Chapter 3 Methodology and scope of study
Paul came from Tarsus, a prominent city in the Empire and there is no way that an intelligent and eager learner could escape the multiple influences that was part of this world. From the complexity of Paul’s personality and theology many misunderstandings and even misinterpretations were carried into many local theologies of early Christian groups. The problem with static dogma in general can be stated in broad terms as a failure to welcome and incorporate the ever developing scientific body of evidence of the different sciences, especially the Biblical sciences, archaeology and history as well as their implications on human spiritual growth within its frame of reference.
In the time just before and after Paul’s life, dogma was not fixed yet and it is obvious that Greek rationality and spirituality played a significant role, not only in Greek philosophy but also in metaphysics and the religious thoughts of some Christian groups. The various Gnostic and Mystic groups represent ample evidence to their effort to understand the cosmos and their place in it. Although each group came to different conclusions on most points it is important to note that there were also a fair level of consensus philosophically on some aspects.
Identifying some important aspects that need clarification in our search for the true message of Jesus and Paul’s interpretation thereof
The following themes seem to be important:
The history of the Early Christian Church and their perceptions of the Jewish and other Christian groupings.
Unwillingness of Christians to recognise their own selective use of some texts and borrowed concepts from other traditions incorporated in novel and related new theological constructs.
The neglect and lack of effort to try and define the “Faith of Jesus” as foundational to Paul’s tradition as well as the determinative influence this oversight had on Paul’s and other Christian groupings’ theories of faith. Some scholars like Spangenberg, are of the opinion that Paul was not really interested in Jesus as person and that his opinion about Jesus can only be deduced from reading between the lines of the variety of approaches of his argumentation. Spangenberg, however, concedes that Paul believed that his message was radically different from that of Jesus (2009:164,168). While Spangenberg’s conclusions are basically valid the contention of this thesis is that more could be understood of Paul’s approach to Jesus if the esoteric and mystical trajectories in both Paul and Jesus’ sense making God, human and world views are more strongly taken into account.
Some orthodox Christian Fathers’ lack of understanding of the nature and functions of myths, legends and metaphors. They have to be understood within their historical context thereby extracting the underlying value system, message and teachings for its usefulness in later eras.
The possibility that most early “Church Fathers” who compiled dogma, totally underestimated the ability of intellectuals like Jesus and Paul to asses the philosophical and cultural complexity of their times as well as the level of spiritual development of their target audiences. Both Jesus and Paul could integrate their knowledge of human spiritual growth phases into their message within their established methodology of graded moral and esoteric teachings at different training settings. One should therefore be careful not to elevate a specific way of articulating a certain truth to the level of a universal principle when they addressed a certain group or person at a specific point in time. Such a contextual truth did not operate in all circumstances and was not helpful to everybody in every group that they worked with. In a similar sense, the “truth” for a pre-school child is different from that of a teenager or a young ambitious priest and very different for wiser older people. However, the relative values underlying these truths point in the same direction and prepare people for the next growth experience within a specific spiritual tradition.
That Paul’s arguments about the law within a conservative faction of the Jerusalem group, was never about the moral laws but was directed against the tribal/ethnic aspects of Judaic laws versus fruits of the spirit. As a matter of fact, Paul in following Jesus was very strict about the moral and ethical behaviour of his followers and very clear on the consequences of a life that lacks these virtues. To interpret his argumentation as if moral behaviour is unnecessary in the salvific equation and only a matter of optional, grateful obedience is just not possible in the context of what he expects of people who must “die” with and be “resurrected” again with the living Christ whilst living in this world.
Did Paul focus more on an esoteric message of which Jesus’ life and death, which was to him a new “this worldly” spiritual model for Christians wherein Jesus was the “first fruits” and archetype within the esoteric traditions of his day; a new universal spiritual dispensation and if so, what did he meant by this theoretical construct?
