Previous section (muddleplatonismx1.html) dealt with:
Here we deal with:
Then, the ‘fun’ one—from my perspective (smile): Paul the Middle-Platonist?
“From your perspective, is there any reason we should see Paul as using middle-platonic philosophy?”
There are a couple of overlapping questions hiding in this, varying in ‘belief density’:
Let’s try to figure out how we would test this…
The first one on influence is the trickiest because the question often comes up about content versus vocabulary. In other words, was Paul influenced by the content of MP teachings (so that it shows up in his arguments as foundational beliefs or as boundary-setting beliefs), or only by the vocabulary of MP (so that he uses MP vocabulary but with altered meanings which would puzzle a true MPer)?
Vocabulary overlap is not very strong evidence for content influence, since terms could come in through general culture without any understanding of the content behind it. For example, when a modern Operations Manager for an assembly plant is arguing for installing robotics, he might use the phrase “we need this to make a quantum leap in productivity”. Chances are that he has no idea what content lies behind ‘quantum leap’. So, is he influenced by quantum theory? Not at the content level, but perhaps at the vocabulary level (although all he knows is that ‘quantum’ means something like ‘unusually big’). When business leaders began talking about ‘paradigm shifts’ in business models years ago, were they being influenced by philosophy of science? Probably few knew anything more than a paragraph or two about the Kuhnian discussions, and even less about the sociology of knowledge theories. Were they influenced by it at vocab level? Yes.
A second problem with vocabulary overlap
is that it can occur
without any content-overlap, as has been shown for alleged parallels between Hebrews and Philo of
“We will not find any parallel between Hebrews and Philo that demands a direct connection between the two. If anything, Ronald Williamson's classic study on Philo and Hebrews [note: Philo and the Epistle to the Hebrews (1970)] shows that most parallels are somewhat superficial. Even when the two are using similar language or imagery, the conceptual framework behind the words is usually different.” [HI:BG2P,81]
So, if Paul uses MP terminology and MP-sounding phrases, we will have to work through the content-versus-vocabulary questions first.
And we need also to note that Paul could conceivably use MP-sounding phrases but in a polemical, anti-MP way. So, for example, might be the case in Colossians (which we will discuss below), in which his adversaries are propounding some very MP-sounding themes. Paul actually uses Platonic-sounding phrases to rebuke them:
“Using Platonic language, in v. 17 he describes them as the “shadow” rather than the “reality” (the sōma, the word he uses for the church in 1:18 and 2:19). They are “an appearance” (2:22), not the “real thing” found in Christ. Furthermore, they refer “to things which all perish” (2:22), thus enforcing bondage to the transient.” [Thurston, B. B. (2007). Reading Colossians, Ephesians, and 2 Thessalonians : A literary and theological commentary., p32]
Paul argues that it is the semi-Platonic position which is the ‘shadow’ and the ‘appearance’, as opposed to the true reality—of Christ. This, for example, would argue that Paul was familiar enough with Platonic thought/images to know the position, but that he rejected the basic content of the position.
Of course, if he does NOT use MP-sounding terminology, then the case will seem much simpler. [It won’t, however, be ‘closed’ by this. There would still be a possibility that he was trying to translate/port MP concepts into a Judeo-Christian word-space, so that the concepts would be obviously MP, but the vocabulary would sound ‘Jewish’. We will have to consider this also.]
And finally, if Paul uses ‘reverse MP’ language (e.g., oxymoron-like phrases, MP terms in decidedly non-MP ways), then this will count as fairly strong evidence that he was not an MPer and perhaps (depending on the context) even trying to rebut MP-like positions.
So, we can approach this by working through the following steps/issues:
Then, to test the concepts-without-the-vocab, we can ask this question:
How did MP writers react to Pauline-articulated doctrines of incarnation and bodily resurrection?
Then we might check some ‘circumstantial data’:
Okay, let’s start—
One. What terms and concepts are quintessentially MP, and therefore to be expected in writings by anybody influenced (at a major level) by or devoted to MP?
Since we are basically dealing with physics here—and not MP ethics or epistemology—we can confine our discussion to matters of the gods, the universe, and the inhabitants therein.
Here’s some summary descriptions of what MP philosophers taught/held:
“From about 100 B.C. to about A.D. 200 there was a revival of Plato known as Middle Platonism, which reached its peak in the third century in the original work of Plotinus. It is genuinely Platonic but differs in many ways from Plato himself, developing matters he only touched on and showing the influence of Aristotle. Our only concern with this Platonic revival is as a background to the philosophy of Plotinus who deeply influenced Augustine and through Augustine subsequent theology… The Middle Platonists viewed the human soul as belonging to another realm but as now fallen into the sense world. The object of life is to purify the soul by philosophy so we may return to a disembodied life in which we enjoy the vision of true reality. This is highly familiar to us from Plato himself. The departure from Plato that concerns us is some modifications of the Timaeus. Middle Platonism places a Supreme Mind as the supreme reality at the head of a hierarchy of beings. The manner of this transformation is easily seen if we recall that Plato in the Timaeus said that the "father and maker of all this universe is past finding out" (28c). So Plato told a story of a craftsman making the visible world by using the world of Forms as the pattern. Because according to the Timaeus the visible world is the handiwork of intelligence or mind, the Middle Platonists quite naturally describe the supreme principle as mind. In the Republic Plato had the Form of the Good as head of the hierarchy of Forms; Middle Platonists identify the Form of the Good with the Supreme Mind itself. Since the "father and maker of all" is remote, they fill the gap between him and the visible world with a hierarchy of beings. Plato gave them ample precedent, for whenever he had trouble connecting one thing with another, he would place something between the two (metaxu)… The identification of the Form of the Good with the Supreme Mind reinforces the remoteness of the Supreme Mind since, as Plato said in the Republic, knowledge of the Good is only possible for a few people after a lifetime of effort. For the Middle Platonists, knowledge of the Good is reserved for the next life, except for a few of them who thought that occasional flashes of vision of the Good are possible in this life. But the remoteness took on a decidedly different character under the influence of Aristotle's "unmoved mover." The Middle Platonists, as Plotinus after them, sought to reconcile Plato and Aristotle and took from Aristotle some of the features of his unmoved mover and applied them to their Supreme Mind. Aristotle's unmoved mover is mind but is so remote from this world (even though it is its top story) as to be utterly unaware of it. It is aware only of its own thought as it engages in perpetual contemplation. It affects what is outside itself only indirectly through intermediaries. The Middle Platonists adopted the view of the Supreme Mind as absolutely free of all external activities and exalted it to such a height that it has no direct contact with the material world. The Supreme Mind is still head of a hierarchy of beings, or the top story of the universe, unlike the Christian God, who as Creator transcends the universe. This is a point we shall stress later in connection with Plotinus. … One can easily see the possibility of an enormous increase or an inflation of intermediary powers between the Supreme Mind and the sensible world. The more one stresses remoteness of the Supreme Mind from the material world, the more ingenuity one can expend in populating the world with entities in decreasing gradations of onto-logical reality to connect the top to the bottom of the universe. Plato's charming "likely story" of a craftsman copying the world of Forms is turned into a realistic description…. Philo, an Alexandrian Jew who died about A.D. 50, was affected by Middle Platonism's stress on intermediaries between the Supreme Mind and the world. He was saturated in hellenistic philosophy and sought to reconcile the Jewish Scriptures with Plato. As a Jew, he believed God was active in creating and ruling the cosmos, but he also stressed God's transcendence and saw God as acting through various Intermediary powers. Philo is vague about the relationship between these intermediaries and God, and he is not consistent in his description of them. Sometimes there are two, sometimes several, but often a single and great intermediary, the Logos. … Heraclitus first used the term logos in a philosophical sense. His logos is the principle or ratio or proportion that keeps a balance between the opposing pairs of things in the world process, and he described it as the principle of life and intelligence. The Stoics, in their eclectic physical theory of the cosmos, also spoke of a logos and used Heraclitus' image of fire for it. They believed that the formative principle of individual things in nature is part of a universal fiery principle. Individual things develop from "seeds" or logoi. For the Stoics, the seminal logoi are parts of the fire or logos (reason or nature) permeating all things, causing their growth, development, and action. The early Stoics believed in an endless cycle of worlds, somewhat as Heraclitus did, being generated by the divine fire of all things returning and disappearing in a great conflagration. After a pause the cosmos will arise once again. Combined with their view of necessity or fate, they held for a time to the theory that each world in the cycle was exactly like the previous one, so each individual appeared again and again hi each successive world. … There are, of course, uses of the term "word" (dabar) in the Old Testament. There are even poetical personifications of the Word of God in Psalms 33:4-7; 107:20; and 147:15. These are augmented in the Targums, the expanded traditions of the Old Testament. Dabar is translated in the Septuagint as logos. So Philo had a term that was used in both of the traditions he was trying to bring together, Jewish and Platonic. … In Philo the Logos is not only an intermediary, or instrument by which God makes the world, but he frequently identifies the Logos with the Platonic world of Forms. We have just noted that Plato himself did not identify the world of Forms with the mind—either of the craftsman or the father of all things. The Middle Platonists did this. Philo follows them but in addition makes the important step of identifying the Logos with the Forms. Thus it is possible for the early Church Fathers to think of the three together: Divine Mind, Forms as the thoughts of the Divine Mind, and Logos as the Wisdom of God—the instrument of creation and the principle of its order. (See Proverbs 3:19-20; 8:22-31 where Wisdom is associated with creation.) … The identification of Jesus as the Logos in Revelation 19:13 (the Logos of God as eschatological victor and judge) owes nothing to Philo. The use of Logos for Christ in I John 1:1 and in John 1:1-18 has not been accounted for. But Philo clearly developed the meaning of Logos with an eye to Plato and the Platonists, whereas the Johannine material develops the theme by reference to Jesus. Still the term logos in both Heraclitus and the Stoics had cosmic import, and its tie to the Platonic world of Forms by Philo gave it even richer associations for theologians to explore. To connect Jesus with this philosophical material at all is to make Jesus not just Savior or Messiah in Jewish terms but to give him cosmic significance in hellenic terms. Clearly John 1:1-18 intends to elevate Jesus into a cosmic role, by relating him to the creation story of Genesis 1. It is by him and with him that the world was formed. This is the thrust of John, apart from any connection with the specific identification of the Supreme Mind and Plato's Forms, or the Logos, Supreme Mind, and the Forms. But Philo did make these specific connections, as did the Christian theologians who followed Philo's lead.” [PUT,70ff]
“The perceptible cosmos is a great sphere bounded by the sphere of the fixed stars. Inside it are the paths of the seven planets then known (Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Moon - mostly in that order). From this supralunar region, in which all motions remain (essentially) equal, the sublunar region is separated, stretching from the moon to the earth, which lies in the middle of the cosmic sphere…. Here, the order of movements is continually interrupted by irregularity; here alone evil and wickedness have their place. In the space between moon and earth demons are located. They too consist of a soul and a (airy) body. Their task is mediation between gods and humans in sacrifices, prayers and prophecies. There are good and evil demons. The souls of the latter do not possess a perfect mind and hence are not emotionless like those of the gods, rather they are subject to passions. Hence they are responsible for wizardry and magic. … After demons come human beings. By their rational souls they are related to the world-soul and the gods. Yet they also possess an irrational part of the soul … consisting of the hot-tempered and the covetous, tempting them into moral misbehaviour. It is this irrational part of the soul that together with the etheric or pneumatic vehicle of the soul mediates between the rational soul and the body. After death, the soul is separated from the body, has to undergo judgment and is eventually reincarnated, either in a human being or an animal” [Brill’s New Pauly, s.v. “Middle Platonism”]
“The Middle Platonists exalted the absolute transcendence of the Supreme Mind (God). This is the head of a hierarchy of being, reached only through intermediary powers. The universe is animated by a World Soul. Direct knowledge of the transcendent Mind is impossible, but a ‘negative theology’ gives an indirect knowledge of God. Direct contemplation may bring a few brief flashes of intuition even in this life. Some, influenced by Neopythagoreans, gave a negative judgment on matter as evil. Others, closer to Plato, saw evil as the result of the embodiment of ideas. Another emphasis of the Middle Platonists was the immortality of the soul.” [HI:BOEC, 388]
“Besides the first principles, there is, as an intermediate and mediating entity, the World
Soul. This is basically
the entity whose creation is described in the Timaeus,
but traces appear, in such men as Philo and Plutarch, of a rather
more august figure, which almost seems to reflect, a Speusippean Dyad, a figure
not evil but simply responsible for multiplicity, and thus for all creation.
In Philo, as we shall see, the figure of Sophia appears, who is interchangeable
with the Dyad, and Plutarch, in the preface of his essay On Isis and Osiris, seems to describe such
a figure, whom he identifies with
Allright—let’s make a list of the terms and concepts to look for from these summaries:
On to Two…
Two: To what extent does the Pauline literature uses these terms and concepts—as if Paul actually held to them?
Well, the ‘terms’ part of this is very, very easy (smile)…
One: How many times does Pauline literature use the phrase “World Soul”?
Is there some other phrase in Paul which might be the same as the Platonic concept of “World Soul”?
Well, the closest phrase might be the ‘spirit of the world’ (1 Cor 2.12), but this cannot be even close to the World Soul. The Platonic World Soul moves the sun, the moon and the stars around, and even us [cf. Laws X.898-89, for example]. No human can actually evade the Platonic world soul, but Paul says explicitly in this versus that Christians do NOT have this ‘world spirit’. So, these are not close. [Plus, in Platonic thought, souls and spirits are vastly different notions/terms.]
So, another Zero.
Two. Next, how many times does Paul describe the Supreme God as emotionless or unaware of the world’s state?
Are there any concepts in Paul which might be close?
Three. How about the “Logos”? Surely Paul uses the MP term Logos for some kind of agent or principle (as maybe happened in John 1?)?
Nope—Paul never uses the word Logos to refer to Christ, nor does it show up in any of the pre-Pauline hymnic/creedal material he uses in his epistles.
How about a MP Logos-type figure/concept in Paul?
Here we face a methodological problem—what WAS the MP Logos concept? We have noted that MP merged the Stoic Logos (a fiery principle of individuation) with the Demiurge figure. The Logos of Plutarch ‘woke the World Soul up’. In Philo, the OT/Tanaach Dabar (world) is merged with this demiurgic agent of God in the world. The MP Logos is an intermediary (but between God and what is not clear—a hierarchy of intermediates would mean that the Logos would related to a slightly-lower daimon, which would in turn related to another ever lower daimon, etc, etc, etc.) and God’s agent of creation.
Jesus is clearly the instrument of creation for God, but unlike the Logos, the creation was created FOR him (and not just for the Supreme God, Col 1.16). And even though Paul asserts that Christ has authority of all spiritual unseen forces, in no way are THEY intermediaries between Jesus and humans. So, although there are some similarities, they don’t seem close enough—especially given the lack of use of the prominent term Logos to describe Christ—to warrant an identification with the MP concept.
Four. Next—how about the term “demiurge”? How many times does Paul use this term?
How about the concept of demiurge?
Same answer as for Logos—too many differences between the cosmic Christ (i.e., the best candidate for identification with a demiurge) and the MP concept.
Here’s the core of the discussion in the Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
“The Timaeus is Plato's attempt to carry out the program of rationalist cosmology that Anaxagoras had promised but had failed to fulfill. The Demiurge is portrayed as the agent who turns the initial chaos into a cosmos. Like a human craftsman, he arranges existing materials and does not create them. The conception of creation ex nihilo is foreign to the whole tradition of Greek thought. The Demiurge shapes his materials to conform as much as possible to the eternal intelligible model of the Forms. First, he makes other gods, the world soul that the cosmos requires as its motive principle, and the immortal part of the human soul. The created gods then complete the work by making physical things, including human bodies. The Demiurge's success is necessarily limited: the Reason that constitutes his pattern is opposed by a recalcitrant Necessity that hinders his work in something like the way in which a human craftsman may be frustrated by intractable materials— and no material is perfectly tractable. This obstacle to a faultless achievement by the Demiurge is also the main reason why Plato cannot hope to give more than a "likely tale" of the Demiurge's work. … It has been widely believed, from ancient times to the present day, that the Demiurge is a mythical figure and that Plato did not believe in the literal existence of such a creator-god. He is a personification of the Reason whose requirements he is represented as trying to embody in the nature of the cosmos. Even if he is literally meant, he must still be sharply contrasted with the creator-god of the Judeo-Christian tradition, not only because he is not in that sense a creator, but also because he is in no sense an object of worship. … The concept of the Demiurge was taken over by the Neoplatonists and by some Gnostic writers. To the Gnostics he was the evil lord of the lower powers, creator of the despised material world, and entirely separate from the supreme God. Their parody of the Demiurge as a clumsy imitator is blended with hostile satire of the Old Testament creator-God. Plotinus protested against their conception of the Demiurge as a source of positive evil in the world.”
