Rival Jewish Mysticisms at Colossae: Paul’s Realized Angelomorphic/Theotic Participatory Messianism in the Epistle to the Colossians (Part 2)

Jewish Angelomorphic/Theotic Traditions


“Qualified You to Share in the Inheritance of the Holy Ones in Light”

At the outset of the epistle, Paul addresses those in Colossae who are “εν Χριστω” (in Messiah 1:2), as he addresses most of the assemblies[1] he writes to using the designation “αγιοις” or the “holy ones” (1:2).[2] It is regrettable that commentators have neglected to thoroughly discuss the background of the title “holy ones” in Colossians. As will be demonstrated in the present study, its meaning is vital to Paul’s understanding of the community as it denotes the angelomorphic/theotic character of those “in Messiah”, situating Paul firmly in the apocalyptic traditions of Second Temple Judaism.[3]

The term’s Jewish roots may be found in the Hebrew Bible[4] beginning with Exodus 19:6, “and you shall be to me a kingdom of Priests and a holy nation.” The reason for the attributive designation “holy” is theotic as seen in Leviticus 11:44a, “For I am YHWH your god. Consecrate yourselves, therefore and be holy, for I am holy.”[5] The holy kingdom of priests established at Sinai are to be like YHWH, the theotic expression of himself in the world because YHWH himself is holy.

The Deuteronomist tells of Moses on his death bed recounting the Sinai event, “… YHWH came from Sinai and dawned from Seir upon us; he shone forth from Mount Paran; he came from the ten thousands of holy ones, with flaming fire at his right hand. Yes, he loved his people, all his holy ones were in his hand”.[6] Here YHWH’s heavenly host and divine entourage along with the people at Sinai are called his “holy ones”. Those constituted as YHWH’s people at his mountain, share a heavenly existence on earth corresponding to the host of heaven. They are priestly ministers of the Most High God sharing a similar function as their heavenly ministerial counterparts[7]. The epithet seems to refer primarily and originally to the divine beings that inhabit the heavens, those of which are frequently described by OT scholars as the divine council[8].

The attribution of the heavenly title “holy ones” to the earthly community as a theotic or angelomorphic expression is developed substantially in the Second Temple period, rooted in texts like Daniel where the term denotes the heavenly beings[9] as well as those who remain faithful to the Most High in the eschatological time of trial.[10] Daniel 12:2-3 is a programmatic text for subsequent understandings of the concept of vindication by resurrection for the earthly “holy ones” who have suffered and subsequently receive an angelomorphic translation as expressed in the following terms: “those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.”[11] The context of this heavenly translation is the arising of Michael the great prince who had previously stood against the evil heavenly forces such as the “prince of the kingdom of Persia” (10:13) and the “prince of Greece” (10:20). These “princes” are understood as the patron angels of the nations[12] and may be those referred to as the “host of heaven” or as the “stars” (8:10).[13] This is significant as the implications may be that the angelomorphic/theotic language applied to the vindicated righteous is to be understood as a change in the heavenly rule over the nations.[14]

The Wisdom of Solomon interprets the tradition along these same lines when speaking of the vindication of the righteous in 3:7-8: “In the time of their visitation they will shine forth, and run like sparks through the stubble. They will govern nations and rule over peoples.” In 5:7-8 we see the questioning of the oppressors at the eschatological judgment as the righteous are vindicated: “Why have they been numbered among the sons of God? And why is their lot among the holy ones? So it was we who strayed from the way of truth, and the light of righteousness did not shine on us, and the sun did not rise on us.”[15] So it follows that the angelomorphic shining of the righteous is linked to them governing nations and ruling peoples. This seems to implicitly refer to an eschatological change in authority where the angels of the nations have been replaced by the angelomorphic human righteous.[16]

There is a great deal of subsequent Second Temple Jewish apocalyptic literature that reflects Daniel and Wisdom’s angelomorphic language.[17] In 1 Enoch 38:4-5, in a similar context of judgment and overturning of the world powers as in Daniel one reads:

“…and from that time, those who possess the earth will neither be rulers nor princes, they shall not be able to behold the faces of the holy ones, for the light of the Lord of the Spirits has shined upon the face of the holy, the righteous, and the elect. At that moment, kings and rulers shall perish, they shall be delivered into the hands of the righteous and holy ones”.[18]

We see similar language later in 1 Enoch 104:2-5:

“I swear unto you that in heaven the angels will remember you for good before the glory of the Great One; and your names will be written before the glory of the Great One. Be hopeful, because formerly you have pinned away through evil and toil. But now you shall shine like the lights of heaven, and you shall be seen; and the windows of heaven shall be open for you. Your cry shall be heard. Cry for judgment and it shall appear for you… Be hopeful, and do not abandon your hope… you are about to be making a great rejoicing like the angels of heaven. You shall not have to hide on the day of the great judgment, and you shall not be found as the sinners; but the eternal judgment shall be (far) away from you for all generations of the world.”

Following the same tradition is 2 Enoch 66:7: “how happy are the righteous who shall escape the Lord’s great judgment; for they will be made to shine seven times brighter than the sun.” In 2 Enoch, this is an unmistakable reference to angelomorphism, and possibly exaltation over the angels, as Stone points out that previously in 2 Enoch 1:5 and 19:1 it is the faces of the angels in heaven that shine like sun.[19] 4 Ezra 7:88-97 follows in the same apocalyptic vein:

“… those who have kept the ways of the Most High… they shall see with great joy the glory of him who receives them, for they shall have rest in seven orders… the sixth order when it is shown to them how their face is to shine like the sun, and how they are to be made like the light of the stars, being incorruptible from then on… for they hasten to behold the face of him whom they served in life and from whom they are to receive their reward when glorified.”

The Jewish eschatological trend of angelomorphism and exaltation over the angels for those who are saved from the final judgment is demonstrated further in 2 Baruch 51:8-10, 12:

“For they will see that world which is now invisible to them, and they will see a time which is now hidden to them. And time will no longer make them older. For they will live in the heights of that world and they will be like the angels and be equal to the stars… And the excellence of the righteous will be greater than that of the angels.”

In the Testament of Moses 10:9 it is said of Israel “God will raise you to the heights. Yea, he will fix you firmly in the heaven of the stars, in the place of their habitations.”[20]

It is through this particular Jewish apocalyptic matrix that we can begin to understand the belief shared by Paul of an “inheritance of the holy ones in light” (Col 1:12). How one is “qualified to share in” (1:12) this inheritance for Paul is by faith[21] and participation[22] in Messiah. For him the people, known as the “holy ones[23], who share the heavenly hope (1:5) of eschatological vindication by angelomorphic/theotic translation and exaltation over the angels is realized now as those who are “in Messiah”. The hope reserved in the eschaton for faithful Israel is now further extended to the Gentiles and is being realized for all those “in Messiah”. As Paul states:

“And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard (1:21-23a)… to them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Messiah in you, the hope of glory (1:27).”

The Gentiles who were once “alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds” (1:21) he now refers to as “God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved” (3:12) applying the language derived from the HB, yet filtered through the Second Temple Jewish apocalyptic matrix for those who will inherit the eschatological vindication and angelomorphic translation for their faithfulness to God. Some of the essential grounds Paul has for legitimating the application of this language to Gentiles comes from a nexus of ideas pertaining to his understanding of what it means to be “in Messiah”: they have been forgiven their sins, received a heavenly circumcision, and a disarming of the rulers and authorities that once ruled over them has taken place, allowing for a transferal to the heavenly kingdom:

“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him (2:13-15).”

[1]The term “εκκλησσια” will be translated in the following study as “assembly” merely as a subtle nuance to disallow any confusion of later Christian theology to obscure the Jewish nature of Paul’s own understanding.

[2] Rom 1:7; 15:25; 1 Cor 1:2; 16:15; 2 Cor 1:1; Eph 1:1; 3:5; 5:3; Phil 1:1; 2 Thess 1:10. For other uses of the term in the NT cf. Acts 9:13; Heb 6:10; Jude 3; Rev 11:18.

