The Didache, Clement, Hermes and Marcion: Development of the Modern Church Part 4

by Joshua Tilghman on February 20, 2016

Fragmento_filemonThis post will continue our series on the development of Christian Orthodoxy and the Orthodox Church. In part three I said I would get to Valentinus and Irenaeus, but that will have to wait for part five. There is too much important information I couldn’t leave out, which we will discuss here first. We’ll be covering the late first century to the mid second century with just a few—albeit very important—events in our attempt to understand the broader movement and developments of Christianity.

It is important that you realize history is always written by the victor. Sometimes it is necessary to erase from our minds what we think we know about a subject so that we can be more objective. All of us have some preconceived notion of what Christianity was like and how it developed based on our experiences with the Bible, the church, our parents and family, scholarship and our own life experiences. Even those of us who were not raised Christian have preconceived notions. Forget those for the next few minutes, and consider what some of the evidence says. What is written in this series will in no way definitely prove anything, but it can give us insight that may alter what we think we already know. The study of the New Testament is a complicated, convoluted mess. In the first few centuries after Christ is supposed to have lived, everyone was arguing and bickering over the message of the scriptures. It continues to this day, even among those who share the common faith. It was much more so in the past, and different sects claiming to have the truth of the Biblical message was even more divided when Orthodoxy was fighting to take hold. That is because it took more than a few centuries for any kind of permanent New Testament canon to be formed. Even some of the greatest early church fathers who carried the message of the faith became heretics in later centuries because of diverging beliefs about Christ. It wasn’t until hundreds of years after the first century that any kind of uniform doctrine was solidified and the New Testament canon was formed, and this, I can promise you, no matter what the original intentions of its founders, was sometimes more about politics in the very end than about truth. At least that much I am certain.

This series is not an attempt to prove any one thing about early Christianity, but just to show you more of the complicated picture we have. Yes, I will share my personal beliefs about what happened, but I also admit that the entire situation is too complicated for any one person to understand without the original documents, which we may never see. That being said, let’s examine just a few of the early puzzle pieces.

The Didache

The Didache, also known as The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, is an early Christian treatise with the intent of instructing the gentiles on how to live a Christian life according to the teaching of the apostles. Its contents focus on Christian ethics and rituals such as baptism, fasting, and the Eucharist.

Many scholars now place the Didache at about 100 A.D. (although some much later). The significance? The Didache shows that the earliest Christian communities were strictly rooted in Judaism. It was a form of Jewish Christianity that, as the scholar Aaron Milevac has stated, “…reveals more about how Jewish-Christians saw themselves and how they adapted their Judaism for Gentiles…” For example, the Didache teaches that it is best to follow the dietary laws for the Torah, but that it wasn’t absolutely necessary.

Why do I mention this?

The Didache is silent about so many important doctrines that Orthodoxy holds dear today. Even though the Didache is an instruction manual on Christian living, it says nothing about atonement and redemption. Could it be that most of the earliest Jewish-Christian communities had no such teaching? It’s a good possibility. The Didache lacks any doctrine about Jesus period. I find it hard to believe that such an early instruction manual on Christian living lacks any doctrine about Christ. It does mention the person of Jesus as the “servant of the Father,” and “Lord,” and the baptism formula included in the Didache mentions the trinity, but this last point is agreed by most scholars to have been added later by the Church Fathers, probably during the late second century.

What can we really conclude about the Didache? It focuses on living a pure moral life rather than having to believe in anything, which is more akin to Jewish theology, certainly nothing like Pauline Christology. What’s more is that Clement of Alexandria and Origen considered the Didache as scripture. Do you find it odd that an early instruction manual on Christian living doesn’t say anything about doctrine or belief? While it doesn’t prove anything, it is odd.

The scholar L. Hartman even went so far as to say that the community which produced the Didache were “…believers who think of themselves first as Jews, and perhaps who did not yet believe in Jesus.” I clarify that last statement by adding that they didn’t believe in the same Jesus that Orthodox Christianity gave to us. Jesus was certainly known about in this period, but was it the same Jesus of Orthodox Christianity?

We should seriously consider the above points because none of the typical themes found in Paul’s epistles, such as, forgiveness of sins or bestowal into one body through baptism, etc. are present. It’s like the writers give a formula for living without giving the real reason for doing it—i.e., the redemptive work of Christ. True, the Didache’s omission of these common Christian themes doesn’t prove they didn’t worship Jesus the way Orthodoxy said we must, but the omission does bring much speculation and leads one to believe that the Earliest Christians taught and practiced nothing akin to Orthodoxy. Rather, the Didache points to a community that followed strict moral observance of living a clean moral life for oneself and brother, just as the Jews would have stressed. By the way, still no Virgin Birth mentioned here. Did the early Christian community know of it? What we have already said in the first posts to this series and the rest of this one leads me to believe that they probably did not.