Several disconnects here from Paul: (a) Jesus is said to have ‘created’ not simply ‘arranged’; (b) no ‘world soul’ to make; (c) no mention of Christ using ‘other gods’ to finish the work; (d) no implication of a ‘flawed due to materials’ outcome.
And the demiurge was generally (in the MP writers) not a personal agent:
“Middle Platonism, in contrast to Stoicism and in keeping with its Platonic roots, emphasized the primary reality of the immaterial, intelligible realm. In keeping with this emphasis, one of the characteristics of Middle Platonism was its distinction between two aspects of the divinity. The first aspect of the divinity was essentially transcendent and basically inner-directed. The second aspect was an active, demiurgic power which was responsible for the ordering of everything else in the universe. The distinction was not simply metaphorical, but was meant as a metaphysical explanation which both preserved the transcendence of God and accounted for the relatively orderly character of the universe. Middle Platonists sometimes adopted the Stoic logos into their systems as the term for this active force of God in the world (Dillon 1977: 46). More often, however, they gave this demiurgic aspect of divinity a name other than logos (e.g., idea, mind). [ABD, s.v. logos]
And the intermediary function is just not specific enough to tie this to MP (or Platonism generally). The OT/Tanaach are filled with intermediaries, long before Plato was even born (e.g. Moses, the Aaronic priesthood, Melchizedek, the Angel of YHWH, even some of the prophets functioned this way).
[Note: when Origen comes along—a fullscale MPer—he will identify Jesus with the demiurge, but no one before him does, in the Christian tradition.]
Five. How about a statement about a ‘hierarchy of intermediaries’ between God and humanity?
No such phrase or concept.
The concept of intermediary is present—obviously in the person of the mediating Redeemer—but there is no hierarchy. It’s just God/Jesus/humans. The angels/demons are not in the Pauline redemptive scheme. Humans do not ask angels to ask bigger angels to ask Jesus to ask God the Father for our rescue from judgment/sin.
God/Jesus may use angels to perform tasks on our behalf (maybe even being a messenger of the good news at times—Galatians 1.8?), and there might be chain-of-command within the ranks of angels/demons, but these are never represented as being part of our access to God. In fact, in the closing doxology of Romans 8, Paul assures us that the ‘emotionless God’ (chuckle) has a love for us so strong, so tenacious, and so pervasive that NOTHING can “free us from the grip” of His unrelenting warmth and ever-giving heart for us:
And I am convinced that nothing can
ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,
neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers
of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above
or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that
is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. [New Living
Six. Moon (with a semi-divine--in Platonic thought--soul of its own) as separator between ‘heaven and earth’
The Pauline literature does use the word ‘moon’ twice, once in Col 2.16 and once in 1 Cor 15.41.
The passage in Col 2.16 is simply a reference to a ‘new moon festival’, and is about the regular agricultural-based festivals that the ancient world celebrated a millennium or two before Plato.
The passage in 1 Cor 15 is more interesting, though:
All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish. 40 There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. [NAS]
Well, not really much here, I guess… ‘glory’ is not ‘soul’, and the moon is just glupped in with the other heavenly bodies (sun, stars). Certainly no reference (or implication) for the moon being ‘between’ anything (except between, maybe, the sun and the stars in terms of ‘relative glory’—from the word order?).
Again, another zero.
Seven. Sub-Lunar as a description of the daimonic living-space and area of operation.
With only two mentions of ‘moon’, its gonna be hard to get any ‘below-moon’ references also… this is an easy ‘zero’ at the vocab level.
But at the concept level, we might have something different. Paul uses the term ‘air’ two times, once describing an evil agent and once about us meeting the Lord ‘in the air’.
The first one is the most interesting one (Eph 2). Here’s the literal construction:
“And you were dead in/by the trespasses and the sins of you all, in which sins you all once formerly walked, according to the age (aeon) of this world (kosmos), according to the ruler (archon, accusative singular) of the authority (exousia, genitive singular) of the air (aer), of the spirit (pneuma, genitive singular) which now is at work in the sons of disobedience, among whom we also all lived, once, in the desire of the flesh (sarx) to do the will of the flesh and the mind (dianoia)…”
Although this might look promising at first, it is all wrong from a Platonic and MP perspective, and basically just looks ‘street folk Jewish’ (or actually, given the common Graeco-Roman demonology, ‘street folk Mediterranean’ would also be accurate):
“Most Jewish people
believed that Satan or the chief of the heavenly angels of the nations ran the
whole world except for
“Here the realm of the ruler’s authority is said to be the air. Elsewhere in Ephesians, hostile powers inhabit the heavenly realms (cf 3:10; 6:12). This notion has its background in OT and Jewish thought where angels and spirit powers were often represented as in heaven (e.g., Job 1:6; Dan 10:13, 21; 2 Macc 5:2; 1 Enoch 61.10; 90.21, 24); it was also developed in Philo (cf. De Spec. Leg. 1.66; De Plant. 14; De Gig. 6, 7). What is the relationship of “the air” to “the heavenly realms”? It may be that the writer is using terminology from different cosmological schemes, but it is fairly certain that he intends the two terms to indicate the same realm inhabited by malevolent agencies. If there is any distinct connotation, it could be that the “air” indicates the lower reaches of that realm and therefore emphasizes the proximity of this evil power and his influence over the world. In later Judaism the air is in fact thought of as the region under the firmament as in 2 Enoch 29.4,5, “And I threw him out from the height with his angels, and he was flying in the air continuously above the abyss.” (Cf. also T. Benj. 3.4; Targum of Job 5.7; and Asc. Isa. 7.9; 10.29; 11.23 where the firmament is called the air and the ruler of this world and his angels are said to live in it.” [WBC, in loc]
Even three of the other terms don’t make any sense in MP (or general Hellenistic terms): pneuma, dianoia, and aeon. A good Platonist would use the word soul (psyche) here instead of spirit (pneuma), since pneuma was a different sort of thing than a soul. Flesh and mind (dianoia) were always opposed to one another in MP—they didn’t really ‘co-operate in evil’ as Paul is stating here (a ‘soul’ would cooperate with the flesh in sinning, but a mind/nous would not). And aeon is problematic, no matter how the word is understood.
Aeon is sometimes understood as a time-period phase (“age”). The problem for MP in this passage is that aeon is used negatively—as a ‘bad thing’. But in Platonism in general (including MP), aeon meant something very, very good.
“Under Plato’s influence, Philo gives the following definition of áἰþí: ôὸ ÷ñüíïõ ðáñÜäåéãìá êáὶ ἀñ÷Ýôõðïí [Tankxl8: “aion: the time span of Forms and Ideas/Archetypes”] Mut. Nom., 267; Deus Imm., 32; cf. Rer. Div. Her., 165. ÷ñüíïò is the âßïò of the êüóìïò áἰóèçôüò, áἰþí the âßïò of God and the êüóìïò íïçôüò. [TankXl8: chronos is the life of the perceptible world; aion is the life of God and the world of the mind] It is of the nature of aion to be the eternal to-day, Fug., 57. [TDNT, s.v. aion]
Other interpreters of the passage see “aeon” as the name of the ‘second god’ in some systems (which, incidentally, would be in competition with understanding Paul’s view of Christ as the MP ‘second god’… smile):
“αἰών is a complex term normally
indicating a period of time whether brief or lengthy (the two ages) but
occasionally the universe (Heb 1:2; 11:3). However both prior to and after the
beginning of the Christian movement it
was used of deities. In the singular, and
In either version, MP would see aion as a very good thing, but Paul is clearly using it in a very negative way.
So, nothing really in this passage supports an “MP concept sighting” (smile)
The second passage in which ‘air’ is used in an unusual way (perhaps) is the Rapture passage—1 Thess 4.16ff:
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord. [NAS]
Could this be the aerial MP realm where we (without terrestrial bodies) live with Jesus for all eternity (“thus shall we always be…”)?—in MP fashion?
Most likely not… The words in the passage actually militate against this understanding, especially the word for ‘meeting’. This kind of meeting is preparatory to another journey, which in this case would be back down to earth (but could be back to heaven, of course):
“The “clouds,” “trumpet” and possibly “archangel” allude to a saying of Jesus about the end time (Mt 24:30–31); the meeting in the air may be inferred from the gathering to join him (Mt 24:31). Judaism traditionally associated the resurrection of the dead with the end of this age and the inauguration of the kingdom, and readers would assume this connection in the absence of a direct statement to the contrary. When paired with a royal “coming” (see comment on 1 Thess 4:15), the word for “meeting” in the air normally referred to emissaries from a city going out to meet the dignitary and escort him on his way to their city. The contrast that this image provides with the honor thought to be particularly due to the “Lord” Caesar and his emissaries could well have provoked hostility from local officials (cf. 2:12; 5:3; Acts 17:7). … The “shout” is undoubtedly the commander’s shout of war (Amos 2:2), an image applied to God as warrior in the Old Testament (Is 42:13; cf. the shout of triumph with a trumpet in Ps 47:5, 8–9), as is his descent (Is 31:4; cf. Zech 14:3–4). From the earliest New Testament sources, Old Testament imagery about God’s coming in the day of the Lord is applied directly to Jesus; Judaism envisioned this role as God’s, not the Messiah’s. [tanknote: needless to say, the notion of the Supreme God ‘coming to earth’ would be ludicrous to good MPers] “Clouds” were used both as imagery for the coming day of God’s judgment (e.g., Ezek 30:3; 32:7; Joel 2:2; often the clouds are the smoke of battle and pillaging) and the coming of the Son of Man (Dan 7:13). [BBC]
τοῦ κυρίου, “to meet the Lord.” When a dignitary paid an official visit (παρουσία)
to a city in Hellenistic times, the action of the leading citizens in going out
to meet him and escort him back on the final stage of his journey was called
Some commentators think this is pressing the word too hard, and believe that after the meeting in the air, the believers return to heaven with Jesus:
“The expression εἰς ἀπάντησιν
was a technical expression in Hellenistic Greek for the departure from a city
of a delegation of citizens to meet an arriving dignitary in order to accord
the person proper respect and honor by escorting the dignitary back to the
city. Whether this technical application should then be taken in a literal
sense in v. 17 to suggest that the Lord and those with him will return to
earth, as Marshall (131) conjectures, seems unlikely. Those who meet the Lord
in the air (the space between the earth and the heavens in Jewish cosmology)
are caught up in a heavenly ascent by the clouds without any indication that
they then return to earth. Apart from the possible
connotation that ἀπάντησις might
have for a return to earth, the rest of the imagery (the clouds and being
caught up to the Lord) are indicative of an assumption to heaven of the people
who belong to Christ. That Paul adds his own definitive statement
concerning the significance of this meeting in the clause καὶ
σὺν κυρίῳ ἐσόμεθα
(“and thus we will always be with the Lord”)
suggests that both dead and living Christians will
return to heaven with the Lord, not only to enjoy continuous fellowship with
him, but also, in terms of 1:10, to be saved from the coming wrath of God. The
idea of a return to heaven is also supported by 1 Cor. 15:23f. According to
this text the dead will be raised at the coming of Christ, and then will come
the end when he will deliver his dominion to God after he has destroyed all
rule, authority, and power. While it is always dangerous to press apocalyptic
imagery and accounts too literally, this does imply that the return to heaven
is necessary for Christ to render up his rule to God. That 1 Thes. 4:16f. has
an assumption in mind is also confirmed by the statement in v. 14 that “God
will lead those who sleep in Jesus with him.” Since they are to be taken up
into the air to meet Jesus this can only refer to their being led to heaven
with Jesus. [Wanamaker, C. A. (1990). The Epistles to the Thessalonians : A
commentary on the Greek text.(175).
“The nature of this "meeting" (apantesin, v.
17) deserves comment. Some feel that the technical force of the word
obtains—i.e., a visitor would be formally met by a delegation of citizens and
ceremonially escorted back into their city (Best, p. 199). On this basis, they
contend that Christians go out to meet the Lord and return with him as he
continues his advent to earth. Advocates of this proposal see this connotation
in two other NT usages of the word (Matt 25:6; Acts 28:15, 16) (George Ladd,
The Blessed Hope [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956], p. 91; William C. Thomas, The
Blessed Hope [William C. Thomas, 1972], pp. 5, 6). Whether or not this is true
is debatable. Even if it were true, Christ would not
necessarily be escorted back to earth immediately (Gundry, pp. 104,
105). Usage of the noun in LXX as well as differing features of the present
context (e.g., Christians' being snatched away rather than advancing on their
own to meet the visitor) is sufficient to remove this passage from the
technical Hellenistic sense of the word (Moulton, Prolegomena, p. 14, n.4;
Best, p. 199). A meeting in the air is pointless unless the
saints continue on to heaven with the Lord who has come out to meet them
(Milligan, p. 61).
In any event, the phrase “and thus shall we ever be with the Lord” does NOT read “and THERE (i.e., in the air) shall we ever be with the Lord”!
“With εἰ, the purpose of ἁρπαγησόμεθ
is expressed, “to meet the Lord.” The εἰς ἀέρ
designates the place of meeting, probably the space between the earth and the
firmament of the first heaven, as in Slav. En. 3:1
ff. quoted above. As it is probably to the air, not to the earth that the Lord descends from heaven, so it is into the air that all the
saints are caught up into the company of the Lord and from the air that God
will lead them on with Jesus (ἄξει σὺν
αὐτῷ v. 14) to heaven where the fellowship with Christ
begun in the air will continue forever; for, in summing up the point intended
in the description of vv. 16–17, he
says not καὶ ἐκει
(“and there,” as if the air were the permanent dwelling-place;
so apparently Kabisch (op. cit. 233) alluding to Ass. Mos.
10:9) but καὶ οὕτω,
drawing the conclusion from vv. 16–17, implicit in v. 14 (σὺν
αὐτῷ [TankXL8: “with Him”—i.e.,
God brings the resurrected back with Jesus,
arguing for a descent from the meeting in the air to the earth]), with the
added emphasis upon the permanence of the fellowship,
κυρίῳ ἐσόμεθ [Frame,
J. E. A critical and exegetical commentary on the Epistles of St. Paul to the
So, again, there’s just not enough sticky-stuff in this verse to look
like the ‘sub-lunar sphere of activity’… The Lord is in heaven already, He
‘descends’ into the air [good MP deities only came down from the aether to the
air (and perhaps further to the earth) if they were being punished…], meets up
with His loved ones, and takes them either Home or to the
Nothing special about the air—other than holding the clouds…
Eight. Evil as either matter itself or as embodied ideas
This is fairly straightforward too, especially at the vocab level.
Paul never actually gives a definition or derivation theory of evil, but since he never even uses the word for matter (hyle), it is obvious that he doesn’t argue for a connection.
Similarly, Paul never mentions ‘idea’ in the Platonic sense (neither does the rest of the NT):
“idea, appearance, in Plato’s philosophy the archetypal forms which underlie the entities in our material world, in logic the class or kind (the term is important in Gk. philosophy, but is not found in the NT); [NIDNTT, s.v. ‘image, idol, imprint, example’]
Conceptually, we don’t find a match either—Paul’s view of this issue is much more practical than philosophical. Part of us (flesh) contains an evil impulse, but it is not evil itself (i.e., we also are the ‘image’ of God—eikon, and that is a GOOD thing. It is not evil that this ‘eikon’ of God is embodied in us.).
Nine. Standard Platonic terms ‘forms’ and ‘ideas’
Well, I guess I just covered that above… no mention of these words.
The closest we come conceptually is with “image” (eikon).
Christ is said to be the ‘image of God’. In Platonic thought, various thinkers believed that the Logos or demiurge were the ‘image’ of God (eikon). The Logos in MP contained the ideas, but was not itself an idea.
The vocab of image/eikon (not ‘ideas’) is the same, but there is a major disconnect: we too are said to be ‘images’ (eikon) of God—which would not fit MP (or any-P, for that matter) at all.
