Questions on Paul, Jesus, and Middle Platonism

[Draft: July 24/2008; updates to TOC in Nov/08 and Dec/08]



I received no less than three emails on related questions within the space of a week or two, so I wanted to ‘out of order’ this in hopes of surfacing some considerations on these topics.


The questions/issues raised were:


  • Paul’s references to the ‘brothers’ of Jesus
  • Paul’s knowledge (or lack of it) of the historical Jesus
  • Paul’s references to Jesus as “Lord”—were they really intending to refer to Jesus?
  • Paul’s reference to ‘born of a woman’ in Gal 4:4---does it really mean what the English translations ‘sound like’?
  • The abnormal growth of Christ Myth-ers
  • Earl Doherty’s reconstruction of Christian origins?
  • Paul’s references to incarnation







Here we go………………………………………..



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The first is on Paul’s references to James as “the brother of the Lord” and the other ‘brothers’ of the Lord


“My question is a historical one.  I'm sure it's pretty stupid, but I need help with it.  I'm sure you know, that it is very popular on the net to deny Jesus lived in atheist circles..  They typically say things like Paul didn't say anything about Jesus' life, and so maybe didn't know anything.  I point out these verses:


Galatians 1.19: I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord's brother.


1 Corinthians 9.5: Don't we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord's brothers and Cephas ?


I spoke with someone who alleged that the idea that these verses speak of physical brothers is not at all clear.  But that they are speaking of a special group called "brothers of the Lord".  Or that they mean "brothers in the Lord".  As in, other Christians.  I know that all 4 Gospels say Jesus had brothers, and two of them mention James.  But is this just the skeptic taking the obvious meaning and twisting it for their theories sake?”



My Response:


Well, I must say, it does seem a little odd to take it that way, but since ‘brethren’ and ‘brother’ are often used in a generic “Christians” sense, let’s check out the exegetical sense, Pauline usage and other non-Pauline data.


One quick way to test the “brother(s) of the Lord” = “Christian(s)” is to substitute the second term for the first in the passages and see if it still makes sense. So, we get:


  • “I saw none of the other apostles—only James, a Christian” (Gal 1.19)
  • “Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Christians and Cephas(Peter)?” (1 Cor 9.5)


At first glance, this really doesn’t fit the passages. To describe an apostle as a ‘Christian’ or ‘believer’—as a means ostensive identification—makes little sense. The Corinthians passage might be slightly less odd, if you took ‘Christians’ to mean ‘regular’ or ‘lay’(?) Christians. But since the passage is talking about traveling missionaries, this ‘laity’ meaning doesn’t make much sense either.


As for “Brothers of the Lord” being the name of some self-identified group, there is no evidence of such a designated sub-group in the early Church. In fact, the Corinthian letter actually shows evidence that such self-designated groups (e.g. “I (am) of Christ”, “I (am) of Apollos”, etc) existed, but the word ‘brother’ is not used. So, if this ‘of Christ’ group identified itself as ‘brothers of the Lord’, they have left no evidence behind to warrant us believing that.


But let’s also see how the substitution looks in the passages:


  • “I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the member of the group called ‘Brothers of the Lord’ ” (Gal 1.19)
  • “Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the members of the group called “Brothers of the Lord” and Cephas(Peter)?” (1 Cor 9.5)


Again, there is not evidence that such a group existed, and I am not sure it really makes much sense in (or, contribution to) the understanding of these passages. Although it is not a strong point, the fact that James is identified as ‘the’ brother of the Lord, instead of something that sounds more like a group name (‘a Brother of the Lord’), would offer some evidence that the purpose of the definite article ‘the’ was ‘selective’. In other words, a ‘the’ in this phrase would more naturally be taken to ‘contrast’ this James with some other James (as below), as opposed to identify him by reference to some group. Circumstantial at best, but something that does need to be factored in.


The Galatians reference is generally taken to be an identification, and one necessary to identify which James Paul was talking about.


“James, “the Lord’s brother,” is in all probability the James named first among the four brothers of Jesus in Mark 6:3 (cf. Matt 13:55). He is not to be confused with Jesus’ two disciples of the same name, James the son of Zebedee and James the son of Alphaeus (cf. Mark 3:17–18, par.; Acts 1:13; 12:2). [WBC, in loc]


“Paul was anxious both then and throughout his apostolic career to establish and maintain bonds of fellowship with the Jerusalem church and its leaders. There was another of the leaders in Jerusalem at this time whom he made a point of meeting—James, the Lord’s brother. He should in all probability be identified with the James who is named as the first of four brothers of Jesus in Mk. 6:3 (cf. Mt. 13:55) in a context which suggests that they, with an unspecified number of unnamed sisters, were, like Jesus himself, children of Mary. The Lord’s ‘brothers’ are mentioned by Paul in 1 Cor. 9:5 as well-known Christian figures in the mid-fifties.” [Bruce, F. F. (1982). The Epistle to the Galatians : A commentary on the Greek text. Includes indexes. (99). Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.]



But let’s go ahead and ask a few more questions:


1. Are Christians ever called ‘brothers of the Lord’ by Paul (or would-be Pauls) elsewhere?





2. Are Christians ever called ‘brothers of the Lord’ in any of the other NT epistles?


Well, almost. There’s a reference in Hebrews but it is Jesus (and not the author of the epistle) who does the ‘calling’ [Hebrew 2:9ff]:


But we do see Him who has been made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. 10 For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings. 11 For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren, 12 saying,


“I will proclaim Thy name to My brethren,

In the midst of the congregation I will sing Thy praise.”


 13 And again,“I will put My trust in Him.”

And again, “Behold, I and the children whom God has given Me.”


 14 Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil; 15 and might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. 16 For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham. 17 Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.


The passage emphasizes the human-nature connection of Jesus with his (especially Jewish) followers (i.e., flesh, blood, death, Abraham, high priest, suffering). The followers are called both ‘brethren’ and ‘children’ in the passage—simple family images, not sub-group designations. They are not called ‘Brethren of the Lord’—but since it’s the Lord speaking, that might be close enough(?). But again, there’s nothing here to suggest a ‘separate’ group of Christians (a la clique), nor that Christians were ever called “Brothers of the Lord” by anybody other that Jesus. [FWIW, in Romans 8:28-29, Paul refers to Christ being the ‘first-born among many brethren’, but this is even weaker than the Hebrews passage—we don’t have ‘of the Lord’ or ‘of Me (Jesus)’ in it.]



3. Are Christians ever called “brothers of the Lord” in the Gospels/Acts?


Again, almost. We have the same pattern: they are only called ‘brethren’ by Jesus, never by others. Two passages are relevant here: Mark 3 and Matthew 25.


We have Jesus calling His followers ‘brothers and mother’ in Mark 3 (and parallels):


And His mother and His brothers arrived, and standing outside they sent word to Him, and called Him. And a multitude was sitting around Him, and they said to Him, “Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are outside looking for You.” And answering them, He said, “Who are My mother and My brothers?” And looking about on those who were sitting around Him, He said, “Behold, My mother and My brothers!


But again, the usage is not specific enough: the believers are called ‘brothers’ AND ‘mother’! No suggestion of either a subgroup or of a Christian identity designation (like ‘Nazarenes’ or ‘followers of the Way’ became). Christians are never called by others or by themselves ‘the mother and brothers of the Lord’. In other words, when Mary is called “the mother of Jesus” (as in Acts 1.14), ‘mother of Jesus’ doesn’t mean she is a member of a clique called ‘the mothers of Jesus’ or that she is simply a ‘believer’… [Generally, the ‘brothers’ are distinguished from the disciples: After this He went down to Capernaum, He and His mother, and His brothers, and His disciples; and there they stayed a few days. (John 2.12); Note that the brothers here are NOT believers yet.]


The second passage is the Judgment scene in Matt 25. The Messianic King separates the sheep from the goats based on how they treated a third group:


 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ (v40).


Here the King is presumably talking about His followers, and He calls them “brethren of mine” (like the Hebrews’ reference: “my brethren”). And we have the same lack of specificity of the reference that we had in Hebrews and in the metaphorical reference in Mark 3. Obviously not a reference to a sub-group, and a generic usage that would include everyone. [In the Corinthian passage, btw, where ‘Christians’ would be the least problematic, they are distinguished both from apostles and Peter, so the term would not be inclusive enough to denote ‘all Christians’—it would have to refer to ‘normal non-clergy Christians’.]


4. Are Christians ever called ‘brethren’ in the NT?


Of course—tons of times. Believers are constantly addressed as ‘brethren’ by everyone (including one case of ‘brethren IN Christ’), but never is a ‘regular’ Christian called ‘brother of the Lord’. We have several cases of “brother of X”, but they are all just physical brothers of a physical person (Mark 1.16; 3.17; 5.37; 6.3; Acts 12.2; Jude 1).


The biblical usage data is solidly against it…




Pushback: “But didn’t devotees in the Mystery Religions call each other ‘brothers’ even if they were not related? Except by religions?


Of course they did—everyfraternal” organization does the same ‘by charter’!


But so what?


But they didn’t call themselves “Brothers of Isis” or “Brothers of Osiris”.


Our phrase is different: ‘brothers of the Lord” (not even ‘brothers of Jesus’, but of the exalted figure the Lord! No one calls himself the ‘brother of God’ in ancient Judaism (!), but the “Lord” was a respectful (and theologically sufficient, btw) way to refer to the risen and victorious Jesus.  (cf. John 21.7, where John tells Peter that the physical figure on the shore is “the Lord”)


In some of the Mysteries, a ‘union with god” was achieved ritually, but the vocabulary of identification did not include fraternity. We do not see a human being called ‘brother of Mithras’ or ‘brother of Isis’. [The gods all had brothers and sisters, generally, in the myths but that is not what we are talking about here.]


So, this data is not really relevant to the discussion.




Pushback: “hey, dude, you left one verse out—Acts 12.17 makes a reference that looks suspiciously like the Galatians’ one… and your FF Bruce fellow argues that it’s a sub-group…you gonna skirt over that one?”


Well, actually, I was saving the best for last…smile.


Here’s the FF Bruce reference (I am surprised you knew about this…smile):


“James was perhaps already the leader of one group in the Jerusalem church. About nine years later ‘James and the brethren’ seem to form a distinct group from those associated with Peter (Acts 12:17). James’s influence was destined to increase rapidly until he became the acknowledged leader of the Jerusalem church as a whole, taking precedence even over Cephas/Peter. This is the more remarkable because the references to Jesus’ family in the gospel tradition (both Markan and Johannine) imply that they were far from being followers of his during his ministry. ‘Even his brothers’, says the fourth Evangelist, ‘did not believe in him’ (Jn. 7:5), and we should gather as much from Mk. 3:21, 31–35. But according to Paul (1 Cor. 9:5) and Luke (Acts 1:14) they had a distinct place among his followers from the early post-resurrection period onwards. If it be asked how this change in their attitude came about, at a time when Jesus’ shameful death might well have confirmed in their minds the misgivings which they had felt about him all along, Paul’s statement in 1 Cor. 15:7, that Christ in resurrection ‘appeared to James’, points to the answer.” [Bruce, F. F. (1982). The Epistle to the Galatians : A commentary on the Greek text. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.]


And here’s the passage in Acts 12.17: Peter is recounting his miraculous escape from prison and says this: “and tell these things to James and the brethren”.


Huh? This is no different than a score of other references to ‘the brethren’. Still not the “brethren of the Lord! Just because the word ‘James’ is there? If it had said “James and the (other) brethren of the Lord” then we MIGHT have had something to discuss… and it's just a different group than the one that was with Peter at the time(!)—not a specially designated group. There’s just not enough evidence here to get that far… Otherwise, it’s just another case of “nothing here to see, folks, just move along…”


And I am not sure that Bruce’s cautioned-comment (“seem”) is strong enough to warrant much more discussion—nobody else sees a problem there…


“The brothers are probably, as at 1:15, the Christians in general. All (not leaders only) are to be informed. [Barrett, C. K. (2004). A critical and exegetical commentary on the Acts of the Apostles;  The Acts of the Apostles (587). 2 v.: T&T Clark International]


(The Hermeneia commentary on Acts—which generally points out every little ‘bump’ in the text—doesn’t even comment on the term)


In fact, Bruce elsewhere says it just applies to the elders (without making any comment about “brethren” being some kind of technical term), and maintains quite a conservative view of the historicity of the account in Acts [including that James was the ‘brother of Jesus’:


“The description of Peter's anxious gesture, as he beckoned to surprised and excited company to make less noise, is the authentic touch of an eyewitness—whether Luke got the story from Mark (whom he later knew in Rome) or from Rhoda, as Ramsay argued, or from someone else. … In addition to the company which met in Mary's house, there was evidently another associated with James the brother of Jesus. They too must be told of Peter's escape. The "brothers" mentioned along with him probably include his fellow-elders (cf. 11:30; 21:18). It appears that by this time James had attained a position of undisputed leadership in the Jerusalem church. When Barnabas and Paul had the conference with the "pillars" of that church described in Gal. 2:1-10, the three "pillars" with whom they conferred were James, Cephas (Peter), and John, named in that order. James on that occasion concurred with his two colleagues in exchanging "the right hand of fellowship" with Barnabas and Paul on the understanding that the latter two should evangelize Gentiles, while the Jerusalem leaders would continue to concentrate on their mission to Jews. James had a statesmanlike breadth of vision, as appears from his policy at the Council of Jerusalem (15:13-21). But he was careful to retain the confidence of the ordinary church members in Jerusalem, many of whom were "zealots for the law" (21:20). In addition, he continued to the end to command the respect of the Jerusalem populace, largely because of his ascetic way of life and his regular participation in the temple services of prayer, where he interceded for the people and their city. Whatever Peter and other members of the Twelve may have done, James was free of any suspicion of fraternizing with Gentiles. When he was stoned to death in A.D. 62, at the instance of the high priest Ananus II, many of the people were gravely shocked; and some years later some ascribed the calamity which overtook the city and its inhabitants to the cessation of James's prayers on their behalf.” [Bruce, NICNT on Acts]


So you cannot use Bruce to de-fraternize (smile) James and the other siblings of Jesus… Still nothing to see here…




So, the biblical usage gives no data to support such an ‘odd’ usage, and gives plenty of data against it.


Now let’s turn to non-biblical data.