Pope Clement 1

At about the same time the Didache was written, we have an important authentic Christian epistle that surfaced. According to tradition, Clement of Rome was the third bishop of the city. We know he wrote a letter to the Church at Corinth that dates 90-100 AD, and is considered authentic by all scholars. Besides Paul’s epistles, it’s one of the earliest Christian writings. It is the content of the letter that is important for our discussion. The letter addresses what Clement calls “a rebellion” at the church of Corinth. However, Clement is not writing about heretics or false doctrine; the rebellion he speaks of has to do with authority. According to his letter, reputable leaders in the church were usurped by younger leaders. Clement becomes very upset by this. From his letter we can see that Clement believed God set up his divine authority on earth through the leaders of the church, namely through bishops, priests, and deacons. The scholar Elaine Pagels tells us that he believed obeying the bishop and deacons was so important that anyone who didn’t “bow the neck” to them “receives the death penalty.” This is the first example we have of a bishop who advocated God’s authority on earth through church hierarchy. Ignatius, about thirty years later, went so far as to argue that the laity should obey the bishop as if he were God himself! The beginnings of what we consider Orthodox Christianity and the church seems to have some of its beginnings rooted in politics.

The scholar Richard Carrier gives us a few more very important details about Clement that will be relevant to our discussion. First, Clements’ letter was considered scripture by many churches. This comes as no surprise, since it is the church with its hierarchy that would benefit. Secondly, at the time of the letter’s composition, between 90 and 100 A.D., Clement never refers to any Gospel, even though he quotes extensively from Paul’s Epistles. Now why would he quote Paul, but say nothing of the Gospels? This has led many scholars to conclude that he didn’t have any access to the Gospels, and most likely, was unaware of them. Although he mentions some sayings of Jesus, none of those sayings are quotes from the Gospels. This has led many scholars to believe that he only knew of an oral tradition. Strange, isn’t it? It is also important to point out that in the same letter he calls Paul’s epistles “wise council,” but only refers to the Old Testament as scripture, which he also quotes. This supports what we said earlier in the Didache: namely, that even as late as 100 A.D., most Christian communities were Jewish-Christians that held as the ultimately authority the Old Testament. As of yet, the Gospels and the theology associated within them hadn’t proliferated the known world yet. It is very possible that only oral traditions were yet popular, even as late as 90-100 A.D., and the Jesus we have in the Gospels today had not yet been born into the conscious mind of devoted followers. When one studies the scholarship available today, it would seem that the oral traditions of Jesus were used to bear witness to the Old Testament. Not even Paul’s epistles at this time were considered scripture. I am NOT saying that at this time there weren’t any written Gospels, but only that they weren’t elevated to the status of scripture yet and mostly the ideas of Christ were still being spread by the oral tradition.

You can read more of Richard Carrier’s very interesting article on the formation of the New Testament Canon below:

http://infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/NTcanon.html

The Shepherd of Hermes

The Shepherd of Hermes was another early Christian work written sometime between 100 and 150 A.D. It was considered inspired scripture by many early church fathers, even the famous Irenaeus. It was included in the oldest surviving complete New Testament, called the Sinaiticus Codex (300 A.D.).  It was widely circulated and extremely popular to Christians in the second and third centuries. What’s strange about this very popular work is that it was completely symbolic. It speaks of the church and the call to repentance. It contains five visions given to Hermes, a former slave. Twelve commandments and ten parables follow. What’s so strange is that some scholars consider the good shepherd as a symbol alluding to Jesus, while others say it alludes to a traditional pagan kriophoros, also know as a “ram-bearer.” We will not get into the details of this, but it’s worth noting.

But here’s the real kicker: If the symbols in parable five of Hermes do relate to Jesus, it suggests an adoptionistic Christology which stated that Jesus was initially only a mortal man who was then filled with a pre-existent spirit and later adopted as God’s son. The fact is that the Christology of the Shepherd of Hermes relates to none of the Christology of the New Testament we have today! And yet it was widely read and accepted as inspired scripture! Don’t you find it odd that such a popular Christian work that was considered inspired speaks of Jesus as only a mortal man who was filled later with God’s Spirit. I emphasize again, this book was widely circulated throughout the Christian communities, and cannot be said to be only read locally like perhaps the Didache was. And again, nothing miraculous about his birth. As you should see (if you have read my first three posts in this series), a pattern is developing here, which leads me to conclude that the Virgin Birth was never in the original oral teachings about Jesus. It was most likely added sometime in the second century, and solidified in the third and fourth.

Marcion of Sinope

No history of the church or the formation of the early cannon would be complete without Marcion of Sinope. This man is the catalyst for the New Testament canon that we have today. He was a wealthy shipbuilder that acquired a lot of wealth. He was raised by Christian parents and became somewhat influential in the early church. But Marcion eventually developed very alternate beliefs about the God of the Old Testament. For him, the God of the Old Testament taught an “eye for an eye,” while Jesus taught to “turn the other cheek” and to pray for those who persecute you. Therefore, Marcion concluded, the God of the Old Testament could not be the God and Father of Jesus. He also believed that Jesus was never mortal, but had always been a preexistent spiritual being. His teachings were quickly condemned by the church. Remember, most Christian communities still had strong Jewish roots and the Old Testament was seen as THE authority. About 144 A.D. Marcion decided to reform Christianity, much like the Great Martin Luther did. He compiled the first New Testament ever, and it looked nothing like today’s cannon. It consisted of ten of Paul’s epistles and only the Gospel of Luke. His cannon, the Evangelicon (Gospel according to Luke) and the Apostolikon (Paul’s ten Epistles), were as follows:

  • The Gospel according to Luke
  • Galatians
  • 1 Corinthians
  • 2 Corinthians
  • Romans
  • 1 Thessalonians
  • 2 Thessalonians
  • Ephesians (Marcion called it Laodiceans).
  • Colossians
  • Philemon
  • Philippians

The above list is the first New Testament cannon ever, and as late as 144 A.D. As you can guess Marcion was condemned and hated centuries later by the Orthodox Church, but his influence still abounded for hundreds of years. The purpose of this post isn’t to discuss Marion’s life, so you can do your own research if interested. I want to focus on his canon. The first thing I want to mention is that 1st and 2nd Timothy, as well as Titus were not included. I have already stated that modern scholarship agrees these were complete forgeries added much later by the Orthodox position. Marcion’s canon may lend support to this theory. Secondly, why did Marcion only include the Gospel of Luke? Why would he exclude Matthew, Mark, and John? Early Christian scholarship put total faith in the early church fathers that condemned him as a heretic. They taught that Marcion expunged them because they didn’t agree with his beliefs. But is this really true? Most scholars are certain Marcion knew of them, but recent scholarship is advancing the idea that Marcion had a source document for Luke known as UR-Lukas. The scope of this article does not allow us to provide evidence for this earlier source, but I believe it’s possible based on what is included in Marcion’s version of Luke. Marcion’s version of Luke did not include most of the first four chapters, and certain verses are missing from later chapters. Remember, Marcion did not believe Jesus was ever a mortal flesh and blood man, so many scholars have pointed out that it makes sense for Marcion to expunge Jesus’ Virgin Birth. But if Marcion had access to an earlier version of Luke, perhaps this earlier version didn’t contain the first four chapters and they were added later to refute him. Scholarship for this position first came out in Germany around 1850, but then went silent until the last decade or so. It’s being revived now because the evidence from new scholarship, interpretations, translations, etc. are showing evidence for this possibility. Now let’s consider a few points:

  1. Paul’s epistles, the earliest known Christian writers, contain nothing of a Virgin Birth.
  2. The Gospel of Thomas, which many modern scholars believe had verses and sayings of Jesus dated to at least as early as Paul, is completely symbolic and also contains no Virgin Birth.
  3. The Gospel of Mark, which almost all scholars (both Christian and atheist) believe to be the earliest, also has no mention of a Virgin Birth.
  4. The earliest Christian writings such as the Didache contain no Christology of the Jesus we have today.
  5. Clements’ early letter to the church at Corinth quotes extensively from Paul but not any Gospel. Any mention of Jesus’ sayings lend support that he had access to an oral tradition, but no written accounts.
  6. The first canon complied by Marcion including the Gospel according to Luke (which Marcion never names an author, implying it wasn’t attributed to Luke yet), also lacks a Virgin Birth.
  7. That leaves a large historical gap following Jesus’ supposed life and death (about 33 A.D. – 144 A.D.) where we have no direct evidence for even the belief in a Virgin Birth of Jesus.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I’m no scholar, but something seems amiss. If you believe the early church fathers, you can say my point six and seven are irrelevant. And that’s fine, but perhaps modern scholarship on Marcion will continue to develop a good point. Maybe he really did have an earlier source to Luke that never included most of the first four chapters and other verses that are missing from Today’s Gospel of Luke (Marcion’s version also excludes the resurrection).

From our perspective today, Marcion’s Gospel of Luke looks suspicious, but this is only because we are used to thinking of the Gospels in their present form. We know that elements of all the Gospels were in existence during Marcion’s time, but it doesn’t mean they looked like the Gospels we have today. They could have been heavily edited from Marcion’s time into the next century. There is tons of evidence for this.

Perhaps we may now understand why the famous Gnostics like Balisades and Valentinus considered it foolishness to believe Jesus was a literal being and that the Gospels should be read literally during the early and middle second century.

It is also important to mention here that Marcion was the catalyst for the formation of the New Testament canon by the Orthodox Church. It is now widely considered that the Muratorian Fragment (dated between 170 and 375 A.D.), is the oldest New Testament canon that resembles anything of what we have today. The date range above is huge, and even 170 A.D., the earliest possible dating, is very late when compared to the time that Jesus, Paul, and the apostles are supposed to have lived!

This provides plenty of time for the Gospels to be added to and altered. It is also ironic that one of the most condemned heretics of early Christianity—Marcion— is actually the man responsible for the first New Testament canon in the first place, and subsequently, the New Testament cannon that we have today. Had it not been for Marcion, the New Testament canon may have turned out quite differently.

In conclusion, I believe there is much evidence to show that the Gospels weren’t fixed in stone until late in the second century. Yes, they existed in written form before the end of the first century, but it is highly unlikely they existed anything akin to their present form. In the next post I promise to get to the battle that raged between Valentinus and Irenaeus. This will continue to shed more light on the development of the Orthodox Church and Christianity.

Blessings.

In case you are interested, here is another interesting article with all the problems about the Virgin Birth. I know nothing about the author or his credentials, but I came across it while looking at some material for Luke and thought it provided some good food for thought.

http://www.jesuswordsonly.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=225:virgin-birth-issues&catid=16:hebrew-matthew

Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4 / Part 5

Robert February 21, 2016 at 1:14 am

Josh,
After careful consideration I have rejected Elain Pagel’s premise that non-Gnostic Christianity is a distortion of the truth and a product of corrupt victors. The Book of Acts does not mention the destruction of the Temple, so it was written before 70 AD, one of the earist manuscipts published. And in it Paul is a contemporary with the disciples who knew Jesus and were eyewtinesses to his life, death, and resurrection. And in it, the Gospel of the atonement is brought out, the filling of Jesus’s followers with the Holy Spirit to witness the Gospel message of salvation through Jesus. No wonder Marcion did not include Acts in his list of accepted scipture.