The possibility that Paul’s mentioning of the “sacrificial” death of Jesus as fulfilment of the cultic and ethnic laws of the old system (saved through blood), is solely accentuated to function as the first steps to get them cured and freed from the national gods and their petty laws as well as the cultic nonsensical notion of a blood sacrifice for obtaining righteousness, which the majority of prophets were speaking against. At a time in which people were told from mother’s knee to understand salvation in terms of sacrificial blood offerings, it might have been the initial first steps of building a faith bridge for a “new” more inclusive spiritual covenant. The distinct possibility that the new emphasis of the salvific message of the prophets by Jesus that one is saved by repentance and grace, was amplified by Paul and meant to totally and radically replace the old ethnic and cultic sacrificial laws and practices. Paul rather concentrated on the universal, inclusive esoteric meanings of Jesus’ life and death as a new functional salvific model and tried to reconcile Jesus’ new teachings with the “history” of Jewish monotheism especially with the personal piety of Abraham.
My underlying thesis regarding Paul in the teaching of his followers is that once one has seen through the coercive character of the old sacrificial systems and the ethnic “superiority” laws, Jesus’ version of the good news is believable, thus of starting with a merciful and forgiving God. This thesis regarding Paul’s unique transcendence of the old sacrificial systems and ethnic exclusivist laws is underscored by the view of Streng that the deepest aspects of the human spirit are unique as they, “…cannot be reduced to psychological, sociological, economic, chemical, or physical forces. It is also exhibited by unusual people who have liberated themselves from national, religious, racial, and class prejudices and from enslavement to honour, fame and pleasure, who also seem to operate from a caring and deeply, integrated self.” (1985:115)
Paul’s version of Jesus’ good news about a merciful and forgiving God is simultaneously an enlightened instructive briefing to follow a new life of participation in the life and teaching of Jesus by repenting one’s sins and by starting one’s spiritual journey in getting baptised. In this journey, one is sacrificing one’s egoistic and “earthly” self and one is encouraging the “Holy Spirit”; “Christ’s spirit”, “Image of God” or “heavenly Adam” to be one’s new spiritually orientated Self or “New man or woman”. Through participation in “the way” of Jesus by being reborn again or to be resurrected in the Spirit after having died “with Jesus” in the “flesh”, the “heavenly Man” governs the journey of the “new you”, the “new one” whereby you become a newly “anointed one” or “a Christ” active in the ongoing creation of the new spiritual and moral Kingdom on this earth.
Other disciplines and traditions that might prove productive in understanding Paul’s theology
Important lessons from other religions that informed Judaism and Christianity including Paul are to be learned by reflecting and discussing relevant notions within the ambience of seven perspectives.
The following perspectives operate as broad pointers, not necessarily in a discursive way, of constructing a broad field of networking, interlinking and fusion in the undergirding of Paul’s theology:
(i) A perspective from human logic, ethics, morality and spirituality. The emphasis herein is on a “view from below”; informed by scientific and philosophical theories as a valid way to look at the human condition. From this perspective rational scientific and philosophic evaluation and directives also partially inform our search for spiritual truth.
The politics of power inherent in formal religions and governments are taken into consideration.
Historical-critical research is undertaken of a variety of important, influential philosophic and spiritual traditions as code and mode structures of social and cultural expression which influenced Paul and his potential converts. Some Persian, Egyptian and Jewish traditions’ influences on Jesus’ teachings and various Gnostic and Mystic traditions are included.
The nature and history of the Mystery Traditions, extant mystical theories and indications of “secret” traditions within the Gospels combined with Paul’s own mystical and intuitive experiences as influences on his mystical theory of Christ.
The hermeneutics of a poetic language like Aramaic in a mixed society consisting of many cultures and its translation into very different and unrelated languages and the special challenge of recognising the esoteric message of Jesus in some translations.
An analysis of Paul’s letters in an attempt to look for the structure and logic of his brand of Christianity and mysticism as worked out in his Christology and soteriology.