Our major witness is Josephus—and this really should put the burden for evidence back on the ‘odd asserter’ (Ant. 20, 200):


“when, therefore, Ananus was of this disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity [to exercise his authority]. Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned”


There is nothing ‘religious’ here [nor is the text disputed], and the reference to ‘the brother of Jesus’ simply cannot mean (a) a regular Christian; or (b) a subgroup of Christians. This looks like an ostensive designation.



Now, let me make a general remark about the blood-kin of Jesus.


Historians have a good deal of data to work with on this subject (even for this time period), even outside of the NT documents. Not all of it is good or ‘pure’ –most historical data isn’t (sigh)—but it has important force.


On my bookshelf, for example, are several full-length monographs and multi-author works (Jewish, Christian, and secular) which explore the rich vein of Palestinian traditions. Look at the titles (biblio is in the book abbreviations):


  • Jude and the Relatives of Jesus
  • Just James
  • The Brother of Jesus
  • James, Brother of Jesus
  • James the Just and Christian Origins


You see, the Palestinian church continued in existence long after the gentile population became dominant in the early church. Some of the Palestinian body remained in synch with the wider church, but some of the groups splintered off (e.g. Ebionites). The leadership of these various groups often were tied to the blood-line of Jesus’ family (or claimed to be tied to in, in polemical contexts).


The Relatives as Early Christian Leaders. There is good evidence that a considerable number of members of the family of Jesus, from the earliest period of the church down to the early second century, were prominent leaders in the Jewish Christian movement in Palestine and perhaps also were missionaries outside Palestine. Jesus’ brother James, whose importance as a Christian leader of the first generation is equaled only by that of Peter and Paul, quickly became prominent in the leadership of the Jerusalem church and then its unique head until his martyrdom in. Since the Jerusalem church was the mother church of all the churches and by many early Christians accorded a central authority over the whole Christian movement, James played a key role throughout the Christian movement. In the letter of James he writes from this position of central authority in Jerusalem to Jewish Christians throughout the Diaspora. Many references to him (e.g., Gos. Thom. 12) and works associated with him in early Christian literature outside the NT also attest the remarkable impact he made.


“After James’s death (whether immediately or after 70 is unclear) his cousin Simeon son of Clopas succeeded him as leader of the Jerusalem church. Simeon occupied this position for at least forty years, until he was put to death by the Roman authorities on a charge of political subversion, since he belonged to a Davidic family (either between 99 and 103 or between 108 and 117; Hegesippus, quoted in Eusebius Hist. Eccl. 3.11; 3.32.6; 4.22.4). It is possible but not certain that the third leader of the Jerusalem church, named in the Jerusalem bishops’ lists as either Justus or Judas, was also a relative of Jesus.


“While James occupied the position of central authority in Jerusalem, the other three brothers of Jesus and perhaps also his sisters were traveling missionaries. Paul’s reference to them in this role (1 Cor 9:5) is revealing, since it shows that they, along with Peter, were the obvious examples for Paul to cite, even when writing to Corinth, of people well known as traveling missionaries, whose right to the support due to apostles was unquestionable. The letter of Jude can be understood in relation to the implication of 1 Corinthians 9:5 that Jude the brother of Jesus was a very well-known Christian leader.


Paul’s reference correlates with the later testimony of Julius Africanus, who lived at Emmaus in the early third century and derived his information from a Palestinian Jewish Christian source. He says that the relatives of Jesus, who were known as the desposynoi, “from the Jewish villages of Nazareth and Kokhaba traveled around the rest of the land” (quoted in Eusebius Hist. Eccl. 1.7.14). The term desposynoi, meaning “those who belong to the Master [or Sovereign: despotēs]," is not known from any other source and must be the term by which members of the family of Jesus were known in those Palestinian Jewish Christian circles in which they were revered leaders. It demonstrates that not only “the brothers of the Lord” but also a wider circle of relatives (including, for example, Clopas and his wife, Mary) played a prominent leadership role. Kokhaba is a village close to Nazareth. Evidently the traditional Galilean homes of Jesus’ relatives remained the base from which they traveled and exercised leadership elsewhere in Jewish Palestine.


“Among those who were prominent in the leadership of the Christian movement at the end of the first century were the two grandsons of Jude. This at least must be a reliable inference from the somewhat legendary account that Hegesippus gives about them. He says that, like Simeon son of Clopas, they came under suspicion, since they were descendants of David, and were brought before the emperor Domitian himself. As evidence that they were not politically dangerous, they pointed out that they were merely hard-working peasant farmers, farming only 39 plethra of land (quoted in Eusebius Hist. Eccl. 3.19.1—3.20.7; 3.32.5–6). The precise figure suggests an accurate knowledge of the size of the family’s small holding in Nazareth, which had passed down to Zoker and James and would have been well known to Palestinian Jewish Christians. [Martin, R. P., & Davids, P. H. (2000, c1997). Dictionary of the later New Testament and its developments (electronic ed.). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.]



There are consistent threads of Jesus’ blood-ties that show up in the various histories (even those critical of the ‘Church’):


Hegesippus had access to certain traditions deriving from the early Jerusalem church. He described the death of James the brother of the Lord (Eus. Hist. Eccl. 2.23.4–18) and said that the Jerusalem community decided that the next leader of their church also had to be a blood relative of Jesus—Simon, the son of Joseph’s brother Clopas, eventually being chosen (Eus. Hist. Eccl. 3.11–12, 4.22.4). Two grandsons of Jesus’ brother Judas also played important roles (Eus. Hist. Eccl. 3.20.1–6, 3.32.5–6). This suggests something like a Muslim caliphate in its conception (…), but Hegesippus in addition seems to have stressed that these leaders were not only related to Jesus but also, by that fact, were of the line of David (Eus. Hist. Eccl. 3.12, 3.20.1–2, 3.32.3–4). These early “bishops” of Jerusalem seem therefore to have been regarded as the Davidic dynasty of the end time. The oral traditions which Hegesippus recorded described the central kerygma preached by these kinsmen of the Lord: Jesus was the Messiah and the Son of Man, who would return to establish his earthly kingdom at the apocalyptic end of this world (Eus. Hist. Eccl. 2.23.10, 2.23.13, 3.20.4). … Hegesippus was the first Christian historiographer to introduce the (usually pernicious) notion of the fall of the church from its apostolic purity at a particular point in its history. In his case, he chose the death of the last blood relatives of Jesus during the reign of Trajan. Until then, he said, “they called the church virgin, for it had not been corrupted” (Eus. Hist. Eccl. 4.22.4, 3.32.7). Later theologians and church historians have dated the ravishing of the “pure and uncorrupted virgin” to the rise of Frühkatholizismus, the triumph of Constantine, or (in Pope Leo XIII’s Aeterni Patris) to the Protestant Reformation.” [REF:ABD, s.v. “Hegesippus (Person)”]



Most of the arguments over the ‘brothers of the Lord’ were over the issue of virginal conception (are they are today!). Origen can report that the Gospel of Peter (mid-second century) had a record of Jesus’ brothers. The phrase ‘Brothers of the Lord’ is always taken by the early church to refer to physical brothers and not some special group:


“According to Origen (Comm. Mt. 10.17), the Gospel of Peter supplied evidence that the brothers of the Lord were sons of Joseph by his first marriage. This may indicate that the Gospel began with a birth narrative.” [DictJG]


“But some say, basing it on a tradition in the Gospel according to Peter, as it is entitled, or “The Book of James,” that the brethren of Jesus were sons of Joseph by a former wife, whom he married before Mary. Now those who say so wish to preserve the honour of Mary in virginity to the end, so that that body of hers which was appointed to minister to the Word which said, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee,” might not know intercourse with a man after that the Holy Ghost came into her and the power from on high overshadowed her. And I think it in harmony with reason that Jesus was the first-fruit among men of the purity which consists in chastity, and Mary among women; for it were not pious to ascribe to any other than to her the first-fruit of virginity. And James is he whom Paul says in the Epistle to the Galatians that he saw, “But other of the Apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother.” And to so great a reputation among the people for righteousness did this James rise, that Flavius Josephus, who wrote the “Antiquities of the Jews” in twenty books, when wishing to exhibit the cause why the people suffered so great misfortunes that even the temple was razed to the ground, said, that these things happened to them in accordance with the wrath of God in consequence of the things which they had dared to do against James the brother of Jesus who is called Christ. And the wonderful thing is, that, though he did not accept Jesus as Christ, he yet gave testimony that the righteousness of James was so great; and he says that the people thought that they had suffered these things because of James. And Jude, who wrote a letter of few lines, it is true, but filled with the healthful words of heavenly grace, said in the preface, “Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ and the brother of James.” With regard to Joseph and Simon we have nothing to tell; but the saying, “And His sisters are they not all with us.” seems to me to signify something of this nature—they mind our things, not those of Jesus, and have no unusual portion of surpassing wisdom as Jesus has. And perhaps by these things is indicated a new doubt concerning Him, that Jesus was not a man but something diviner, inasmuch as He was, as they supposed, the son of Joseph and Mary, and the brother of four, and of the others—the women—as well, and yet had nothing like to any one of His kindred, and had not from education and teaching come to such a height of wisdom and power. For they also say elsewhere, “How knoweth this man letters having never learned? ” which is similar to what is here said. Only, though they say these things and are so perplexed and astonished, they did not believe, but were offended in Him; as if they had been mastered in the eyes of their mind by the powers which, in the time of the passion, He was about to lead in triumph on the cross. [the passage from Origen, from the ANF collection]




In James’ case, a number of apocryphal works were written in his name and he appears in several narratives. Here are a couple:


In the “Gospel to the Hebrews” [EvHeb]:


“And when the Lord had given the linen cloth to the servant of the priest, he went to James and appeared to him. For James had sworn that he would not eat bread from that hour in which he had drunk the cup of the Lord until he should see him risen from among those who sleep. And shortly thereafter the Lord said: “Bring a table and bread!” ’ And immediately it is added: ‘He took the bread, blessed it and broke it and gave it to James the just and said to him: “My brother, eat your bread, for the Son of Man has risen from among those who sleep” ’. [Klauck, H. (2003). Apocryphal gospels : An introduction (42). London;  New York: T&T Clark.; Note that this ‘my brother’ could mean something non-physical [as in 1st Apoc of James?], but the discussion in the book argues that this passage was an attempt to place James the brother of Jesus at the Last Supper and as the first witness to the resurrection—to authenticate him as head of the Jerusalem church, and the self-proclaimed continuators of that church—the Ebionites. The EvHeb wanted to claim the authority of this closest relative to Jesus.]


In the Protevangelium of James (Protev):


“The name ‘Protevangelium’ (i.e. ‘first gospel’) was first given to this text in the sixteenth century when it was rediscovered and made accessible to the West by the French humanist Guillaume Postel. The name seems to have been suggested by the idea that this text served as an introduction to Mark, whose gospel begins rather abruptly in 1:1–8 with the appearance of John the Baptist. In the oldest manuscript, PBodmer V (early fourth century), its main title is ‘The Birth of Mary’, with an additional secondary title: ‘Revelation of James’. This is not the son of Zebedee, one of the twelve (Mk 3:17), but James the brother of the Lord (Mk 6:3), although some scholars have preferred to identify him as ‘James the younger’ (Mk 15:40). At any rate, this transparent authorial fiction is found in the text itself: ‘Now I, James, who wrote this history …’ [(25:1). The Protevangelium was composed between 150 and 200 in an unknown place; Egypt has been suggested, but Syria or Asia Minor would also be possible. (p65). London;  New York: T&T Clark.]


“In the closing chapter, the narrator speaks in the first person singular, before ending his book with a doxology and a blessing: ‘Now I, James, who wrote this history, when a tumult arose in Jerusalem on the death of Herod, withdrew into the wilderness …’ (25:1), where he found enough time and peace to compose the Protevangelium. The literary fiction probably identifies him with one of the sons of Joseph mentioned at 17:1f., so that he would be an eyewitness of some of the events related; and the reference to the death of Herod the Great suggests that he is writing at a date when Jesus himself was still only a small child. [p71, Klauck, H. (2003). Apocryphal gospels : An introduction. London;  New York: T&T Clark.]


In the Nag Hammadi writings:


“In 2 Apoc. Jas., James’ mother is said to have suckled the Lord and James, and thus the Lord calls her “my mother” (50.18–21)”. [Franzmann, M. (2004). Jesus in the Nag Hammadi writings. Originally published: Edinburgh : T&T Clark, c1996. (48). London;  New York: T&T Clark; this seems to be a reference to step-brother, since a full connection is denied in 1 ApocJas 24.13-16]


The passage itself:


“Once when I was sitting deliberating, [he] opened [the] door. That one whom you hated and persecuted came in to me. He said to me, ‘Hail, my brother; my brother, hail’. As I raised my [face] to stare at him, (my) mother said to me, ‘Do not be frightened, my son, because he said ‘My brother’ to you (sg.). For you (pl) were nourished with this same milk. Because of this he calls me ‘My mother’” [50:5-20; The Nag Hammadi Library in English]



So, where are we?


  • The alternate means for the word(s) make little sense in the passage, exegetically.
  • The phrase ‘brother of the Lord’ or ‘brothers of the Lord’ are never used of other Christians
  • Although subgroups existed, none are named as ‘brothers of the Lord’
  • Outside the bible, there are numerous strands of historical data about both James and the other relatives of Jesus
  • The explicit, non-controversial reference in Josephus is very strong
  • The traditions of the early church preserve kernels of historical truth, and repeatedly refer to ‘brother(s) of the Lord” as physical siblings
  • The apocryphal literature witnesses to the belief that James was the brother of Jesus.
  • There is no data to suggest that any other understanding of those uses of ‘adelphos’ (brothers), in those contexts, are superior to the tradition ‘relatives’ understanding.




So, in summary: we have a fairly large body of data (of varying quality and import) that supports the understanding of James as being related to Jesus as a family member. [The historical dispute is not over this, but over what KIND of family member he was to Jesus: foster-brother, step-brother, cousin, full/younger brother. ]






Okay, next up is Paul’s knowledge (or lack of it) of the historical Jesus


Here’s how the question was worded:


“How can we be sure the Apostle Paul is even speaking of Jesus of Nazareth? He gives no biographical details besides his death.  In all of the letters of Paul, why don't we see more info about Jesus as he is in the Gospels? 



