Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Apocalypse of Paul, Resurrection and Paul as the Christ

Now, while one of the two scriptural bases for the tale (= the Apocalypse of Paul), 2 Cor 12,2-4, does not mention Jesus or Christ, the other one (Gal 1,13-17) says that "God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his son to me." The description of Paul as being "set aside" is twice alluded to in the Apocalypse of Paul (18,16- 17; 23,3-4), but the text is silent on the issue of the revelation of the Son of God.

However, it may be significant that the Greek of Gal 1,15-16 can also be read as meaning "God... was pleased to reveal his Son in me (ἐν ἐμοί), so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles," a reading that is more literally faithful to the Greek of the text. Exegetes have wrestled over Paul's precise meaning in this passage, but our concern here is not with Paul himself, but rather with the author of the Apocalypse of Paul. Now, the Valentinians were well-known for their careful exploitation of nuances and possible alternate meanings of the vocabulary and syntax of the texts they interpreted, and it is possible to read the passage as linking Paul and Christ, implicitly making Christ responsible for Paul's mission, but also explaining His absence: He is not separate from Paul, a figure which Paul could see or meet, but rather is in some sense within Paul, identified with him, and also identified with Paul's future activities. This coheres with Heracleon's belief (which outraged Origen) that pneumatics are essentially of the same nature as God. A similar expression is found in Romans 8,10-11. Here too Christ is said to be within the believer. The passage goes on to speak of the resurrection of the believers "mortal bodies" from the dead. For Ptolemy and Heracleon, this passage cannot be referring to the physical body of the believer. Instead, they argue that "it describes those who are 'dead,' namely, the psychics." Following this interpretation, they argued that the pneumatic elect had a "duty of care" to their psychic brethren: "The elect are sent into this world — together with the Savior — to join themselves to the psychics and thereby to union with the Father. Thus we have a clear precedent within Valentinian thought for the idea of Christ or God dwelling within the pneumatic being linked to the salvation of others, Paul's future goal in the Apocalypse of Paul (23, 13 - 17).

If this hypothesis is accepted, and we assume that the author of the Apocalypse of Paul has what might be called an immanent Christology, in line with other Valentinian thinkers, one could say that Christ's presence within Paul makes possible his career as an apostle. But surely to a believing Christian of whatever sort it would be more accurate to say instead that Paul can be considered to be the means by which Christ's mission is carried out91. This understanding would thus resolve the paradoxes involved in the Apocalypse of Paul's allusion (at 23,13-17) to Eph 4,8. Here Paul is announcing his own intention to undertake in the future an activity (taking captive captivity) that according to Eph 4,8 had already been undertaken by Christ in the past. If, drawing on the alternate interpretation of Gal 1,15-16 discussed above, we regard Paul as in some way containing Christ, and thus being to some degree identified with Him, then the activity of taking captive captivity can be seen as an on-going process that began with Christ's ascension and that will be completed by Paul.

Murdock has also attempted to resolve the question of the relationship between Paul and Christ, albeit in a different manner. He argues that the author of the Apocalypse of Paul understood Paul as being a second Christ, or more precisely the Paraclete, who according to Valentinian beliefs is produced and sent out by the Aeons after Christ rises to the Pleroma and begs for assistance for those still trapped in the lower cosmos. As Murdock points out, Exc. 23 does indicate that some Valentinians identified the Paraclete with Paul, but it should be noted that this text only refers to Paul as being a type of the Paraclete, and not the Paraclete itself [L'apocalypse de Paul: (NH V, 2), Jean-Marc Rosenstiehl, Michael Kaler p. 146 - 148]

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