The Gospel of Mark and the Absence of the Parousia

It is not new to understanding the heavenly portents and the “coming of the Son of Man” in Mark 13.24–27 as referring to the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE and the enthronement and vindication of Jesus, respectively. For a while now, R.T. France has proposed this interpretation of Mark’s account (as well as Matthew’s parallel).[ref]Jesus and the Old Testament, 229–31)[/ref] Yet, beginning in v. 32 France argues that Mark is speaking of the parousia.[ref]Mark, NIGTC, 541[/ref] While France provides evidence for this interpretation, I am not convinced and find myself asking why we need to find evidence of the parousia in Mark’s account? I found consonance in N.T. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God, where he argues that Mark does not anticipate a descending Jesus at restoration and judgment, but rather speaks of the destruction and enthronement throughout ch. 13 (360–67). As far as Mark’s account is concerned, I am in agreement with Wright (I disagree with his assimilation of Matthew into this interpretation).


In line with Wright’s assessment, I found Timothy Gray’s monograph, The Temple in the Gospel of Mark: A Study in its Narrative Role, enlightening, as he argues that the narrative structure of Mark 11–15 focuses on the Temple. From chs. 11–13 the focus is on the earthly Temple and from chs. 14–15 the focus is on Jesus as the new Temple, and Mark 13.24–27 being the climatic turning point from old to new. Think about it: Mark 11 begins the accent into Jerusalem where Jesus pronounces a curse on a fig tree, curses the Temple leadership, and ends it with a withered fig tree. Jesus then returns to the Temple where his authority is impugned (vv. 27–33), which is followed by a parable condemning the Temple leadership (12.1–12) and further questions and teachings within the Temple precincts (12.13–41). Chapter 13 beings with Jesus and his disciples “coming out of the Temple,” looking back at the Temple, predicting the Temples destruction, and locating the group on the Mount of Olives “opposite the Temple” (13.1–3). So far the unequivocal central theme is “Temple,” which greatly suggests that the disciples questions in v. 4 are about the (1) the destruction of the Temple (2) and the signs leading up to its destruction. Thus, it makes sense that Jesus would proceed to answer the disciples questions and only the disciples questions. So when we come to Mark 13.24–25 and read about the sun becoming dark, the moon not given its light, the stars falling from heaven, and the “powers in the heavens” (gods?) shaking, the most natural referent is the destruction of the Temple. What else could he possibly be talking about? Has Mark failed to guide his readers to an unambiguous interpretation of Jesus’ discourse? There have been no clues since ch. 11 that he could be referring to anything other than the Temple.


Yet, against this last statement some may protest that the phrase, “coming of the Son of Man in the clouds” refers to the parousia. Maybe. But how does this relate to the heavenly portents? Taking an interpretation of “coming of the SoM” in vv. 26–27 and imposing it on the portents previously mentioned is tenuous. For one, doing this downplays the role of the Temple in Mark’s narrative and this is hardly endorsed by Mark! Mark is building up to a climactic end of the Temple, and if the portents describe the parousia, the climax for this destruction is removed. Furthermore, if the portents are taken as the parousia, the temporal flow of vv. 24–27 is redundant and resist the flow of the temporal markers καὶ τότε in vv. 26, 27. Verses 24–27 would thus speak of “the return of Christ (vv. 24–25), and then (καὶ τότε) the return of Christ (v. 26), and then (καὶ τότε) the sending of angels (v. 27). This repetition of the Advent is unnecessary and ignores the temporal markers. Thus, however one interprets vv. 26–27, the portents of vv. 24–25 must mark a distinct event.


But how does one interpret the “coming of the SoM?” At this point I do not wish to restate what Wright and France have argued so well concerning how this phrase could readily be understood as the enthronement and vindication of Jesus rather than the parousia.[ref]Wright, JVG, 360–65; France, Mark, NIGTC, 531–32; France, Matthew, NICNT, 923–29[/ref] I feel that their arguments are cogent and present a true portrait of a Jewish understanding of the Danielic text and how it would naturally be interpreted when used in Mark’s Gospel (or from Jesus’ lips). So in foregoing a detailed defense (which I may regret) of why I believe the “coming of the SoM” statement ought to be read as an enthronement oracle, I want to ask a few questions. Why do we feel a pressing need to find a descending Jesus in Mark’s account? Are we that eager to read Mark in light of Paul or (ironically) Matthew? Many of us are willing allow for diversity throughout the NT, but is the Second Advent off limits? Is it really that big of a deal if Mark envisions the restoration scene with Jesus sitting on the throne, while Paul and Matthew envision a descending Jesus? Restoration takes place either way, the only difference is Jesus is sitting or traveling. Granted, the predominant scenario of restoration from the second century to the present is the parousia, but should that be allowed to affect the way we interpret Mark’s account?

In the end I am arguing for a Mark that speaks of restoration but is silent concerning the “second coming” or parousia. For Mark, restoration was to occur at the enthronement and vindication of the Son of Man. This expectation was tightly wound around the destruction of the Temple, as the destruction of the old would inaugurate the new. …However, what are the Jesus followers to think following the Temples destruction and yet still awaiting restoration? In comes the Gospel of Matthew…

James G. Crossley “Mark, Paul and the Question of Influence”

One of my main interests in New Testament studies is the relationship between Paul and the Gospels. So in the next few posts I will be summarizing and commenting on each article that is found in the new book (surprisingly) titled Paul and the Gospels. A day or so after I post the summary I will post my comments on the article.