My Response:


Paul gives plenty of details about the historical—I don’t see why people still really question this. Somebody needs to read the NT a little more closely…


I have already given a list of the teachings of our Lord that Paul knew/used (in Section One of, but let’s look at a couple of statements by scholars on this:


First, from O’Connor:


“It takes neither imagination nor intelligence to recognize how Paul must have reacted in the presence of one who had lived with Jesus from the time that both were disciples of John the Baptist. The centrality of Christ in Paul's conversion experience and his theology, and the natural curiosity engendered by the hints he picked up during his three years in the Christian community at Damascus, make it extremely improbable that he did not avail himself to the utmost of Peter's knowledge of the historical Jesus. At this point Peter had been preaching for seven years, and through repetition his story would inevitably have acquired the fixed form of a gospel, with a beginning, middle, and end. Having lived for two weeks with the prime eyewitness of the earthly ministry, Paul certainly learnt much about the historical Jesus.


“A number of features in his letters tend to confirm this conclusion. The historical Jesus is fundamental to Paul's theology. The disciple who wrote Ephesians caught the Apostle's approach perfectly when he presents Jesus as the truth of Christ (Eph. 4: 21)." When his converts attempted to separate the Christ of faith from the Jesus of history, Paul resisted by insisting that the Lord of Glory was the crucified Jesus (1 Cor. 2:6), and by stressing that Christ had been received 'as Jesus the Lord' (Col. 2: 6). The implication that Paul preached the historical Jesus is formally confirmed by his condemnation of anyone 'who preaches a Jesus other than the one we preached' (2 Cor. 11: 4).


“There are two references to sayings of Jesus in First Corinthians, the prohibition of divorce (7:10-11) and the directive concerning the livelihood of pastors (9: 14). It is emphasized by some that these are not direct quotations but rather allusions or reminiscences. This is done in order to bring them into line with the rest of Paul's correspondence, where the situation has been rather precisely described by F. Neirynck, 'Possible allusions to gospel sayings can be noted on the basis of similarity of form and context but a direct use of a gospel saying in the form in which it has been preserved in the synoptic gospels is hardly possible.' The negative thrust of such a judgment should not be exaggerated. Formally attributed direct quotations were the exception rather than the rule in the age and world in which Paul lived. Use acknowledged value; one borrowed only from the rich. One should expect, therefore, that if Paul knew the teaching of Jesus it would have informed the Apostle's thought to the point where any distinction of source and personal elaboration would be, not only impossible, but meaningless.


“Recent studies, moreover, suggest that Paul knew not just the dominical saying but the context in which it appears in the synoptic tradition. One example must suffice. The theme of the support of pastors appears in Luke 10 and it has been shown that this chapter is linked to 1 Corinthians 9 by a whole series of shared terms: an 'apostle' who is ('to sow' and) 'to reap' has the 'right' to a 'reward' for his 'preaching the good news' because a 'workman' has a right 'to eat' and 'to drink'. The contacts are too numerous to make coincidence a credible explanation, particularly since the same type of contacts are to be found in other blocks of material. The influence of the historical Jesus on the Pauline parenetic tradition has also been demonstrated in Romans. 'The echoes of the Jesus tradition are not all of the same strength, but together they build into an impressive case for saying that Paul must have known a substantial amount of the Jesus tradition which was later committed to the present Gospel form by the Evangelists.'


“It has also been pointed out that, although Pharisaism was essentially an urban movement and Paul a city man, the Apostle uses an unusually high proportion of metaphors which reflect a rural environment and an agrarian culture. H. Riesenfeld has persuasively argued that these show that Paul was familiar with the language of Jesus' parables, because the contacts are too specific to be explained by common dependence on the Old Testament. [NT:PACL, 91ff]



Then, Eddy and Boyd:


Pauline Allusions to the Jesus of History. From Paul's writings it is evident that he knew a significant amount of detail concerning the life of Jesus. He knew Jesus was born and raised as a Jew (Gal. 4:4) and that he was a descendant of Abraham and David (Gal. 3:16; Rom. 1:3). Paul knew Jesus had a brother named James (Gal. 1:19) and perhaps other brothers as well (1 Cor. 9:5). He knew by name a number of disciples who ministered with Jesus, and he knew that Jesus's disciple Peter was married (1 Cor. 9:5). Paul also knew that Jesus was betrayed (1 Cor. 11:23) and that he was executed by crucifixion (1 Cor. 1:17-18; Gal. 5:11; 6:12; Phil. 2:8; 3:18) with the help of certain Judean Jews (1 Thess. 2:14-15). Paul was aware that Jesus instituted a memorial meal the night before his death (1 Cor. 11:23-25), and that Jesus was buried after his death and was resurrected three days later, a fact he refers to frequently and places a great deal of weight on (Rom. 4:24-25; 1 Cor. 15:4-8; cf. Rom. 6:4-9; 8:11,34; 1 Cor. 6:14; 2 Cor. 4:14; Gal. 1:1; 1 Thess. 4:14). As we have noted, in a first-century Jewish context, this affirmation inherently implies the resurrection of a physical body in a historical sense.


“Moreover, Paul knew that Jesus's earthly life was characterized by meekness, gentleness, self-sacrificial love, and humble service (2 Cor. 10:1; Phil. 2:5-7). Paul's central passion was to know and be conformed to Jesus Christ (Phil. 3:8-10), and he consistently held up Jesus's life—and his own life as modeled on Jesus's life—as examples to be emulated (1 Cor. 11:1). In this light, it cannot be regarded as a coincidence that Paul's own thought, attitude, and conduct paralleled closely what we find in the Jesus of the Gospels. Nor can it be considered a coincidence that Paul's healing ministry, his welcoming of sinners, his life of poverty, and humble service closely paralleled Jesus's life and ministry as recorded in the Gospels. [NT:TJL, 209f]


That’s a bit concise, but surely it indicates that Paul knew a great deal about the Jesus of History.


[We can also add to the above the reference to Jesus being Jewish (in Romans 9.5) and of the Root of Jesse (in Romans 15.12). If you allow the Pastorals as Pauline, of course, you have yet another historical fact in I Tim 6.13: “Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate, made the good confession”]


Now, one question that invariably comes up here is why most of these references to Jesus are ‘allusions’ instead of ‘quotations’, or why there is not more about Jesus’ earthly life in Paul’s epistles (i.e., surely the recipients of the letters wanted to know more about the founder of their sect, right?).


One good answer to this is to surface the assumption (in the question) of a literary culture as background—instead of oral/aural, as the first century would have been. In other words, the assumption is that the way people (of the first century church) would learn about Jesus was from written epistles.


And it is this assumption that seems to be faulty. Contemporary scholarship knows that information dissemination in oral cultures is significantly faster/wider than in written cultures, and this fact is shedding much light on the relationship between the NT epistles' “lack” of historical details about Jesus versus the later gospels’ focus on them.


Dunn explains that—given an oral/aural culture, in which communities are defined by shared/remembered histories—the information would have already been known by the recipients of the NT epistles, because they were already existing churches (built already on the knowledge of Jesus the Messiah):


“When we apply this insight to the first churches, it again opens up new windows of potential understanding and insight. We can see at once why the letters of the NT, of James and Peter as well as of Paul, so little quote but appear often to allude to Jesus tradition. In churches already well versed in traditions of Jesus' teaching, repeated quotations and appeals to what Jesus said would have been unnecessary and ham-fisted. Much more effective in intracommunal and intercommunal communication would be allusions that sparked off particular and associated teachings within the communities' store of tradition and their communal knowledge of the Jesus tradition. It is no difficulty whatsoever to imagine the earliest disciple groups being reminded of something Jesus said or did and being similarly sparked to recall other similar teachings or events in Jesus' mission. [NT:NPJ,48f]



In his earlier work, he had also pondered the allusion-versus-quotation imbalance:


“The circumstantial and cumulative evidence cited above is not usually given the weight I am placing upon it, because Paul in particular seems to show so little interest in the ministry of Jesus and so little knowledge of Jesus tradition. We cannot assume that he ever encountered Jesus personally or had been in Jerusalem during the time of Jesus' mission. On the other hand, Paul would surely have used the two weeks spent in Peter's company (three years after his conversion) to fill out his knowledge of Jesus and of the traditions of Jesus' mission and teaching from Jesus' leading disciple (Gal. 1.18). Nevertheless, the fact remains that Paul cites Jesus explicitly on only three occasions, all curiously in 1 Corinthians (7.10-11; 9.14; 11.23-25), though he also implies that had he known Jesus tradition relevant to other issues of community discipline he would have cited it (1 Cor. 7.25; 14.37). At the same time, there are various echoes of Synoptic tradition in Paul's letters, but none which he refers explicitly to Jesus; nor does he cite Jesus' authority to give the teaching more weight.


Does this evidence suggest Paul's own lack of interest in 'remembering' what Jesus said and that it was Jesus who said it? Those who argue for an affirma­tive answer seem to forget that the pattern we find in Paul's letters is repeated else­where within earliest Christianity, particularly in the letters of James and 1 Peter. Only occasionally is Jesus cited as the authority for the sayings quoted. Usually the teaching which echoes the Jesus tradition is simply part of more extensive paraenesis, without explicit attribution to Jesus.


What are we to make of this? Given that James and 1 Peter probably take us into the second generation of Christianity, when the Synoptic tradition and the Synoptic Gospels themselves would be becoming known, it is very unlikely that in every case the authors were unaware that the teaching originated with Jesus. More plausible is the suggestion I have made elsewhere, that we see in these data one of the ways the Jesus tradition was remembered and used. It is generally recognized that when groups become established over a lengthy period they develop in effect their own identity- and boundary-forming language, that is, at the very least, the use of abbreviations, a kind of shorthand and code words which help bond them as a group and distinguish insiders from outsiders (who do not know the language). The whole point is that in in-group dialogue such in-references are not explained; on the contrary, it is the recognition of the code word or allusion which gives the insider-language its bonding effect; to unpack the reference or allusion (for a stranger) in effect breaks the bond and lets the outsider into the group's inner world. My suggestion, then, is that the Jesus tradition formed such an insider's language among the earliest Christian communities; Paul's use of it in Romans (to a church he had never visited) implies his confidence that this language was a language common to all Christian churches, given by the founding apostle when he/she passed on the Jesus tradition to the new foundation. In terms of the argument to be developed below, we have to assume a wider knowledge of the Jesus story among the recipients of Paul's letters, which his auditors would be able to draw upon to bridge the 'gaps of indeterminacy' in his letters. [Footnote here: ‘The growing recognition that Paul’s letters depend in at least some measure for their coherence on underlying ‘stories’ which he assumed is indicated by B. W. Longenecker, ed., Narrative Dynamics in Paul: A Critical Assessment’ (WJK:2002)”]


“In short, the fact that almost all the references to Jesus tradition in the writings of earliest Christianity are in the form of allusion and echo should be taken to confirm (1) that such letters were not regarded as the medium of initial instruction on Jesus tradition to new churches, and (2) that churches could be assumed to have a relatively extensive knowledge of Jesus tradition, presumably passed on to them when they were first established. [NT:CITM1, 181-184 (8.1.e)]


Fee can go on to make the even stronger statement:


“Indeed, in a basically oral/aural culture, it is well nigh unthinkable that knowledge about Jesus did not circulate in ever so many ways that it would have made it nearly impossible for Paul not to have known about Jesus’ life and teachings.” [NT:PC, 524]




Some may quibble over individual references, but overall, the conclusion is fairly strong: Paul certainly knew and referenced facts about the historical Jesus.





--------------------------- ------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Then, Paul’s references to Jesus as “Lord”—were they really intending to refer to Jesus?


Here’s the phrasing:


“Try finding info about Jesus in Paul's letters without using the Gospels or pretending we're in AD 50 before they were written.  Things like Jesus teaching on divorce in 1 Cor. 7 would disappear.  Besides Paul says this saying came from "the Lord".  Probably meaning God, not Jesus. 




“Then one about was Paul even talking about the ‘historical Jesus’ when he used the term ‘Lord’, and did he KNOW anything about the historical Jesus at all?”



My Response:


This is fairly easy to assess.


A simple concordance search of the Pauline epistles yields the following results:


  • Paul uses the word “Lord” (or ‘lord’) 263 times
  • Paul uses the word “Lord” with the words “Jesus” or “Christ” as explicit modifiers 100 times
  • Some of the “Lord-only” passages are obviously referring to Jesus (e.g. 1 Cor 2.8 […they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory] and 1 Cor 11.27 […whoever drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily …is guilty of the body and blood of the Lord])
  • Many times the “Lord-only” phrase is used opposite to “God”, with the obvious referent being Christ (e.g, the tri-fold passages such as 1 Cor 12.4-6, ‘one Spirit…one Lord…one God’)
  • One passage has “God who raised the Lord will also raise us” (1 Cor 6.14)



Here’s some of the relevant passages (just from ROM, 1 and 2COR, Gal/Eph):


  • Romans 1:4 who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord,
  • Romans 1:7 to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
  • Romans 4:24 but for our sake also, to whom it will be reckoned, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead,
  • Romans 5:1  Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
  • Romans 5:11 And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.
  • Romans 5:21 that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
  • Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
  • Romans 7:25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
  • Romans 8:39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
  • Romans 10:9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved;
  • Romans 13:14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.
  • Romans 14:9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
  • Romans 14:14 I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.
  • Romans 15:6 that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • Romans 15:30  Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me,
  • Romans 16:20 And the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.
  • Romans 16:24 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
  • 1 Corinthians 1:2 to the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours:
  • 1 Corinthians 1:3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
  • 1 Corinthians 1:7 so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ,
  • 1 Corinthians 1:8 who shall also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • 1 Corinthians 1:9 God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
  • 1 Corinthians 1:10  Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
  • 1 Corinthians 5:4 In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus,
  • 1 Corinthians 5:5 I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
  • 1 Corinthians 6:11 And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God.
  • 1 Corinthians 8:6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.
  • 1 Corinthians 9:1  Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord?
  • 1 Corinthians 11:23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread;
  • 1 Corinthians 12:3 Therefore I make known to you, that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is accursed”; and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
  • 1 Corinthians 15:31 I protest, brethren, by the boasting in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.
  • 1 Corinthians 15:57 but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • 1 Corinthians 16:23 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.
  • 2 Corinthians 1:2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
  • 2 Corinthians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort;
  • 2 Corinthians 1:14 just as you also partially did understand us, that we are your reason to be proud as you also are ours, in the day of our Lord Jesus.
  • 2 Corinthians 4:5 For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake.
  • 2 Corinthians 4:14 knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you.
  • 2 Corinthians 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.
  • 2 Corinthians 11:31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, He who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying.
  • 2 Corinthians 13:14  The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.
  • Galatians 1:3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ,
  • Galatians 6:14 But may it never be that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
  • Galatians 6:18  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brethren. Amen.
  • Ephesians 1:2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
  • Ephesians 1:3  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,
  • Ephesians 1:15  For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you, and your love for all the saints,
  • Ephesians 1:17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him.
  • Ephesians 3:11 This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord,
  • Ephesians 5:20 always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father;
  • Ephesians 6:23 Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
  • Ephesians 6:24 Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with a love incorruptible.