(vii) Finally, correlating these aspects above with the current main view of Christology and doctrine of salvation of the churches of our day.
Dated religions on the brink of asphyxiating themselves to death as an intrinsic part of colonising of large parts of the world from the 15th century onwards, made little sense from a 21st century perspective as an attempt to colonise people’s minds. The main reason for selling dated religions as solutions to third world populations was to liberate, cure and heal them form their so called primitive and magical experiences. While the process of the decolonising of the mind has as yet not been completed a new onslaught of dated religions struggling for survival is directed at third world societies in the 21st century. Many in third world societies are not only susceptible to the magical thinking of these religions but enter in strong alignment with grounding doctrines of these religions.
There are many opinions about the philosophy of Nietzsche regarding primordial sin and the wrath of God on humanity but he had a clear idea of the damage this dogma had done to the psyche many sensitive souls over time as well as the coercive force that it inherently possesses within a power hunger manipulative church. He says, “When will these shadows of God cease to darken our minds? When we complete our de-deification of nature? When may we begin to naturalize our selves in terms of a pure, newly discovered, newly redeemed nature?” (1974:109)
A better choice to come to a better understanding of spirituality even from a Christian perspective, is to accept the changes in the world with its new cultural, scientific and philosophical perspectives and re-interpret older wisdom systems with their concomitant myths and legends by utilising the perennial wisdom still inherent and intrinsic in these wisdom systems. Such a re-interpretation which is actually a perpetual renewed effort of making sense have the main goal of extracting and unearthing of the underlying spiritual values and deeper spirituality of these ancient systems, etc. The superficial well known detail of the cultural exoteric myths and particular miraculous histories and stories of the churches and religions sold as “divine” history and “divine” salvific schemes are still standing in the way of the liberation of the minds of many people.
It is important to note that the majority of ancient myths, legends and metaphors functioned as aids in societies with strong story-telling ambiences in which meaning and salvific significance were established and disseminated to people taking part in these communicative ambiences of story-telling. In my view the communicative story-telling ambiences of the ancient past as a salvific interactive and spiritual construction areas has not sufficiently been dealt with in research on past societies with high levels of story-telling cultures. The strategy of strict memorising of the stories in a mainly oral society had the function of maintaining the underlying meaning and values established through these stories. These stories (=systems, etc) still contain the real esoteric meaning or lessons which was hidden and are mostly lost because of factors such as antiquated obsolescence whereby these stories did not fit into the meaning settings of later societies or repressive actions such as active opposition have been undertaken – in many instances prosecution. Furthermore, simplistic literal interpretations of myths and legends that informed magical theological constructs are always time bound and will be out of step with good science and moral theories of today.
In terms of the all embracing permeation of wisdom in various religions and religious movements people acknowledge that a religion has at least a two-tier structure. The first is the national/social/culture specific level and the second is the personal and more mature spiritual and moral phase that is driven by the Spirit within and not subject to the cultic management and their laws and taboos. We are desperately in need of room for personal development integrally part of any theological system that simultaneously demands wise and sensitive leaders who are able and capable to satisfy the needs of beginners or converts and the spiritually mature groups. This practical differentiation is the key of understanding any functional productive and efficient religious system and is as reflective notion maintained through the thesis. My hope is that by the end of this quest for a better understanding of the esoteric traditions of Early Christianity, the construction of a possible authentic and relevant Christian perspective could serve as a philosophic-spiritual theory of faith that will not only help us to make better sense of the teachings and life of Jesus and Paul but also be able to employ their teachings more productively in tackling the immense task of creating a better world in the 21st century.
Chapter 4 Human spiritual growth harmonising with general growth patterns and developmental phases
Genetics and its biological programs as well as cultural and economic factors play important roles in our struggle for survival but we also have a spiritual dimension which also evolves with time and which helps us in striving to give meaning to our earthly existence. Apart from our own cultural programming we are very dependent on personal spiritual experiences to broaden our horizons and stimulate our personal growth.
