Saturday, December 22, 2012

I Bet the Epistle to the Philippians Never Existed Before Polycarp

I am almost finished creating my 'road map to Pauline references' in Clement of Alexandria.  I couldn't help notice certain things as I was carrying out this exercise.  Stahlin records only a handful of possible allusions to Philippians - the least of any authentic Pauline Epistle (save for Philemon = none).  This is very odd especially when Epiphanius cannot come up with any Marcionite references to the text either - "The Epistle to the Philippians, number ten, for this is its position in Marcion, tenth and last, but in the Apostle it stands sixth. Likewise I make no selections from it either, since in Marcion it is distorted." Tertullian likewise has nothing to say about Marcionite corruptions to the text:

On the Epistle to the Philippians. As he enumerates various fashions of preaching—that some out of confidence in his bonds were more boldly preaching the word, while some through envy and strife, certain of them even of good will for the word, a certain number because of affection, not a few from hostility, and some even from contentiousness, were preaching Christ—there was indeed even here opportunity for accusing the preaching itself of diversity of doctrine, seeing it was the cause of so much variety in men's tempers. Yet as he sets down as diverse only men's outlook of mind, and not the rules of mysteries, he affirms that with whatsoever intention it was one Christ, and one God, his God, who was the subject of that preaching: and consequently, I make no question, he says, whether in pretence or in truth Christ is preached, because the same one was preached of, whether that were in pretence or in the truth of the faith. For he brings this reference to the truth into relationship with the faith of the preachers, not the faith as laid down by rule, because there was but one rule, yet the faith of some of the preachers was a true one, being uncomplicated, while that of the others was excessively learned. And as that is so it is evident that the Christ preached of was he of whom announcement had always been made. For if a completely different Christ were being introduced by the apostle, the newness of the fact would have produced diversity. Yet there would not have been lacking those who would for all that expound the gospel preaching with reference to the Creator's Christ, in that even today in all localities there are more people of our judgement than of the heretical one. In which case not even here would the apostle have refrained from remark- ing on and castigating diversity: and so, when diversity is not even a matter of criticism, there is no approval of novelty. Evidently here too the Marcionites suppose that in respect of Christ's substance the apostle expresses agreement with them, that there was in Christ a phantasm of flesh, when he says that being established in the form of God he thought it not robbery to be made equal with God, but emptied himself by taking up the form of a servant— not 'the truth'—and in the likeness of man—not 'in a man'— and was found in fashion as a man—not 'in substance', that is, not in flesh: as though fashion and likeness and form were not attributes of substance as well. But it is well that in.another place also he calls Christ the image of the invisible God.a So then here too where he says he is in the form of God, Christ will have to be not really and truly God, if he was not really man when established in the form of man. For that 'really and truly' must of necessity be ruled out on both sides if form and likeness and fashion are to be claimed as meaning phantasm. But if in the form and image of the Father, being his Son, he is truly God, this is proof beforehand that when found also in the form and image of man, being the Son of man, he is truly man. And when he wrote 'found', he meant it—'most indubitably man'. For that which a thing 'is found' to be, it certainly is. So also he was found to be God through his act of power, as he is found to be man by reason of his flesh: for the apostle could not have declared him obedient unto death if he had not been established in a substance capable of death. More even than that, he adds the words, Even the death of the cross. For he would not have piled on the horror, lifting on high the virtue of subjection, if he had known this to be imaginary and phantasmal, if Christ had cheated death instead of suffering it, and in his passion had performed an act not of power but of illusion. Now the things he had formerly counted gain, the things he has just made a list of, glorying in the flesh, the mark of circumcision, the rank and descent of Hebrew from Hebrew, the nobility of the tribe of Benjamin, the dignity of pharisaic office,—it is these he now counts as loss to him—not the Jews' God, but the Jews' lack of feeling. These he now counts but as dung by comparison with the knowledge of Christ—not by any rejection of God the Creator—and has now a righteousness not his own or derived from the law, but a righteousness which is 'by him', meaning Christ, from God. So, you object, in view of this contrast, the law did not come from the God of Christ. How clever you are. Now hear something cleverer. When he says, Not that which is of the law but that which is through him, he could not have said through him except of one whose the law was. Our citizenship, he says, is in heaven. I recognize here the Creator's very old promise to Abraham: And I will make thy seed as the stars in heaven.b Consequently also, One star differeth from another star in glory.c But if Christ when he comes from heaven  is to transform the body of our humility into conformity with the body of his glory, then that which is to rise again is this body of ours, which is humbled by what it undergoes, and is cast down to earth by nothing but the law of death. For how shall it be transformed, if it does not exist? Or if this is spoken of those who at God's coming are to be found still in the flesh and will then be changed,d what shall those do who rise first? Will they have nothing from which to be transformed? And yet he says, With them we shall be caught up together in the clouds to meet the Lord.e If with them we are to be lifted up, with them we shall also have been transformed.

Why do I say the Epistle to the Philippians likely never existed 'before Polycarp'?  Let's not forget that Polycarp's only epistle was to this same church.  There is a pattern of forgeries related to Polycarp.  Philemon appears as the bishop of Ephesus in the Ignatian corpus which is directly related to Polycarp.  Ephesus also happens to be the closest major see to Smyrna and of dubious historical association with the epistle which now bears its name (it is often preserved as an 'anonymous' epistle in many canons and the Marcionites seemed to have associated it with Laodicea).

My assumption would be that when a few critical sayings of the apostle were 'broken out' of their original context in another heretical epistle, a new epistle was manufactured (after the manner of the Greek epistles of Ignatius to the Romans and Trallians out of the 'third epistle' of the Syrian Ignatian canon).  The reason Ephesus and Philippi were granted to be 'Pauline churches' was because they were particularly favorable to Polycarp.

Email with comments or questions.

Stephan Huller's Observations by Stephan Huller
is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.