So, at least half the uses of the word ‘Lord’ refer to Jesus/Christ.


  • Then we should note that Paul uses the word “God” without the words Lord, Jesus, or Christ 366 times (although some of the passages relate God to the Son)
  • There are another 15-20 verses which speak of “The Father”


Together, these two sets of data strongly suggest that references to “the Lord”—when not qualified by Jesus/Christ—are actually references to “the Lord Jesus Christ”, except in the cases where the OT/Tanach is being quoted and “Lord” is being used of YHWH.


So, on a usage basis alone, the presumption should be opposite to the objection: solitary references to ‘the Lord’ would ‘default to’ being references to the risen Lord Jesus.


And in the case of ‘dominical sayings’ like the Divorce saying in 1 Cor, this fits the pattern elsewhere in Paul:


1 Thessalonians 4:2 2 For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.


what charges (instructions) we gave you” (cf. the verb παραγγέλλειν in v 11). There is an authoritative note about the word παραγγελία. The apostolic tradition is not to be treated indifferently; it is to be accepted because it is the tradition of Christ, by whose authority the apostles deliver it. This is indicated by the following phrase, dia tou kuriou Iasou, “through the Lord Jesus” (for similar Pauline expressions with διά especially strengthening παρακαλ, cf. Rom 12:1; 15:30; 1 Cor 1:10; 2 Cor 10:1). The apostolic tradition does not derive from the apostles themselves; it is “the commandment (ντολή) of the Lord” (1 Cor 14:37) and to be obeyed as such. [Bruce, F. F. (2002). Vol. 45: Word Biblical Commentary  : 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Word Biblical Commentary (79). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.]


I urge you through the Lord Jesus Christ… (Rom 15.30)


Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Co 1:10).


If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandments (1 Co 14:37).



We might further note the evidence for specialized usage here. Martin Hengel writes:


“In respect of external form this fixed form for the name of Jesus has clear parallels in the Hellenistic and Roman world. The traditional form of the name, ho kurios Iasous Christos, which Paul is fond of using in ceremonial contexts, say at the beginning and end of letters, has a similar form to that of the Roman rulers:


Imperator Caesar Augustus

Autokrato Kaisar Sebastos


Or Hellenistic kings:


Basileus Ptolemaious Soter

Basileus Antiochos Ephiphanas


“Jesus was the real proper name, “Christon’ the cognomen and “Kyrios” the title. Further honorific designations could be added, like “Son of God” by itself (1 Cor 1.9; cf 2 Cor 1.19), or even “Soter” (1 Tim 1.10; Titus 1.4; 2.13; 3.6; cf. Phil. 3.20). In an analogous way the names and titles of Hellenistic rulers and the Roman emperor were also variable and could be either abbreviated or expanded… That despite all this Paul remained aware that ‘Jesus’ was the real proper name and Christ was originally a title is evident from the fact that the confession of the Pauline communities was kurios Iasous or kurios Iasous Christos, whereas the formula kurios Christos never occurs. Romans 16.18, which seems to be the only exception, can be explained from the context, which is about false service… When the form of the name is “Christ Jesus,” the “Kyrios” can never come first; it is always put afterwards.” [HI:BJP, 68f]


We should also note that “Jesus” is not a ‘title’ meaning ‘savior’ (in Greek). The Greek title-word for ‘savior’ is ‘soter’ (as shows up in the example above—“King Ptolemy Savior”. So the name “Jesus Christ” does NOT mean “the anointed savior”—it still contains a proper, untranslated, name (Jesus).


Also of interest is the fact that the more ‘mystical’ of the ‘competitors’ of orthodoxy (i.e., the Gnostics) routinely described their heavenly redeemer figure as both “Jesus” and “Lord”… the link between the historical, personal name ‘Jesus’ and the Messianic title (‘Messiah’) and the cosmic title (“Lord”) was preserved by ALL competing factions of the first two centuries.


So, again, the data supports the traditional understanding of Paul’s references to ‘the Lord’ as being references to ‘the Lord Jesus Christ’





------------------------------------------  -----------------------------------------------------------


Next is Paul’s reference to ‘born of a woman’ in Gal 4:4---does it really mean what the English translations ‘sound like’?


Here’s the email piece:


“Paul in Gal 4:4 has usually been seen as saying Jesus was born from Mary.  But a skeptic tells me that the Greek word used does not mean a "normal birth".  That it means more like, become rather than born.  But, I suppose, even the statement, "Become of a woman" carries the same connotations.  What do you think?”




My Response:


I have no idea why the skeptic makes such an error. The words are essentially the same, and used almost as synonyms:


“γενόμενον κ γυναικός, ‘born of a woman’; for this well-attested use of γίνομαι as a quasi-passive of γεννάω cf. 1 Esd. 4:16; Tob. 8:6; Wis. 7:3; Sir. 44:9;  Jn. 8:58. The expression echoes Heb. yelû ’iššāh, ‘born of a woman’ (cf. Jb. 14:1; 15:14; 25:4; 1QH 13:14; 1QS 11:21). The plural ν γεννητος γυναικν is found in Jesus’ appraisal of John the Baptist in Mt. 11:11 / Lk. 7:28 [text: ‘of those born of women, none are greater than John’]. Nothing can be made of Paul’s usage of γενόμενον rather than γεννητόν. In this kind of context they are synonymous (…). Paul’s wording is applicable to any one of woman born; it throws no light on the question whether he knew of Jesus’ virginal conception or not.” [Bruce, F. F. (1982). The Epistle to the Galatians : A commentary on the Greek text.(195). Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.]


“The first, “born of a woman,” emphasizes his true humanity and representative quality. “The aorist middle use of γίνομαι (“be,” “become”) for γεννάω (“beget”; in the passive “be born”) was common in Jewish circles (cf. Sir 44:9; 1 Esd 4:16; Tob 8:6; Wis 7:3; Rom 1:3 [an early Christian confessional portion]; John 8:58; Josephus, Ant. 2.216; 7.21; 16.382; echoing ילור אשׁה yĕlûd ˒iššâ, “born of woman”] of Job 14:1; 15:14; 25:4, as carried on in such passages as 1QH 13.14 and 1QS 11.21), with the participle γενόμενον used in synonymous fashion to the adjective γεννητόν (“begotten,” “born”). The expression “born κ γυναικός” has often been seen as implying a virgin birth. But κ γυναικός is a Jewish locution for a human birth or idiom simply for being human—as, for example, Job 14:1, “For man born of woman [βροτς γεννητς γυναικός] is of few days and full of trouble”; Matt 11:1/ /Luke 7:28, “Among those born of women [ν γεννητος γυναικν] there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist” (see also Josephus, Ant. 7.21; 16.382). It provides, therefore, no clue of itself as to whether either early Christians or Paul believed in, or even knew of, Jesus’ virginal conception. Rather, as a qualitative expression “born of a woman” speaks of Jesus’ true humanity and representative quality—i.e., that he was truly one with us, who came as “the Man” to stand in our place. Furthermore, as an elaboration of the formula “God sent his Son,” it suggests that God’s sending coincides with the Son’s human birth, which is a notion comparable to the theme of God’s call, commission, and sending of his prophetic servants from their birth that appears elsewhere in Scripture (cf. Isa 49:1, 5; Jer 1:5; and Paul’s own consciousness in Gal 1:15). … The second participial clause at the end of v 4, “born under the law,” lays stress on another factor involved in the representative work of “the Son.” [Longenecker, R. N. (2002). Vol. 41: Word Biblical Commentary  : Galatians. Word Biblical Commentary (171). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.]


“The term γίνεσθαι κ refers to the birth of a human being “out of” a human mother, while γίνεσθαι πό defines the conditions of existence of a human being.” [Betz, H. D. (1979). Galatians : A commentary on Paul's letter to the churches in Galatia. Hermeneia--a critical and historical commentary on the Bible (207). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.


“The sending is also interpreted in terms of the predicate γενόμενος κ γυναικός. This is used traditionally for all men, but does not occur elsewhere in Paul.” [Theological dictionary of the New Testament. 1964-c1976. Vols. 5-9 edited by Gerhard Friedrich. Vol. 10 compiled by Ronald Pitkin. (G. Kittel, G. W. Bromiley & G. Friedrich, Ed.) (electronic ed.) (8:383). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.]


The first meaning given in Baur: 1. be born or begotten—a. lit., abs. (Dit., Syll.3 1168, 6; Epict. 2, 17, 8; Wsd 7:3; Sir 44:9) J 8:58; w. κ τινος foll. (Diod. S. 3, 64, 1; Appian, Basil. 5 §1; Parthenius 1, 4; Athen. 13, 37 p. 576c ξ ταίρας; PPetr. III 2, 20; PFlor. 382, 38 ξ μο γενόμενος υός; 1 Esdr 4:16; Tob 8:6; Jos., Ant. 2, 216)Ro 1:3; Gal 4:4 (cf. IQS 11, 21). Also of plants 1 Cor 15:37. Of fruits κ τινος be produced by a tree Mt 21:19 (cf. X., Mem. 3, 6, 13 κ τ. χώρας γιγνόμενος στος).  [Arndt, W., Gingrich, F. W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (1996, c1979). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature]




Gennaw is related, but is the word emphasizing the agent’s action of generating the baby – not the one being born:


“The NT term used most frequently for “bear, born” is Gk gennáō — sometimes in the literal sense alluding to motherhood, but also in a figurative sense referring to the beginning of the spiritual life (e.g., Jn. 1:13; 3:3–8). [Bromiley, G. W. (1988; 2002). The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (1:442). Wm. B. Eerdmans.]


γέννάω, fut. Med. γεννήσομαι in pass. sense, D.S.19.2 (but -ηθήσομαι Id.4.9): (γέννα):—casual of γίγνομαι (cf.  γείνομαι), mostly of the father, beget, γεννήσας πατήρ S.El.1412; ο γεννήσαντές σε your parents, X.Mem.2.1.27; τ γεννώμενον κ τινος Hdt.1.108, etc.; θεν γεγενναμένοι sprung, Pi.P.5.74; of the mother, bring forth, bear, A.Supp.48, Arist.GA716a22, X.Lac.1.3, etc.:—Med., produce from oneself, create, Pl.Ti.34b, Mx.238a. [Liddell, H. G., Scott, R., Jones, H. S., & McKenzie, R. (1996). A Greek-English lexicon. "With a revised supplement, 1996." (Rev. and augm. throughout) (344). Oxford;  New York: Clarendon Press;  Oxford University Press.]


Overall. The difference can be seen to be one of focus: one focuses on the act of giving birth (the more ‘active’ word, emphasizing the parent) and the other focuses on the result of the birth (a human being). So, at the related passage in Romans 1.3:


“ἐκ σπέρματος Δαυίδ, “came into being, born.” Since γίνεσθαι (“become, come to be”) merges into εῖ̓ναι (“to be”), the participle phrase has in view more the state of man (= “born of woman”—Job 14:1; 15:14; 1QS 11.20–21; IQH 13.14; 18.12–13, 16) than the event of giving birth itself, for which γεννάω would be the more appropriate word” [WBC, in loc.]



So, the actual usage of the word in the pre-NT world supports a ‘birth’ understanding as being common. This regularly occurred in Hellenistic and Jewish contexts. So, the skeptics claim, in this case, is based on an incomplete knowledge of the language and idioms of the time.


But—I might add—your comment about ‘becoming of a woman’ meaning the same thing as being born is dead on. And, it is even stronger than that in this passage. The Greek actually uses the preposition ‘out of’ for what the English gives as ‘of’. Literally, it reads “born OUT OF a woman”! If that is not an explicit denotation of human, physical birth, I don’t know what is.


So, I think your intuitions are confirmed by the historical/linguistic data.





-------------------------------------------  ------------------------------------------------------------


Then, The abnormal growth of Christ Myth-ers



Here’s the wording on that one (with part of the complaint):


“Recently I'm sure you know, there has been a significant upsurge in Christ-Myth theories out there. (One particular mythicist) case relies on embracing almost all of the fringe positions in NT Studies.  He relegates all four Gospels and Acts to 100-150 CE.  He argues that Luke and Acts are not from the same author, he argues basically that all of early Christian history was kind of a figment of the ancient world's imagination!  Alas, so many skeptics now embrace his theory”



My response:


Actually, I am NOT aware of this growth in Christ-Myth theories, since I am barely able to read even a fraction of the scholarly, academic, and peer-reviewed/published literature in this area. I don’t have time to read popular stuff on the web and in print (which includes MY stuff, of course--!), and in the historical studies world, Christ-Mythers are like Flat-Earthers are in the science world—nobody takes them seriously anymore. [Of course, I don’t presume that anybody should take ME seriously either, up in the ‘aether’ –smile—and so I don’t get any ‘attention’ either. That doesn’t mean I am wrong, of course, but at least nobody ‘summarizes the data’ in a way against me (like they do the Mythicists below)].


Every now and then a scholar will treat it ‘outside of a footnote’, but the judgments are always the same: nothing to it. Consider some of the assessments of those who DO devote a little discussion to it:


Voorst gives the history of the Mythic position (and scholarship on it) in his work, and explains why it is no longer considered a real question in NT/history studies [HI:JONT, 6-16; I will cite a long excerpt—with a couple of footnotes embedded--so you can see how this is viewed by the academic/scholarly community]:


“Until recently, the mainstream of New Testament scholarship has not had a large influence on research into Jesus in sources outside the New Testament. However, one long-running and often noisy side current has had such an influence. This is the controversial question, Did Jesus really exist? Some readers may be surprised or shocked that many books and essays — by my count, over one hundred — in the past two hundred years have fervently denied the very existence of Jesus. Contemporary New Testament scholars have typically viewed their arguments as so weak or bizarre that they relegate them to footnotes, or often ignore them completely. [His Footnote here: “Two of the most influential histories of New Testament interpretation typify the lack of treatment of this issue. Werner G. Kummel, The New Testament: The History of the Investigation of Its Problems (Nashville: Abingdon, 1972), only mentions this problem in a footnote, because "the denial of the existence of Jesus . . . [is] arbitrary and ill-founded" (p. 447, n. 367). Neill and Wright, Interpretation, make no mention of this problem. And according to Bornkamm, "to doubt the historical existence of Jesus at all... was reserved for an unrestrained, tendentious criticism of modern times into which it is not worth while to enter here" (Jesus, 28).”] Thus, students of the New Testament are often unfamiliar with them. In this section, as a special follow-up to our sketch of the history of research, we will examine briefly the history and significance of the theory that Jesus never existed.