I. Introduction

James G. Crossley starts his article by noting that the scholarly consensus on the potential influence between Mark’s Gospel and Paul has changed. In the past hundred years notable scholars have gone from believing that Paul did not influence Mark to believing that Paul did, at least partially, influence Mark.

He then pauses for just a second to define what is meant by “influence.” By this term, he does not mean, “Mark could have been in some sense allegorizing Pauline theology, adapting ideas floating around the Pauline churches, or, indirectly acknowledging the theologian he could not completely ignore, but whose theology he did not fully approve of.’” He also details another possible view, Paul and Mark are both part of the same general Christian movement and therefore draw from the same pool of resources. This (supposed) reality would give the allusion of dependence. Finally, he also notes that it is possible for Mark to have influenced Paul given that he (soli) has argued for a very early date for Mark’s Gospel. He then turns to briefly noting the main texts that scholars have forwarded as evidence for Paul’s influence on Mark.


II. Mark interpreting and/or advocating Paul or Pauline thought? Some precise examples

1. Mark 4:1–20/Romans 9–11 and Mark 14:22–25/1 Cor. 11:23–25

On these supposedly parallels Dr. Crossley points out that the ideas in the texts are parallel but none of the important theological terms are the same. Therefore, there is not enough evidence to link the Romans 9–11 as having influenced Mark.

2. Romans 14:14/Mark 7:19

Here Dr. Crossley notes that this supposed parallel (“all foods being clean”) is claimed by many to be one of the clearest examples of Pauline influence on Mark. This is because most scholars assume that 1) Paul is earlier than Mark and 2) Paul’s gospel is unique because of its negative (or, flippant) view toward the law which, has been nicely summed up in Joel Marcus’s words, “the law was passé for Christians.” Crossley points out that he and a few other notable scholars have shown that this text and Mark only need to be understood as Jesus claiming that the Torah, properly interpreted, never taught that dirty hands made food unclean (therefore Matthew’s interpretation of the pericope is faithful to Mark’s intent).


III. Paul and Mark (unsurprisingly) faced similar issues: Jesus’s death and suffering

In this section Dr. Crossley focuses on the supposed  influence that Paul’s atonement theology had on Mark. Again, he rejects this supposed link because none of the important theological terminology is present (e.g., λυτρον, or ὁ ὑιος τοῦ άνθρώπου). He also then points out that the two atonement theories could depend on the president Maccabean martyr theology that was present and formative Judaism.


IV. Paul and Mark (unsurprisingly) faced similar issues: Gentiles

In this section, he notes that too much is made of Mark’s Gospel being directed towards gentiles. Crossley takes the view, noting an intriguing PhD thesis, that Mark was merely dealing with the possibility of Gentiles entering the movement which is what any other “Christian” text would’ve had to do. In other words, Mark does not appear to be “concerned” with the Gentile mission at all and this supposed “mission” definitely is not fundamental to Mark like it is for Paul’s ministry. He does agree that the story of the Syro-Phoenician woman and the subsequent feeding narratives cohere nicely with Paul’s theology of “to the Jew first and then the Gentile.”  Again, he points out that there is no linking terminology used in either of these supposed links. He also points out that acts (and maybe Luke) share the same pattern. Next, he discusses the use of the “supposed” Pauline term εὐαγγελιον.  While here Crossley cannot deny the use of the same theological term, he does point out that this term could have been taken independently from the LXX (he notes five occurrences in Isaiah alone) . So, needless to say, Dr. Crossley finds this term to be unpersuasive in showing Pauline influence on Mark.


V. Paul and Mark faced different problems: The Torah

Here Crossley claims that there is not enough evidence to prove that Paul and Mark’s comments regarding the law are a result of the same problem. His main point is, while some believe Mark’s gospel to be evidence of a law free Christian community, the Gospel of Mark never clearly depicts Jesus as breaking the Torah. If this is true, then Mark doesn’t depict Jesus as having an uninterested view of the Torah, like Paul. Instead, Mark depicts Jesus as being interested in the Torah, especially its proper interpretation.


VI. Christology in conflict

Many have read Mark’s Gospel and claimed that it contains what some scholars have called a “corrective Christology.” Dr. Crossley then gives the thesis of Joseph Tyson as being representative of this reading. Tyson’s reading can be boiled into these two antitheses: 1) Jesus’ Messiahship is not to be confused with conventional Jewish nationalistic royal Messiahship (and thus little is done with the phrase “son of David”). 2)  The Early Church that did understand Jesus in conventional, militaristic terms.


Crossley shows that this view is based on little evidence and is therefore mostly conjecture. Not only that, Crossley goes on to show that there are plenty of texts in the New Testament that fly in the face of this supposed view of the Early Church.


As for the lack of use of the title “son of David,” Crossley shows that we are not able to be certain what this term should mean so it shouldn’t play a fundament part in one’s argument. He then moves on to the term “son of God.” Again, he notes that there is a major debate in how this term is to be understood; does this term denote “high Christology” or should it be understood as indicating a “low Christology?”  The purpose for pointing this out is that if scholarship cannot come to a firm consensus on Mark’s Christology then we cannot in any way say that Mark is “correcting” anything.