“In Heb. 10:1 eikon signifies the true form of the good things to come which has appeared in Christ, in contrast to the law which is a mere shadow of these things. In 2 Cor. 4:4 and Col. 1:15 Christ is said to be the image or likeness of God. There is no difference here between the image and the essence of the invisible God. In Christ we see God (cf. Jn. 14:9). By participating in Christ man has once more gained the image of God (Rom. 8:29) which man was intended to be (1 Cor. 11:7). Christ realized man’s destiny to be God’s image which was marred through sin. In communion with Christ we are transformed into his image. Paul can speak of this transformation as a present happening (2 Cor. 3:18; Col. 3:10), and also as a yet future, eschatological event (1 Cor. 15:49; Phil. 3:21). “Like all the gifts in which Christians share, the eikon is an aparche [first fruits, Sacrifice] . . . This means that it now is, and yet that it is still to be” (G. Kittel, TDNT II 397). [NIDNTT, s.v. ‘image”]
But even the eikon image (smile) is not necessarily MP. Remember, Genesis described the creation of the first humans as being “in image and likeness of God”. In the NT, Paul sees Jesus as the Second Adam (fitting to be called eikon of God), and James describes humans as being the likeness (homoiosin) of God. Still pretty Jewish…
In fact, even the term “God” (theos) used by Paul and the NT doesn’t match up with ‘REAL’ philosophers—they used impersonal terms (‘supreme good’, ‘mind’, ‘first cause’, etc):
“theos: god. Those ancient philosophers who took seriously the concept of god in their philosophy and made use of the concept of a first cause tended not to call such a first cause by the name theos, but quite frequently recognised a number of theoi not thought of in this way, but as something more like the angels and saints of Christianity. Thus Plato wrote of auto to agathon, the good itself, as epekeina tes ousias, beyond being, and the cause of being; this autoagathon was identified by the neoplatonists with what they called to hen, from which the gods proceeded (see proienai) like everything else. Aristotle identified his supreme being with self-contemplative nous (self-contemplative since contemplation of the best is superior to contemplation of anything else).” [PH:GPV, s.v. ‘theos’]
Still nothing really conclusive (or even very interesting) here…
Ten. Reincarnation of the immortal soul as human or animal
In MP thought, palingenesia is the word for reincarnation (metempsychosis is a late word, only showing up after our period).
It is only used twice in NT: once in Matt 19.28 (Then Peter answered and said to Him, “Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?” 28 And Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel) and Titus 3.5 (For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, despicable, hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. 6 This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life).
In the first passage, this is a clear reference to the Eschaton, and not some individual reincarnation. In the second passage, this ‘rebirth’ is something that happens during an individual’s earthly life.
So, zero on vocab.
The NT afterlife for Christians is resurrection and being “ever with the Lord” after the parousia (“rapture”). There is not the slightest hint in Paul that he saw an ‘eternal return’ or ‘cycle of rebirths’ or ‘rebirths based on prior life morality’ for the human soul (for either believers or non-believers).
And finally, Eleven: Daimons (and so many of them)
We have already covered the MP understanding of daimons, so how often does Paul speak about them?
In looking at vocabulary first, we have to be aware of the difference in terminology between the MP philosophical (actually, ALL philosophical) vocabulary and the common folk-belief vocabulary.
Although related, the MP term daimon is NOT the same as the fuzzier, less distinct, common-folk term for demons, daimonion. And Judaism basically followed the ‘popular’ system.
“daimon is derived from daiomai, divide, apportion. It may be connected with the idea of the god of the dead as the divider of corpses. It denotes superhuman power, god, goddess, destiny, and demon. … In Gk. popular belief the world was full of demons, beings between gods and men which could be appeased or controlled by magic, spells and incantations. They were first of all spirits of the dead, especially the unburied (an animistic concept), then ghosts which could appear in varying forms especially at night. There is no essential difference between gods and demons. The latter lived in the air near the earth. The work of demons could be seen in the disasters and miseries of human fate. Through natural catastrophes they shook the cosmos. Above all they made men sick or mad. … Gk. philosophy was not able to free itself completely from this belief. The world was not a system of abstract forces, but was filled with demons. Offensive myths about the gods were explained away or opposed by using the idea of demon. The problem of divine providence was also approached from this standpoint. In Homer’s Il., daimon is still sometimes used for the gods, but in the Od., this was avoided so as not to place them on the same level as lower spirits. In Hesiod during the golden age men became demons after death. As Zeus’ representatives they watched over human behaviour, apportioning rewards and punishments at his command. For Empedocles the daimon was a separate spiritual being, not the psyche which accompanied a man from birth. Socrates’ daimonion, his “good spirit”, had the same characteristics. It dissuaded, but never advised him (Plato, Apology, 31c, 8 ff.). daimon was even equated with the hegemonikon (the authoritative part of the soul, the reason) of the Stoics. In later systems (Neoplatonism, Porphyry) whole hierarchies and courses of demons were drawn up. The demons were mediators between gods and men. Sometimes they supervised men. They could also be considered as one of the stages leading from deity to matter. … daimonion is the adj. of daimon, and is used as a noun as the “divine”. It expresses that which lies outside “human capacity and is thus to be attributed to the intervention of higher powers” (W. Foerster, TDNT II 8). In popular belief daimonion was used as a diminutive of daimon… In the LXX daimon occurs only in Isa. 65:11. daimonion is found 19 times, 9 times in Tob., twice in Bar. Psa. 96:5 is important: all the gods of the peoples are daimonia (cf. Deut. 32:17; Psa. 106:37; Isa. 65:3; Bar. 4:7). Heb. sed is rendered by daimonion, as is se'îr in Isa. 13:21 and 34:14.” [NIDNTT, s.v. daimon]
Although a ‘proper’ MP philosopher would choose ‘daimon’ over
‘daimonion’ in discourse, the latter term is also
used in philosophical contexts—but many of these look more like ‘concessions’
to popular thought. Plutarch, for example, can refer to ‘evil
daimons’ as daimonion [“Plutarch plainly uses diamonia
for intermediary beings, more specifically the evil:
So, when we look at the relative use of ‘daimon’ versus ‘daimonion’ in Paul, here’s what we note:
“In the NT daimon occurs only in Matt. 8:31 in the plur. Otherwise we always find daimonion (63 times) or pneuma (spirit).” [NIDNTT]
“The NT usage corresponds to the later Jewish. Only once (Mt. 8:31) do we have δαίμων. Everywhere else δαιμόνιον is used (11 times in Mt., 11  in Mk. and 23 in Lk.). Also common are πνεῦμα (once each in Mt., Mk. and Ac., twice in Lk.), πνεῦμα ἀκάθαρτον (twice in Mt., 11 times in Mk., 5 in Lk. and twice in Ac.), or πνεῦμα πονηρόν (once in Mt. at 12:45, 3 times in Lk. and 4 in Ac.). Peculiar to Mk. is πνεῦμα ἄλαλον or πνεῦμα ἄλαλον καὶ κωφόν (9:17, 25). Cf. also Lk. 13:11: πνεῦμα ἀσθενείας, and Ac. 16:16: πνεῦμα πύθων. Mk. is thus most faithful to the specifically Jewish usage (πνεῦμα ἀκάθαρτον == רוח טומאה), and Lk. follows, though he can coin an expression like πνεῦμα δαιμονίον ἀκαθάρτον in 4:33, which must have seemed strange and inaccurate to Palestinian ears. John uses δαιμόνιον 6 times. In the Epistles, however, πνεῦμα occurs 3 times (1 Jn. 4:1, 3, 6) and in Rev. we find δαιμόνιον 3 times, πνεῦμα ἀκάθαρτον twice and πνεῦμα once. The Athenians use δαιμόνιον in Ac. 17:18. Paul has δαιμόνιον 4 times in 1 C. 10:20 f. (on the basis of the OT), πνεῦμα and δαιμόνιον once each in 1 Tm. and πνεῦμα in Eph. 2:2. There are a few references to the angels of Satan, i.e., in Mt. 25:41; 2 C. 12:7; Rev. 12:7, or simply to angels in this sense, i.e., 1 C. 6:3; 2 Pt. 2:4; Jd. 6 and Rev. 9:11. The whole usage is typically later Jewish. … 2. Basically the NT stands in the OT succession. There is no reference to spirits of the dead; the dead sleep until the resurrection. Δαίμων, with its suggestion of an intermediary between God and man, is avoided.” [TDNT, s.v. daimon]
So, Paul never uses daimon at all, and even the possibly-close daimonion is only in two Pauline (imo) passages:
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will renounce the faith by paying attention to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons [1 Tim 4.1, parallel to pneuma, which is not used of daimons or agents in the Platonist philosophical tradition (it was, somewhat used like this during a brief period of Stoicism)]
No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be partners with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. [1 Co 10:20-22; as one of the quotes above noted, this is simply echoing the OT/Judaic perspective that idols were demons. Nothing MP here.]
“Like Isaiah, Paul says that physical idols are nothing (cf. Is 44:12–20; 45:20–25; 46:1–11). But like most of the Old Testament passages that mention demons (at least in their Greek rendering—Lev 17:7; Deut 32:17, 37–39; Ps 106:28, 37) and most subsequent Jewish and Christian literature apart from the rabbis, Paul believes that false gods seeking human worship are demons.” [BBC, 1 Co 10:19]
Concept-wise, of course Paul has spiritual agents (good and bad) in his universe—EVERYBODY did (even the Epicureans). He just never referred to them under MP names… And, as we have noted already, they were not ‘intermediaries in hierarchy’.
Okay, that’s our survey of how much MP terminology (and concepts) are present in Paul… let’s assess…
There is an old Christian slogan that is used to challenge followers of Jesus to examine their lives, and it goes like this:
“If it became a crime to be a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”
The obvious point was to challenge the Christian to live more consistently with the law of love given by our Lord Jesus.
If we rephrase this for our purpose, we get:
“If it became a crime to be an MPer, would there be enough evidence to convict Paul?”
Given the above review of MP vocabulary (and possibly related concepts), we would have to conclude that Paul would be ‘safe from suspicion’ (smile). He just didn’t sound or look very MP at all.
I would assume we could argue over individual terms and passages a little more, but we are not gonna find a mother-mode of MP teachings ‘hiding under’ Paul’s very Jewish vocabulary, interpretive principles, theological method, and eschatology.
THREE: To what extent does the Pauline literature use ‘reverse-MP’ or ‘anti-MP’ terms, etc?
Here we are looking for terminology which is decidedly non-MP. This would include oxymoron’s, terminology which would confuse or appear nonsensical to an MPer, or even passages which seem to attack MP-like terms/concepts.
This is fascinating, because in this section we find some very strong evidence against the “Paul was an MPer” thesis.
ONE, let’s notice Segal’s description of a couple of Paul’s passages [HI:JRCM, “Paul's soma pneumatikon and the Worship of Jesus”, Alan F. Segal, p259, 267, 272]:
“We must begin by noting that his use of language of the body is entirely unique. The term for "physical body" is not exactly what one might expect. Neither the term soma sarkikon nor the term soma physikon occurs; rather, the term which occurs is soma psychikon, a phrase which can mean "natural body". But this is not the most obvious formulation in Greek, since it is a combination of the term for "soul" and the term for "body". In fact, one might argue, that the phrase is something of an oxymoron in Platonic thought. In fact, because psyche could be taken to mean life in the physical sense in a non-Platonic setting in Greek, it is not necessarily a problem, strange though it may look. From the context it seems clear enough that "psychic body" means life of the whole Hebrew person - body and soul — together, not any Greek notion of body or soul. Another way of understanding this would be to say that for Paul, and for Hebrew culture generally, humans do not have souls. They are souls. They are persons whose bodies are alive. What we are calling "soul" might be just as easily understood as "personality" or "person". Paul is therefore speaking of live souls in the Hebrew sense with this peculiar Greek terminology. Otherwise, the phrase is merely a contradiction. Psyche does occur frequently in Hellenistic literature with this meaning. .. The contrasting term, soma pneumatikon, is a complete contradiction in terms for anyone in a Platonic system and discovering precisely what it means is a bit more difficult. We begin with 1 Corinthians 15:44: "It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body". Here Paul acknowledges the bodily aspect of the resurrection in the sense that the psychic body is visible, while the spiritual body, though evident to him, is not yet available to ordinary sight. He uses the term "spirit" to preserve the previous identity of those resurrected in their new perfected state. Spirit is evident but not visible directly. Notice that for Paul life, in its most basic sense, is psychic life, bodily life, as we should expect; but, even pneumatic life, spiritual life, is bodily in some way as well. He says exactly as much, but figuring out in what way spiritual bodies are bodies is an interesting problem.”
“…such a body will be visible only in revelatory states of consciousness. This is certainly the way in which Paul has experienced it. It is a bodily resurrection only in so far as Paul saw Christ in a bodily form in his vision; but the appearance of Christ was not the same flesh as you or I have. Christ still has an appearance, but a glorified appearance precisely because it is a spiritual vision of the coming state of being for all believers. He was transported to a kind of inward, mystical, spiritual level where we all will be and which is visible to us primarily through revelation. Of course, he is not sure whether that vision comes wholly in the spirit or in the spirit while carrying a body with him:
I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven - whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into Paradise -whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows -and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. (2 Cor 12:2-4) … If Paul had a strict view of a Platonist, he could not have been confused in this way. A physical body cannot enter heaven in the Platonist cosmology. But Paul is unsure, probably because the experience itself was so dazzling that he was unable to rationalize it. Instead, he pleads ignorance about whether, if, or what kind of body could have propelled him to this point. In other words, the body of Glory, the spiritual body, is highly correlated with the revelatory way in which Paul has seen the Christ. This is a very important point. For Paul, it is not sitting at the feet of the master that makes one an apostle; it is having seen the post-resurrection Christ. And that post-resurrection Christ is the same body that the believer will use to travel to heaven. It is a spiritual presence that is identical with the end of time.”
“Paul argues that the nature of the resurrection body is different from anything we know, just
as the nature of various flesh is different. But for
Paul, it is transformed
Paul, in fact, leaves the issue of the nature of the hereafter in a peculiarly
intermediate position. He affirms that we have an imperishable bodily nature
but he suggests that we receive it by bodily resurrection. The body we receive
will not be flesh and blood. It will be both a sudden change, like the
metamorphosis that Paul achieved in Christ and a continuous process that culminates
in a spiritual
Well, this is instructive. It certainly looks like Paul is either ignorant entirely of how a ‘good’ Platonist (including MP) would use such language about bodies, flesh, souls, etc; or that he knew that but didn’t care… This is strong evidence against the “Paul influenced heavily by MP” position.
TWO, we should note that some exegetes of the Pauline literature see him explicitly rejecting MP elements held by the adversaries in the texts.
Let’s look at a couple of writers’ understanding of this.
(A), O’Connor argues that Paul’s adversaries in
“If we look closely at i Corinthians 1-4, where Paul
is most explicitly concerned with divisions in the community, a group emerges
whose members believed that their possession of 'wisdom' made them 'perfect'
(2: 6). As possessors of 'the Spirit which is from God' (2:12), they were
'spirit-people' (2:15). They thought of themselves as 'filled (with divine
blessings)', 'wealthy', 'kings', (4: 8), 'wise', 'strong', 'honoured' (4:10).
