The Exegesis of Paul the Apostle

Paul the Apostle, or Saul of Tarsus, the man known to us through history as the Apostle Paul. The Fathers of the Church and all its following through the waves of the time insisted that Paul was a fervent enemy of the Gnosticism; many times are comparing their doctrine to the works of the devil.  To the Gnostic movement in Corinth, Paul the Apostle called the representatives of Satan, disguised as Christ’s followers.

“And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with Excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.”
~ 1 Cor 2:1

Despite all the controversial material about the mainstream church views, there are many similarities between the gnostic wisdom and the early Christian church teachings. The main one refers to the existence of the second set of teachings, from the Master Christ Jesus dedicated to his close disciples: the Gnosis or divine wisdom. In many instances, Christ, as finishing his parables, stated that they who have ears might listen and they who may have eyes may see.

It is not news that Christ declared that his kingdom was not of this world and that no one would reach the heavenly Father but through him.  During the Last Supper, he delivered to his close apostles the final knowledge and instructions and blessed them directly with the giving of his body and blood. What is the Sacred Body of Christ, if it is not the framework of his divine teachings? To be part of the sacred Body of Christ is to be in communion with his teachings and his examples.

Paul the Apostle did not meet Christ.  He had no direct contact with him or his teachings except for the fact of being one of the main Christian persecutors. In fact, it is said that with the discovery of some new archaeological findings, that it was James, the alleged brother of Jesus and an Ebionite follower[1], who Saul the Tarsus was tracking down that famous day on the road to Damascus, when he was blinded by the Light of God, and he changed his name from Saul to Paul.

“But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.”
~ 1 Cor 2:9-10

“And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to babes in Christ.”
~ 1 Cor 3:1

Theodotus, a Gnostic writer, and disciple of Valentinus[2] explain that the Apostle Paul, being an “apostle of the resurrection” and a versed Pneumatic Gnostic, taught the doctrine in two different ways. First, he taught from the perspective of the Savior, identified with the human pains and sufferings of the Master Jesus and in a pragmatic fashion. Second, he also taught the good news in a charismatic way, talking about the elements of the transcendence of the Crucified Christ.  The latter would require more elaborate minds to understand the concepts. To all, Paul proclaimed the Christ and acknowledged that everyone should know the Lord in their own ways because not all would get to know him equally.

"We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began."
~ 1 Cor. 2:6-8

"So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God."
~ 1 Cor. 4:1

Some scholars of Gnosticism claim that Paul the Apostle would have transmitted his “Gnostic” knowledge to his disciple Theudas, and from him, it was transmitted to Valentinus and his followers. In this way, the entire school of Valentinian Gnosticism identifies Paul the Apostle as the source of its teachings. Ptolemy says that his apostolic tradition was one received by succession, and in his case, it was passed down through the Apostle Paul by the many secret Traditions in which he was initiated.

"We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.”
~ Heb. 5:11-14

With the recent findings of the Nag Hammadi and the Gospel of Thomas, it is possible to shine another light over the relationship between Paul the Apostle and the contemporary Gnostic movements, and his epistles can be finally analyzed through both perspectives; one gnostic and another anti-gnosis. The Followers of Valentinus reject the Pastoral Epistles as being originated truthfully from Paul, accepting as his the following letters: Romans, Corinthians 1-2, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, First Thessalonians, and Hebrews. Interesting enough, this is the same old list of letters and epistles known in Alexandria.

The Valentinian tradition affirms that the majority of the Christians are used to reading the scriptures in the literal context. The real significance of the teachings only can be grasped through the contemplation of their symbolic meaning, such as it was intended by the Paul the Apostle. The image of the Truth would appear after meditation of the spirit or Pneuma[3]  and surpass the truth revealed by the mere exterior appearances.

 


[1] Because of these characteristics James was a wanted man, and the Romans wanted nothing more than for James to be dead. At one point in his life, James had a bounty on his head.

[2] Valentinus professed to have derived his ideas from Theodas or Theudas, a disciple of Paul the Apostle. Valentinus drew freely on some books of the New Testament. Unlike a significant number of other Gnostic systems, which are expressly dualist, Valentinus developed a system that was more monistic, albeit expressed in dualistic terms. Valentinus said that Theudas imparted to him the secret wisdom that Paul had taught privately to his inner circle.  Paul publicly referred to in connection with his visionary encounter with the risen Christ (Romans 16:25; 1 Corinthians 2:7; 2 Corinthians 12:2-4; Acts 9:9-10), when he received the esoteric teaching from him. Such esoteric teachings were becoming downplayed in Rome after the mid-2nd century.

[3] The Pneumatics were, in Gnosticism, the highest order of humans, the other two orders being Psychics and Hylics. A Pneuma saw itself as escaping the doom of the material world via the secret knowledge. Outsiders could only know these secrets by joining a Gnostic group. To be Gnostic is to believe in three planes of existence: the pure unknown or demiurge, the material world of coitus and comfort, and the pure spiritual realm of ascension or escape.

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