VII. Concluding remarks

Not surprisingly, Dr. Crossley does not find enough evidence to merit the view that Paul influenced Mark. He does agree that there are definitely overlaps in their theology, but, these overlaps are not enough to suggest that Mark aware of the Paul.


Edit: My comments may be found here.

Is the Presence of the Criteria of Multiple Attestation and Embarrassment a Contradiction?

Over at the NT Blog, Mark Goodacre posted on a relevant issue regarding an apparent contradiction between the combination of the criteria of multiple attestation and embarrassment. I did however find myself disagreeing with the conclusion. Because my disagreement lies in the way in which the issue is portrayed, I have decided not to respond on his blog, but rather flesh out the issue more thoroughly in a post. Before I continue, though, I need to say that I do not find the criterion of multiple attestation helpful for identifying historical events. It seems that it only demonstrates that a tradition goes back to the early church, not necessarily a historical event. For many this criterion performs double duty by also affirming events that are singly attested, but as soon as a singly attested tradition is deemed historical or plausible (e.g., Mark 8.22–26), the validity of the criterion comes into question (but this is by no means a death knell for the criterion). Furthermore, and more to the point of this post, I believe these shortcomings show that it cannot function on its own, but functions best in corroboration with other criteria. In the same way that (singular) attestation and embarrassment work together to suggest the historicity of Jesus spitting in the blind man’s eyes, so multiple attestation also needs the corroboration of another criterion. Thus, the purpose of this post is not to provide a defense for multiple attestation, but to show that both the criteria in question (attestation and embarrassment) can define the same event without contradiction. In fact, I would hypothesize more strongly that if multiple attestation is isolated from other criteria, it ceases to be a valid indicator of historicity.

Dr. Goodacre’s post can be found here (a followup post can be found here) and can be summed up in this quote:

I can’t help thinking that one cancels out the other. If everyone, Q, an independent Thomas, Mark, Matthew, Luke all have this same material, who is embarrassed about it? The multiple attestation is itself an argument against embarrassment.

This may be the case in some instances, but the example of Jesus’ baptism by John––which Goodacre provides as an example in the same post––I feel does not provide an adequate example of this “cancellation.”

Regarding John’s baptism of Jesus, it is too simplistic to say that everyone has the same material. While this baptism is retained through multiple traditions (Q [maybe], Mark 1.9–11, John 1.29–34 [?]; Acts 1.21–22 [Peter would be the separate source], Gos. Heb. 2 [?], Ign. Smy. 1.1; and possibly others), each retention is altered in some way, which suggests, in this case, that there was something unsettling about the event. While there are three accounts which explicitly identify John as the baptizer of Jesus (Mark 1.9–11; Acts 1.21–22; Gos. Eb. 4), other traditions are not so eager to portray John as directly baptizing Jesus. Matthew (following Mark, Q, or M) alters the event by having John protest the baptism and by failing to explicitly identify John as the one who preformed the act. In Luke’s account John is in prison (narratively speaking) when Jesus is baptized (3.19–21). In the Fourth Gospel Jesus is never really baptized; rather, John functions as a “witness” to the person and character of Jesus rather than a source of his baptism (1:19, 34). The Gos. Heb. 2, like the Gospel of John, forgoes the baptism and focuses on the theophany. Thus, while the baptism tradition is retained in each of these accounts, each account is altered in such a way as to take the focus away from John and place more attention on Jesus and the theophany.

Noticing a trajectory of the baptismal/theophany event, Robert Webb suggests that there is a gradual ennoblement of the theophany while downplaying the baptism (Baptizer and Prophet, 106). If this is the case, it does not follow that the recurrence of the baptismal event in multiple traditions invalidates the criterion of embarrassment, or vice versa. In other words, while the baptism is a retained Jesus tradition found in numerous accounts from various traditions, it is not promulgated or “celebrated” (a word Dr. Goodacre uses in his post, which I find curious), but instead is quietly and sometimes reluctantly remembered as the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Nevertheless, the Baptist must be remembered as he functions as the precursor (Elijah) to Jesus (Messiah).

It seems that the baptism might exemplify other traditions that are multiply attested and ostensibly embarrassing. That is, just because an event is attested by multiple traditions doesn’t mean it is retold in the same way. If, like the baptism, a given event is retold in such a way as to extenuate a particular action or saying within the larger event, then something about the event is demonstrated to be embarrassing as well. Thus, the presence of the two criteria do not necessarily contradict, but rather the presence of multiple attestation can serve (though certainly not always) to define an event as embarrassing. It all depends on how the event is retold.