They looked down on others in the community who had not attained their exalted
spiritual status as 'children' capable of imbibing only 'milk' (3: i), and as
'fools' who were 'weak' and 'dishonoured' (4: io).… While individual themes may
be paralleled elsewhere in the Graeco-Roman world, R. A. Horsley has shown that
there is a clear pattern within the wide selection of parallels provided by
commentators. The language used by the group at
“Apollos is described as logios (Acts 18: 24). The adjective has two connotations, 'eloquent' and 'learned, cultured', and it can mean specifically one or the other. In the present instance, however, no choice is necessary, for both are intended. Apollos spoke with inspirational enthusiasm (18: 25), and was well-versed in the Scriptures (18: 24). i Corinthians 1-4, where Paul has Apollos in view, confirms this interpretation, as Haenchen has very perceptively noted, 'Again and again Paul in these chapters comes back to two things which people missed in him but apparently detected in someone else, the gift of edifying speech, which was denied to Paul himself... and the gift of "wisdom".' It is difficult to imagine that an Alexandrian Jew with precisely these qualifications, and with a mind so open that he eventually accepted Jesus, could have escaped the influence of Philo, the great intellectual leader of Alexandrian Jewry, particularly since the latter seems to have been especially concerned with education and preaching. Philo's life-work was to give Hellenized Jews, such as Apollos, a perspective on the Law that would enable them to accept both it, and their ambient culture.” [NT:PACL , 275]
(B), we might note that a minority position on the identity of the Colossian opponents (held by DeMaris) equates them specifically with MP positions:
Here are a couple of passages from DeMaris’ work:
“The common function
of angels and demons and the eventual equation made between them may provide
the best background for understanding the Colossian philosophy's insistence on
worship directed to angels. If angel worship is not well documented in the
first century CE, the worship of demons certainly is. Demon worship constitutes
an important part of the piety advocated by the philosophy epitomized by the Hypomnemata and by the philosophy at
“It would go beyond
the meager evidence available from the Colossian polemical core to conclude
What is interesting is that the DeMaris position is generally disputed
because the elements in question can be better explained
by reference to Jewish worldviews instead of G-R Middle Platonism
(especially given the ‘scarcity’ of MP at the popular level in
“In a recent
monograph titled, The Colossian Controversy,
R. DeMaris has also now attempted to make a case for an actual school philosophy as the catalyst stimulating the Colossian
sets forth the thesis that the opponents were a group of Middle Platonists who
had joined the Christian community at
“One of the greatest weaknesses of his study is his need to demonstrate the presence of Middle Platonic circles in
“Pivotal to the Colossian philosophy was the pursuit of divine wisdom through three things: (1) the order of the cosmos; (2) bodily asceticism that frees the mind for philosophical investigation; and (3) intermediaries between earth and heaven. These major characteristics of the philosophy are clearly representative of first-century Middle Platonism. Thus, DeMaris argues that the Colossian philosophy is a peculiar mix of popular Middle Platonist, Jewish and Christian elements that center around the quest for wisdom. While DeMaris does not deny the Jewish roots of portions of the philosophy, nevertheless the purpose of the philosophy lies beyond what are typically Jewish ends. [NT:SITI,32]
“In Col. 1.15-20
Christ is designated as the wisdom
of God, a common notion in
the Old Testament and non-canonical Jewish literature. The
other major elements of the hymn also reflect a Jewish worldview. To understand the hymn in such a
perspective is reinforced all the more by 1.12-14 which would have elicited in
the readers thoughts of the Exodus (…). Thus Christ's work of reconciliation would
have been claimed as the final return from slavery. Wisdom making her home in
(C), would be a summary statement on Paul and Philo:
“Few would suggest today that Philo's writings had a direct
impact on Paul's thought. Nevertheless, Paul seems to interact with some of the
same traditions we find in Philo. In many cases, the similarities relate more to those Paul argued against than to Paul's own thinking. In
particular, we can make a good case that Paul's opponents in
"It was this notion that was picked up by Hellenistic Jewish philosophers and was developed by Philo. Paul’s innovative contribution to this exegetical tradition, determined by his Adam/Christ antithesis, was to stand the tradition found in Philo on its head by having the earthly man precede the heavenly man [ISBE]
THREE, we sould note that Paul’s terminology about God’s ‘emotional life’ is so totally contradictory to Platonist thought of ANY kind(!).
Peter Bolt has a fascinating and instructive article on one aspect of this contrast in “The philosopher in the hands of an angry god” [NT:TG2N, 327-344]. He contrasts the views of “official MP-person” Plutarch with Paul, on God and judgment. Pardon the long quote, but it lays it out well:
“As the Christian movement advanced across the first-century Graeco-Roman world, the apostle to the Gentiles was pre-eminent among 'those who turned the world upside down' (… Acts 17:6). Paul's message was profoundly eschatological, but the world in which he proclaimed it was already well supplied with eschatological views. The acceptance of Paul's gospel entailed the rejection of rival eschatological views in favour of those proclaimed by the apostle. In particular, Paul's mission was conducted against the prospect of a coming judgment day on which God would, at least in part, inflict wrath. But how would this aspect of Paul's message fit with the eschatology of his Gentile audience? How would the hearers of Paul's message have responded to the message about an 'angry God’?
“In AD 51, when Paul spoke in
In disputing with these groups, Paul would find a potential ally in any Middle Platonists in the audience. This resurgent Platonism, which would eventually give birth to the Neoplatonism which dominated from Plotinus in the third century AD into the sixth century AD, was united by a common belief in the immortality of the soul, which brought it into conflict with the Stoic and Epicurean eschatology. Evidence for this 'combat' can be gleaned from Plutarch of Chaeronea, who has bequeathed the only surviving corpus of work from this 'school'.
“In Delay [of Divine Vengeances], this distinction is assumed by Plutarch's friends, and by Plutarch himself, even though he wishes to make a correction. In summary, Plutarch attempts a redefinition of these words in line with his view of punishment as cure. He is aware of the prevailing view that equates divine punishment with sudden disaster, which is labeled vengeance (timoria). With Hesiod, he suggests (553F) that rather than vengeance (timdrian) following the evil deed, 'wickedness engenders pain and punishment for itself (…, 554B), which makes it more properly discipline (NB kolazon). This sits nicely with Plutarch's preference for divine punishment as chastisement, or correction, or cure. In his view, even the (so-called) 'vengeance' of the afterlife has the function of discipline which aims at cure.
“Paul's distinctive punishment terms. Paul has no notion of punishment as cure. Instead, his distinctive terms draw upon the forensic setting of justice, vindication, and punishment (i.e. forensic penalty). They include, most notably, the various words associated with the krin- family, used for judgment/condemnation, as well as various retributive terms, such as antapodiddmi/antapodoma. Such terms do not suit the 'punishment as cure' ethos of Delay, but they do suit the forensic setting which provides the framework against which Paul's doctrine of punishment needs to be read.
“As someone like Plutarch listened to someone like Paul, he would have heard a radically different message about the God who was personally offended, in fact, justly angry, at this world. He would have heard that God had already fixed a day in which he will judge the world through a man whom he had raised from the dead. This person would have heard the call for repentance. And he would have heard that those who heeded the call to repentance would move out from 'under wrath' and begin to live 'under grace' in the Lord Jesus Christ. For them, the final day would be a day of salvation, not of wrath.
“When Paul spoke in
“The concept of bodily resurrection was known among Greek thinkers, but only to be despised - especially by the Platonists. Upon entering the afterlife, if the soul was still impure (and yet curable), further purification would take place - including experiencing the anger of wronged relatives -before reincarnation. The eventual goal of the curative process was to gain such purity of soul that it enters the upper realms free from the encumbrance of a body. In this curative framework, the attribution of wrath to the divinity was inappropriate, and had no place in the process.
“For a Middle Platonist to accept Paul's message he would have to accept a judgment that included the infliction of wrath. This would entail the acceptance of a punishment that is not curative, but retributive, to be received in the body when bodies are raised to judgment. Thus, for the Middle Platonist, one problem was 'solved' by another! However, the demonstration that this future judgment day was already fixed was that a man had already risen from the dead as an event in human history. The resurrection was demonstrated to be true in the case of one man and that man is appointed judge of all the earth.
“The good news of Paul's gospel was that, despite the fact that the wrath of God is already being revealed, and despite the fact that future wrath is a certainty, God has also acted to bring about salvation from wrath. In fact, the man who will be judge has absorbed the wrath of God in his own body: Jesus, the one who rose again from the dead.
“If the first-century Middle Platonists were to accept Christ after hearing Paul's gospel, it would certainly mean that their eschatology, and so their world, would be 'turned upside down'. (340)
Well, so far, it looks like Paul is certainly not MP—in any historical sense—his terminology and concepts look fairly anti-MP at places.
FOUR: Let’s look now at some other possible points of conceptual discontinuity between Paul and MP and assess them for impact.
Here we want to look for items that are in addition to the ‘reverse-MP’ elements above.
There are several basic structures of Pauline thought—which a “Biblical survey” might list—which could be compared with MP thought.
Let me just go through a list of comparative theological topics (under ‘traditional’ headings) and see what differences might be obvious.
MP asserted that the supreme God (theos) was above all passion/emotion, and indeed (as seen above) virtually unaware of the universe at all. The supreme God was not involved in affairs with a material universe. [“One of the criticisms of Christianity, indeed, made by Platonists like Celsus in the generation after Plutarch, was precisely this too intimate involving of God with the sublunar world.” (PH:TMP, 217)] Of course, MP called many beings theoi. Not many MPers would have believed that the supreme being would have a mind (nous) to think with at all.
With Paul, we have a major, major disconnect here. There are no theoi—there is only ONE theos. This God (God the Father, in Paul’s terms) is passionate about His creation, expressing—and feeling—love and outrage, joy and grief, watching and intervening. This God has will, emotions, and intellect. [“The simple phrase ‘For God so loved the world…’ would have puzzled an educated pagan. And the notion that the gods care how we treat one another would have been dismissed as patently absurd… Indeed, as E. A. Judge has noted in detail, classical philosophers regarded mercy and pity as pathological emotions— defects of character to be avoided by all rational men. Since mercy involves providing unearned help or relief, it was contrary to justice. Therefore "mercy indeed is not governed by reason at all," and humans must learn "to curb the impulse"; "the cry of the undeserving for mercy" must go "unanswered" (Judge 1986:107). Judge continued: "Pity was a defect of character unworthy of the wise and excusable only in those who have not yet grown up. It was an impulsive response based on ignorance. Plato had removed the problem of beggars from his ideal state by dumping them over its borders." … This was the moral climate in which Christianity taught that mercy is one of the primary virtues—that a merciful God requires humans to be merciful. Moreover, the corollary that because God loves humanity, Christians may not please God unless they love one another was something entirely new. Perhaps even more revolutionary was the principle that Christian love and charity must extend beyond the boundaries of family and tribe, that it must extend to "all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 1:2). Indeed, love and charity must even extend beyond the Christian community.” (ROC, 211,212)]. Major disconnect with Platonism/MP.
MP: Since philosophy shares with philosophical theology the same set of metaphysical problems (e.g. plurality/unity, interface between ultimate/derivative, theodicy, time/eternity), we can find various formulations of some type of plurality in the Ultimate in MP (e.g., Dyad, theos and demiurge, transcendent and immanent ‘aspects’ of all supra-human creatures). Since they are often trying to solve ‘agency’ problems, philosophers borrowed anthropomorphic language from popular religion (when they shouldn’t have!). So, one can find plurality-in-the-divine (but remember, ‘divine’ was a much larger ‘club’ in Hellenistic thought than in essential Judaism) statements here and there. [“Of concern to Christians also, since it bears on the vexed question of the relation of the Father to the Son, and later, the mutual relations of all three persons of the Trinity, is the gradual development of a hierarchy of being, arising out of the ambiguity of the relationship between the Good of Plato’s Republic and the Demiurge of the Timaeus. Eudorus postulated a supreme One above a pair of Monad and Dyad; Plutarch seems to envisage a supreme God, a Logos, and an essentially irrational World Soul; Albinus, a supreme God, and a Mind and Soul of the World. On the Pythagorean wing, Moderatus postulated a sequence of three “Ones,” derived from a metaphysical interpretation of the Parmenides and of a passage in the Second Letter, (312 E), while Numenius recognized a sequence of God the Father (the Good), Demiurge, and World Soul. Gradually a triadic sequence emerged, which became formalized (and further elaborated) in the philosophy of Plotinus and his successors.“, (ABD, s.v. “Platonism”)] But these are pluralities within a ‘class’ of beings (i.e., they are all theoi or principles), not pluralities within a single entity.
In Paul, there are three agencies within the being which is called ‘theos’, and these three beings are ALL involved in the world, all have personal characteristics, and all are involved in God’s redemptive mission of love in the world. The disconnect—though obvious-- is not as strong here, simply because the terminology on both sides is difficult. The precision levels in discussing the being, nature, ‘modalities’, etc of the divine do not facilitate very close comparisons.
Angelology. [We already discussed this above.]
MP—like everybody in the ancient world who breathed (except possibly an Epicurean or two?)-- had a metric sky-full of intermediate beings, in hierarchy, with varying powers and moral qualities. For punishment, these beings could become humans or animals. They were generally thought to experience endless cycles of birth/death/rebirth. The Logos and Demiurge, however, were NOT in this class—they are not called ‘daimons’ in our literature. Daimons were also worthy of worship and people were obligated to honor them in this way.
Paul—like everybody in the ancient world who breathed (except possibly an Epicurean or two?)—believed in immaterial spirits, good and bad. He does not, however, describe them as intermediaries between humans and God, although they are involved in history, for good or ill. In Paul, angels do not become humans, nor do demons (demon possession is not the same thing, but it doesn’t find a mention in Paul anyway). They will face a judgment just like humans will, but –and this is something no MPer could EVER assert—will also be judged by humans (1 Cor 6.3)!!! And for Paul—and the Jews of the period—worship was reserved only for God—no angel, demon, or daimon could be worshipped in the way specified in MP. Pretty major disconnect here. [“The affirmation that "God is one" is as basic to Pauline Christianity as it was to all Judaism (1 Thess. 1:9; Gal. 3:20; Rom. 3:30; Eph. 4:6; 1 Cor. 8:4, 6; cf. 1 Cor. 11:12; 15:28; 2 Cor. 5:18). To be sure, assertions of God's unity are not infrequent in pagan writers, beginning with the cosmopolitanism of the Stoa. This Hellenistic monotheism seems to have remained the property of certain intellectuals, however, never becoming a widespread or popular belief. Moreover, its social correlates were quite different from the exclusive monotheism of Judaism. The Stoics and the middle Platonists, with their developing conception of one supreme deity synthesizing and incorporating the many gods of popular and traditional belief, provided an ideology for the genial pluralism and tolerance in cultic life that was characteristic of paganism in the imperial age. Because all gods are ultimately aspects of the One, the wise man could acknowledge them all and draw whatever benefit he might from as many of their cults as he chose. … For the Jews of the Greco-Roman city, the pressures to emulate as well as to profit from this general tolerance were considerable. Their usual stance, however, was to match their belief in the one God, in contrast to all the "idols" of "the nations," with the distinctive practices that preserved their communal integrity as a unique people. Philo assimilated much of the middle-Platonic and Stoic programs and wholly shared most aspects of a cultured Hellenist's ethos and ambitions. Yet he illustrates dramatically how exclusive the Jewish monotheism could remain, even when it was explained almost entirely in the terms of the dominant high culture. For example, the Septuagint translators had rendered Exod. 22:27 as "You shall not revile gods," and Philo takes this as a warning that Jews should not speak insultingly of pagan images. The reason he gives, however, has nothing to do with the cultivation of tolerance (which may have motivated the translation and its common application). Rather, the law was intended to keep Jews who might make a habit of reviling "idols" from extending that habit to the one true God. From the context of the Exodus text, he sees this as a special problem for proselytes (the "sojourner" of Exod. 22:20 had become "proselyte" in the Septuagint and in Palestinian Judaism, too). The proselytes must receive "special friendship," he insists, because "they have left . . . their country, their kinsfolk and their friends for the sake of virtue and religion. . . . For the most effectual love-charm, the chain which binds indissolubly the goodwill which makes us one, is to honour the one God.” … Christianity took over the Jewish position completely. The world was divided between those who served the "living, true God" and the idol worshipers (1 Thess. 1:9). Pagans have "many gods and many lords," the Christians "one God the Father . . . and one Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 8:4-6). "The gentiles who do not know God" (1 Thess. 4:5) and are therefore enslaved to nongods (Gal. 4:8) are contrasted with those who "know, rather are known by God" (Gal. 4:9). The language can be even more dualistic, as when "the god of this age" stands in contrast to the God whose image is Christ (2 Cor. 4:4).” (FUC:165f)]
Christology. We have already examined this above, in the discussion on Logos/Demiurge. But suffice it to say that MP would never, ever have admitted that a Logos/Demiurgic figure could ever have become incarnate (in matter, no less!), been crucified, and then resumed life in a body (however ‘fancy’ the new body was!). [Remember the discussion on Isis/Osiris above, before you try to raise that as a counter-example…smile]
In MP, humans are (quasi-)immortal souls ‘trapped’ in terrestrial bodies. They are NOT the ‘image of God’, because nothing is LIKE god. [“He (Celsus) shows the expected contempt for such a notion as the resurrection of the body (ap. Orig. Contra Celsum v 14), or the idea that God made man in his own image (vi 63), there being nothing that could resemble God” (PH:TMP, 400)] . Additionally, minds can be separated from souls, since that is how minds reach divinization.