“The issue of the nonhistoricity of Jesus is indeed a side current in New Testament study. However, those who advocate it often refer to the work of mainstream scholars, so it would be well to characterize mainstream scholarship on the reliability of the Gospels and the existence of Jesus. Since the advent of biblical criticism, scholars have argued over the level of historicity of the accounts of Jesus in ancient Christian literature, both the events in Jesus' life and the wording and meaning of his teaching. On one end of the scholarly spectrum, some have concluded that the canonical Gospels are fully reliable historical accounts of Jesus with little or no later changes, so we can know much about him. Those who deny Jesus' historicity rarely refer to the work of traditionalists, except to label it as credulity. In the middle are scholars who see the Gospels as a mixture of authentic historical material and theological interpretation of Jesus as it developed between his time and that of the Evangelists. These scholars, the vast majority of researchers, work to understand the interplay of these two elements, and they discern "the historical Jesus" with some confidence and fullness. Those who deny the existence of Jesus, especially twentieth-century skeptics, seem to neglect this moderate position. They prefer, as radical revisionists often do, to deal with the extremes. On the other end of the spectrum, some have argued that the Gospels and other early Christian literature contain so much later theologizing and invention that we can know very little about Jesus' life and teaching. Despite reducing Jesus to almost a wisp of a person, none of this last group has argued that Jesus was a pure invention of the early church. Those who deny the historical Jesus have often used some of their arguments. However, the deniers reach a conclusion, that Jesus never lived, which this group does not. [His footnote here: “For example, Rudolf Bultmann, who doubted the authenticity of many Gospel traditions, nevertheless concluded, "Of course the doubt as to whether Jesus really existed is unfounded and not worth refutation. No sane person can doubt that Jesus stands as founder behind the historical movement whose first distinct stage is represented by the Palestinian community" (Jesus and the Word [2d ed.; New York: Scribners, 1958] 13)”.]


 He then focuses somewhat on G.A. Wells’ theory (and those that essentially adopt the same arguments/reconstructions):


“However, Richard France's conclusion on his method is also correct: "[Wells] always selects from the range of New Testament studies those extreme positions which best suit his thesis, and then weaves them together into a total account with which none of those from whom he quoted would agree." France's conclusion is widely shared, as most New Testament scholars do not address Wells's arguments at all, and those who do address them do not go into much depth. Although Wells has been probably the most able advocate of the nonhistoricity theory, he has not been persuasive and is now almost a lone voice for it [He makes mention of Martin’s work here]. The theory of Jesus' nonexistence is now effectively dead as a scholarly question.”


He then summaries the reasons for the ‘death’ of the question:


“On what grounds have New Testament scholars and other historians rejected the nonexistence hypothesis? Here we will summarize the main arguments used against Wells's version of this hypothesis, since his is both contemporary and similar to the others.


  • “First, Wells misinterprets Paul's relative silence about some details in the life of Jesus: the exact time of his life, the exact places of his ministry, that Pontius Pilate condemned him, and so forth. As every good student of history knows, it is wrong to suppose that what is unmentioned or undetailed did not exist. Arguments from silence about ancient times, here about the supposed lack of biblical or extrabiblical references to Jesus, are especially perilous. Moreover, we should not expect to find exact historical references in early Christian literature, which was not written for primarily historical purposes. Almost all readers of Paul assume on good evidence that Paul regards Jesus as a historical figure, not a mythical or mystical one.
  • Second, Wells argues that Christians invented the figure of Jesus when they wrote gospels outside Palestine around 100. Not only is this dating far too late for Mark (which was probably written around the year 70), Matthew, and Luke (both of which probably date to the 80s), it cannot explain why the Gospel references to details about Palestine are so plentiful and mostly accurate.
  • Third, Wells claims that the development of the Gospel traditions and historical difficulties within them show that Jesus did not exist. However, development does not necessarily mean wholesale invention, and difficulties do not prove nonexistence. (Some of Wells’ readers may get the impression that if there were no inconsistencies in the Gospels, he would seize on that as evidence of their falsehood!)
  • Fourth, Wells cannot explain to the satisfaction of historians why, if Christians invented the historical Jesus around the year 100, no pagans and Jews who opposed Christianity denied Jesus' historicity or even questioned it.
  • Fifth, Wells and his predecessors have been far too skeptical about the value of non-Christian witnesses to Jesus, especially Tacitus and Josephus. They point to well-known text-critical and source-critical problems in these witnesses and argue that these problems rule out the entire value of these passages, ignoring the strong consensus that most of these passages are basically trustworthy.
  • Sixth, Wells and others seem to have advanced the nonhistoricity hypothesis not for objective reasons, but for highly tendentious, anti-religious purposes. It has been a weapon of those who oppose the Christian faith in almost any form, from radical Deists, to Freethought advocates, to radical secular humanists and activist atheists like Madalyn Murray O'Hair. They have correctly assumed that to prove this hypothesis would sound the death knell of Christianity as we know it, but the theory remains unproven.
  • Finally, Wells and his predecessors have failed to advance other, credible hypotheses to account for the birth of Christianity and the fashioning of a historical Christ. The hypotheses they have advanced, based on an idiosyncratic understanding of mythology, have little independent corroborative evidence to commend them to others. The nonhistoricity thesis has always been controversial, and it has consistently failed to convince scholars of many disciplines and religious creeds. Moreover, it has also consistently failed to convince many who for reasons of religious skepticism might have been expected to entertain it, from Voltaire to Bertrand Russell. Biblical scholars and classical historians now regard it as effectively refuted.



Another statement of this comes (but even with different views of the gospel sources/dating!) from the revised edition of Stanton’s work [GAJ2:144f]:


“Wells claims that the four gospels were written c. AD 100 and that the evangelists largely invented their traditions about the life of Jesus. But by this date Christianity was flourishing in many parts of the Roman Empire: it had hardly survived at all in Palestine and the four gospels were almost certainly not written there. If, as Wells claims, they were largely invented in a Roman and Hellenistic cultural setting, it becomes much harder than he supposes to account for the numerous details, many of which are purely incidental to the purposes of the evangelists, which do fit into our knowledge of first-century Palestine…. As we have stressed repeatedly in the preceding chapters, traditions about Jesus were preserved and to a certain extent modified in the light of the convictions about his significance held by his followers in the period after Easter. But indications of modification do not (as Wells supposes) necessarily imply invention. If the gospel traditions were invented about AD 100, why is it far from easy (with the exception of John's gospel) to find in them traces of the convictions, emphases, and problems of the Christians of that period?Why would proclamation of Jesus as a historical person assist Christian evangelism more than proclamation of a mythical figure? If the historical existence of Jesus was invented only in about AD 100, why was it necessary to create so many detailed traditions? … We have a good deal of information about the polemical and often bitter arguments Christians, Jews, and pagans had with one another in the early centuries. But the early Christians' opponents all accepted that Jesus existed, taught, had disciples, worked miracles, and was put to death on a Roman cross. As in our own day, debate and disagreement centered largely not on the story but on the significance of Jesus.


“Today nearly all historians, whether Christians or not, accept that Jesus existed and that the gospels contain plenty of valuable evidence which has to be weighed and assessed critically. There is general agreement that with the possible exception of Paul, we know far more about Jesus of Nazareth than about any first- or second-century Jewish or pagan religious teacher.”


Just for examples of the point about 2nd century critics, here are summary statements about Celsus’s and Lucian’s ‘descriptions’ of Jesus (also from Voorst):


“Celsus mounts a wide attack against Jesus as the founder of the faith. He discounts or disparages Jesus' ancestry, conception, birth, childhood, ministry, death, resurrection, and continuing influence. According to Celsus, Jesus' ancestors came from a Jewish village (Against Celsus 1.28), and his mother was a poor country woman who earned her living by spinning cloth (1.28). He worked his miracles by sorcery (1.28; 2.32; 2.49; 8.41). His physical appearance was ugly and small (6.75). To his discredit, Jesus kept all Jewish customs, including sacrifice in the temple (2.6). He gathered only ten followers and taught them his worst habits, including begging and robbing (1.62; 2.44). These followers, amounting to "ten sailors and tax collectors," were the only ones he convinced of his divinity, but now his followers convince multitudes (2.46). The reports of his resurrection came from a hysterical female, and belief in the resurrection was the result of Jesus' sorcery, the wishful thinking of his followers, or mass hallucinations, all for the purpose of impressing others and increasing the chance for others to become beggars (2.55).” [page 66]


“During this period [Peregrinus] associated himself with the priests and scribes of the Christians in Palestine, and learned their astonishing wisdom. Of course, in a short time he made them look like children; he was their prophet, leader, head of the synagogue, and everything, all by himself. He explained and commented on some of their sacred writings, and even wrote some himself. They looked up to him as a god, made him their lawgiver, and chose him as the official patron of their group, or at least the vice-patron. He was second only to that one whom they still worship today, the man in Palestine who was crucified because he brought this new form of initiation into the world. (§11)” [page 59]


Even most of the most radical scholars out there don’t have a problem with Jesus’ existence—they argue about the meaning, interpretation, and influences on His life (e.g., how ‘Jewish’ was He?) and what ‘percentage’ distortion the disciples introduced into the stories (e.g. The Jesus Seminar).


Mainstream scholarship, then, no longer takes the Mythers seriously, largely because the Mythers of the past never took mainstream scholarship seriously, but rather spun out on tangents and ‘un-tethered by history’ speculations.


So, until the Mythers start ‘running with the big boys’, we are NOT gonna see any reduction in their output on the web/popular print…


[I will try to write up my own set of issues with the mythic theory of Markan invention, sometime, but let me point out one particularly sensitive point (IMO): the ‘invented’ Gospel of Mark cannot at the same time be (1) freely fabricated solely out of the Hebrew bible via midrashic-like procedures (e.g. Price? EarlD?); (2) freely fabricated solely out of Homer (e.g. MacDonald); and (3) the result of decades/centuries of orthodox ‘grooming’ [visualize a bonsai tree?] by the “Last Sect Standing” (e.g. Ehrman)…but more on this later…smile]


------------------------------  ----------------------------------------------------------


 Paul’s references to incarnation



“And what verses in Paul explicitly speak of the reality of the incarnation?”



My Response:


Well, incarnation means en-flesh-ment (at least in the ancient world of the time), so just about any references to ‘bones’, ‘flesh’, ‘blood’, ‘hands’, ‘feet’, etc –in an obvious non-metaphorical context—would count as data [since gods, daimons, spirits, souls (in the Greek sense), etc do not have these]. Plus, to these we could add references to things which can ONLY happen to earthly ‘flesh’, such as death, suffering, eating, drinking, birth, resurrection FROM death, etc. And of course any technical references to humanity (e.g., anthropos, aner, andros, etc) would be fairly explicit.


We will have to be careful to exclude metaphorical uses (except where such uses imply a literal, underlying fact).


So, let’s go through the Pauline (and would-be Pauline literature) and see if there are any such references (leaving out the Church as His body, etc):




Descendant of David




Risen from dead




Shedding of blood




Died for the ungodly, death, blood




Died for the ungodly, death, blood




‘One man' (anthropos)




Baptized into his death




Death, raised from dead




Death , resurrection








Raised from dead, cannot die again, death he died




Raised Jesus from the dead




Who died




Human ancestry of the Messiah




Raised from dead




Died and returned to life




Root of Jesse


1st Cor


Christ crucified


1st Cor


…and him crucified


1st Cor


Would not have crucified


1st Cor


Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed


1st Cor


For whom Christ died


1st Cor


Blood of Christ


1st Cor


Eating/drinking (Last Supper)


1st Cor


Lord's supper (death, body, blood, etc)


1st Cor


Lord's supper (death, body, blood, etc)


1st Cor


Died, buried, raised


1st Cor


Died, buried, raised


1st Cor


Resurrection of Christ from dead


2nd Cor


The sufferings of Christ


2nd Cor


Carry in our bodies the death of Christ


2nd Cor


Raised Jesus from the dead


2nd Cor


He died for all




Raised him from the dead




Crucified, died for nothing




Portrayed as crucified




Hung on a pole




The seed of Abraham (the promise)




Born of a woman




Cross of Christ




His blood




Raised from dead




His blood




(both appearance words; one meaning actual)




Becoming like him in his death (also resurrection)




Cross of Christ




Peace through his blood on the cross




Peace through his blood on the cross




Body of his flesh thru death




Body of his flesh thru death




All fullness lives in bodily form(?)




Raised him from the dead


1st Thess


Killed the lord Jesus


1st Thess


We believe that Jesus died and rose again


1st Thess


He died for us


2nd Thess




1st Tim


Himself human/anthropos (as mediator)


1st Tim


Manifested in flesh (body?)


2nd Tim


Raised from the dead, descended from David


2nd Tim


Raised from the dead, descended from David











If we add to these the references noted above to the brothers of Jesus, we get a fairly strong case that Paul (and his ‘school’) believed that Jesus had a human body,  ate/drank at the Last Supper, and died a death under Roman execution.


Notice that most of these references are NOT to ‘flesh’ (sarx), so any discussions about the meaning of ‘according to sarx’ do not really affect this conclusion. Gods and daimons did not die—immortality was almost the definition of divinity. With the possible exception of the Epicureans, gods/daimons had no material substance which could experience these things or reliably be described in such anatomical forms.


So, if we are to judge from Pauline usage, we have to conclude that he certainly wrote as if he believed that Christ Jesus had a human body like ours…




Excursus: Flesh/Blood/Bones/etc only apply to creatures on the earth—NOT to creatures in the ‘air’ (as in sub-lunar realm of Mid-Platonism).