Biblical and religious texts and any other text for that matter, if it is to be meaningfully understood need careful multidisciplinary contextualisation in their interpretation. The majority of Paul’s congregational and theological problems revolves around attempts to get his own messages effectively through to his converts and to refute the controversial and also some ideological arguments of his adversaries. This task he had to fulfil by means of general letters addressed to the whole community of faith, comprising of Jewish Messianic believers, Jews in foreign countries, gentile Judaic proselytes and gentile so called “God-fearers” from different socio-economic statuses, ethnical and sexual orientation. Furthermore, they are at different levels of general and religious education and differ in their level of spiritual development. The challenges he faced in the communicative sense of reaching all of them in a satisfactorily manner are enormous.
Addressing all the members at different levels of theological preparation and spiritual maturity within the diverse groups demands special insight and wisdom and an additional few methodological tricks and strategies. These complexities of communication here only touched upon in a provisional and introductory manner are more extensively dealt with in the context of his letters to different groups. For a theoretical framework our focus is directed at human intellectual development, emotional development, moral development as well as spiritual maturity in relating to the developmental challenges of Jesus’ and Paul’s prospected converts.
The central aspect that is emphasised here is that there seems to be a “best time” for different developmental stages for processes to emerge and for their coming into manifestation. These stages influence the vocabulary and methodology employed and the learning and understanding applied. Only when the pupil is ready to assimilate and appropriate the new insights can the teachers make headway. Progress is made by building on current knowledge of the subject with suitable knowledge and appropriate experiences added in the assimilation and creation of a new awareness normally resulting in a stream of new questions directed at useful answers that clarify and enlighten the phase at hand. The problem any letter writer, not only Paul is faced with is a communicative need to anticipate new questions as they arise in the reading and in his absence in conjunction with imaginative but real answers that is directed at their real life experience in advance.
A child at the magical stage will still entertain magical concepts and beliefs as part of his reality. They lack the ability and capability of comprehending abstract concepts of morality or a bundle of differential aspects on the essence of God and will fail to benefit from a discussion of the multiple goals and purposes of humanity. For the same reason it is highly problematic in the 21st century, not to say impossible, for a highly developed intellectual, spiritual and moral person to accept blood sacrifices as the only way of satisfying a “loving” God’s need of punishing his whole creation because ancestors ate forbidden fruits in ancient “history”.
Growth patterns of a human being
Ken Wilber says he has studied more than one hundred developmental theories formulated over a long time span and originating from many cultures. Wilber says that, “There has recently been something of an explosion of interest in the development of a `science of consciousness’, and yet there are at present approximately a dozen major but conflicting schools of consciousness theory and research. My own approach to consciousness studies is based on the assumption that each of these schools has something irreplaceably important to offer, and thus what is required is a general model sophisticated enough to incorporate the essentials of each of them.” (2005:4)
Despite the multiplicity of perspectives Wilber’s attempt is helpful to celebrate variety while attempting to consolidate different growth paradigms. The result of his study that general human development trends throughout all times and cultures are very much alike in an astonishing and universal way, is enlightening and makes a contribution to the whole new area of investigative meandering through the differential and integral schemes, processes and networking of developmental stages and phases of human beings.
The next two schemas are adapted from Wilber’s (2005) “The Integral Operating System” DVD and CD program, and we also want to highlight Gardener’s concepts of multiple intelligences at the basis and the need to understand and respect variety in humanity. We concentrate on a simplified and representative growth scheme in conjunction with states of consciousness that is helpful and supportive of the understanding of human spirituality.