Krister Stendahl’s Classic Article, “The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West”

First published in 1963 in Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 55, No. 4, Stendahl’s classic article is always helpful for those entering into the difficult terrain of Pauline scholarship, especially the question of Paul’s understanding of justification. A worthy read for those entering into the question and an enjoyable re-readable classic and refresher for those who have read him in the past and are familiar with the conversation. Click on the title below for a copy of the whole article for your intellectual reading pleasure:

The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West

Rival Jewish Mysticisms at Colossae: Paul’s Realized Angelomorphic/Theotic Participatory Messianism in the Epistle to the Colossians (Part 3)

“Delivered us from the Domain of Darkness and Transferred us to the Kingdom of His Beloved Son”


The forgiveness of the Gentiles’ sins and entrance into the heavenly kingdom is inextricably linked in Colossians to the Messiah’s triumph over the heavenly rulers and authorities, as they are likewise caught up with him through faith and participation “in Messiah”. Paul refers to Jesus of Nazareth, the Jewish Messiah as “our Lord” (1:2) insinuating that those in Colossae now share the same “Lord” as he himself does. The Messiah has “delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (1:13-14).” This language echoes that of God’s deliverance of a people enslaved and their redemption in the Exodus.[1] Those who were “once alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds” (1:21) and “dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh” (2:13) have now died to the “στοιχειων του κοσμου” or “elemental spirits of the world” (2:1).

Paul’s narratival understanding of the Messiah-event is cosmically Exodus-shaped. The mystical participation in Jesus’ death and resurrection in baptism (2:12) is understood for Paul as a new Exodus, this time not from Pharaoh, but from the “elemental spirits of the world”. Through the Colossians’ baptism into Messiah, he envisions a very real mystical participation in the new Cosmic Exodus as may be outlined in this way: the purchase of the people from cosmic slavery through participation in his death (1:12) and their being led forth in freedom through participating in his resurrection (1:12).

There has been much debate over the meaning of the phrase “στοιχειων του κοσμου”[2], but after a consideration of its use here within the narratival framework of a new Cosmic Exodus, it may become apparent that these elemental spirits should be understood, as by Wright, in the Jewish apocalyptic tradition as the angels over the nations.[3] The context demands that the “elemental spirits of the world” (2:8, 20) be understand as the “rulers and authorities” (2:10, 15). Through Messiah, God would “reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His (Messiah’s) cross” (1:20). In the Colossians’ baptism they “have been buried with Him” (2:12) and with Messiah have “died to the elemental spirits of the world”. They were “also raised with Him through faith in the powerful working of God” (2:12) sharing in the exaltation of Him who is “the head of all rule and authority” (2:10). Now they are to let the peace of Messiah rule in their hearts” (3:15). In keeping with the narratival idea of a Cosmic New Exodus in Messiah, the angelomorphic translation and exaltation with Messiah of the “holy ones” in Colossae is not only a rescue from the “domain of darkness” but the superior theotic hope of assuming the role of the inheritors of the cosmos and rulers of the nations, evocative of that previously demonstrated in the Jewish apocalyptic expectation of Daniel and the Wisdom of Solomon.

Participatory Messianism


“In Him the Fullness of Deity Dwells Bodily, and You Have Been Filled in Him”

As it has been demonstrated previously, Paul recognizes those in Colossae to have assumed the title of God’s “holy ones” who look forward to the full enjoyment of their angelomorphic inheritance in light, as well as being delivered from and exalted above their former oppressive regime of angelic patrons; all this is realized due to their faith and participation “in Messiah”. The Participatory Messianism of the apostle to the Gentiles is seen in no greater light than in the expression “For in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority (2:9-10).” As the Messiah Jesus had been filled with deity in bodily form, so those who are in him also share in the fullness of deity.[4] Some commentators regard the language of being “filled” in 2:10 to be rhetorical or hyperbolic if it appeals back to verse 9 and the “fullness of deity”,[5] while others say grammatically it would be asserting too much.[6] The problem with both of these views is that the utilization of the language of “fullness” in 2:9-10 as a deliberate echo of that in the Messiah Hymn of 1:19 must be downplayed or ignored for either to be the case.[7] How to understand the idea of being “filled with deity” may be best explained by the use of what can be recognized as interchangeable expressions for Paul in the same context, especially as aided by the shared nexus of ideas that can be found in early Jewish apocalyptic and mystical literature.

For Paul it is clear that what makes Jesus “Messiah” is his being filled with “the fullness of deity” (1:19). Similarly, it follows that what allows Paul to say the Colossians share “in Messiah” is due to their sharing in “the fullness of deity” (2:9-10). What may be apparent as interchangeable expressions for Paul are those that pertain to glory and enthronement such as: “He is the image of the invisible God” (1:15) and “Messiah in you, the hope of glory” (1:27) as explained further in the subsequent text, “If then you have been raised with Messiah, seek the things that are above, where Messiah is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things of the earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Messiah in God. When Messiah who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (3:1-4). We see contextually a shared nexus of ideas (that of the image of God, the glory, and enthronement) in Jewish apocalyptic and mystical literature that may help to understand what Paul means when he says, “in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him” (2:9-10).