I think I read somewhere that someone had speculated that Paul might have thought Jesus had a human, flesh-and-bones-and-blood body, but that this never actually set foot on earth (and that, therefore, the ‘historical Jesus’ would not have even existed in ‘standard Galilee’, to be written about in the gospels, recorded in family genealogies,  or remembered in oral tradition). That—as some kind of exalted Platonic/MidPlatonic daimon—Christ took a human body (to be able to die for us) but lived his incarnate life/time in the realm of the ‘air’.


This notion would actually be very strange (perhaps even incomprehensible) in Middle Platonist thought, because the discussions about the natures of the gods/daimons (as well as the generally inviolable principle of ‘uniformity of nature’—one doesn’t depart from one’s true nature, and be ‘honorable’) virtually exclude this possibility.


[Non-Platonic folk religion could conceive of this easily of course: ‘Combining these various aspects together, one begins to see the picture of what the concept of god meant to a Roman citizen. First, there was no theological barrier between divinity and humanity, as certain humans (Emperors or heroes) could aspire to be or become gods. Gods becoming human was not a problem either, though this was done simply for the amusement of the god. Roman citizens would not object to human beings of special lineage claiming to be gods or having others advocate divine status for them.’ (NT:PW, 78)—but this is not so in the more rarified air of the Platonic and MP philosophers.]


Although we will deal more with Middle Platonism (MP) at the end of this article, let me explain this here.


One. MP had several levels of being. Gods on ‘top’ (with aetherial bodies), daimons/spirits/heroes/ghosts (with aerial bodies), another unnamed class of beings (with water-based bodies), and humans-animals-(and maybe)-plants (with terrestrial bodies, made of earth).  The divinities dwelt in the aether (up with the sun), the daimons in the air (under the moon—“sub-lunar”—but only extending to the ‘tops of the clouds’ in our atmosphere), and humans/animals on the earth.


“Besides these major figures, the Platonic cosmos was filled with subordinate, intermediate beings, the race of daemons. There are broadly two theories on the nature of daemons, one static, so to speak, the other dynamic, and both are represented within our period. Xenocrates already, as we have seen, had elaborated on Plato’s doctrine of the intermediate nature of daemons, expressing it in geometrical terms. Such daemons sound like permanent fixtures in the universe, though the question of their relationship with disembodied souls is unclear in the evidence available to us. The alternative theory, represented by Plutarch and by Apuleius, is one according to which daemons are in fact souls, either on their way up or on their way down the scale of being, either heading for complete purification (and thus divinization) in the Sun, or for embodiment on the Earth [note: there is no ‘embodiment/enfleshment in the air’ alternative mentioned]. For this theory Plutarch could appeal back to the authority of Empedocles (Is. Et Os. 361c). The theory is not presented by Plutarch with complete coherence, however; the static theory also appears. In particular, evil daemons are recognized, as they were by Xenocrates. Are these daemons permanent elements in the universe, or are they souls in the process of being punished for misdeeds during incarnation? Both possibilities seem to be entertained by Plutarch, as we shall see. Truly evil daemons, as opposed to avenging agencies of God, are not a properly Platonic conception, but rather a concession to popular belief, or perhaps an influence from Persian dualism. ‘Avenging’ daemons, on the other hand, are a more acceptable concept, since they are subordinate to God and their activity is ultimately beneficent. Even Philo finds such entities compatible with his monotheism. Besides daemons proper, there is also mention made of heroes and angels, the latter possibly in origin non-Hellenic but certainly accepted in Neoplatonism into the Platonic universe. Heroes are more respectable, but the distinction between them and daemons in the Platonic period is not quite clear. Posidonius wrote a treatise on the subject, but it is lost. One distinction can be that heroes are souls formerly embodied, but this distinction assumes a permanent class of unembodied souls, which is only acceptable on the ‘static’ theory. Whatever the differences in detail, however, it is common ground for all Platonists that between God and Man there must be a host of intermediaries, that God may not be contaminated or disturbed by a too close involvement with Matter. [PH:TMP:46f]


“The universe is divided into two parts, heaven and earth; the heaven is twofold, divided into aether and air, and the earth in turn is divided into water and land. Of these the highest is the aether, the second air, and third water and the fourth earth. All these four parts are full of souls, immortal souls in the aether and the air, mortal souls in the water and on land. From the highest circle of heaven to the circle of the Moon are aetherial souls, the stars and the planets, and these are not only known by our intelligence to exist, but are also visible to our eyes as heavenly gods. Then between the circle of the Moon and the highest region of clouds are aerial souls, perceived as such by the mind, not by the eyes. They are called heroes and lares and genii.” [Varro, cited in (PH:TMP:90f)]





Two. Of daimons, there are only three kinds—of which only one “has” a terrestrial body (the one that functions as our ‘conscience’). Daimons in the air have no ‘carne’ body, and daimons on the earth can be either in-carne or non-carne (as in a troublesome ghost)—but there is no category of daimon in-carne still ‘up in the air’. Embodiment is always spoken of as being ‘on earth’ and with a body ‘made of earth’.


“Xenocrates, Plato’s student, systematized demonology. He and later philosophers listed three classes of demons: permanently disincarnate beings, souls of the deceased, and the soul ‘in’ or intelligence accompanying us. He ascribed human passions to them and made the distinction that some demons were good and some bad.” [HI:BOEC,236]


“In his account of the types of daemon, also, Apuleius agrees with Plutarch. He distinguishes three types (chs. 15-16):

(1)  The human soul itself may be regarded as a daemon. In this connexion Apuleius refers- to Xenocrates’ etymology of eudaimon (happy) as ‘having a good daemon’ (Fr. 81 Heinze)—a commonplace, admittedly, by this time, also used by Albinus (ch. 28,182, 2). The idea of regarding a man’s soul as his daimon finds support in Plato Tim. 90c, but must be distinguished from the concept of guardian daemons, who come under Apuleius’ third category.

(2)  Souls which have left their bodies. There are two varieties of these, the good and the bad. Those who have graduated from the body with honours, so to speak, are entrusted with the care of definite parts of the earth, and even with individual households. Apuleius identifies these with the lares, perhaps in this following Varro, and gives such heroes as Amphiaraus, Mopsus and Osiris as examples. Those who have died in sin, on the other hand, wander over the world in a sort of exile, causing what havoc they can. They can be used as punishment for wicked men, ‘but should not cause alarm to the good’. These he identifies with the larvae, or malicious ghosts (sect. 153).

These two types of disembodied soul correspond to those described by Plutarch in Def. Or. 416Dff. (Amphiaraus, indeed, is earlier used as an example, 412b.) Plainly there is not much difference in doctrine between Plutarch and whatever authority Apuleius is following, except perhaps on the question of inherently evil, permanently discarnate daemons, which Apuleius does not recognize.

(3)  Daemons who never enter bodies, who are in fact the most exalted type of daemon (154). As examples Apuleius first mentions Eros (from Symposium 202E) and Hypnos (Sleep), who is not mentioned by Plato, but may be brought in here as presiding over dreams, which are one chief means by which the Gods communicate with men. What he is primarily concerned with, however, since it is with these that he proposes to link the daemon of Socrates, are the guardian daemons mentioned by Plato in the myths of the Phaedo (107Dff) and Republic X (617DE, 620DE), who accompany a man through life, know his inmost thoughts and most secret actions, and after death act as his advocate (or accuser) before the throne of judgment. The emphasis laid on the intimate knowledge of and care for the individual by his daemon is not found in Plato, but is found in Plutarch (De Gen. 593Dff., above, pp. 219f), and in late Stoic writers, such as Seneca (Ep. 41, 2; 110, 1), Epictetus (1 14, 12ff.) and Marcus Aurelius (v 27). The distinction between this daemon and the rational soul or nous viewed as daemon is in danger of becoming obscured, but Apuleius definitely makes this guardian daemon a distinct, transcendent entity, while the nous-daemon is immanent in the individual.

“We have here, then, in the De Deo Socratis, the most complete connected version of Middle Platonic demonology extant, distorted somewhat by Apuleius' highly-wrought epideictic style, but none the less extremely valuable for our purposes.” [PH:TMP,319ff]


“The alternative theory, represented by Plutarch and by Apuleius, is one according to which daemons are in fact souls, either on their way up or on their way down the scale of being, either heading for complete purification (and thus divinization) in the Sun, or for embodiment on the Earth. For this theory Plutarch could appeal back to the authority of Empedocles (Is. et Os. 361c). [PH:TMP, 46f]





Three. Daimons can be punished for misdeeds [they are subject to human passions, in varying degrees], and this punishment consists of being incarnated (again) in terrestrial bodies (animal, human, and possibly plant). All human bodies (risen or otherwise!) are useless or evil and impediments to the progress of the pure soul (even called ‘tombs’). Incarnation was only envisioned as a punishment for a supra-human daimon.


“But with some of these souls it comes to pass that they do not maintain control over themselves, but yield to temptation and are again clothed with mortal bodies and have a dim and darkened life, like mist or vapour. [Plutarch, De Defectu Oraculorum 415C]


“These monsters, however, at least the Giants and Titans, could be regarded, despite popular views as to their origins, as 'fallen' daemons confined for punishment in bodies, and this is how they are regarded at De Fac. 945b, even Typhon being included in the list. For such daemons as these it is confinement in bodies that constitutes their punishment, 'and even these in time the Moon takes back to herself and reduces to order' (loc. cit.). … We find also, however, evil daemons in a permanently disembodied state, and that indeed is how Greeks in general would normally think of them. Xenocrates is quoted at Is. 361b as an authority for the view that there are 'great and strong natures (physeis) in the atmosphere, malevolent and morose, who rejoice in (gloomy sacrifices), and after gaining them as their lot, they turn to nothing worse'.” [PH:TMP, 218]


“It is apparent that Celsus' objection to the resurrection of Jesus and to that envisioned in Christian eschatology is based on fundamental values in Greco-Roman philosophy — values that affirmed the importance of the immortal soul, but had no use for any kind of risen body. Celsus' philosophically based objections to the resurrection are perhaps clearest in 6.72 (141,30-142,14 Koet.) where he creates doctrines for the Christians that are more in line with his own: ‘Since the son is a spirit from God born in a human body, the son of God himself would not be immortal. [Then he confuses the doctrine for himself pretending that some of us (Origen is the writer here) do not confess that] God is spirit but only his son. [And he thinks he can refute this by saying:] It is not the nature of spirit to always remain ... [Then again of his own accord he takes up something not said by us:] It is necessary that God breathes in his spirit. From that follows the impossibility of Jesus rising with his body, for God would not have taken the spirit back that he gave when it was soiled by the nature of body.’” [HI:INTGRP,61]


"Platonists did not abound in the time of Paul, but their conviction that the body was the tomb of the soul and thus of little importance seems to have affected many people." [NT:ACL,32]


“Yet not forever do the daemons tarry upon the Moon; they descend hither to take charge of oracles, they attend and participate in the highest of the mystic rituals (teletat), and they flash forth as saviours manifest in war and on the sea. [A reference to the Dioscuri in particular.] For any act that they perform in these matters not fairly but inspired by wrath or for an unjust end or out of envy they are penalised, for they are cast out upon the earth again confined in human bodies.” [Plutarch, DeFac 944CD, cited at [PH:TMP, 217]]




Four. Daimons (including souls in humans/animals) cannot be killed/crucified (they are immortal, or at least almost-eternal.. but see below)—only their terrestrial bodies can die in this way. For a daimon to die would require them taking a terrestrial body, and IT dying. But some of them are confined to cycles of rebirth on earth–to purge the passions of the flesh—ascending and descending among these levels. [Note: they might appear as in-carne, but they could not be—they could be appearances, phantasms, epiphanies, etc, but the MP system just did not allow them to be real flesh/bones/blood (it was reserved for punishment and debasement)…]


“As one surveys the range of Plutarch's utterances on daemons, certain problems become evident. First of all, how do we reconcile the doctrine of daemons with the doctrine of the ascent and descent of souls set out in the myths of the De Facie and the De Genio? Necessarily, daemons are souls, but are all souls now incarcerated in human bodies potential daemons? I think Plutarch would have to say that they were, but, perhaps, that only a small proportion are active in human affairs for good or ill. Then what of those evil daemons that are disembodied? Are they on their way to incarnation, or are they established permanently in the air below the moon? On Plutarch's theory of punishment for daemonic misbehaviour, they cannot be permanently disembodied; they must be on their way to birth. And yet that seems unsatisfactory. If birth is the punishment, it should surely take effect immediately. … Thus it would seem that some daemons bring with them a large measure of to alogon from a previous incarnation, though we are not told why this should be. They have plainly not been purged adequately by their exile in the body. But perhaps, rather, these are not daemons sent down for punishment, but souls who descended in the ordinary course of 'necessity', and behaved badly while in the body. These now become wicked and irrational daemons in the interval before descending again. Certainly they are credited with the same delight in gloomy and cruel sacrifices as were the Xenocratean daemons referred to at De Is. 361b, who sounded permanently established. It does seem as if there is an incoherence here in Plutarch's thought, resulting, perhaps, from a clash of Persian (and popular) influences with more purely Platonic ones. … Again, what of the pure minds who die the 'second death' and ascend from the moon to the sun, leaving behind their souls? Surely they are necessarily now divinized? And yet we have a description of their being sowed again into the moon (though with no suggestion of punishment for misbehaviour, De Fac. 945 BC), and thence descending again into bodies. These, it could be said, are men who have become gods, and vice versa. All this is possible, but one would like to hear how and when, if at all, one breaks free from the cycle of rebirth. Plutarch seems to envisage a continual ascent and descent, though with the suggestion (particularly at Def. Or. 415b) that only a select few in fact achieve the 'second death' which raises them to godhead. [PH:TMP:223f; note: descent to the Moon does not involve bodies, but descent to the earth does.; also ‘descent again into bodies’ = “gods becoming MEN”, i.e. terrestrial beings.]






Five. Terrestrial bodies are always on the ground because they are ‘heavy’ and subject to gravity. Daimon aerial bodies are up in the air because they are ‘lighter’ and yet not so light as to ‘float up’ into the aether (where the divinities are). If a daimon got a terrestrial body, therefore, it would ‘sink’ down to where terrestrial bodies belong—on the earth.