Joshua Tilghman February 21, 2016 at 1:35 pm

Robert, as I always say, I respect your convictions. But I would suggest that you consider modern scholarship on how unreliable Acts is. I believe Acts to be a late edition in an effort to solidify the Orthodox view. While I also admit their are problems on both sides of the argument, I believe the problems with considering Acts as a reliable historical document are far greater. The inconsistencies are too great and cannot be denied. At any rate, blessings my friend. We can both agree on the fact that love towards one’s mankind (which is the love of God) is the greatest commandment, and therefore are one in the same. I believe that the Old and New Testament make this clear.

Ant February 21, 2016 at 8:46 am

Hi,
I’ve read this series and kept an eye on some of the posts and I understand that your main aim is to prove that the Virgin birth never occurred and that Jesus was a mythical figure. You make some interesting points that I think would serve well for a lot of people to look into in regards to the formalisation of Christianity and some of the controversies surrounding the early church fathers and their doctrinal beliefs. However I would have to disagree with your notion that Jesus was a mythical figure and the Virgin birth didn’t occur. You’ve used the bible to make a lot of points in this series, but I can’t get my head around the fact that if this is the case you cannot refute all the other points that may seem to go against what you are saying. It means that you have to come up with a sensible reason for all the scriptures that seem to point towards a historical messiah and prophecies of his actual coming in all their variance. We cannot pick and choose what is true and untrue so that our foundations may stand. There can only be one foundation. Paul mentions this himself in the letter to the Corinthians(ch.3) which happens to be the same letter where he mentions what was most important that he had received which was Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures and he was buried and raised on the third day according to the scriptures. Then he was ‘SEEN’ by Cephas and then ‘SEEN’ by the twelve and 500 of his followers. (Ch.15). So Paul’s interpretation of the scriptures point to a historical Christ if you disagree you not only have to explain away Paul’s interpretation but you have to explain away the background behind Peter’s experience, the 12 and the 500. To be honest that whole chapter explains away a lot. Sit on that chapter there’s so much depth inside it.

I just want to make one last point I’ve written a lot lol. The bible is an eastern book primarily in terms of its attitudes and its traditions and cultures. We can only interpret it according to how the people to whom the words were given interpreted it. We cannot just change that and form our own interpretation we have to be very concise and delicate when doing so. The Hebrews for whom most of the tanakh was given to had four levels of interpretation. Peshat (plain/literal meaning of the text), Remez (that which is hinted in the text), Drash (the allegorical application of the text) and Sod (the esoteric/secret meaning of the text). There are many examples of this shown throughout the scriptures which would take me long to show but you’ve shown an example on this site on the allegorical meaning surrounding Sarah and Hagar many a time. However you cannot jump to Sod without Peshat. There can be no Remez or Drash without Peshat. There is definitely hidden meanings in the scriptures I agree with you however don’t just discount the literal when the very people whom the words were given to didn’t.

Overall I do like some of your thoughts and it causes me to want to look further into the controversies surrounding christian history. I’ve had to unlearn and relearn so much when it comes to the bible and the reality of God so I’m always interested in such topics and conversations. I just think considering the prophetic nature of the scriptures and how the forerunners interpreted it you can’t just have the esoteric. You need to apply all levels. There’s too much in scripture and reality of life that the conclusion of a mythical Christ cannot be final.

Anyway God bless.

Joshua Tilghman February 21, 2016 at 1:54 pm

Ant,

I appreciate the comment. And I totally agree that the Bible is an Eastern text. You stated above that you find it hard to accept my position based on all the prophecies that have been fulfilled. But keep in mind that its easy to make a prophecy fulfilled through written text with hindsight. Have you looked into the Jewish interpretation (and the Jews know their own language and thought processes well) of how these prophecies fit in? Even the maiden vs. virgin girl from Isaiah is hard to skirt around.

You are very astute to mention that there are four levels of interpretation, because that is the truth of the matter. But have you ever considered the possibility that a literal interpretation is the first necessary step in this process, not because it is necessarily true, but because we as humans with a human mind need such to build a foundation from. We do live and have our experiences in a conscious duality. Could this first level of interpretation be what the ancient Rabbis meant? We cannot do algebra without first understanding basic and literal math. Yes, that basic math is true, but only as concepts. Mathematics is still a concept in our heads, albeit a very real one in classical physics. However, in the quantum world even the idea of basic math seems have boundaries when compared to the infinite. This is where the material and the spiritual meld into something beyond human comprehension. For example, how do we comprehend that Orthodox position that Jesus was both 100% God and 100% man at the same time? In the world of duality this is a definite contradiction, in the world of spirit this is a possibility when we realize that God and man are both one!