“The Glory of YHWH” in the HB could be understood at any number of angles. In Exodus the “glory” appears to be a hypostasis of God himself: “Come near before YHWH… and behold, the Glory of YHWH appeared in the cloud” (16:9-10). Also in 24:9-17 using all these titles interchangeably: “the Elohim of Israel”, “the cloud”, and “the Glory of YHWH” whose appearance was “like a devouring fire.” Moses in chapter 34 asks of YHWH, “show me your glory” (34:18). God responds saying, “I will make my glory pass before you and proclaim before you my name YHWH” (34:19 LXX). Later in the next chapter recounting what had taken place the author says, “YHWH descended in the cloud and stood with him there… YHWH passed before him” (34:5-6). In chapter 40 you can observe the same pattern of terms used: “the cloud”, “the Glory of YHWH”, “the Cloud of YHWH”, and “the fire” (40:34-38).[8]

Ezekiel portrays “the Glory of YHWH” as an angelomorphic human figure who is enthroned on the Merkabah, the chariot throne of God. In the vision in the first chapter we see one “… seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance… (a description of his appearance) so was the appearance of the Glory of YHWH. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of the one speaking. And he said to me, ‘Son of Man, stand to your feet, and I will speak with you.’ And as he spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard him speaking to me” (1:26, 28-2:2). He speaks with Ezekiel through chapter 2, and then is described again in 3 as “the Glory of YHWH stood there, like the Glory I had seen by the Chebar canal, and I fell on my face” (3:23). The “spirit entering” Ezekiel is what allowed him to stand in “the glory’s” presence and to hear his words (2:2; 3:24).

As scholars have observed, the Ezekiel account of the “Glory of YHWH” may be the backdrop for the vision in Daniel 7. In the vision we notice “with the clouds of heaven there came one like a Son of Man (i.e. human being, possibly with a human appearance), and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him” (7:13-14a). When the explanation of the vision in Daniel 7 is given, we find out that the one “like a Son of Man (or human being)” corresponds to (or represents) the “holy ones of the Most High” who “shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, forever and ever” (7:18). As it is further stated, “the Ancient of Days came, and judgment was given for the holy ones of the Most High, and the time came when the holy ones possessed the kingdom” (7:22). It is clear that in Daniel the cloud riding one “like a Son of Man (human being)” is seen not only as an individual figure, but shares a corporate identity with the “holy ones of the Most High”.

Another essential component in exploring the understanding of the “glory” is the close correlation with the HB and subsequent Second Temple literatures’ understanding of mankind made in the “image of God”. It is not uncommon to speak of those faithful to the God of Israel throughout history as sharing the “glory”. Wisdom of Jesus ben Sira 44:1 states in reference to the great figures throughout Israel’s history such as Enoch, Noah, Abraham, etc.: “Let us now sing the praises of famous men, our ancestors in their generations. The Lord apportioned to them great glory, his majesty from the beginning.”[9] Proceeding forth five more chapters through the long genealogical list to the end you see expressed “Shem and Seth were honored, but above every other created living being was Adam” (49:16). The implication is that Adam was apportioned a greater glory than any in Israel’s history, or the history of the world for that matter.

In the Greek reception of 3 Baruch, Adam was “stripped of the glory of God” and subsequently men have “become distant from the glory of god” (4:16).[10] Fletcher-Louis discusses what seems to be a liturgical fragment from Qumran, probably preserving a prayer for the first day of the week, acknowledging that Adam was made “in the likeness of Your Glory” (4Q504 fragment 8).[11] In the Life of Adam and Eve, Satan falls because he will not obey a heavenly command to “worship the Image of God” (14:2). Reflecting a high interpretative tradition of texts like Genesis 1:26-27 and Psalm 8, Life of Adam and Eve, along with a great deal of Second Temple Material, see humanity in it’s original form as having an angelomorphic/theotic state, exalting their position over the angels themselves and having heavenly dominion.[12]

We see the “glory” and the Adamic “image of God” meet in texts like 1QH saying God has “raised an eternal [name], [forgiving] offence, casting away all (the community’s) iniquities, giving them as a legacy all the glory of Adam [and] abundance in days” (4:14-15 [17:14-15]).[13] Similarly another text reads “and their descendants forever” possess “all the inheritance of Adam” (4Q171 3:1-2).[14] In other sources we find even possible allusions to the intended purpose of all the hosts and angels is to serve Adam and minister to him (4Q381).[15]

In Colossians, the Messiah is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (1:15), the Adamic Lord of the Cosmos who restores the Glory of humanity. He is the one in whom “the fullness of deity dwells” (1:19; 2:8) in whom those in Messiah are also “filled”. This is the heavenly “mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to the holy ones” (1:26) that is “Messiah in us, the hope of glory” (1:27). The apocalyptically anointed human being who is the “Glory” and those who are baptized into him are “hidden in God” (3:3). Those being “in Messiah” share in the “fullness of deity” (2:10), redeemed in the Cosmic New Exodus and share “in the inheritance of the holy ones in light” (1:12). When compared with Paul’s opponents, their form of mysticism pales in comparison as to his thoroughly developed Messianic thought: one that could be characterized as Realized Angelomorphic/Theotic Participatory Messianism.

[1] Markus Barth and Helmut Blanke, Colossians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (trans. A. B. Beck; AB 34b; New York: Doubleday, 1994), 190; Dunn, Epistle to the Colossians, 77; Eduard Lohse, Colossians and Philemon (Herm; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971), 36; Margaret Y. McDonald, Colossians and Ephesians (ed. Daniel J. Harrington; SP 17; Collegeville, Minn: Liturgical Press, 2000), 51; Peter T. Obrien, Colossians, Philemon (WBC 44; Waco, TX: Word, 1982), 27; N. T. Wright, The Epistle of Paul to the Colossians and Ephesians: An Introduction and Commentary(TNTC; Leicester, England: Intervarsity Press, 1986), 101-102.