[3] See Col 1:2, 4, 22, 26: 3:12

[4] The abbreviation HB will be used in the following study to refer to the Hebrew Bible or the Protestant Old Testament.

[5] Cf. Lev 19:2; 21:7-8; Num 16:3

[6] Deut 33:2-3a. Other texts that use the heavenly epithet to refer to YHWH’s people are Ps 16:3; 34:10 (9); 106:16.

[7] “Counterpart” not in the sense of later Jewish and Christian theological developments of an ontological heavenly counterpart for each human, but rather simply to highlight functionally the remarkable similarity in function and designation by the employment of the heavenly title to those on earth.

[8] Job 5:1; 15:15; Ps 89:5-7 (Eng): This text speaks of the incomparability of YHWH amongst the others among him that seem to share some sort of “species uniqueness” with him which would explain the need to express his superiority by stating that he is “a god greatly to be feared in the council of the holy ones”; For a thorough discussion on the continued conceptual understanding the notion of the Divine Council into the Second temple period see Michael S. Heiser, “The Divine Council in Late Canonical and Non-Canonical Second Temple Jewish Literature” (Ph.D. diss., University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2004).

[9] Dan 4:8, 9, 17, 18; 5:11; 8:13

[10] Dan 7:18, 21, 22, 25, 27; 8:24; 12:7. The view that the “holy ones” in Dan 7 refers to human beings has been contested. Cf. John J. Collins, Daniel: A Commentary on the Book of Daniel (Hermeneia: A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 313-317.

[11] Collins states that the shining like the firmament should be equated with the stars. This is based on 8:10 in identifying the host of heaven as the stars. Collins, Daniel, 393. The heavenly host, whether to be understood in terms of divine council or angels, represented or realized as stars is a tradition represented throughout the HB cf. Deut 4:19 (corresponding to the “gods of the nations” in 17:3 and the “sons of God/angels of God” in 32:8); Judg 5:20; 2 Kings 17:6; 21:3, 5; Job 22:12; 38:7; Ps 148:3; Is 14:12-13; 40:26; 48:13; Jer 19:13; 33:22; Amos 5:26; Zeph 1:5.

[12] Collins, Daniel, 374. The origin of this concept within the HB is found in Deut 32:8-9 at the appointment of the angels (LXX) or the sons of god (4QDeut) as patron angels or deities over the nations while YHWH directly rules over Jacob. Ps 82 reflects this tradition and speaks of the coming judgment of the “gods” due to their unjust rule, ending with a plea for God to inherit all the nations from their oppressive heavenly rulers.

[13] This idea may be akin to a similar conceptual framework as Deut 4:19 (in relation to 32:8-9) or possibly from the “assembly of the stars” idea presented in Is 14:12-13.

[14] This may demonstrate the author of Daniel’s understanding of the theology of Ps 82 as the angelomorphic righteous ones inherit the nations because they have been translated to mediatorial ruling representatives under the restored rule of God.

[15] This citation and all subsequent citations of the Apocrypha are taken from Howard C. Kee, ed., The Cambridge Annotated Study Apocrypha: New Revised Standard Version (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994).

[16] Again, we see here a reflection of a worldview rampant in Jewish apocalyptic discourse that has been shaped by texts such as Deut 32 and Ps 82, as seen programmatically appropriated in Daniel.

[17] There is no space here to discuss dating of such texts, but merely to observe conceptual parallels.

[18] This citation and all subsequent citations of Pseudepigraphical literature are taken from James H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Volumes 1 and 2 (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson, 2010).

[19] Michael E. Stone, Fourth Ezra: A Commentary on the Book of Fourth Ezra (Hermeneia: a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990).

[20] See further Philo, Vit. Mos. 2.288; b. Ber. 17a.

[21] Col 1:2, 4; 2:5, 7.

[22] Col 1:2, 27, 28; 2:6, 7, 10, 11.

[23] Cf. Col 1:2, 4, 22, 26: 3:12.

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…