James February 21, 2016 at 12:50 pm

Greetings Josh, After 50 years of bible study I now know the reality of what Job 32;8 says, that by the inspiration of the almighty through the SPIRIT given to man understanding comes.. Man can think and believe what he chooses but only the truth will set him free from the lies. There is a big difference between Christianity and church insanity. The word CHRIST is not a name but a title and means anointed and the key to understanding the word Christian is to remove the A when spelling it and you get CHRIST-IN you the hope of glory. COL. 1;26-27. When the anointing comes man has no need for man to teach him because the anointing will teach him ever thing pertaining to life and godly living. See 1 John 2;27 and John 14;26 If you really won/t the truth spend personal time in meditation as did Mary when she sat at the feet of the LORD. He and only he can reveal right from wrong. Seeking the Anointing from above is what I know and encourage others to know. May the love of the WORD fill your hearts in all Spiritual understanding. James

Joshua Tilghman February 21, 2016 at 2:01 pm

James,

Absolutely. And what you interpret as the inspiration of the Holy Spirit I also interpret as the intuition that the Spirit within us provides. Christ is a title, and that would be a great future blog post that I would love to delve into. Your reference to CHRIST-IN you sums it all up. And mediation, or the process of going within as Paul alludes to is key. The situation of Mary at the feet of Jesus whereas Martha is at work is a great comparison. I have mentioned this on the blog, but would love to do a more in-depth post. Blessings.

Paul February 26, 2016 at 10:36 am

The Scriptures themselves make a powerful assertion that, if we could really understand, would point us in the proper direction. Take a look at the following verse:

All scripture [is] given by inspiration of God, and [is] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16).

Notice something missing here?

Conspicuous by its absence, among the things for which the Bible is profitable, is any mention of literal history. It’s just not there. Yet, most of religion focuses on the Bible as a literal history book intended to show us how the material creation came into existence. However, this verse tells us that the purpose for the Scriptures is spiritual doctrine, correction and instruction. Lost in the literal interpretation is the fact that biblical creation has nothing to do with the material universe, but that YOU are the creation of God.

The major problem with trying to understand them from a historical perspective is that the spiritual intent (the most critical element) gets completely lost. For example, in the story of Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and the burning fiery furnace, there is powerful spiritual instruction contained there. Does anyone know what it is? Or are we just content with an understanding that this event actually occurred, and that it’s just another event that proves the existence of God?

The Bible is a book of symbols, but fortunately for us, it explains all of its symbols. For example, the meaning of sons and daughters is contained in Ezekiel 24:25. As it relates to honoring your father and mother, the definition of father is contained in Romans 4:16; the definition of mother is contained in Gal. 4:26 (notice the phrase “of us all” in both verses). These are the biblical definitions.

Consider, does it make any sense to think that honoring your natural or biological father and mother would cause you to “live long upon the land that the Lord thy God gives thee?” How many children are, in fact, killed everyday in our world by parents seeking to be free of them.” Of course, one is free to believe whatever he or she wants. I just pose the question for your consideration.

These are very small examples. So with the Bible’s own assertion that it is all about the spiritual, I ask the question: what is the meaning of the virgin birth doctrine? Again, this is very powerful spiritual instruction. It is an incredibly powerful doctrine which is critical to understanding who you are in Christ. I’m not going to answer the question here, but once again I pose it for your consideration. Is the virgin birth only literal history that shows us how Christ was born?

Where is the spiritual instruction in the literal interpretation?

Prov. 14:15 tells us that “the simple believe every word.”

We believe that a woman can birth a physical child without a physical husband. Scripture tells us that God is the same yesterday, today and forever. Yet, the miracles we read about in the Scriptures — including things like God speaking with Job, Moses speaking with God face to face, God literally speaking to the Israelites from the mountain — we just don’t see today. Yet, we believe these things because we interpret the Bible in a certain way. I don’t know about you (although I really do), but God has never spoken to me in the way we naturally understand the Scriptures to say God spoke to Job.

Indeed, Prov. 14:15 rings loud and clear here.

In believing everything that the Bible says literally, we completely lose its spiritual meaning and intent. It is what the Bible means when it says “the letter kills, but the spirit gives life.” To understand it literally is to understand it naturally, “[b]ut the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14).

It is also why the Scriptures tell us on numerous occasions, “he who has ears to hear, let him hear.” We need spiritual eyes and spiritual ears in order to understand spiritual truths.

* * * * *

In proofing this comment, it sounds a little harsh to me, and I want you to know that is not my intent. I just wanted to provide some things here for your consideration.

Blessings to all.

Ant February 27, 2016 at 10:38 am

Hi Paul,
Amongst all the great points you mentioned I still do not think there’s enough ground to totally discount the literal side of the scriptures. In doing so we discount the very purpose they were given for.