[2] Cf. Arnold, Colossian Syncretism, 158-194; “Returning to the Domain of the Powers: Stoicheia As Evil Spirits in Galatians 4:3,9,” NT 38 (1996): 55-76; Dunn, Epistle to the Colossians, 148-151; Ernest De Witt Burton, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Galatians (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1921), 515-518; Lohse, Colossians, 96-99; Smith, Heavenly Perspective, 80-87; Wright, Colossians, 101-102.

[3] This is not to say that the actual employment of the term “στοιχειων του κοσμου” is explicit within the context of Second Temple Jewish apocalyptic literature to denote the angels of the nations, but it has been argued elsewhere that the terms scope of meaning could certainly include this concept. Cf. Wright, Colossians, 101-102.

[4] Barth and Blanke, Colossians, 315.

[5] Dunn, Colossians, 152.

[6] O’Brien, Colossians, 113.

[7] It is ironic that in Dunn’s comments on 1:19 he says the idea of the “fullness” presented there is strong enough “to be merging into the idea of incarnation”, and in his comments on 2:9 he recognizes the relationship between 1:19 as he says “the later Christology of ‘divine nature’ and ‘essence’ is clearly prepared for but it by no means yet present” while then saying 2:10’s use is merely rhetorical or hyperbolic. Cf. Dunn, Colossians, 102, 151-152.

[8] Gieschen, Angelomorphic Christology, 78-80.

[9] Fletcher-Louis, All the Glory of Adam, 91.

[10] Ibid., 91.

[11] Ibid., 92.

[12] Cf. David Steenburg, “The Worship of Adam and Christ as the Image of God,” JSNT 39 (1990): 95-109. Steenburg uses his legitimacy principle to attempt to see the origin of the worship of Messiah in Colossians.

[13] Fletcher-Louis, All the Glory of Adam, 96.

[14] Ibid., 96.

[15] Ibid., 98-99.

Rival Jewish Mysticisms at Colossae: Paul’s Realized Angelomorphic/Theotic Participatory Messianism in the Epistle to the Colossians (Part 1)

A vast range of difficulties regarding the contested Pauline epistle to the Colossians[1] have long plagued new testament scholars by putting forth a fragmentary constellation of ideas that permits us to “see through a mirror dimly”, to use a Pauline metaphor, into the occasion for the letter and to identify or to categorize Paul’s presumed opponents. In scholarship since the seminal work of Francis and Meeks[2] which challenged the validity of the dominant views of the period (e.g. Käsemann’s theory of Gnostic origins[3]), the current prevailing view seems to be that the “philosophy and empty deceit” (2:8)[4] being taught or practiced in Colossae could most adequately be understood as Jewish apocalyptic mysticism[5].

Though this may be the case, one quickly becomes conscious of the terminological and conceptual quandary when attempting to enter the conversation of how one categorizes religious or cultic phenomena in ancient texts. Scholarship in general has shown that many attempts to categorize early Jewish or Christian sources by a strict attribution and maintenance of specific genre labels can be problematic. Scholars who point out the conflation of certain genres such as “apocalyptic”, “mystical” and “Sapiential” that may have traditionally been applied individually is needed to bring about a more satisfactory and robust understanding of what is actually going on in any said text[6].

Similar kinds of questions arise when facing the difficulties in attempting to reconstruct what, or identify whom, Paul was actually reacting to on the ground in Colossae. For example, is it has been rightly questioned whether or not one can speak of “false teachers” at Colossae[7] or the existence of an actual “Colossian heresy”, as if there had been some sort of formal “Christian orthodoxy” that could be spoken of at this time[8]. Dunn states further “This is true to such a degree that if one persists with the idea of ‘orthodoxy,’ it would be hard to deny that some of the forms of earliest ‘Christianity’ would be better designated as ‘heresy,’ at least as judged by the subsequent course of theology.”[9] The present study attempts to demonstrate precisely this point.

In attempting to identity the opponents in Colossae as “Jewish Mystics” one might be faced with the historical question of how to characterize Paul’s own views. Using the appellation “Jewish Apocalyptic Mystics” for Paul’s opponents may reflect a presupposition and an inadequate characterization of Paul as the defender of a not-yet- invented Christian orthodoxy. This is of course not to say that his opponents are no longer to be understood as “Jewish Apocalyptic Mystics” themselves, only rather that after an analysis of Paul’s own theological convictions as demonstrated in the epistle to the Colossians, one might find that he himself may be more amply situated in the category of “Jewish Apocalyptic Mystic” than even his opponents. If once the evidence from the epistle is treated fairly and these conclusions can be demonstrated, we may further conclude that the occasion of the epistle when depicted as “Paul’s defense of ‘Christianity’ versus the Jewish Mystics” may be unfavorable or inadequate.  Rather it may be best to describe the scenario as “Rival Jewish Mysticisms in Colossae”; Paul’s own Mysticism versus that of his opponents’.