In Paul, humans are ‘living bodies’—the Jewish holistic anthropology is very different from the G-R one. [“Other important terms in Pauline psychology are sōma, psychḗ, and pneúma. Sṓma, while sharing much of the same territory with sárx, is never intrinsically evil, just as psychḗ is never intrinsically good (cf. Rom. 12:1 and 2:9); their mixed characters show that Paul’s theology is biblical, in contrast to Greek psychology-morality”, ISBE, s.v. “Pauline Theology”]. Minds do not exist apart from souls—they are different aspects of the same unit.
In MP, humans who are good enough (at denying passions) get promoted into the aery-class of daimons. They can move from terrestrial bodies to aery bodies (with less attachment to passions). If they continue a morally upward behavioral trend, they can eventually reach divinity at or above the Moon. This final ascent actually entails the mind (nous) leaving the soul (psyche) behind! [“On the other hand, there is a passage in the De Facie myth (944DE) where the subject of discussion is these good daemons who were once on earth, such as the Idaean Dactyls and the Corybantes of Phrygia. These are described as ascending to what sounds like permanent bliss: ‘Their rites, honours and titles persist, but their powers have been directed to another place, as they achieved the most excellent alteration. They achieve it, some sooner and some later, once the mind has been separated from the soul’”, (PH:TMP, 223)…and “The object of life is to purify the soul by philosophy so we may return to disembodied life.”] If they are bad, instead, they keep getting reincarnated as humans and animals—as punishment. In some cases of punishment, they are exiled or caused to sleep in periods of inactivity.
In Paul, humans live once, die, face judgment, and receive an eternal consequence. At the Eschaton, they receive new/different bodies (still matter, though). For the redeemed, the new existence is eternal life in a transformed, purified, flawless body (not an ascent to an immaterial, aetheral body of life like the theoi). Major disconnect—and this highlights the difference in MP and Biblical views of matter/creation. (In MP, all matter is ‘questionable’ at best; in biblical thought, matter is morally good—“And God saw that it was good…” and souls (psyche) are not to be discarded). In contrast with MP, both bodies AND the universe were redeemable (“For Paul, the body was enslaved under the power of sin (e.g., Rom. 7:14, 24). But the creation and the body were redeemable, and both would one day be freed (e.g., Rom. 8:11, 19). Paul's dualism was thus ultimately apocalyptic and related directly to spiritual forces at work on the world. [HI:BG2P, 75])
In MP, salvation is from ‘matter’, and salvation is expressed as achieving the various cascading ‘ascents’ just described. The way humans (and daimons, for that matter) get ‘free’ of matter is through knowledge of the divine. Sometimes involving ascetic practices, and sometimes living in ‘accordance with nature’ (a Stoic ethic, taken over by MP), eventually the soul will stop thinking about earthly things and passions and ‘graduate’ upward. It was largely a ‘salvation from embodiment in matter, by good works’ (but the good works were mostly ‘good thoughts’—action was not really important in MP, per se). Ethical perfection was to be like God. [“Plato believed in the immortality of souls (Phaedo), which belong to the realm of the ‘forms’. While subject to their imprisoning bodies they gain knowledge of the ‘forms’ by recollection (anamnēsis) from their previous existence. Souls are liable to reincarnation until, finally released by death, they find fulfilment after judgment in a supra-mundane heaven.” (ABD, s.v. ‘Platonism’)]. At a cultic level, sacrifices were offered mostly to daimons, with human sacrifices only being offered to very evil daimons [“For Xenocrates such phenomena as days of ill omen, and festivals which involve self-laceration, lamentation, obscenity, or such atrocities as human sacrifice can only be explained by postulating the existence of evil spirits that take delight in such things, and who must be placated (Is. et Os. 3166; Def. Or. 4170 = Fr. 25).” (PH:TMP, 31)].
In Paul, salvation is from the penalty and power (and eventually, from the presence) of sin—not matter. Salvation is something God does for humans who embrace Him in trust and respect. Salvation for Paul (and the NT generally) will result in humans in new bodies, re-created in the image of God (similar to the MP statements, but radically different because the ‘content’ of the word ‘God’ was so different—to be like God in the NT is to be passionate about good, others, and life, instead of being emotionless, psyche-less, and essentially inert), living and celebrating in a New Heavens and a New Earth. And the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for a fallen humanity was a victory OVER evil ‘powers’ –not a sacrifice TO them. There is so little overlap here with MP…
Another short digression: It is in these areas of Soteriology and the related Eschatology that Paul (and the NT) seem the most isolated from the G-R world. The prospect of a general resurrection of all humans, with a special status for the redeemed, in some form of transformed flesh/body that is completely alien to Greek philosophy (and even more general ‘culture’); and the prospect of God in Christ granting people eternal life after death in such a ‘concrete’, personality-retained form differentiated the Gospel from all the Mysteries and formal cults. This was an ‘unreasonable hope’ for anybody in the ancient world. Consider how ‘unthinkable’ a bodily resurrection (in a community form, no less!) was:
Apart from transmigration of souls, for which ἀναβιώσκεσθαι
is used in Plat.Phaed., 72d, the Gk.
speaks of resurrection in a twofold sense, a. Resurrection is impossible.
Hom.Il., 24, 551 (Achilles to Priam of Hector): οὐδέ
μιν ἀνστήσεις; cf.
ibid., 756; 21, 56. Hdt., III, 62: εἰ οἱ
καὶ Ἀστυάγεα τὸν
Aesch.Ag., 1360f.: κἀγὼ τοιοῦτός
πάλιν. Soph.El., 137 ff.: ἀλλ᾽
οὔτοι τὸν γ᾽ ἐξ
λίμνας πατέρ᾽ ἀνστάσεις
οὔτε γόοις οὔτε
λιταῖσιν. Aesch.Eum., 648: ἅπαξ
With a transition to b.
Eur.Herc. Fur., 719: οὔκ, εἴ γε
μή τις θεῶν ἀναστήσειέ
νιν. b. Resurrection
may take place as an isolated miracle. Plat.Symp.,
179c: ἔδοσαν τοῦτο
γέρας οἱ θεοί, ἐξ
ψυχήν. Luc.Salt., 45: καὶ τὴν
καὶ τὴν Διὸς ἐπὶ
τούτῳ κατ᾽ Ἁσκληπιοῦ
ὁργήν. Aesculapius the physician is also one who
raises the dead. So in Ps.-Xenophon’s work on dyeing (Cyn., 1, 6): Ἀσκληπιὸς
νοσοῦντας δὲ ἰᾶσθαι.
According to Paus., II, 26, 5 the shepherd who recognises the foundling
Aesculapius in the lightning proclaims: ὅτι ἀνίστησι
τεθνεῶτας (cf. II, 27, 4). The
raising of an apparently dead girl in
“Burkert states the following as his conclusion to the
matter of salvation and Isis, "The main emphasis, at any rate, is on the
“Salvation in the Mithraic rites
has stirred some controversy in several respects. Some scholars have tied
salvation and the entire cult to astrological phenomena, noting how the
initiates graduate to new levels within the cult (there are seven levels, from
initiate to head of the cult) based upon the Zodiac symbols. In fact, the signs
of the Zodiac surround the bull-slaying scene that dominates the walls of most
Mithraic chapels (often in caves).
“In striking the true balance of the evidence we should return, too, to Plutarch's circle. How pious it was can be sensed from many conversations he records or imagines. One of the most forceful is inspired by the subject of Epicureanism, naturally enough, since that was the chief stronghold of atheists. During the exchange, one of the company wishes to underline the delights and rewards of piety. "No visit," he says (1101E), "gladdens us more than a visit to a shrine, no season, more than a festival, nothing done or said, more than what we see and do in regard to the gods, whether we are present at secret rites, or at dancing, sacrifices or initiations." But if those last had conferred immortality, surely they would not have received so casual a mention, added by afterthought to such agreeable diversions as one might find at a church picnic. Initiations, teletai, can have meant nothing more soul-shaking than those big, open spectacles encountered in the first chapter, above, as they unfolded in theaters. Spectators received no special promises. … The pagan Celsus takes Christian ideas of resurrection as being, at best, metempsychosis misunderstood; at worst, ridiculous; and the pagan Caecilius, in Minucius Felix's dialogue, agrees. The pagan Seneca rejects with scorn the whole Greek afterlife, Ixion, Cerberus, and the rest, in favor of the disembodied spirit reserved to a second, Stoic existence within the very heart of light. He represented the cast of mind most often to be found within that class that gave its thought to abstract questions; he represents its strengths, also its weakness. For, with no very significant or prominent exceptions, people of all directions of belief, to the extent they could conceive of life continuing beyond the grave, did so in terms of the divine spark, as we might call it, the disembodied soul. That was very much a philosopher's view, one of those convictions one may hold without always remembering one holds it. No one cared greatly that he might gain eternal life if it were not really he that gained it, rather, some animula, some particle ephemerally spun off from the Great Soul, or the like. What was felt to be essential was one's true self, a personality; and, in default of that, Stoicism or similar ideas of immortality had little to do with people's most earnest longings. … Inscriptions here as on other points hold out the best hope for a broad sampling. "Savior" in them, or "salvation," had to do with health or other matters of this earth, not of the soul for life eternal. Or in epitaphs, people so often joke about annihilation that the jokes at last congeal into commonplaces or abbreviations: "I was not, I am not, I care not," boiled down to six letters. Or, last, in rules of cult associations, even those intimate gatherings of the faithful around a table that so instantly recall the Eucharist— but wrongly: the most telling note is struck by the injunction, "do not vomit up your wine." If there is no absolute certainty that banquets were not thought of in times past (as they have been so often by modern interpreters) as conferring immortality, there is no scrap of testimony to such a thing; and the silence itself is quite extraordinary. No, at festal meals, as at teletai of dancing and music, the wine, women, and song satisfied wants more simple and secular. At Panamara, at the two-day Zeus festival, the crowds invited from far and wide to what were officially termed "mysteries," and who there received the wine from the priest at solemn meals, enjoyed a fellowship with the gods among them — that may be assumed, that would be typical of such cult meals—but no life promised forever after.” [HI:PTRE, 56f]
I find it heart-melting that that for which we have dared not hope (of an afterlife of personal continuity, of hugs and laughter, of relationships first built in time, of victory over the seemingly sovereign power of cruel death, of release from debilitating personal ‘baggage’) is what our Lord Jesus broke into history to secure (at great cost) for us and to offer to us in the gospel. So often (IMO), His ‘hardest task’ is to get us to even hope for this again, in our first steps of faith… We settle for less, with vague notions of ‘living on in memory’, some ‘mindless calm’, some ‘painless sleep’… such is the hopelessness we have taught ourselves…sigh
End digression……(yeah, right)…
When I look back at this list now, I realize how far apart MP and Paul are—on these very central themes. Any agreements with MP writers in regards to cosmic images, rhetorical plays, or even ethics are almost trivial when compared to these central doctrines.
Part of this is clearly due to the foundation of theology proper, I realize. Starting with an MP god, you really would not even have a motivation for a system like Paul’s. A deity without feeling, love, interest in people, or willingness to ‘get in the dirt of matter’ to rescue us is not gonna generate the doxologies, praise, thanks, and heart-deep responses we find in the NT and Pauline literature. With a love-less deity (and set of first principles/entities such as demiurge, logos, world-soul), you are never going to get an MPer to say this—if they are consistent to the system:
And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God… Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God [Eph 3.17f; 5.1f]
On the other hand, if you begin with a living, loving, active, compassionate God, then the mission of redemption in all its warmth becomes intelligible: an other-centered God shares Himself ‘into’ a body like ours, to free us from the mess we made, and to free us from oppressive maleficent agents (stronger than us), and to generously facilitate (not just ‘allow’!) our co-celebration of a New Heavens and New Earth, ‘wherein dwelleth righteousness’. A Platonic god/Supreme Good just didn’t have heart enough to do something like this…
But is it possible that we (meaning ‘Glenn’—smile) have read the Pauline epistles incorrectly (due to my obviously flawed, stubborn, and perverse apologetic blinders…smile)? Is it possible than a “real” flesh-and-blood (chuckle) MPer would have seen something different in Paul, than I see?
We do have a way to test this—at some level—since the first major critic to attack Christianity (Celsus) was a Middle-Platonist. We should be able to look at his writings to assess this. But we are looking for something very specific.
Paul is by-far-and-away the major expositor of the full incarnation, the death under Roman execution as a redemptive act, and the bodily resurrection of Jesus of
Paul, on the other hand, is very heavy on the deity of Christ and incarnation. He is also the major expositor of the Cross as redemptive-beyond-justification (i.e., the Cross accomplished much more than ‘simple’ substitutionary atonement—it was Victory over powers, the locus of reconciliation, the event of propitiation, etc). And he is the major expositor of our resurrection—as prefigured in Christ’s resurrection.
Given this, if Paul is really teaching MP doctrine ‘under the surface’, then we would expect Celsus-the-MPer to point out the differences between the Gospels and Paul (on matters of incarnation, especially). We would expect him to not have any problem with Paul’s descriptions of incarnation, resurrection, salvific Cross—since Celsus would be ‘interpreting them’ through MP eyes.
But if he objects to Pauline language of these things—rejecting man-as-image-of-God, rejecting deity-enfleshed, rejecting Christ taking another body after victory over death, then we can feel somewhat more comfortable in our interpretation of Paul as radically non-MP.
What do we find?
Well, we believe that Celsus is familiar with Pauline literature, because he uses the texts of Gal 6.14 (5.65), 1 Cor 3.19 (6.12), and has references to 1 Cor 10.20 (8.28) and Col 2.18. So, even though most of his attacks are aimed against the Gospels, we might expect him to point out contradictions between the ‘literal’ in the Gospels and the “MP” version in Paul (he did like to point out contradictions).
So, where stood Celsus on these Christian doctrines?
“We must not omit at least a mention, also, of the Platonist Celsus, who, probably in the 160s, composed a comprehensive polemic against the Christians, entitled the True Account (Alethes Logos), of which we have a fairly complete summary preserved by Origen, in his polemic against Celsus composed some ninety years later. Celsus is the first Platonist, to our knowledge, to take official note of this upstart sect, and his work, even if not very important for its positive doctrine, is of great interest as an impassioned assertion, not only of the Platonist, but of the Hellenic view of God and the order of the universe—such matters as the immutability and impassivity of God and the regularity of Nature, principles against which Christianity offended grossly. … Celsus does not make a clear distinction between orthodox Christians and some of the wilder Gnostic sects, of whose antics he had heard rumours. He himself does not reveal any doctrinal tendencies which would place him in one 'school' or another among the Platonists. He shows the expected contempt for such a notion as the resurrection of the body (ap. Orig. Contra Celsum v 14), or the idea that God made man in his own image (vi 63), there being nothing that could resemble God. At VII 42, he gives a basic account of the Platonist view of the supreme God, which is incompatible with the notion of his involving himself too closely with Matter. He mentions in this connexion three ways of attaining a conception of God, synthesis, analysis and analogy, which correspond approximately to the three ways distinguished by Albinus at Did. p. 165,4ff… , though there is no indication that Celsus is following Albinus. Contact between man and God is effected, of course, through the agency of daemons (e.g. VIII 28, 33,35).” [PH:TMP, 400f]
“Celsus began his work by assuming the character of a Jew and attacking Christian views from this standpoint. Then he proceeded on his own to demonstrate their inadequacy in relation to the basic axioms of contemporary philosophical theology, especially with regard to the doctrines of God and providence and poetic-philosophical inspiration; as a Platonist he found the Christian idea of the Incarnation both impossible and immoral. [EncyOfPhil, s.v. “Celsus”]
“It is apparent that Celsus' objection to the resurrection of Jesus and to that envisioned in Christian eschatology is based on fundamental values in Greco-Roman philosophy — values that affirmed the importance of the immortal soul, but had no use for any kind of risen body. … The later response in paganism to the Christian doctrine of resurrection makes it clear, however, that the philosophical objections were most important. The fact that Jesus only appeared to "a frantic woman" and other members of his "religious guild" is a historical critique that is motivated by the fact that Hellenistic philosophy had no room for a resurrection. God's spirit could not rise with any body — whether Jesus' or Dionysus' or Asclepius' or Heracles' — because it would be a spirit defiled by the body” [HI:INTGRP, 61]
“The elements of the Christian faith for which Celsus reserved his sharpest criticism were the doctrines of Incarnation and the Resurrection…. In Celsus’s opinion, Christians insulted God when they asserted that through Incarnation he took on human attributes… Demons might have come down to earth, but God and his Son would not.” [PREC:151]
So, he argues against incarnation and resurrection, but never says that Paul’s terminology either (a) agrees with his MP position; or that (b) it disagrees with the very physical notions of incarnation/resurrection in the Gospels.