“Apuleius next (chs. 9-12) adds a proof that daemons are formed of air (cf. Epin. 984c; Varro ap. Aug. CD VII 6; Philo, Gig. 8-9), albeit of the purest quality; otherwise they would rise into the aether! As regards their moral nature, they are subject to passions (ch. 13), can be roused to anger and pity, placated by gifts and prayers, and enraged by abuse. He sums up their nature in the following formula: Daemons are beings of genus animate, of mind rational, of spirit passionate, of body aery, of duration eternal. The first three qualities, Apuleius points out, they have in common with ourselves, the fourth is peculiar to them, and the fifth they share with the gods. [PH:TMP:318]


Here’s the extended section from Apuleius, with my notes embedded (On the God of Socrates, cited in The Unknown Socraties, [PH:TUS, 258ff]):


“…why should nature allow only the fourth element, that of air, which is situated in such a great expanse, to stand devoid of everything, empty of its own inhabitants? How could animals of the air not be produced in it, as flaming ones are in fire, fluid ones in water, soily ones in earth? For you would very properly say that someone who would attribute the birds to the air is false in that opinion, seeing that none of them rises beyond the peak of Olympus. This is held to be the loftiest of all mountains, but if you were to measure its altitude with a plumb-line, as the geometricians suppose, the altitude of the highest point does not equal ten stades, even though the vast mass of air extends all the way to the nearest orbit of the moon, which then marks the beginning of ether upwards and beyond. What then of the great quantity of air, which lies between the lowest orbit of the moon and the highest peak of Olympus? [Note: the ‘air’ where daimons dwell is above the peak of Olympus, and not below] Well? Will it be empty of its own animals? Will that part of nature be lifeless and void? What is more, if you were to think about it carefully, those same birds would also be more rightly considered a terrestrial animal and not aerial. For their entire way of life takes place always on the earth. Their food is found there, their sleep occurs there. [note: terrestrial bodies live on earth, even if they go up in flight occasionally] In flight they push through only that part of air closest to earth. Otherwise, when the "oarages of their wings" are tired, the earth is like a harbor for them.

[IX] But if reason manifestly demands that characteristic animals ought to be understood as existing also in air, what remains for us is to examine what, after all, they are and of what nature. So they are not at all terrestrial, for they would sink under their weight; but neither are they fiery, otherwise they would be pulled upwards by their heat. Therefore, we must keep their nature intermediate in accordance with their intermediacy of location, so that the inhabitants' nature conforms with the nature of the region. Come now, let us form with our mind and produce with our intellect a class of bodies which are woven, which would be neither as heavy as the terrestrial nor as light as the ethereal, but somehow separate from both or in fact made up of a mixture of both; that is, either removed from or formed by a sharing of both substances. But they will be more easily understood as arising from both rather than from neither. Grant then that the bodies of these daemones possess both a modicum of weight, so that they do not ascend to the supernal regions, and some lightness, so that they do not fall to the infernal ones. [The infernal ones being earth and water, obviously]

[X]   So that I do not seem to you to be fabricating unbelievable things in poetic fashion, I will give you a prime example of this balanced intermediacy. For we see that clouds similarly come together in a diffuse consistency. And if they were as light as those things which lack mass entirely, they would never wreathe the peak of a high mountain like some winding necklace, brought down below the heights by weight, as we very frequently notice them doing. On the other hand, if they were so heavy by their very nature that no admixture of a more active lightness could raise them, they would, inclined to fall from their own force, certainly be dashed against the earth, no differently than a hunk of lead or stone. But as it stands, hanging freely and mobile, they are driven this way and that on the sea of air by winds, in the same way as ships, changing a little bit in nearness and distance. In fact, if they abound with any moisture they sink downwards as though to produce offspring. And for this same reason the moister clouds go lower in a dark mass and with a more plodding motion. But the course of the dry clouds is more lofty and, when they are driven along like fleecy tufts of wool, they move in a white mass and with a swifter flight. You have heard what Lucretius most eloquently says about thunder, haven't you?

First, the blue expanse of heaven is shaken by thunder  Because the ethereal clouds flying high in the sky Collide when the struggling winds fight each other.

(De Rerum Natura 6.96-98)

[XI]  But if clouds, whose every rising and turning back down to the earth is terrestrial in nature, float about on high, what then will you think of the bodies of the daemones, which are a so much more diffuse condensation? For they are amassed not from this particulate cloudiness and moist mistiness, as the genus of clouds is, but they are coalesced from that purest liquid and clear element of air, and for that reason, unless they reveal their appearance by divine will, they are not readily seen by any man, because no earthly solidity takes the place of light in them, which might intercept our vision and on which solidity our eyesight would necessarily delay when met with. Rather, they possess fibers of substances which are diffuse, brilliant, and delicate to the point that they allow all the rays of our sight to pass through by their diffusion, repel them by their brilliance, and trick them by their subtlety. From this comes Homer's portrayal of Minerva when she comes into the middle of the Greek assembly to restrain Achilles. [Note: here are cases where the airy daimons appear to and interact with men, but do not require/use a terrestrial body for that.] If you wait a bit, I will deliver the Greek line in Latin — and I'm doing this on the spot. So Minerva, as I was saying, arrives on Juno's order to bring Achilles under control:

"Obvious to him alone, none of the others sees her.”

Also from this comes Vergil's Juturna, who, in order to aid her brother, moves among thousands of soldiers:

"And she mixes with men but is not seen by any,"

doing, in short, what Plautus' soldier brags about doing with his shield,

"Dulling the keenness of his enemies' eyes."(Miles Gloriosus 4)


[XII] And so I do not go through the rest of the examples at greater length, the poets, by no means far from the truth, are accustomed as a general rule to fashion from this category of daemones gods who hate and love certain men: they lift up and give some success; others, on the contrary, they oppose and cast down. They feel pity and they feel anger, they are distressed and they are glad, and they experience every aspect of the human mind. They toss about to every tide of thought because of a similar stirring of the heart and swelling of the mind. But all of these squalls and storms are banished far from the tranquility of the celestial gods. For all of the heavenly gods always possess the same state of mind with an eternal dispassion, and that mind is never moved from its limits either toward pain or toward pleasure, nor is it removed in any way from its eternal mode of existence to some unexpected state, neither by an external force—for nothing is more potent than a god—nor by its own will—for nothing is more perfect than a god. After all, how can it be viewed as having been perfect when it moves from a previous state to a different and better one, especially since no one willingly pursues what is new, unless the old has displeased him? For that changed principle cannot arise without an invalidation of the preceding ones.

Wherefore, a god should endure no temporary exercise of hate or love and therefore should be touched by neither anger nor pity, should be bothered by no distress and should become excited by no enthusiasm. No, free from all passions of the mind, he should not ever grieve nor should he rejoice in anything, [note: “God so loved the world that He sent his beloved Son…” and “God rejoices in good” and “God is compassionate” has no place in this system…] and he should not wish something unexpected to occur nor wish that it would not.


[XIII] But all these traits and others of the same sort are properly consistent with the intermediacy of daemones, because they are positioned between us and the gods as much in the nature of their intelligence as in the location of their realm, having immortality in common with the gods above, emotion in common with the mortals below. For just as with us, they can undergo every consolation or agitation of the mind, such that they are roused by anger and swayed by pity, induced by gifts and assuaged by prayers, irritated by affronts and soothed by offerings, and in every other context they change in a manner similar to us.

So that I might define them comprehensively, daemones are a class of animals, rational in nature, subject to emotion, airy in body, and eternal in time. Of these five factors which I have listed, the first three are the very ones we possess, the fourth is their own, and the last they share with the immortal gods, though they differ from them in feeling emotion. For this reason I have not, to my way of thinking, inappropriately called them "emotional," since they are liable to the very same disturbances of the mind that we are.”




Here’s the extended quote from Plato’s Epinomis, 1524ff:


“athenian: And solid bodies from which things can best and most fairly be molded are, by the most probable account, of five sorts, while the whole of being of the other kind has one single type. For nothing can be incorporeal and wholly and always devoid of color, save only being of the divinest type, soul, and 'tis the proper and exclusive function of this to mold and make’. To body it pertains, as I say, to be molded, be made, be seen, but to the other—we may repeat it, for it needs to be said more than once—to be unseen, to know, to be apprehended by thought, and to have its part in memory and com­putation of the interchanges of odd and even. Now as the number of these forms of body is five, they should be enumerated as fire, water, third air, fourth earth, and fifth aether. It is as they predominate that all the creatures are fashioned in all their multitude and variety. The matter should be expounded in detail as follows. We may take the earthy first as one single type comprising all mankind as well as all creatures with many feet or with none, alike those which travel from place to place and those which are fixed to one spot, fast bound by their roots; their unity, so we should hold, lies in this, that though all five forms of body are found in the structure of them all, their princi­pal stuff is earth, the hard and resistant substance. [note: Plato here asserts that all bodies have some level of all five elements in them, but that each is distinguished by the relative levels.] Then secondly we must assume another kind of creature, likewise visible because it mainly consists of fire, though it contains some small portions of earth, air, and all the rest. From these constituents, then, we must hold, there arise visible creatures of many kinds, whom we must further take to be the kinds of creatures which people the skies. Collectively, of course, we must call them the divine host of the stars— endowed with the fairest of bodies and the happiest and best of souls. And we are fairly bound to assign them one or other of two lots. Either every one of them is imperishable, immortal, and divine, and that of utter and absolute necessity, or each of them has his sufficient term of life, covering many ages, beyond which there is nothing more for him to desire. ...  We will begin then, as we say, by conceiving these two sorts of creature, both, to repeat ourselves, visible—the one composed, as might be imagined, wholly of fire and the other of earth, the earthy sort moving in disorderly fashion, that of fire with utter uniformity. Now the sort which moves in disorderly wise—as the kind of creature which includes ourselves mostly does—we must take to be unintelli­gent, but as for that which holds its course uniformly through the sky, we should count this abundant proof of its intelligence [OMITTED: argument for the souls/intelligence of the stars/planets]  We maintain, first, that there are two sorts of being, soul being one and body the other; that there are many of either kind, all different from one another, and either sort from the other; that there is no tertium quid common to both; that soul is more excellent than body. [OMITTED: discussion of images of gods]. Now that we have discovered two kinds of creature, both visible, the one, so we say, immortal, the other—that made of earth—mortal, we shall try to give the most faithful account warranted by reasonable conjecture of the three intermediate sorts out of the five, which lie between these extremes. Next to fire we will place aether, assuming that soul fashions from it creatures which, as with the other kinds, have in the main the character of its own sub­stance, though with lesser portions of the other kinds as bonds of union, and that after aether soul fashions another sort of creature out of air, and a third from water. By the fabrication of them all, we may suppose, soul has filled the universe throughout with living things, making all possible use of all the kinds of body, and communicating life to all; the series of creations begins with the visible divinities, and has its second, third, fourth, and fifth terms, closing in ourselves, mankind. As for such gods as Zeus, Hera, and the rest, a man may give them any rank he pleases, so long as he conforms to this law of ours and holds fast to our principle. But, it is, of course, the stars and the bodies we can perceive existing along with them that must be named first as the visible gods, and the greatest, most worshipful, and clear­sighted of them all; after them and below them, come in order the daemons and the creatures of the air, who hold the third and midmost rank, doing the office of interpreters, and should be peculiarly honored in our prayers that they may transmit comfortable messages. Both sorts of creature, those of aether and those of air, who hold the rank next to them, we shall say, are wholly transparent; however close they are to us, they go undiscerned. Being, however, of a kind that is quick to learn and of retentive memory, they read all our thoughts and re­gard the good and noble with signal favor, but the very evil with deep aversion. For they are not exempt from feeling pain, whereas a god who enjoys the fullness of deity is clearly above both pain and pleas­ure, though possessed of all-embracing wisdom and knowledge. The universe being thus full throughout of living creatures, they all, so we shall say, act as interpreters, and interpreters of all things, to one an­other and to the highest gods, seeing that the middle ranks of crea­tures can flit so lightly over the earth and the whole universe. As for the fifth and last of our substances, water, the safest guess would be that what is formed from it is a demigod, and that it is sometimes to be seen, but anon conceals itself and becomes invisible, and thus per­plexes us by its indistinct appearance.



Six. As ‘mixtures’ of the divine and the non-divine, these are said ( or ‘alleged’) to be able to experience some forms of pain/pleasures without requiring a terrestrial flesh-and-blood body. And since daimons can fight against each other, presumably the MP system would let daimons ‘hurt’ (but probably not kill—but compare the slaying of Python by Apollo?) other daimons—without even needing a human body like Jesus had. [However, some of the stories are clearly doubted by the MP’s as being ‘somatically real’, such as the castration of the god Uranus by his demigod son Cronus.]


Better, therefore, is the judgment of those who hold that the stories about Typhon, Osiris, and Isis, are records of experiences of neither gods nor men, but of demigods, whom Plato and Pythagoras and Xenocrates and Chyrsippus, following the lead of early writers on sacred subjects, allege to have been stronger than men and, in their might, greatly surpassing our nature (physis), yet not possessing the divine quality unmixed and uncontaminated, but with a share also in the nature (physis) of the soul (psuche) and in the perceptive faculties of the body (somatos), and with a susceptibility to pleasure and pain and to whatsoever other experience is incident to these mutations…” [Is e Os, 360ff]


“Such also, he said, were the stories about Typhons and Titans; battles of demigods against demigods had taken place, followed by the exile of the vanquished, or else judgment inflicted by a god upon the sinners, as, for example, for the sin which Typhon is said to have committed in the case of Osiris, or Cronus in the case of Uranus…” [De Def, 421]




Seven. There seems to be some disagreement on the eternity of the daimons, within Middle Platonism. The quotes above generally refer to them as ‘eternal’ or ‘immortal’ (certainly not capable of being killed), but there are a couple of references to ‘death’ and ‘dissolution’ of daimons, although it doesn’t seem to be either strongly or widely held. For a daimon to be killed, or crucified ‘above the clouds’, would not fit into even these constructions of non-immortal daimons, though.


Plutarch, for example, reports a conversation over whether the ‘final end of daimons is death’, and the data advanced in favor of their mortality is twofold: (1) an oracle that ‘Great Pan is Dead’; and (2) stories from small islands around Britain, using the terms ‘passing’ and ‘dissolution’ to describe their death. [De Defectu Oraculorum, 418-420] . The group in the passage seem to accept this conclusion, and other related (although perhaps stated tentatively) cases such as Python might be adduced as evidence for this. But we will note when we look at Plutarch’s accounts of Isis/Osiris/Horus that an MP perspective will not really admit much of the visceral content of the myths… see below.