To approach the question of whether situating Paul may rightly be understood in etic terms[10] of Jewish mysticism, it is necessary to provide a functional definition. As DeConick states, the term “identifies a tradition within early Judaism and Christianity centered on the belief that a person directly, immediately and before death can experience the divine, either as a rapture or one solicited by a particular praxis.”[11] Assuming the validity of DeConick’s explanation for the present study, there are many elements of Paul’s teaching in Colossians that would lead us to situate him in the matrix of Jewish Apocalyptic Mysticism. Though this may be the case, due to the limited scope of this study, we will highlight only a few such elements that give us entry to a similar nexus of ideas shared by Paul and Jewish Apocalyptic Mysticism: Jewish Angelomorphic[12] or Theotic[13] traditions, participatory Messianism[14], and realized eschatology.[15] As the present study will attempt to show, the thing that separates Paul from his presumed opponents in Colossae is that all these Jewish expectant or realized traditions can only be experienced or realized through participation “in Messiah”.

[1]Pauline authorship will be assumed in the following paper, although is not detrimental to any arguments therein, assuming one from the “Pauline School” could adequately mirror Paul’s own convictions on the matters contained in the present epistle.

[2] Fred O. Francis and Wayne A. Meeks, Conflict at Colossae: A Problem in the Interpretation of Early Christianity by Selected Modern Authors, rev. ed., Sources for Biblical Study 4 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975).

[3] Ernst Käsemann, ‘Eine urschristliche Taufliturgie’, Exegetische Versuche Und Besinnungen, 3rd ed. (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1964), 1:34-51.

[4] The ESV will be the default translation used throughout this paper unless otherwise noted, as may frequently be the case due to many nuanced translations by the present author.

[5] See cf. Clinton Arnold, The Colossian Syncretism: The Interface between Christianity and Folk Belief at Colossae (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1996); Jarl E Fossum, “The Image of the Invisible God: Colossians 1:15-18a in the Light of Jewish Mysticism and Gnosticism” in The Image of the Invisible God: Essays on the Influence of Jewish Mysticism on Early Christology (NTEOA 30; Freiburg, Schweiz: Universitätsverlag, 1995), 13-39; though Fossum still maintains remaining influence of what might rightly be understood as “proto-Gnosticism”; Christopher Rowland and Christopher R. A. Morray-Jones, The Mystery of God: Early Jewish Mysticism and the New Testament (Leiden: Brill, 2009), 156-65; Thomas J. Sappington, Revelation and Redemption at Colossae (JSNTS; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1991); Ian K.Smith, Heavenly Perspective: A Study of the Apostle Paul’s Response to a Jewish Mystical Movement at Colossae (Library of New Testament Studies; London: T & T Clark, 2006); Loren Stuckenbruck, Angel Veneration and Christology: A Study in Early Judaism and in the Christology of the Apocalypse of John (WUNT 70; Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1995).

[6] Cf. John Collins, Seers, Sybils, and Sages in Hellenistic-Roman Judaism (Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism 54; Leiden: Brill, 1997), 317-385; Grant Macaskill, Revealed Wisdom and Inaugurated Eschatology in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity (Leiden: Brill, 2007); Smith, Heavenly Perspective; Daniel R. Streett, “Apocalyptic Wisdom in the Epistle to the Colossians” (Unpublished Manuscript; Yale University, 2002).

[7] Cf. Morna D. Hooker, “Were there False Teachers in Colossae?” in From Adam to Christ: Essays on Paul (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 121-36.

[8] Cf. James D. G. Dunn, The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans Pub, 1996), 24-26.

[9] Ibid., 24. See also as cited by Dunn: Walter Bauer, Robert A. Kraft, and Gerhard Krodel, Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971).

[10] “So ‘mysticism’ is an etic term, a modern typology, contemporary analytic vocabulary that we are imposing on the ancients in order to investigate their religiosity. It serves the modern scholar heuristically as a taxonomy, aiding our engagement in historical investigation and research.” Quote taken from April D. DeConick, “What is Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism” in Paradise Now: Essays on Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism (Edited by April D. DeConick; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2006), 2.

[11] Ibid., 2.

[12] “Angelomorphism” is to function in the following study as a soteriological category as articulated in works such as Charles A. Gieschen, Angelomorphic Christology: Antecedents and Early Evidence (Leiden: Brill, 1998); Crispin Fletcher-Louis, All the Glory of Adam: Liturgical Anthropology in the Dead Sea Scrolls (Studies on the Texts of the Desert of Judah 42; Leiden: Brill, 2002); Luke-Acts: Angels, Christology, and Soteriology, (WUNT 94; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1997); “The Worship of Divine Humanity as God’s Image and the Worship of Jesus” in The Jewish Roots of Christological Monotheism: Papers from the St. Andrews Conference on the Historical Origins of the Worship of Jesus. (Edited by C. C. Newman, J. R. Davila and G. S. Lewis; Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism 63; Leiden: Brill, 1999), 112-28.

[13] “Theotic” referring categorically to soteriological traditions that may be best described by the adjectival form of the term “Theosis” as later frequently employed by the Greek Church fathers. It remains to be thoroughly argued that the idea is conceptually rooted well within the context of Second Temple Judaism, yet in the limited scope of this study, an ambitious yet truncated attempt will be made.  “Theotic” in the present study originates from a shared semantic constellation of similar terms such as Theosis, Christosis, Theoformity or Christoformity. Cf. Ben C. Blackwell, Christosis: Pauline Soteriology in Light of Deification in Irenaeus and Cyril of Alexandria (Ph.D. diss., University of Durham, 2010); “Deification and Colossians 2:10” (paper presented at the annual meeting of the SBL; Atlanta, Ga., November 22, 2010); Gregory Glazov, “Theosis, Judaism, and Old Testament Anthropology” in Theosis: Deification in Christian Theology (ed. S. Finlan and V. Kharlamov; PTMS; Eugene: Pickwick Publications, 2006), 16-31; Stephen Finlan, “Can We Speak of Theosis in Paul?” in Partakers of the Divine of the Nature: The History and Development of Deification in the Christians Traditions (ed. M. J. Christensen and J. A. Wittung; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 68-80.