The Graph below shows a specific individual’s scoring at a certain level of development. One has to note how our world view differs in the different personal categories as well as the terminology describing the world view and defining the growth phases as moving from an egoistical view to ethnic and then to a world centric view of life in a practical and effective way. These facts are particularly valid in Paul’s battle with the Judaizers where a combination of egotism and tribal concerns are still very obvious. Jesus and Paul were then already within a world centric stage of development and Paul’s argumentation around Abraham is a desperate effort to explain his more mature insights to some of his own group as well as the Judaizers, operating obviously on a lower overall level of spiritual development.
Chapter 1 Stating the problem
1.2 Human responsibility and accountability
1.3 Dysfunctional beliefs
1.4 Early and later eras
Chapter 2 Hypothesis and Hermeneutics
2.2 A theory of hermeneutics and a theory of faith
2.3 Conceptual analysis of some relevant concepts
Chapter 3 Methodology and Scope of Study
3.2 Identifying some important aspects that need clarification in our search for the true message of Jesus and Paul’s interpretation thereof
3.3 Other disciplines and traditions that might prove productive in under- standing Paul’s theology
Chapter 4 Human spiritual growth harmonising with general growth patterns and phases
4.2 Growth patterns of a human being
4.3 Paul changing strategies with different audiences
4.4 Spiritual growth and graded teaching methods
4.5 Simplified, integrated growth schematic; mapping the important growth factors and possible outcomes
Chapter 5 The primordial tradition is the common denominator for all Esoteric, Gnostic, Mystery and ancient Secret religions
5.2 The Functions and Purpose of Myths and the universal Hero in ancient Wisdom Traditions
5.3 The History of the Primordial Tradition
5.4 The Primordial Tradition as the Mystical Way and its inherent multiple tiers of graded teachings
Chapter 6 The foundational Traditions of Christianity
6.2 Pivotal Akhenaton to John the Baptist moments in the history of the Jewish religion from Moses and Akhenaton to John the Baptist
6.3 Abraham, Melchizedek and their God El versus Moses and Yahweh
6.4 Babylon, Persia, Zoroaster and Cyrus, Yahweh’s anointed servant – God of the exile- searching the Scriptures for new answers
6.5 The Essenes and the Dead Sea Scrolls
6.6 Comparison of the Essene Community and Early Christianity
6.7 Jewish theories of salvation
6.8 Jewish Wisdom Traditions: The Way of Solomon
Chapter 7 If Jesus was the founder of the Christian belief system, who was he and what were his beliefs?
7.2 The many faces of Jesus
7.3 The “real” Identity of Jesus
7.4. The Mission of Jesus and key moments in his spiritual journey
7.5 The history sacrifices in the Middle East
7.6 The Aramaic Language, its metaphors and proverbs as the Cultural and Spirituality heritage of Jesus in conveying meaning to his audience
7.7 Christology and Salvation in the Gospels of Thomas and John
7.8 The core of Jesus’ mission: The Kingdom of God on earth
Chapter 8 Possible clues and hints towards a framework to the Good News according to Paul
8.2 The Faith of Jesus Christ: a search for the Narrative Substructure of Paul’s Theology
Chapter 9 Studying Paul’s Letters with regards to his Christology and soteriology
9.2 Revisiting some important contextual issues regarding ancient Biblical and related text
9.3 Preface to Paul’s Letters
9.4 The Letters of Paul
Chapter10 Consolidating the pivotal arguments from Paul’s view of God, Jesus and mankind
10.2 The letter to the Hebrews as framework for a summary of Paul’s main beliefs.
Chapter 11 The Christology and soteriology of Paul the apostle to the Gentiles
11.2 Paul’s own understanding of the History of Religion
11.3 An overview of Paul’s Christology and soteriological ideas
11.4 A summary of important Pauline soteriological ideas
11.5 Paul’s comprehensive processual program of salvation
11.6 Concluding remarks
GET THE COMPLETE PROJECT
An investigation into the historical, cultural-religious, mystical and doctrinal elements of Paul’s Christology and Soteriology: a theoretical study of faith