If Pauline writings were available to him, and IF they were MPish, then –in keeping with Celsus’s love for pointing out contradictions—he would have given us evidence that Paul’s discourse really WERE ‘undercover MP writings’.
This is further strengthened, btw, by Celsus’ actual approval of Johanine identification of the Logos (probably not the version Celsus held, though) with the Son of God. He certainly interpreted THAT passage as MP! (“Now if the Logos in your view is the Son of God, we too approve of that”), but this Son of God—as we have seen—cannot become ‘flesh and dwell among us’. This logos cannot be Christ: “Celsus earlier attacked the Christian concept of Christ as logos because of the fact that Christ had been arrested and crucified.” (C. Cels 2.31); [HI:INTGRP, 149]
Furthermore, when later generations of Christians did try to link (somewhat) Christianity and Platonism (without rejecting incarnation, resurrection, etc), Celsus called the linkage ridiculous:
“In the 160s, the pagan Celsus's book is best understood as rebutting the impudent link between Platonism and Christianity which apologists like Justin had proposed in petitions to the Emperor. [PAC, 305f]
But we have no indication that he interpreted Pauline literature in another other way than that portrayed in the Gospels and that understood by the early church.
On to circumstantial data…
A. How pervasive was MP?
Not very pervasive among ‘normals’, apparently…
“from Antiochus on until at least the end of the second century A.D. (when the holders of the official chair of Platonism established in Athens by Marcus Aurelius may progressively have reconstituted themselves into an 'Academy', such as we do find in Athens in the following centuries), there was no official centre of Platonism that could serve as a watchdog for 'orthodoxy', and that the transmission of philosophical doctrine was very much a matter of individual teachers and small groups practising a sort of self-identification. [PH:TMP, 424]
"Platonists did not abound in the time of Paul, but their conviction that the body was the tomb of the soul and thus of little importance seems to have affected many people." [NT:ACL,32]
“One of the
greatest weaknesses of his study is his need to demonstrate the presence of
Middle Platonic circles in
“Plato had seen the possibilities in this, his followers developed his thought, and from Middle Platonism it passed into common currency within that tiny circle who read philosophy at all.” [HI:PTRE, 79]
Now, to be sure, MP—as with Stoicism and Epicureanism—had its existence, but this was in academia, which rarely touched the masses and even the ‘regular wealthy’:
“Middle Platonism fell in a period of philosophical blossom. It was taught as a subject in all the larger cities; philosophers (tn: not just MPers) were often legally and materially supported by the state or the cities and publicly honoured [NewPauly, s.v. “Middle Platonism”]
The pessimism of Epicureanism and Stoicism had filtered down to the normal folk, but there is no mention of MP making it down there:
“Evidence from gravestones suggests that Stoicism and Epicureanism had even seeped down to ordinary people, teaching them not to expect too much, if anything at all, from the afterlife. Paul's message of resurrection was in stark contrast to these groups.” [NT:TG2N, 328]
MacMullen points out how little impact ‘analytical’ and refined philosophical theology had:
“Out of some thousands of papyri, whole or fragments, that are of literary character, only a small number focus directly on religion. Numenius, Ammonius, Plotinus, and Porphyry make no appearance; other philosophers very rarely and for treatises on government or ethics or logic.” [HI:PTRE,68]
“The sacred had lost its story when its enlightened critics finished with it.
But who cared? The inappropriateness of common forms of worship, seen through the eyes of Seneca or Porphyry, appears not to have deterred a single soul from the inheritance of his tribe. If anyone listened to Epicureans or Stoics, no signs attest to his conversion. Which is not to deny that conversions may have been made—let us say, must have been made— but not in numbers at all detectable. The same limits perhaps circumscribed the Apologists. There is no knowing what effect if any they achieved, when they attacked religious customs of their time—idolatry, for instance, or burnt offerings. Had they managed to find many readers for the kinds of arguments and conclusions that have been summarized in the preceding pages, surely Tertullian, at the outset of his Soul's Testimony, need not have deplored the fact that "no one turns to our literature who is not already Christian." … And surely, too, we would expect some sign of the higher criticism to show in the corpus of surviving inscriptions and papyri. It is there— barely: the one oracle issued by Apollo from Claros, speaking of the hereafter and recorded on stone; from Egypt, the one fragment of Pseudo-Plutarch's otherwise lost Placita philosophorum. Otherwise, of Plutarch, Philodemus, the Pseudo-Aristotle, Lucian, Sextus Empiricus, Celsus, Porphyry, and all the Apologists from whose collective testimony the foregoing views about the nature of god have been reassembled, there exists not a word, not a scrap of papyrus—against some hundreds for Homer alone. One province, and the survival of evidence by chance (unless chance is rather an element to be desired, in this sort of testing), should not be allowed to stand for all the Empire. But what is there better? And besides, why should anyone expect a broader audience for what we might call analytical theology? No, the literature of religion par excellence was hymns, in every century” [HI:PTRE, 77]
“That audience (of the local shrine priest) must have included, over a lifetime, everybody within a day's walk of the temple who felt the least interest in worship (though no doubt a few did not, even if they avoided giving offense as overt atheists). The priest through hymns thus taught a large class, one rather different from gatherings that heard professional rhetoricians. The latter, whether dependent on Alexander's or Menander's handbook or masters by themselves, like Dio Chrysostom and Aelius Aristides, brought to their theme what higher culture could contribute: pillage from "poets and philosophers." That was the pair to whom Apologists forever had recourse, for support or, more often, for a target. In discussing monotheism as in discussing the afterlife, rhetoricians and Apologists alike spoke to a tiny minority of listeners who read Plato and commentaries, a larger minority who liked to hear about such deep subjects, but a majority who preferred their Homer uninterpreted. The different preferences and relative proportions of these groups can be sensed distinctly (above, pp. 68f. and 77). All together, however, they made up a number far smaller than those addressed by the priest.” [HI:PTRE,90]
B. What MP writers/passages are used in ‘Backgrounds/Parallels’ commentaries to situate content of the Pauline epistles?
This is a simple check, ‘statistically anecdotal’ (smile)!
I have in front of me a reference work I use when testing alleged Hellenistic backgrounds/parallels to passages—the Hellenistic Commentary to the New Testament [HCNT]. It goes through the entire NT and gives readings from parallel/related Hellenistic literature for the various passages.
The simple test is this: does this work find ANY related passages in Middle-Platonist literature (of a metaphysical sort) for Pauline literature?
If Paul had MP-sounding or MP-like passages, we would expect an entry in this work (from MP sources)—as long as there were no ‘closer’ sources, of course.
OK. Let’s first list the possible MP authors we are looking for in the ‘Ancient Sources’ list in the back.
Dillion’s is the standard work on MP [PH:TMP] and his TOC lists:
Antiochus of Ascalon, Eudorus of Alexandria, Philo of Alexandria, Plutarch of Chaeroneia, Ammonius (Plutarch’s teacher), Claudius Nicostratus, Calvenus Taurus, Atticus, Harpocration of Argos, Severus, Gaius (possibly, son of Xenon), Albinus, Apuleius of Madura, Galen, (historians of Pythagoreans, Alexander Polyhistor and Sextus Empiricus), Moderatus of Gades, Nicomachus of Gerasa, Numenius of Apamea, Cronius, Ammonius Saccas, Theon of Smyrna, Maximus of Tyre, Celus, Calcidius.
OK—which of these show up in the Hellenistic Commentary?
Here’s the list again, with indication of presence:
Antiochus of Ascalon [NO], Eudorus of Alexandria [NO], Philo of Alexandria [YES], Plutarch of Chaeroneia [YES], Ammonius (Plutarch’s teacher) [NO], Claudius Nicostratus [NO], Calvenus Taurus [NO], Atticus [NO], Harpocration of Argos [NO], Severus [NO], Gaius (possibly, son of Xenon) [NO], Albinus [NO], Apuleius of Madura [YES], Galen [YES], (historians of Pythagoreans, Alexander Polyhistor [NO]and Sextus Empiricus [YES]), Moderatus of Gades [NO], Nicomachus of Gerasa [NO], Numenius of Apamea [YES], Cronius [NO], Ammonius Saccas [NO], Theon of Smyrna [YES], Maximus of Tyre [YES], Celsus [YES], Calcidius [NO].
Now, we take our YES-folk from above, and see if their entries are referenced in the Pauline literature (since we are looking only a Paul in this test). So here’s the YES list from above, with an indication in the index of whether their material is used in a Pauline section:
Philo of Alexandria [YES], Plutarch of Chaeroneia [YES], Apuleius of Madura [YES], Galen [YES], (historian of Pythagoreans, Sextus Empiricus [YES]), Numenius of Apamea [YES], Theon of Smyrna [NO], Maximus of Tyre [YES], Celsus [YES]
There are 317 entries in the Pauline literature, so we now have to go through each one for references to the above [well, I THOUGHT it was a simple test—took FOREVER], and assess whether or not it is dealing with MP physics/metaphysics (ethics, epistemology, rhetoric, etc is irrelevant to our study here):
Here’s the list of matches (the second number refers to the entry# in the Commentary, and NA means it’s not dealing with theological physics/metaphysics):
So, out of 317 passages of Paul ‘paralleled’ in the book, 77 of them give a citation from someone of MP-posture. Of the 77 passages, however, only 5 (possibly) deal with “Middle Platonism Christology”. But all 5 of these passages we have already discussed, actually. The two passages on the “Two Adams” were seen to be Paul rebutting the MP/Philonic sequence. The two at 1 Cor 8 we already discussed also—this was the only passage where Paul used the G-R term diamonia, and he rejected the MP practice of honoring daimons. The final passage was just something about ‘principles of plurality’ in the Godhead (from Philo), and doesn’t really even match up with MP thought anyway.
It is surprising, though, to find that in the passages we might most expect MP backgrounds (e.g. Colossians, Eph, maybe Corinthians) the commentary gave Jewish or other sources—as closer in content or language.
MP physics/metaphysics just is not an important background to Pauline writings…except when it is being rebutted.
C. To what extent does modern scholarship see Paul as the first ‘Christian Middle Platonist’?
This is fairly easy to assess as well, since many books on the ‘background of the NT’ have index entries for ‘Middle Platonism”, “Platonism”, etc.
What we will see is that most scholars list Justin
Martyr as the first person influenced (though not very deeply) by
MP, followed by thorough-going MPers Clement of
divinity, either a demiurgic figure derived from the Timaeus or a version of
the Stoic Logos (which had some influence on the role of Christ in the thinking
of the church fathers) and a World-Soul, is also derived from the Timaeus but
owes something as well to the Pythagorean Indefinite Dyad. ... A series of Christian thinkers in the first two and a
half centuries a.d., from Justin and
Tatian to Clement and Origen, were influenced to varying degrees
by contemporary Platonism and are often themselves valuable witnesses to
developments in Platonic doctrine.“ [Porter, S. E., & Evans, C.
A. (2000). Dictionary of New Testament background : A compendium of
contemporary biblical scholarship (electronic ed.).
ideas affected the
teaching of the fathers
in different ways. The Logos doctrine of the Apologists combined an appeal to
the teaching of Jn. 1:1–18 concerning the Word (lógos) with the Stoic idea of
the dissemination of Reason (lógos) in all things, particularly in human
beings. Christ was thus the particular incarnation of “the true light that
enlightens every man (Jn. 1:9). The Logos that enabled Socrates to condemn
demons “took form and became man and was called Jesus Christ” (Justin Martyr Apol i.5). The Apologists saw a further
analogy between the utterance of words and the Incarnation (cf. Justin Dial. 61; Tertullian
AdvPrax 5). The spoken word was the expression of the speaker’s mind. In a
sense it was distinct from the speaker; yet at the same time it was the
expression of the speaker himself. In making this point the fathers stressed
that the uttered word was not a creature. They thought of it as the offspring
of the one who spoke. … The Trinitarianism of Origen
(ca 185–254) was a reinterpretation of the Church’s traditional faith in terms
of the Middle Platonism that flourished in
was the Middle Platonism of the first two centuries ad (especially Albinus,
Plutarch and Numenius) that most directly influenced early Christian writers
such as Justin (see Apologists) and Clement of
“Clement achieved the first real synthesis of classical philosophy and Christianity. The Apologists had used particular ideas to bridge the gap between philosophy and Christianity. In Justin's writings, for example, God is described in terms of the Platonic ineffable being, and the divine reason implanted in men is expounded along Stoic lines; but there is no comprehensive conceptual framework that enables these and other ideas to modify one another. Clement's synthesis was developed by Origen, and the result was the theology of the fourth-century Greek Fathers and of Augustine.” [EncyOfPhilosophy, s.v. “Clement of Alexandria”]
“Doctrine of God. As the first Christian philosophical theologian, Justin went well beyond Aristides and juxtaposed his special interpretation of divine transcendence (based on Middle Platonic philosophy) with biblical and traditional Jewish and Christian ideas of God… Justin does not hesitate to speak of the incarnation of the Son of God, and this is one reason why he was Irenaeus' favorite apologist. The philosophical problems involved in the doctrine did not disturb him, and he worried only about the resemblance of the Gospel story to myths about Greek gods.” [GASC, 59ff]
“A series of Christian thinkers
in the first two and a half centuries a.d., from Justin and Tatian to Clement and Origen, were
influenced to varying degrees by contemporary Platonism and are often
themselves valuable witnesses to developments in Platonic doctrine.” [Porter,
S. E., & Evans, C. A. (2000). Dictionary of New Testament background : A compendium of contemporary biblical
scholarship (electronic ed.).
“Our concern in this work is not with Philo as a
whole, fascinating a subject though that is, but simply with the evidence which
he provides for contemporary Platonism. We cannot, therefore, go into the
Jewish side of his thought, such as that was, or into any aspect of his
philosophizing which may possibly be original to himself. The reason for this
is that there is no evidence that Philo himself had any
influence on the course of Middle Platonism, though he certainly influenced the
Christian Platonists of
“In the first through the third centuries A.D. a great
deal of debate went on among Platonists, Peripatetics, and Stoics. As a result,
norms originally situated in one school tradition were adapted by others. In
addition, Jewish and Christian thinkers added the wisdom of their sacred
scriptures to the cacophony of philosophical discourse, and in so doing
proposed new varieties of Platonism cabled Jewish and Christian. The figures we associate with this activity are Plutarch, Philo, Celsus,
Clement, and Albinus. In the first decades of the third century, Origen enters into this dialogue and hammers out a synthesis
intensely Christian and Platonic. …This study principally focuses upon one
stream of Platonic thought — the one that arises with Philo and ends with
Origen. This permits us to study the
“In the century which would follow upon his own,
Philo's works would become authoritative for Christian
Digression: But my conscience interrupts at this point and points out that I need to ‘exonerate’ (somewhat) both Justin and Philo from charges of being card-carrying MPers. Certainly Clement and Origen are, but the data on Justin and Philo is not really that conclusive. Justin himself, for example, differs from Philo in many important MP-related concepts and yet still seems to be only using MP-vocab to communicate non-MP theological content. Philo himself seems to be trying to synthesize his Judaism with MP—while maintaining the dominance of Judaism still:
doctrine of the Logos was based on a doctrine of Sophia developed within
Hellenistic Judaism but not taken directly from
“Like Philo of Alexandria, Theophilus [note: another 2nd century Apologist] sets forth a doctrine of God essentially Jewish in nature even though expressed in the language of Middle Platonism.” [GASC, 167]
like Philo went a long way in absorbing the prevailing
Greek philosophical views of the day (esp. Middle Platonism) and presenting Judaism in these terms
to his pagan contemporaries. Yet he stops short of
identifying Yahweh with Zeus or Sarapis. Neither does he attempt to transform Judaism by
infusing it with rituals and beliefs from Egyptian or Greek religions. E. R.
