection. It means, being complete, emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually. It was more for the benefit of one’s wholeness while alive on this earth than something that happened after death.
This is reflected in another saying from the Gospel of Philip which states,
“People who say they will first die and then arise are mistaken. If they do not first receive resurrection while they are alive, once they have died they will receive nothing.”
As the scholar Stephen Hoeller asks, if there was no need for a savior to save us from personal sin, what role did the soter of Jesus fulfill? According to Hoeller, the Gnostic saw the world as sick. Sick with materialism, which the Gnostics called hyleticism, and sick with moral and abstract intellectualism, known as psychism. Great masters such as Jesus, according to the Gnostics, brought wholeness to the individual trapped in a sick world by imparting pneuma (spirit) to the “soul and mind.”
I mentioned earlier that Stephen Hoeller informs us that the most prominent of Valentinus’ rites was known as the “bridal chamber.” What Hoeller does not inform us about directly in his article is that somewhere in this rite was practiced advanced meditation. Wheather Hoeller goes into more detail on this within another book or article, I do not know, but the astute reader can easily put two and two together to understand that such was the case. I will quote from Hoeller below to show his view of the importance of the bridal chamber rite, and then give some more thoughts of my own:
“The psychological basis upon which the bridal chamber ritual is founded is fairly easily understood. The Gnosis considers the human being as divided and fragmented within itself. The divisions have numerous aspects: We are involved in what modern psychology would call an Ego-Self dichotomy, in an Anima-Animus dichotomy, in a body-mind dichotomy, in a subjective-objective dichotomy, and many others. All of these divisions require mending, or healing. Even as the Pleroma, or divine plenum, is characterized by wholeness, so the human being must once again become whole and thereby acquire the qualifications to reenter the Pleroma. Contemporary, especially Jungian depth psychology envisions such a pneumatic union as the ultimate objective of what it calls the individuation process. Unlike Jungian psychologists who can offer only the practice of analysis as an instrumentality of the process of reunification, Valentinus was apparently inspired to document and ritually dramatize this union in the great sacrament of the bridal chamber. The Sophia myth serves in many ways as the mythological support of this sacrament. The myth implies that the creation of the imperfect world and the confinement of the soul within it originated through the disruption of the original spiritual unity of the Pleroma, so that the return of the soul into the loving embrace of her bridegroom, as indicated by the return of Sophia into the arms of Jesus, then represents the healing of this disruption and restoration of wholeness.”
Hoeller does quote the exact same passage as I have done though from the Gospel of Thomas in which he says “…presents us with what might be considered the clearest formulation of the theoretical foundation of the bridal chamber…”
Hoeller is a brilliant scholar, no doubt, but why he doesn’t go further into explaining how this passage is obviously linked with advanced meditation, where one transcends the world of duality, is beyond me. Perhaps he doesn’t understand it, or he addresses it somewhere else that I am unaware of. That being said, I am thankful for having come across his work; he has done a tremendous service in unveiling the great personage of Valentinus for us. I would recommend that anyone who wishes to learn more should read further into Hoeller’s work.
One more side piece of information which you might be interested in: the Pleroma. According to Gaskill, the Pleroma represents:
“…the Archetypal Man in his fullness of stature as the perfect manhood and Godhood.”
Gaskill further provides a quote from the Apostle Paul to clarify:
“For in Christ dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, an in him ye are made full, who is the head of all principality and power.” (Col. 2:9-10).
It is through the inner Christ, then, that we return healed to the Pleroma. This is not symbolic of heaven as a location that we return, but a state of consciousness, that also continue after the death of the physical body. We must not make the mistake, as some have done, to assume that we receive a better life here on this earth only, and then die. The higher state of conscious awareness that we can potentially gain while in the physical body follows us into death. Indeed, Paul said some sleep after death. The counterpart to this concept is that some bring great awareness into death.
Valentinian Gnosticism is often considered the most advanced and elaborate school of Gnostic thought ever developed. Obviously Valentinus derived his knowledge from earlier mystic Jewish and Christian thought which perhaps has since been lost to us, at least in written form. I am sure there were many other schools of Gnostic thought that might have been ludicrously off-base, just as we have off-base practices in modern Christianity today such as “snake handling.” Many articles on the internet written by biased Christians and other writers think these were the ONLY forms of Gnosticism practiced. But Valentinus and his school of thought obviously represents an enlightened and pure form that produced great results for the healing of the individual psyche and soul of some of the earliest Christians. I am certainly under the impression that in its most advanced teachings and practices it produced the sort of enlightenment know as Samadhi in Eastern meditation practices. In my studies I have come to learn that all the great mystical schools of history used meditation as the final and preeminent practice for enlightenment and salvation, especially as suggested through the original concept of soter.
Consciousness, or spirit, is the least understood concept by academia and religious institutions because the natural man cannot receive spiritual things. So we must ask ourselves: what if the early Gnostic Christians like Valentinus were right? What if Jesus and Paul were wisdom teachers that taught Gnosis through the direct experience of the inner Christ? What if salvation, in its earliest conception, was about salvation and resurrection in this body and on this earth and in this life instead of what proceeds us after death? I have come to believe this was the more original message of Christianity. I once heard a loving, intelligent, and devout Christian of whom I have much respect say, “Wherever you are in the Lord during death is where you will be with him after.” This surprised me, because this Christian was heavily involved in mainstream, Orthodox Christianity, just as the early church fathers say Valentinus was. But this same person often interpreted certain Bible verses much different than the leaders of the church. These interpretations were much more insightful and full of life, and I was fascinated. This same person was also often disciplined by church leaders to not teach and say anymore, because they were misunderstood. This same person, in love and respect, would back down, but they gave more generously and lovingly than anyone else in the church I have ever known. Perhaps this person was somewhat of a Gnostic, although I don’t think they even knew the term or what it meant.
I have a great intuitive feeling that Valentinus was on to something when it comes to bringing healing, because even modern research by many brilliant doctors and scholars from prestigious institutions have proven over and over how beneficial mediation is. It truly heals the mind and body from many ailments. You can scour the internet and literature for yourself to see how it can even deliver those with mental afflictions like OCD, sever anxiety and depression, and psychotic episodes without the aid of drugs and pharmaceuticals. Of course pharmaceuticals make tons of money and there is no dedicated practice, so society opts for these instead.
I also have an intuitive feeling that Valentinus was onto something because conscious awareness is the greatest gift God has ever given us. Without it, we are nobody. It is our duty then, to bring this conscious awareness into the higher realms that lie within us that is most likely the true heavens spoken about in all the great scriptures of the worlds.
The next article in this series will finally to Irenaeus and more of Valentinus. As always, your thoughts, whether in agreement or disagreement, are always welcome.
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