We have to use all of scripture to make a sound judgement as to what they were really trying to achieve. I like the fact that you quoted from 1corinthians and used that scripture because it means you more than likely have read the whole of Corinthians. What did Paul think about the scriptures in accordance to his letter to the Corinthians in ch.15? He was reminding them about the message he had preached to them and summed it up from verse 3 – Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, he was buried and rose again the third day according to the scriptures, he was seen by numerous sets of people. That was Paul’s perspective. The reason he had to write according to the scriptures was because the law, the prophets, the psalms all pointed to Christ and had to be fulfilled. In the sermon on the mount Jesus is speaking and tells the audience that scripture will be fulfilled and we’ve just read that Paul’s perspective of that was Christ dying for our sins, being buried and rising again. We see this being spoken of all throughout the old testament whether, literally, allegorically or spiritually. So did this event actually happen? Was Corinth actually a real place on the earth along with Antioch and Jerusalem? Did the people he wrote to in Corinth really exist? Or was it made up? What did Peter, and all the others who were with him think? Why was this an important aspect of their message? The whole of that chapter is amazing. Even Paul writes in verse 46 of the same chapter ‘HOWBEIT THAT WAS NOT FIRST WHICH IS SPIRITUAL BUT THAT WHICH IS NATURAL AND AFTERWARD THAT WHICH IS SPIRITUAL’ This is all in the same letter you quoted from.

I love the book of Hebrews there’s much depth to that writing as well. The author also writes in ch.6 let us move on from foundational doctrine. He doesn’t discount it but rather let us move on to the deeper things. Lets eat some meat now. I believe this process is embedded in life. Every building has a foundation and that foundation is what you stand on. It’s the same for the spiritual dimension, there must be something that you stand on which is firm and true that allows you to continue to further progress in the building process.

Hebrews 11 speaks of the heroes of faith another profound chapter. Did the writer think these heroes were real people or not? What about in the book of 1John ch.4 where it is written ‘every spirit that confesses not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God’. Why was that written and why did this person think that? What was the importance? What was the intention of scripture when it speaks of entities like unclean spirits or angels? Are these things 100% not being encountered in day to day life during the modern times we live in? How do we perceive God to speak us? How do you propose God speaks to people? All of this matters when we approach scripture. We have to get to a place where we’ve seen, touched and handled the truth and can be 100% sure of it.

I know I put a lot of questions in here which I’m not necessarily looking for answers for but rather more of a pondering and meditational process. I do not discount the spiritual depths of scripture. I wholly yearn for the deep things of God in my attitude of seeking. At the end of the day we all journey. What I knew two years ago, is not necessarily what I know now, so I respect the pathway of journey. God has brought me to a place where I cannot deny the reality of his existence and this is the pathway I’m walking on. So the realities found in scripture I’m finding some of them to be true in my life today. That’s why I take this standpoint.

Anyway blessings to you.

Joshua Tilghman February 27, 2016 at 3:30 pm

Ant,

You have brought up a lot of great points for Paul here. I’ll give you some more food for thought. I’ll start with your quote from 1 John chapter 4. An opposite interpretation is much more powerful and revealing of Gnosticism than the traditional one. Indeed, the Christ within does come in the flesh. Your own! One has to receive gnosis while one is yet alive or they receive nothing after death except for another round of reincarnation. That scripture actually supports the Gnostic / mystical Christ. Anyone who denies this has the spirit of antichrist, or a failed way to the truth of the inner self. That is the meaning of the scripture you mentioned, first in the natural and then in the spiritual. It is through the natural mind and body that we must first work with.

I am aware than many have argued that 1 John was actually written to oppose Gnosticism, but I believe that is because they fail to understand the power of allegorical interpretation. Many scholars have also argued the other side of the fence, that 1 John was written by a community of believers who upheld the mystical Christ. All one has to do is read it to see many passages that don’t fit the Christology of modern Christianity, just as the Gospel of John has. In fact, the Gospel of John was almost rejected from cannon because it was considered too Gnostic by the early Orthodox Church. Even the blood of Christ that covers our sins from 1 John is not a literal blood, but a mystical blood. This is clearly established in the Book of Hebrews, which says that Christ’s blood purges our conscience. In other words, it is not literal blood that saves us from sins, it is the act of the mythical Christ and his blood (which symbolizes divine truth) that purges the mind. Paul said be ye transformed by the renewing of the mind. This happens from a direct revelatory experience of the inner Christ, not something that happened on a literal Christ. Revelations clearly establishes that the blood of Christ is symbolic:

“These are they which come out of the tribulation, and they washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the lamb.” (Rev. 7:14). Literal blood would turn nothing white. It goes without saying this is symbolic. The mythical Christ makes sense with all scriptures when one learns the interpretation.

You said we must come to a place, quoting 1 John, that says we can touch, see, and handle the word or truth. Yes! This is what Gnosis is. Like Paul experienced, it is the direct revelation of that which is within us. To experience this takes the training that the early church undertook, namely advanced rituals and meditation. “Be still and know that I am God,” is the product of this of experience. By stilling the mind, you crucify the ego, which is why Jesus is crucified at Golgotha, the place of the skull. It’s about the mind. Some of the early Gnostics understood this, as Paul did.

And yes, the book of heroes mentioned in Hebrews were not meant to be literal, but are symbolic is well, just as Paul states Abraham’s offspring was in Galatians.

Just some food for thought.

Paul March 1, 2016 at 6:39 am

Hi Ant:

Thank you for your very thoughtful reply to my comment. The answers to the questions you pose would be tantamount to creating a library, and of course this comment section would be way to small to address them all, so I will point to what I see as the foundation for the allegorical interpretation, rather than the literal interpretation.