[14] Though “Participatory Messianism” is the determined terminological denotation in the following study, the realization that other terms such as “Corporate Messianism” or “Messianic Solidarity” could similarly serve to describe the Pauline conceptual framework effectively. The functional nuance of “participation” rather than terms such as “corporate” or “solidarity” is that they seemingly carry an implicit notion of passivity, functioning merely as identity markers. The use of “participatory” stresses the notion of active involvement in not merely the identity of Messiah but in status, woes (or afflictions), and glorification.

[15] “Realized” eschatology is the preferred designation in place of “inaugurated” in this study of Colossians due solely to its frequent reference to the already appropriated or available aspects of deity, heavenly mystery, wisdom, power, glory, etc. This being the case, the framework of Paul’s eschatological thought can certainly still be adequately represented by the idea of “inauguration”. Though the three ideas from Jewish Apocalyptic Mysticism may appear here as separate categories, they share the same matrix of ideas through the overlapping use of many of the same texts that could be described from a number of different terminological and conceptual angles; the present author merely chose three.

Cosmology or Soteriology in 1 Cor 8:6; Why does One have to Choose?

In Jerome Murphy-O’Connor’s compiled work “Keys to First Corinthians”, though dated in some areas (including this particular article I will address), I found it made up of helpful discussions on major issues that plague interpreters of this particular letter. Having said this, pleasantries disposed, I found myself in stark disagreement with a particular article (“Corithians 8:6: Cosmology or Soteriology” RBS 85 [1978] 253-67) addressing a specific verse and topic of which I have shown interest in as of late. A favored text in regards to early high christology, 1 Corinthians 8:6 which reads:

“ἀλλʼ ἡμῖν εἷς θεὸς ὁ πατὴρ ἐξ οὗ τὰ πάντα καὶ ἡμεῖς εἰς αὐτόν,

καὶ εἷς κύριος Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς διʼ οὗ τὰ πάντα καὶ ἡμεῖς διʼ αὐτοῦ.”

Murphy-O’Connor’s translation is as follows:

“For us one God, the Father, from whom (come) all things and towards whom we (go), and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom (come) all things and by whom we (go).”

Murphy-O’Connor states as his preliminary thesis: “the verse has exclusively soteriological meaning, and that the cosmological interpretation is unfounded” (58). Initially, it seems as though he draws a line in the sand, creating an unnecessarily pronounced distinction, between what has the potential to be symbiotic (cosmology and soteriology that is). This, as I have observed, happens far to frequently when attempting to over-systematize or categorize certain texts and their meaning (secretly my theory is it is based off the need to publish in an overwhelmingly over-published field, or it could be my cynicism coming out). The main reason I want to address this article is to attempt to challenge the claim to exclusivity in meaning in 1 Cor 8:6 specifically, and additionally in the area of cosmology and soteriology in Paul in general. Hopefully after a brief interaction with some of the most pertinent hinges of his argument, I will be able to demonstrate what I believe to be the symbiotic nature of the cosmological and the soteriological in this particular verse.

Murphy-O’Connor begins with asking whether or not this verse is a citation or not and comes to the conclusion through examining grammatical comparisons and the overall “ringing cadence” of the verbless phrase, seeing the verse as a citation (not from Paul but an outside source). He admits the evidence lacks strength but nevertheless assumes the position reasonably.  He categorizes the literary form as an acclamation rather than a confession, distinguishing them due to what he refers to as a significant difference in that an acclamation is rooted in wonder and reaction inspired by the experience of power. This he distinguishes from confession which he defines as a declaration which may be necessary by a variety of causes (61-62). He states that the sitz em leben of christian acclamations was the liturgical assembly (63).

His main critique of a cosmological meaning of this verse is based upon previous scholars attempt to compare the apparently cosmological language of ta panta (“all things“) to certain Stoic terminological parallels (such as Marcus Aurelius, a Magic Ring Inscription, Zozimos, and Aesclepius). Murphy-O’Connor points out rightfully the reality of differences grammatically between the phrases used showing no precise parallel. This is not where I have contention with him.  The point of contention is the myopic use of background materials seemingly limited to grammatical parralel, especially only dealing with scholars who maintain a parallel in Stoic philosophical language for his argument against any cosmological meaning. Surprisingly absent from Murphy-O’Connor’s work is an allowance for a conceptual Pauline background for the phrase outside of a pristine grammatical parallel. Even more surprising is the lack of even a faint consideration of a possible Jewish cosmological background (Paul is a Jew!) as opposed to a Greek philosophical one! This is not to say that Paul was unaware of these traditions or on occasion did not appeal to them, but to simply recognize the unfounded assessment by O’Connor to seemingly disallow for there to be a conceptual framework within Paul’s Judaism that allows for a cosmological understanding of the present verse.

To be continued…