Goodenough’s contention that Philo had assimilated many mystery-cult beliefs has been shown to be without support. Although Philo
often uses the language of the mysteries,
he does so more to present his
own ancestral faith in language that would have been comprehensible to pagans. [Martin, R. P., & Davids, P. H.
(2000, c1997). Dictionary of the later New Testament and its developments
"J. D. G. Dunn concludes his detailed examination of Philo with the observation: "The language of philosophy, Stoicism in particular, agreed at this point with the language of Jewish prophecy in providing the most useful term for talk of this experience of revelation and 'right reason'—logos—and by means of allegorical interpretation this divine Logos could be shown to have a wide-ranging symbolical expression within the Torah. But in the end of the day the Logos seems to be nothing more for Philo than God himself in his approach to man, God himself insofar as he may be known by man" (Christology in the Making, p. 228). Other Old Testament passages in which creation is attributed to the Word of God include Ps 33:6; 107:20; 147:15, 18. In the Jewish Wisdom tradition, creation is attributed to God's wisdom, where wisdom is patently a variation of the word theme (Prov 8:22-31; Wisdom of Solomon 9:1-2, 17).” [PH:CWT1, 359]
End Digression… (loosely speaking…smile)
In modern times, scholars have argued for similarities between Paul and the philosophers, but only in the areas of ethics and rhetoric. The physical/metaphysical—as a background to the NT—is generally rejected by historians.
So, Malherbe [Paul and the Popular Philosophers, p. 1f] cites the very strong statements of Nock, Chadwick, and Jaeger:
“The dimension of
Paul's life and practice represented by these studies has in recent decades
enjoyed renewed attention. That
is not to say that ancient philosophy is generally regarded as having had an
influence on the writers of the New Testament. Three giants, on whose shoulders all students of
ancient Christianity wittingly or unwittingly stand, may be taken to represent
one perception. Arthur Darby Nock, while
recognizing the importance of philosophy for Christians from the second
century on, was skeptical about its significance for the New
Testament. So, also, Henry Chadwick
discerned in Acts 17 and the Prologue to the Fourth Gospel only anticipations
of the engagement with philosophy which would enter a new stage with such
figures as Clement of
particular should be set in relation to
Paul might have known the metaphysical/physical views of these systems—he most likely knew the moral and rhetorical teaching/methods of them—but if he did, he doesn’t give us any evidence to confirm that (from our discussion of all the data above). His lack of usage of MP (or Stoic, or Epicurean, or Cynic—for that matter) vocabulary/concepts is therefore even more telling against the Paul=MP thesis, if he is understood to known the moral and/or rhetorical teachings of those schools. And current scholarship tends to accept that Paul was familiar with these schools:
“The Paul that emerges from these essays is one who was thoroughly familiar with the (moral) traditions used by his philosophic contemporaries. As his use of them to conduct his argument or to describe his own self-understanding as a Christian apostle shows, he knew these traditions first-hand and not through the mediation of other Jews who before him had to come to terms with the Greek experience. Paul's followers and interpreters took his familiarity with moral philosophy for granted and therefore did not think it incongruous to represent him as Paulus hellenisticus. Paul himself used the philosophic traditions with at least as much originality as his contemporaries did. A major difference between them is that Paul is neither as schoolbookish nor self-conscious in using the traditions as they were. His letters, after all, are not tractates on psychagogic practice but are themselves examples of that practice. In his letters Paul does not discuss those traditions overtly. He does not engage in disputes about the proper practice, as the philosophers did; indeed, he does not even focus on the traditions in an attempt to discover what was to be appropriated or rejected. Paul has another agenda, and if the question of influence is to be addressed, it is to be done in more subtle and nuanced ways than has often been the case. … The traditions Paul uses were given a hard edge by the Cynics through their very, often dramatic, presence as well as their sharp formulation of issues. The Cynics figure prominently in these studies, partly because they had been slighted in earlier discussions and the balance had to be redressed, and partly because they had been lumped uncritically with the Stoics. But they are also treated at great length because Paul's practice and teaching are seen in sharper profile against a background to which they belong. Paul, however, was no Cynic. He addressed some of the issues they raised, and he used their language, but he shrank, for example, from the Cynics' preoccupation with the individual, either themselves or others. Paul, on the other hand, was a founder of communities, of which the Cynics had none.” [NT:PAPP,8]
“And yet, given the pervasive, varied, and accurate use of rhetorical forms and style in Paul's letters that Betz and others have pointed out, it is hard not to draw the conclusion that Paul had formal rhetorical training. Such a conclusion is likely even if Luke's statement about Paul's having studied in Jerusalem with Gamaliel (Acts 22:3) is true, for Martin Hengel has assembled considerable evidence of rhetorical schooling in Jerusalem, where Paul may well have learned rhetoric and practiced it in the Greek-speaking synagogue(s). [Note: this evidence has been disputed recently by Andrew Pitts, in [NT:PW]]. Years of missionary
preaching would certainly have honed Paul's rhetorical skills, but it seems best to assume that this preaching was built on much earlier study and practice under a rhetor. … Consequently, while Paul cannot be placed alongside a sophist like Polemo, which he himself admitted when he said he was a rank amateur when it came to speaking (2 Cor 11:6; cf. 10:10), he was certainly closer to Polemo in his educational achievements than he was to the boy just beginning to write his letters. Basic literacy itself was an accomplishment that would have already placed this boy into a small percentage of people who were literate. But Paul's much greater educational achievement—including not only primary schooling but also secondary and tertiary instruction—would therefore have put Paul into a very tiny elite indeed.” [HI:PGRW,215; article by Ronald Hock on “Paul and Greco-Roman Education”]
Indeed, Frend can point out that not only does Paul not even treat philosophy seriously; his “Jewish superiority” attitude looked down on it:
“Dual status did not make his family less Jewish. It
D. How ‘close’ does Paul ‘sound’ to known MPers like Philo, etc?
One good way to test a theory of 'influence on Paul' would be to compare him to a KNOWN case--Philo. Philo was KNOWN to be heavily influenced by MP and one can simply compare HIS writings/themes/topics to Paul's, to see how close the two are. As it turns out, the points of contact between Philo and Paul are NOT due to MP, but to a shared Jewish Wisdom tradition, and exclude elements of metaphysics (such as in MP). Indeed, even the points of 'contact' between Paul and Philo/Plato given as examples are NOT ones about Jesus incarnation/etc:
We have already seen a bit of this when we discussed Paul’s ‘reverse-“ or “anti-MP” arguments, but here’s another bit or two (two quotes on his MP background):
"Philo’s Life. As a member of this family,
Philo received both a Greek (Philo Congr. 74–76; Spec. Leg. 2.229–30) and a
Jewish education. His Greek education would
have taken place in three stages: training in a gymnasium, a one-year ephebeia
as Plato had built upon Socrates’ teaching, so his own pupils created
variations and modifications of his. The stages are distinct enough that they
are referred to as the Middle or
Now onto points of contact:
"Paul and Philo. Most scholars believe Paul
was not directly influenced by Philo, though there are some
similarities which can be explained by reference to a common Jewish Wisdom tradition older than either
of them. This would explain such things as circumcision having
a symbolic meaning (Philo Migr. Abr. 16.92); or that humanity and
the world are “foolish” in
comparison to God’s understanding and purpose (Migr. Abr. 24.134–38; cf. 1 Cor
1:18–29). Recently some have proposed that the Corinthians had drawn on Philo
or a Philonic-type conception of spiritual
perfection through a philosophic use of the Law (1 Corinthians;
e.g., R. Horsley, J. Davis); or for an understanding of Moses as a glorious,
charismatic, Spirit-filled man (2 Corinthians; cf. Philo Vit. Mos. 2.69–70;
Martin, 63–64). This is highly unlikely for the
situation in 1 Corinthians, where the problems of the mostly Gentile converts
have no demonstrably Jewish basis. There may have been, however, some
Philonic-type concepts brought into the church by the Jewish-Christian
intruders by the time 2 Corinthians was written. [Hawthorne,
G. F., Martin, R. P., & Reid, D. G. (1997, c1993). Dictionary of Paul and
his letters (electronic ed.). Logos Library Systems (717).
"2.2. Paul and Platonism.
The idea that things
which can be grasped only by the intelligence are more divine than those which are
open to sensory examination was a Platonic notion which became an altruism in
the Hellenistic era. Thus Paul states “we set our gaze not on what is
seen but what is not seen” (2 Cor 4:18, also 2 Cor 5:7;
"It was this notion that was picked up by Hellenistic Jewish philosophers and was developed by Philo. Paul’s innovative contribution to this exegetical tradition, determined by his Adam/Christ antithesis, was to stand the tradition found in Philo on its head by having the earthly man precede the heavenly man [ISBE]
Most of the points of contact (or disagreement) are minor: circumcision, 2nd Adam, types of wisdom, etc. If Paul were an MPer, we should see much more overlap of vocabulary between the two, highly-educated Jewish writers.
As a second base of comparison, we might also fast-forward to 2nd century Gnostics, in their mid-point between MP and Plotinus/NeoPlatonism, and compare their vocabulary to Philo’s and Paul’s. Here’s a couple of data points on that:
"The ‘Wisdom of Jesus Christ’, commonly also called the ‘Sophia of Jesus Christ’ (SJC) after the
Greek, begins with a revelation discourse of Jesus which he addresses to twelve
disciples and seven women on a mountain after the resurrection (BG
77, 9–16). The Redeemer promises to communicate to his hearers things that they
do not yet know and about which the philosophers have offered conflicting
conjectures: ‘Who God is or of what nature he is’ (80, 10–12). What is then
said about God corresponds more clearly than in the ‘Secret Writing’ to what one
could hear in any Middle-Platonic philosophical school—though in a rather
chaotic order: God is immortal, eternal, without beginning and name, not in
human form, imperishable and inconceivable, good and perfect (84, 1–87, 8).
Only in the subsequent passages are there remarks about further divine forces,
above all about ‘a first immortal male-female human being’ (94, 9–11). In this
way again models are constructed in the heavenly world
of earthly phenomena, human beings and even of Jesus of
And then this extended
quote comparing Philonic terminology to Gnostic literature from
“PHILO, GNOSIS, AND THE NEW TESTAMENT IN
The two documents to be taken up briefly here are
meant to illustrate the distinction drawn by Wilson and others between ‘Gnosis’
and ‘Gnosticism’, as it may be applied to a
situation late in the second century when everyone agrees that ‘Gnosticism’ is
flourishing. To be sure, many examples could be cited to illustrate
this, but I have chosen for this purpose two texts from the Nag
Hammadi corpus: NHC VII. 4: The Teachings of Silvanus, and NHC
IX. 3: The Testimony
of Truth. Both of these tractates presumably come from the same general milieu, viz.
“We consider first the Testimony of Truth, a document which
has aptly been called ‘one of the best examples of Christian
Gnosticism’. It is a homiletic treatise in which its author
contends vigorously on behalf of ‘the Truth’ (as he understands it) against
‘the Law’ and those who follow it. ‘The Law’, for our author, is epitomized in
the commandment given by the Creator ‘to take a husband (or) to take a wife,
and to beget, to multiply like the sand of the sea’ (30:2–5; cf. Genesis 1:28;
2:24; 22:17). The tractate advocates an extreme encratism based on a radical
dualism between ‘Imperishability’, ‘Light’, and the ‘world’ (30:12–21; cf. 40:27–28;
44:24–30; etc.), and between the ‘God of Truth’ and the ‘God’ who created the
world and gave the Law (41:5; 45:3, 24, etc.). Much of the
tractate is devoted to the person and work of Christ, but it is nevertheless
fair to say that it grounds
salvation squarely on gnōsis: Christ will bring to eternal
life in heaven those who have achieved gnōsis (36:2–7;
38:22–27). … what is of interest here is the tractate’s reminiscence of, if not use of,
Philo. The following examples are illustrative of this point:
in the opening passage our author addresses ‘those who know to hear not with
the ears of the body but with the ears of the mind’ (29:6–9). The distinction
between ‘the hearing of the mind’ and the ‘hearing of the (bodily) ears’ is
made in Philo, too (Decal. 35). In similar fashion the Testimony of
Truth refers to the ‘eyes of (the) mind’ (46:7) in its midrashic
quotation of Genesis 3:5; Philo interprets the opening of the eyes referred to
in Genesis 3:7 as ‘the vision of the soul’ (Quaest. in Gen. I, 39). According
to our tractate the ‘mind’ (nous) of man is male
(44:2–3); Philo routinely refers to the nous as male and sense perception
(aisthēsis) as female (e.g. Leg. All. II, 38; III, 49–50; Op. Mund. 165).
Our tractate’s denigration of the corruptible world of the
flesh (40:27; 42:6) is almost matched in Philo (e.g. Plant. 53), as
is its denigration of the body and its pleasures (e.g. 30:32–31:1; cf. Gig.
13–15; Leg. All. III, 77). To
be ‘stripped’ of
the body is the goal of the Gnostic (37:2), and this is a goal not far removed from Philo, who
in fact uses precisely these terms in describing the glorious end of Moses
(Virt. 76). Our tractate speaks of the ‘dividing’
power of the ‘word (logos) of the Son of Man’ (40:23–41:4) in a manner
reminiscent of Philo’s discussion of the ‘cutting’ and ‘dividing’ power of the
Logos (Rer. Div. Her. 130–140). Numerous other parallels
could be cited between the Testimony of Truth
and Philo… All of this does not show that Philo is a Gnostic. It shows, rather,
that this Gnostic text has utilized traditions, conceptions, and terminology at
home in a milieu in which Hellenistic Jewish wisdom has been fused with Middle
Platonic categories. The metaphysical dualism reflected in the Philonic texts cited
above is typical of the Platonic philosophy of the day. The Testimony of Truth has utilized the same conceptions in the
service of a radical Gnostic dualism profoundly different in
spirit and intentionality from Philo’s religiosity and Platonist philosophy.
… Similar observations can be made regarding the extensive use of
the New Testament in the Testimony of Truth.
Gospels are used, as well as Acts, the Pauline literature, Hebrews, James, 1
Peter and Revelation [notice that this requires
all of the NT literature to have been written, distributed, accepted as ‘canonical’,
and seen as an authority that this MP-sounding group can use…by the end of the
2nd century. Hard to see this possible, if all the major documents
are only produced for the first time in the 150ish time frame…] . The Fourth Gospel and Paul have provided the greatest
theological influence: the Son of Man Christology of John is very prominent in
the document, and Paul’s doctrine of the Law
[notice: but not
his alleged MP-like teachings?!] seems to have played a role in its
depreciation of the Law and those ‘under the Law’ (29:22–25; cf. Romans 6:14;
Galatians 4:4–5, 21). But the basic religious stance of the Testimony of Truth is ultimately
as alien to the New Testament it appropriates as it is to Philo.