First, take a look at Gal. 4:24, which says:

22 For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. 23 But he [who was] of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman [was] by promise. 24 Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. (Gal. 4:22-24)

What the scripture here is very plainly saying, if we can hear it, is that the story of Abraham and his two sons are an allegory. In other words, it is a myth designed to show a deeper spiritual meaning. It’s very interesting that the writer would use Abraham to show the allegory, because the Jacob, the Twelve Tribes, David, and of course, Jesus, all come from Abraham’s loins. So if the story of Abraham is an allegory, someone would need to convince me that you can get a literal Jesus out of an allegorical Abraham.

(2) Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: (3) And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that [spirit] of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world. (4) Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. (1 John 4:2-4)

You quoted this scripture in your comment, and it is living proof of how conditioning blinds us to what is right in front of us. When I finally saw what was always staring me right in the face in this scripture, and what it really says, I laughed for a long time at how training and conditioning can so blind our minds.

This scripture is the premier scripture used by organized religion to show that Jesus comes in the flesh (i.e., in human form). But that is not what it is saying at all. We read the first two verses, and we cannot see verse 4, which is absolutely mind-boggling when considering what the external church teaches. Verse 4 clearly tells us that Christ comes in YOUR flesh, and greater is he that is IN YOU, than he that is in the world.

Ant, this scripture is telling us that any spirit that does not confess that Jesus comes in YOUR flesh is the spirit of anti-Christ. Why? Because Christ is IN YOU. I would strongly recommend reading those three verses over and over again, as I did when I first noticed what it really said, until it registers, because for me it is the most powerful scripture in the Bible to help us understand the nature of the real Christ.

This Christ coming in YOUR flesh is further accentuated by two mysteries, both of which say the same thing — in other words, they are the same mystery. Notice:

To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ IN YOU, the hope of glory. (Col. 1:27)

and

(31) For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. (32) This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. (Eph. 5:31-32)

These two mysteries are the same. Biblical marriage has nothing to do with the relationship between a human man and woman. Once, again, because of our conditioning, we cannot see this; but scripture clearly tells us that the two (you and Christ) become ONE FLESH. This is the mystery of Christ and the church, and it is the same mystery as Christ IN YOU, the hope of glory.

I just wrote an article on biblical heaven on my website, which contains what I believe to be some very deep truths and is related to your comments), and there is also an article there on what the biblical church really is. If you’re interested in checking them out, here are the links:

http://decodingscripture.com/2016/02/heaven-what-is-it/

http://decodingscripture.com/2015/10/church-its-not-what-you-think/

And this is why we have Paul (and every man has a Paul within him — see 1 Cor. 3:5, where the scripture both asks and answers the question “who is Paul”) saying this:

My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed IN YOU. (Gal. 4:19).

Do you notice a theme here? It is all about Christ IN YOU.

Ant, there is so much more to all of this than meets the eye. The scripture clearly tells us that [c]ursed be the man that trusts in man, and that makes flesh his arm (Jer. 17:5).. There is more depth to this scripture than you can ever understand right now. Only a few find the straight gate and the narrow way that leads to life. Because man doesn’t have it, but that’s where we go to understand spiritual truth. The majjor question here is: why, then, do we want to trust ANY man to have the truth.

No, the truth is Christ, who IS the “way, the TRUTH, and the life.” This Christ is WITHIN YOU, and that is where you have to go to receive it. My article on the church makes this very clear. YOU are the church, YOU are where Christ dwells (“YOU are the temple of God, and the spirit of God dwells IN YOU” – 1 Cor. 3:16), and when you go to church, you are to be IN SILENCE, and be in subjection to your HUSBAND. This does not pertain to men and women. Remember, marriage is about CHRIST (your husband) and the Church (man, individually).

Notice this very powerful scripture, which actually seals the deal. I was completely blown away when I finally noticed it, because I had never been shown it, and I never saw it, while I attended the external church:

(5) For thy Maker [is] thine husband; the LORD of hosts [is] his name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; The God of the whole earth shall he be called. (Isa. 54:5)

Indeed, the two shall be one flesh. That’s why it is Christ IN YOU that is the hope of glory, and not a Christ who is coming through the literal clouds. It is YOU and CHRIST who are joined in holy matrimony, and the two of you become ONE flesh …

… Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder (Matt. 19:6).

So there is great meaning in Christ being born of a virgin, but it is not literal. What are the spiritual ramifications? It constitutes spiritual instruction on how to birth the Christ within you.

As to the overall allegory as it relates to your questions regarding what Peter saw, what Paul said, etc., the writers are simply presenting a story that contains incredibly deep spiritual truths, which we have to seek out. This is why the scripture tells us this:

[It is] the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings [is] to search out a matter. (Prov. 25:2)

So where are the truths of God concealed. They are concealed within the biblical stories. It is our job to search them out.

I am the vine, ye [are] the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. (John 15:5)

It is Christ that reveals all things. That does not mean going to a man to have him teach you about Christ. It means going to the source — Christ himself. In going there, truth will be revealed to you. The scripture tells us how to do this, but we have committed the great adultery by going to man to teach us about the Bible for so long, that we have never seen the spiritual instruction contained in the written teachings.

Sorry for this extremely long post, but even a post of this length can do absolutely no justice to all that you have asked. I hope to have clarified at least some things for you, or at the very least, have given you some things to think about.

Blessings, Ant. Thank you so much for your interest in this blog. It is appreciated.