… [Logan, A. H. B., & Wedderburn, A. J. M. (2004). The New Testament and
gnosis : Essays in honour of Robert McL. Wilson. Originally published:
And actually, the
vocabulary of Paul (and NT) is much closer to the
writings of the
long recognized the relevance of Philo’s treatises for the interpretation of
the NT. One of the most important initial works was C. F. Loesnerus, Observationes ad Novum Testamentum e Philone Alexan-drino
(1777). The place of Philo in NT studies reached a zenith in the first half of
the twentieth century in the works of C. Spicq on Hebrews, C. H. Dodd on John
and E. R. Goodenough on the history of religions. The discovery of
“Before we leave these brief comments on the apostle Paul and ancient philosophy, it is important to note the change of approach that has taken place in the interpretation of Paul. In the earlier part of the present century [note:1900’s] Paul was repeatedly represented as a kind of Platonist. Typical of this view was George Holley Gilbert's claim that: ‘In his view of man's constitution the apostle stands with the Greek philosophers rather than with the Hebrew Scriptures. With Plato he thinks of a human being as consisting of an outer man and an inner man (2 Cor. 4:16), and with Greek philosophy in general he thinks of the body as the prison of the spirit (Rom. 7:24; 8:23). With the Orphic faith he holds the doctrine of original sin and locates the evil principle in the "flesh," where it has been enthroned since the hour of Adam's transgression (Rom. 5:12). The dual aspect of this thought comes to its classic expression in Rom. 7:15-18.21’ … In response to these claims, two comments are in order. On the one hand, close examination of what Paul actually wrote shows that this claim cannot be substantiated. Modern biblical exegetes see Paul's understanding of human nature as diametrically opposite to the Platonic Greek dichotomy of body and soul. On the other hand, recent research into the life and thought of the apostle Paul has increasingly stressed Paul's thoroughly Jewish character. Paul's understanding of human nature is to be seen in the light of the Old Testament Scriptures. If Paul could on occasion use the language of Greek philosophy, it was the language of Stoicism, rather than that of Platonism. But in such cases Paul's purpose was not to teach philosophy, but to communicate the gospel in the language of the contemporary world of his day. The message itself was a reinterpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures in the light of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. [PH:CWT1, 71; footnote reads: ‘See (e.g.) the comment of Ralph P. Martin on 2 Corinthians 4:16: "Yet his ‘inmost self’ (Rom 7:22, RSV) is undergoing renewal—not by absorption, as in hellenistic and gnostic thought, but by the hope of resurrection which entails a future for the outward person in his bodily existence. This is an important observation, marking off Pauline anthropology from Plato, Rep. IX 589A, Epictetus, Diss. II 7.3, 8.14, and even Philo, Quod Del. Pot. 22f., all of whom make the human person a composite of a material shell and a precious kernel, the soul, which aspires to be immortal. No such dichotomy is really to be found in Paul who, in this passage, comes closest to making the human being a hybrid of body and soul" (2 Corinthians, Word Biblical Commentary, Waco, Texas, 1986, p. 91). Similarly, J. D. G. Dunn sees no traces of Platonism in Romans 7:24 and 8:23, but understands these passages in terms of Christ and Adam, and the Christian believer's hope of ultimate deliverance through resurrection (Romans, pp. 396-97, 489-91).”]”
what extent did the Hellenistic/Roman syncretism influence the development of
early Christianity? H. Gunkel and other adherents of the
There is also evidence that the apostles and leaders
in the early Christian movement made explicit and earnest attempts to resist
the syncretistic impulses of the age. For example, when Paul preached in Lystra
(Acts 14:8–20), he was faced with an opportunity to make a syncretistic
innovation to the gospel. Luke records that after Paul healed a crippled man
the people of the city mistook him for Hermes (the messenger of Zeus) and
Barnabas for Zeus. Rather than allowing any form of identification with their
gods (even the identification of “the living God” with Zeus),
Paul takes the bold step of telling them to “turn from these worthless
things” to the one God, the Creator (Acts 14:15). Earliest Christianity
appears to have made stringent effort to resist the larger cultural trend
toward the identification of deities and directed people to the God of Israel,
who had now revealed himself in the Lord Jesus Christ. [Martin,
R. P., & Davids, P. H. (2000, c1997). Dictionary of the later New Testament
and its developments (electronic ed.).
“The History of Religions School confined itself to the supposed traffic of ideas within the history of religions, as though that were essentially where the phenomenon of the New Testament belonged. Too many questions were begged about the nature of religion, and the New Testament tended to be consigned in advance to a place defined according to the conventions of comparative religion, without sufficient regard to its historical singularity. The classic stereotype here was the myth of the redeemed redeemer, studied especially in the earlier decades of this century, which broke down in any case on the problem of anachronism which besets our whole question. It tried to explain too much in terms of too few ideas brought in from too far away. [Footnote: “It is argued on the other hand that the History of Religions School has in fact established the radical hellenisation of Christianity even prior to St. Paul”… mentions Bultmann, Leipoldt, etc… then, “Although this new wave of work is not restricted to religious ideas narrowly defined, it faces the same risks of too mechanical a parallelism and the anachronism inherent in working from mainly second-century sources that dogged the earlier enterprises.” [HI:SDCFC, 80f]
Now, we should close our discussion of MP on the theme suggested in this last quote—that of Pre-Pauline influence of MP. Indeed, Schenck can argue that MP had influenced the early Christian movement BEFORE Paul—as evidenced in the allegedly pre-Pauline hymns cited by Paul and other NT writings [he cites 1 Cor 8.6; Col 1.16; Heb 1:2-3; John 1:3, with italics on the preposition dia (‘though’)]:
“Some of the most Philo-sounding imagery in the New Testament occurs in its "hymnic" material. We have already seen this phenomenon in relation to Colossians and John. In such cases it is not always clear whether the hymns existed independently of their contexts or whether authors like Paul composed them "on the spot." But it is striking that the same themes appear repeatedly. … More often than not, these hymns use such imagery in reference to Christ. Consider the following poetic excerpts from the New Testament:
· There is one God, the father, from whom [are] all things and we for him, And one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom [are] all things and we through him. (1 Cor. 8:6)
· In him [Christ] all things were created ... all things through him and for him have been created. (Col. 1:16)
· ... in these last days [God] spoke by way of a Son, whom he placed as heir of all things, through whom also he made the ages. He is a reflection of [God's] glory and a representation of his substance, and he bears everything by the word of his power. When he had made a cleansing of sins, he sat on the right hand of majesty in the heights. . . . (Heb 1:2-3)
· All things came into existence through it [the logos], and apart from it not even one thing came into existence. (John 1:3)
“We observe in these poetic snippets the same instrumental language we have discussed throughout this chapter. A good argument can be made that Middle Platonic imagery left its mark on Christology more than on any other aspect of early Christian thinking. The Greek-speaking church seems to have found such language particularly helpful for describing the risen and exalted Christ. We can only conjecture when and why they began to look at Christ in this way. But it is clear that the phenomenon was taking place already by the time Paul wrote 1 Corinthians in the early 50s CE. [HI;BG2P, 90f]
Part of what Schenck argues is obvious: the early followers of Jesus used cosmic-dimensions and universal-role descriptions for their Crucified and Risen Lord, but he goes too far to ascribe this as MP. Most of the terminology in this hymnic or creedal material is common to non-MP background—as he notes—but he argues that the use of ‘through’ (dia) is unique to Philo and this forms the basis of his contention that MP affected the pre-Pauline Christology. He does admit that many of the other parts of the hymnic material does not sound Philonic.
“A third similarity is Colossians' sense that everything came into existence "through" Christ (Col. 1:16), It is true that Jewish wisdom traditions occasionally spoke of wisdom (sophia) as God's agent in creation. But no text from these traditions uses the preposition through to say that the world was created through wisdom. As we will see, this language ultimately derived from the influence of philosophy on Jewish wisdom traditions. … Philo provides us with many texts where the logos is identified as the agent of creation, as that through which God created the universe. He is, in fact, the first known author to use the preposition in this way. Special Laws 1 gives us one such example: And logos is the image of God, through which all the world was put together. (Spec. 1.81). In contrast, the Colossian hymn also says that everything was created "in him" and "for him." This use of prepositions is less Philonic. In particular, Philo would not have said that the universe was "for" the logos. … A final parallel in the hymn is the statement that in Christ "all things hold together" (Col. l: 17). Taken strictly in reference to Christ, the statement is somewhat odd. However, it relates directly to Philo's understanding of the logos as a kind of glue that holds the world together.” [PH:BG2P, 79]
What is odd about this statement is that the force of it is mitigated by the footnotes:
His conclusion that the influence was pre-Pauline comes (solely?) from the ‘instrumental’ language (the through), and that this first appeared in Philo.
But strictly speaking, the ascription of instrumental causality to the Logos was not original with him, but shows up in Seneca earlier:
“According to Philo the Logos of God is the instrument in the creation of the world (Leg. Alleg., iii, 96). Philo expresses this notion prepositionally. The Logos is that "through which" (…) the world is created (Cher., 125ff.). Philo's use of this prepositional construct reveals the origin of his doctrine. Its origin is in the Antiochean physics as presented in the writings of Seneca (Ep., 65). In addition, Philo's doctrine of causation is closely linked to his doctrine of the Logos as creative and regal power of the universe, and God as the first cause of all things. [PH:FP2O, 49]
And arguing from a single preposition—when the other prepositions do not match(!)—is highly questionable, IMO. I cannot find anything in the relevant Pauline passages which cannot be ‘teased out’ of the pre-Philonic Jewish lit. Consider some data from Helyer [HI:EJL2TP, 101f];
“Wisdom Christology. In the first place, Ben Sira's
treatment of Wisdom and Torah is of great significance for understanding NT
Christology, that is, the study of the person and work of Jesus Christ. We are
so bold to claim that Paul, John and the author of Hebrews, in setting forth
their understanding of Jesus, incorporated and adapted concepts found in the
wisdom tradition of
“This is a claim requiring validation. For the moment we will simply lay out some ideas in Sirach that are paralleled in some sense by NT Christological texts. We postpone a more detailed analysis until after we have read Baruch and Wisdom of Solomon. Here are some relevant affirmations made by Ben Sira concerning Wisdom:
1. Wisdom is a preexistent entity (Sir 1:4; 24:9).
2. Wisdom reflects the very being and character of God (Sir 24:3).
3. Wisdom played a role in creation (Sir 24:3, 6; cf. 1:9).
4. Wisdom became embodied in the people of
5. One's destiny is determined by a positive response to and acceptance of Wisdom (Sir 1:13; 4:13; cf. 19:20).66
“The alert NT reader immediately recognizes that if we make the identification
that Wisdom equals Jesus, we have clear parallels (cf., e.g.,
Jn 1:1-14; Phil 2:5-10; Col 1:15-20; Heb 1:1-3). Our point is simply to show
that NT authors had at hand, from their Jewish
traditions, categories with which to fashion statements about the
person and work of Jesus Christ. Unlike
Ben Sira, however, the NT authors affirm that Jesus, not Torah, is Wisdom.
Wisdom, according to the NT, is incarnated and embodied in a person,
not inscribed in a book. Torah is fulfilled in Christ and, in a certain sense,
superseded (cf. Mt 5:17). Furthermore, the distinctive Christian doctrine of
the cross as the means of reconciliation finds no analogue in either Proverbs
or Sirach. … While it might be argued that Paul, Hebrews and John were simply
reflecting upon Proverbs 8 without regard to Sirach, it is hard to believe that
an honored teacher in
And—as mentioned in Schenck’s footnotes—the more exalted characteristics can be found in Wisdom of Solomon:
6 For wisdom is a spirit that loveth man, And she will not hold a blasphemer guiltless for his lips; Because God is witness of his reins, And is a true overseer of his heart, And a hearer of his tongue: 7 Because the spirit of the Lord filleth the world, And that which holdeth all things together hath knowledge of every voice. [Apocrypha of the Old Testament. 2004 (R. H. Charles, Ed.) (1:535-536).]
And the ‘general’ ascription in Ben Sira:
By his plan he stilled the deep and planted islands in it. 24 Those who sail the sea tell of its dangers, and we marvel at what we hear. 25 In it are strange and marvelous creatures, all kinds of living things, and huge sea-monsters. 26 Because of him each of his messengers succeeds, and by his word all things hold together. [New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Sir 43:23-26).]
Now, even if the instrumental use of the logos/word/wisdom/Torah is pushed earlier than Philo, that in itself does not mean that the Jewish wisdom traditions were exempt from ‘philosophical influences’. It could still be (and probably is, at some level—given the way God uses historical developments in human knowledge to uncover treasures in His word) that the Jewish Wisdom tradition was influenced by Hellenistic philosophy (before influencing the NT later). But what it DOES MEAN is that it was not MP that did the influencing, but something earlier.
Here’s what I mean… MP is actually dated too late to have affected
Sirach. Sirach is dated
190-180 BC (using Coggins), and MPer Eudorus only develops the notion of hierarchies of being around
In fact, most of the philosophical influences on it are seen to be Stoic and NOT those of their bitter enemies the MPers, anyway!
“Several distinctive teachings emerge clearly in Wisdom. Whereas the taproot of our author's thought grows out of the OT, there can be little doubt that he has incorporated ideas from Greek philosophy, especially Stoicism… “ [HI:EJL2TP ,291]
“The figure of Wisdom
in these chapters has characteristics in common with both Jewish wisdom
speculation and Greek thought. Wisdom’s presence at creation and her function
as God’s instrument are paralleled in Proverbs 8 and Sirach 24. Although Wisdom
is not here identified with Torah, as she is in Sirach and Baruch, and Torah is
only of marginal importance in this work, she is closely connected with
righteousness and is the means to immortality (cf. Sir 24:19–24;
Bar 4:1, where Wisdom grants life to the righteous). At the
same time, the descriptions of Wisdom in these chapters employ language most
likely drawn from the praises of
That being said, De Silva can point out that Wisdom blends Platonic and Stoic notions in a way that Middle Platonism does (or will do, depending on the dating): “When borrowing from Greek philosophy, the author has not acted in a random, haphazard manner but rather reflects the tendencies of Middle Platonism to create a viable synthesis drawn from Stoic and Platonic thought.” [OT:IA,140]. But none of the distinctives of MP (e.g., daimons, hierarchy of being) show up, and the view of the body as ‘evil’ is not held (“The author does not regard the body as evil in and of itself. The body is neutral and a suitable receptacle for Wisdom as long as the person’s soul is not enslaved to sin” [OT:IA, 141])
But let’s even grant for the moment that Wisdom IS MP-ish. And let’s grant that its influence on NT writers was ‘wide-spread’. The issue here is whether the alleged points of contact between Wisdom and Paul were MP-ish or not. If they were MP-ish, then we have an issue to investigate further. If they were NOT MP-ish, then we are done with the analysis and we can conclude that neither the Pauline nor the Pre-Pauline material IN Paul’s letters were influenced by an MP source.
Here’s de Silva’s list of contacts (“The most pervasive influence of Wisdom surfaces in the writings of Paul.” [OT:IA, p.150ff]):
Nothing really MP here, is there?
So, the case for some MP influence on the pre-Pauline Christological traditions is unproven—except as a target for rebuttal.
[I might through one other piece of data in here—for fun. If we are talking about pre-Pauline traditions that show up in Paul, here’s one for you:
Romans 1.2-4: This gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, 1:3 concerning his Son who was a descendant of David with reference to the flesh, 1:4 who was appointed the Son-of-God-in-power according to the Holy Spirit by the resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.
“Most scholars, as we have noted, think that a pre-Pauline hymn or creed is being cited in here. Among the reasons for this are the participial
constructions, the parallelism of the two clauses, the utilization of hapax
legomena (ὁñßæåéí, ðíåῦìá ἁãéùóýíçò), and theological themes
that are uncommon in Paul, such as the reference to the Davidic sonship of
Jesus (cf., e.g., P. Beasley-Murray 1980: 147–48).” [Schreiner, T. R. (1998).
Vol. 6: Romans. Baker exegetical commentary on the New Testament (39).
“Since this is the
only time that Paul claims prophetic and scriptural authentication of his
gospel by employing this terminology, Michel and van der Minde have raised the
Paul is adapting liturgical tradition in this verse. Such an adaptation
indeed appears likely, and the details point to an origin in the same kind of early Jewish
Christianity that is evident in confession introduced in the next two verses.
The effort to find common ground with conservative Jewish believers, who are
being discriminated against in
If this is the case, then that means that the belief that Jesus was a full human, born ‘out of’ a Jewish/Davidic genealogy (see the discussion on ‘born of a woman’ above), pre-dated Paul…smile… If Romans 1.3 means what it looks like it means, then the historical Jesus was already a “canonized” belief before Paul wrote Romans (55-58AD). How much earlier the belief itself had to have formed—in order to be accepted as creedal by all the churches—is for others to decide (smile). But I bet it had to be in place at the very foundation of the major missionary churches (who would have planted same-creed churches), in order to achieve enough consensus critical mass (to achieve creedal status)…
And, if this is the case, then the ‘influence’ of a ‘historical Jesus’ belief on Paul/NT was much earlier than some alleged Middle Platonism influence…smile
But that’s enough for now—we will deal more with the scenario of radical invention of the Jesus figure in a later piece/sequel…
Anyway—on this Middle Platonism thing—I have looked under every rock I can find and I cannot find any real data to support the belief in ‘influence on Paul’ and have found a ton of data against the position.
I have to conclude that “it just aint so”… sorry…
Again, I have NO IDEA if anybody actually HOLDS this position that I have so painstakingly analysed. But to the extent somebody does, then to that extent, they would need to work through all these streams of data…
OK, the next section will be on the impact of the Jewish War on the ability of people to have rebutted fabricated accounts of a created Jesus… and more data on sarx-issues...later…