Ant February 28, 2016 at 6:24 am

Josh,

I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree. Again I’ll state I do not disagree with spiritual meanings of scripture. I delight in them. I just believe that with the scriptures, the writers believed in actual events taking place while still being able to draw out true spiritual depth and convey them to their people. In fact that’s what made it real for them and why ‘Christianity’ exploded in the way that it did. This wasn’t just an event of myths that people one day suddenly realised was true and all decided to believe. It wasn’t just an event of myths that countless people were suddenly persecuted and killed for. In their present day they believed in real events, real happenings and they were living in them but it didn’t stop spiritual depth and meaning being drawn out.

On your notion of the bible not having any literal or historical context there’s too much in there that you will then have to explain away. Were the places/cities/regions mentioned in scripture literal places or were they all symbols too? If not what were the writers talking about when they mentioned them from Old Testament to New? You mentioned Golgotha as the place of the mind. Let’s say that’s the only interpretation. What about Jerusalem and Egypt mentioned? Surely we know these are real places but even in them being historically and literally real we also understand the spiritual depths associated with Egypt and Jerusalem. Where does your legitimacy of Apostle Paul come from if you don’t believe the events/legitimacy of the book of Acts. How can you believe Paul was a real human being and not Christ Jesus? If Paul was a real person then so were the apostles and if the apostles then so Peter and if Peter then so Jesus. This is evident when taking all of scripture to scrutinise and not just bits and parts of it which clearly are meant to be interpreted symbolically like the blood of the lamb you mentioned in Revelations.

The literal/historical aspect although foundational was important to the apostles not only because they were actually there living it but because of the hope of the message they brought to the masses. That was the whole point. That’s why people were willing to die and suffer in the way they did to bring forth the message. They had to bring a message that the people in their time would have been able to relate with. You haven’t explained away 1Cor15 where Paul explains these things and speaks about that which was important to him in the good news that he preached. A lot of the literal message had to do with Hope, a substance that can carry humanity in the most dire times and faith carried that hope. That’s what the law, the prophets and the psalms pointed to. That chapter explains it I can’t start quoting again but I’ll be interested to know what your take is on the writings of Paul in that chapter.

I will say yes it’s not just about literal interpretation, however it’s also not just about symbolic interpretation they work in hand in hand. Like the author of Hebrews said let us knowing the foundation which is firm and true and can be stood on move on to deeper spiritual depths. (Paraphrase mine).

Blessings

Joshua Tilghman February 28, 2016 at 12:11 pm

Ant,

Many of the Bible’s people and cities were real, and I believe it is possible that the Jesus of the Gospels is based on a literal man. I do not believe this man was really born of a virgin, or walked on water, etc., but I do believe he may have been a great wisdom teacher that understood what salvation truly was and is. Therefore the writer’s of the gospel added in the symbolism around this man and embedded spiritual meaning.

I’ll briefly explain my conundrum with Jesus and the apostles. I am inclined to think that Paul is a real historical figure. Of the seven of his epistles which we know are authentic, someone had to write them. And second century Gnostics, who interpreted scripture allegorically, spoke of him as a real historical person. However, they did not when it comes to Jesus – at least the Jesus of the Gospels. Plus when you study the Gospels and compare to other mythology, there are too many similarities, and in many instances, you can plainly see the story was directly borrowed from an earlier myth. That’s why I say it is possible that the Gospels could at least be based on a historical man, but this man didn’t do all the miraculous things the Gospels say he did. Scholars know that the Gospels were added to and changed around quite a bit, as well. Now back to Paul. His Jesus is different than the Jesus from the Gospels. If you study the literature on Gnosticism, it becomes easy to see. The more you learn about it, the more everything begins to fit together and make sense. Whereas Paul’s writings seem to mostly agree with the Gospel message, he sometimes says some things and uses language that makes him seem way out in left field. Read 1 Cor. chapter 2 carefully, and you will see that he clearly says he could only speak the traditional Christ crucified message to those who were not able to understand the deeper mysteries, and that there is clearly a hidden mystery and wisdom behind the deeper Gospel message. Are the Gnostics right? Did Paul veil his writings to purposefully send messages to those who could understand the higher spiritual message?

You asked me to explain 1 Cor. 15. To explain what Paul was really intending here would take a two-part series and would be way to long to go into here with a comment. But I will do better. If you wish to take the time, read an article entitled “They Mystery of the Resurrection: A Gnostic Reading of 1 Cor. 15. You can view this article for free online if you sign up with JSTOR, which won’t take but a minute to sin up. In that article Elaine Pagels explains what the Valentinians argue is the deeper message of that chapter. It will be well worth your time.

I’ll admit, I still grapple and struggle when trying to piece together what really happened in the Bible and what didn’t. And I certainly admit that I don’t have all the answers, and that I am sure I have a lot wrong. But I can’t help, after studying the literature from both sides of the fence, to see something wrong with the mainstream message we have always received. What I have come across has lined up with my own intuitive feelings on so many issues as well. I hope that helps.

Many blessings, Ant. I know we’ll both keep searching, and as always, thanks for disagreeing maturely and with respect. Its a pleasure to be able to run a blog where we have a community of people that can come here and do just that.

Ron March 2, 2016 at 11:20 am

For anyone that may be interested the following link takes a comprehensive look at the Shepherd of Hermes and its importance.
http://nazirene.org/shepherd_of_hermas.htm

Ron

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