Eight. But no matter how we conceive of these ‘divine beings’, one cultural fact also strongly militates against assimilating daimons with the Crucified Lord—the incomprehensibility of crucifixion (I have written more on this elsewhere in the Tank, e.g., copycat.html). In any segment of G-R society, noble death was accepted, but crucifixion could never, ever count as ‘noble death’—it was explicitly a death of ‘shame’:


“By comparing the word of the cross with the expectations of the Jews and Greeks, and the understanding of worldly wisdom, Paul's use of the term moria is more akin to the understanding that worshiping a crucified God was inconceivably backward, rather than being a comical idea. Although Christians would be ridiculed for worshiping a crucified God, this is not the perspective that Paul presents. That God could be crucified was inconceivable in the minds of the ancients. To them, a god was powerful and had honour and would never allow themselves to be subjected to crucifixion. It would have been mind-boggling to them and would have had the appearance of foolishness. Paul and the Christians were liable to be mocked and rightfully fearful of death by the Roman state, because their master Jesus, by definition of his title "Christ," was someone who rebelled against the state, and as his followers they would have agreed with his teaching and message. Likewise, "an alleged son of God who could not help himself at the time of his deepest need (Mark 15.31), and who rather required his followers to take up the cross, was hardly an attraction to the lower classes of Roman and Greek society." In fact, people were too eager to get away from the cross. Such a backward concept in the minds of the ancients could have only been incomprehensibly foolish.” [NT:PW, 128; this event is not something one would ‘invent’ to out-shout a rival religious faction, or to ‘boost attendance at the Sunday morning service’.]



Nine. The closest image I can find (in the MPish lit of the period) to a daemon ‘taking on our nature to save us’ turns out to be not one of incarnation after all. In Plutarch’s On the Sign (Daemon) of Socrates, is this passage:


“The gods, then, order the life of but few among men, such as they wish to make supremely blessed and in very truth divine ; whereas souls delivered from birth and henceforth at rest from the body—set quite free, as it were, to range at will— are, as Hesiod ' says, daemons that watch over man. For as athletes who from old age have given up training do not entirely lose their ardour and their love of bodily prowess, but look on with pleasure as others train, and call out encouragement and run along beside them, so those who are done with the contests of life, and who, from prowess of soul, have become daemons, do not hold what is done and said and striven after in this world in utter contempt, but are propitious to contenders for the same goal, join in their ardour, and encourage and help them to the attainment of virtue when they see them keeping up the struggle and all but reaching their heart's desire. For daemons do not assist all indifferently, but as when men swim at sea, those standing on the shore merely view in silence the swimmers who are still far out and distant from land, whereas they help with hand and voice alike such as have come near, and running along and wading in beside them bring them safely in, such too, my friends, is the way of daemons…


The ‘wading in’ image could suggest ‘incarnation’ (perhaps), but the rest of the passage shows that it is nothing of the kind:


“…wading in beside them bring them safely in, such too, my friends, is the way of daemons : as long as we are head over ears in the welter of worldly affairs and are changing body after body, like conveyances, they allow us to fight our way out and persevere unaided, as we endeavour by our own prowess to come through safe and reach a haven ; but when in the course of countless births a soul has stoutly and resolutely sustained a long series of struggles, and as her cycle draws to a close, she approaches the upper world, bathed in sweat, in imminent peril and straining every nerve to reach the shore, God holds it no sin for her daemon to go to the rescue, but lets whoever will lend aid. One daemon is eager to deliver by his exhortations one soul, another another [sic], and the soul on her part, having drawn close, can hear, and thus is saved ; but if she pays no heed, she is forsaken by her daemon and conies to no happy end." [On the Sign of Socrates, 24, 593D-594A]


The daimon is still just a bystander, teaching and urging the struggling soul on, while the soul has to listen, be guided, and continue the horrible struggle to ‘reach the shore’. No incarnation, no sacrifice, no real ‘redemption’.


And what a contrast to the New Testament Savior--!—who ‘carried our weaknesses’, whose love ‘took our place in the execution line’, whose body ‘bore our stripes’! We do not struggle—He did. We do not suffer for our crimes, He did. And His ‘spotless flesh’ stood in the stead of our ‘sinful flesh’. This is NOT an MP daemon!


A great example of this is in the MP version of Osiris (more detail immediately below). For all the talk about Osiris ‘body’ being torn apart, when Plutarch says his last on the subject, the Osiris envisioned is immaterial, without any connection to matter/flesh, and also only becomes the soul’s leader and king AFTER the souls have reached perfection!


“78. This idea at the present time the priests intimate with great circumspection in acquitting themselves of this religious secret and in trying to conceal it : that this god Osiris is the ruler and king of the dead, nor is he any other than the god that among the Greeks is called Hades and Pluto. But since it is not understood in what manner this is true, it greatly disturbs the majority of people who suspect that the holy and sacred Osiris truly dwells in the earth and beneath the earth, where are hidden away the bodies of those that are believed to have reached their end. But he himself is far removed from the earth, uncontaminated and unpolluted and pure from all matter that is subject to destruction and death ; but for the souls of men here, which are compassed about by bodies and emotions, there is no association with this god except in so far as they may attain to a dim vision of his presence by means of the apperception which philosophy affords. But when these souls are set free and migrate into the realm of the invisible and the unseen, the dispassionate and the pure, then this god becomes their leader and king, since it is on him that they are bound to be dependent in their insatiate contemplation and yearning for that beauty which is for men unutterable and indescribable. [On the Sign of Socrates, 78(382E-383A).






Okay—sorry for dragging through all the source material, but I thought it would show a couple of basic points:


  • Daimons already had a body—just an airy one (we don’t know, btw, what happened to THAT body when the soul was confined to a terrestrial body as punishment).
  • Terrestrial bodies were ‘heavy’ and tied to the earth—if a daimon was confined to one of these, they would have to spend most of their time (like a bird) on the ground.
  • Anytime they ‘set foot’ inside a terrestrial body it was for punishment—against their will.
  • They could feel pain without having a human body.
  • They might could even have been ‘killed’ by another daimon without having an earthy body.
  • There was therefore no reason – within MP – that a daimon would need to have an earthly body to ‘die’ or ‘suffer’
  • There was no place – within MP –for a daimon to willingly enter a human body (even for a noble cause)
  • There was no place—with MP or G-R world of the time—for a noble demon to suffered the ignoble and shameful death of crucifixion
  • There was no place – with MP –for a daimon incarcerated in a body to be ‘living their life’ up in their ‘airy domain’ (i.e., higher than Olympus, but below the Moon)
  • And, although I did not cover it above, Platonic thought always asserted that terrestrial bodies had to feed, sleep, relieve themselves, drink, etc—as a fact of their nature—and so, if an in-carne demon lived his entire life up in the air (with a true human body), he/she was gonna have to visit the earth FREQUENTLY(!) for meals, sleeping, using the bathroom, etc… this is just SO out of the pale of MP thought on daimons!


So, at least within MP ‘proper’ [we are NOT talking about ‘Mystery Religions’ or other cults of the period, remember] , the thesis that Christ (understood in this system as a daimon) took on flesh/blood/bones of his own free will, lived a real ‘terrestrial’ life up in the stratosphere, and was somehow ‘crucified’ up there by other daimons, finds ‘no purchase’ in Middle-Platonism, purely considered. [There could be bizarre hybrids of MP, mystery religions, and mythologies which might (I guess) concoct such a strange anti-Platonic, pro-body doctrine, of course—like Plutarch for example(?!)—but it would not be ‘real’ MP]




Now, about this Isis/Osiris thing of Plutarch’s…


Pushback: “Dude, you just argued that MP daimons don’t/can't have terrestrial bodies, do not die, and that if they DID have terrestrial bodies, they would NOT live up in the air—their proper domain. But you KNOW Plutarch was a MP, and surely you know that he describes how Typhon tears apart the body of Osiris, and Isis puts him back together again, right?  Doesn’t this sort of show that an MP daimon could have a body, suffer bodily harm—and all of this happen ‘up in the air’?”


Not at all, friend—


You are confusing Plutarch the would-be ethnographer of Egypt, Plutarch the Mystery Religion enthusiast, and Plutarch the Middle Platonist.


Plutarch the would-be ethnographer of Egypt tells the extended story of Isis, Typhon, Osiris, and Horus in the first 19 sections of his work and then rejects the Egyptian understanding of this outright in 20:


“These are nearly all the important points of the legend, with the omission of the most infamous of the tales, such as that about the dismemberment of Horus and the decapitation of Isis. There is one thing that I have no need to mention to you : if they hold such opinions and relate such tales about the nature of the blessed and imperishable (in accordance with which our concept of the divine must be framed) as if such deeds and occurrences actually took place, then ‘Much need there is to spit and cleanse the mouth,’ as Aeschylus " has it. But the fact is that you yourself detest those persons who hold such abnormal and outlandish opinions about the gods.


So, as a story about the ‘gods’ (theon) he rejects it outright.


But then Plutarch the Mystery Religion enthusiast, using the popular daimon category which was common to the Hellenism of the day, re-interprets the Egyptian ‘outlandish opinions’ (after ridiculing Euhemerus in 23):


Better, therefore, is the judgment of those who hold that the stories about Typhon, Osiris, and Isis, are records of experiences of neither gods nor men, but of demigods, whom Plato and Pythagoras and Xenocrates and Chyrsippus, following the lead of early writers on sacred subjects, allege to have been stronger than men and, in their might, greatly surpassing our nature (physis), yet not possessing the divine quality unmixed and uncontaminated, but with a share also in the nature (physis) of the soul (psuche) and in the perceptive faculties of the body (somatos), and with a susceptibility to pleasure and pain and to whatsoever other experience is incident to these mutations…” [Is e Os, 360ff]


He then gives a standard MP account of daimons in general (26). But when he turns to Typhon and crew in 27, there is only mention of doing terrible deeds and bringing confusion and ills upon the whole earth. The battles between Typhon and Isis are not explained or described in details, and Isis recounts her experiences in ‘holy rites’, as an ‘encouragement for men and women who find themselves in the clutch of like calamities’. The phrase ‘like calamities’ probably doesn’t refer to wives whose husbands have been dismembered and scattered all over the world… All we get in the passage are unexplained ‘virtues’ and ‘vices’. The details of the myths have disappeared, in favor of more generic concepts.


In 30, he returns to Isis/Osiris/Typhon. I+O are promoted from demigods to full-gods, while Typhon (no longer fighting I+O but rather fighting ‘extinction’!)  is mollified with sacrifices (instead of being fought by I+O):


“Now Osiris and Isis changed from good minor deities into gods. But the power of Typhon, weakened and crushed, but still fighting and struggling against extinction, they try to console and mollify by certain sacrifices”


He then discusses various cultic legends about various demigods, and then, in 32, he seems to reject ALL of it and re-interpret the whole lot—Plutarch the Middle Platonist comes to the fore:


“Such, then, are the possible interpretations which these facts suggest. But now let us begin over again, and consider first the most perspicuous of those who have a reputation for expounding matters more philosophically. These men are like the Greeks who say that Cronus is but a figurative name for Chronus (time), Hera for Air, and that the birth of Hephaestus symbolizes the change of Air into Fire. And thus among the Egyptians such men say that Osiris is the Nile consorting with the Earth, which is Isis, and that the sea is Typhon into which the Nile discharges its waters and is lost to view and dissipated, save for that part which the earth takes up and absorbs and thereby becomes fertilized.”


What were daimons interacting earlier are now simply symbols of natural phenomena. The Osiris which was dismembered and scattered by Typhon, now becomes the Nile which is swallowed up by and dissipated by the Sea. The gods with bodies, morphed into daimons with ‘virtues’ and ‘vices’, and now are sterilized as symbols


The story of Typhon’s bloody treachery becomes almost unrecognizable (38-40), in a serious bit of ‘de-mythologizing’:


As they regard the Nile as the effusion of Osiris, so they hold and believe the earth to be the body of Isis, not all of it, but so much of it as the Nile covers, fertilizing it and uniting with it. From this union they make Horus to be born. The all-conserving and fostering Hora, that is the seasonable tempering of the surrounding air, is Horus, who they say was brought up by Leto in the marshes round about Buto ; for the watery and saturated land best nurtures those exhalations which quench and abate aridity and dryness.


“The outmost parts of the land beside the mountains and bordering on the sea the Egyptians call Nephthys. This is why they give to Nephthys the name of "Finality," ' and say that she is the wife of Typhon. Whenever, then, the Nile overflows and with abound­ing waters spreads far away to those who dwell in the outermost regions, they call this the union of Osiris with Nephthys, which is proved by the upspringing of the plants. Among these is the melilotus, by the wilting and failing of which, as the story goes, Typhon gained knowledge of the wrong done to his bed. So Isis gave birth to Horus in lawful wedlock, but Nephthys bore Anubis clandestinely. However, in the chronological lists of the kings they record that Nephthys, after her marriage to Typhon, was at first barren. If they say this, not about a woman, but about the goddess, they must mean by it the utter barrenness and unproductivity of the earth resulting from a hard-baked soil.


“39- The insidious scheming and usurpation of Typhon, then, is the power of drought, which gains control and dissipates the moisture which is the source of the Nile and of its rising ; and his coadjutor, the Queen of the Ethiopians," signifies allegorically the south winds from Ethiopia ; for whenever these gain the upper hand over the northerly or Etesian winds which drive the clouds towards Ethiopia, and when they prevent the falling of the rains which cause the rising of the Nile, then Typhon, being in possession, blazes with scorching heat ; and having gained com­plete mastery, he forces the Nile in retreat to draw back its waters for weakness, and, flowing at the bottom of its almost empty channel, to proceed to the sea. The story told of the shutting up of Osiris in the chest seems to mean nothing else than the vanishing and disappearance of water. Consequently they say that the disappearance of Osiris occurred in the month of Athyr at the time when, owing to the complete cessation of the Etesian winds, the Nile recedes to its low level and the land becomes denuded. As the nights grow longer, the darkness increases, and the potency of the light is abated and subdued. Then among the gloomy rites which the priests perform, they shroud the gilded image of a cow with a black linen vestment, and display her as a sign of mourning for the goddess, inasmuch as they regard both the cow and the earth as the image of Isis ; and this is kept up for four days consecutively, beginning with the seventeenth of the month. The things mourned for are four in number : first, the departure and recession of the Nile ; second, the complete extinction of the north winds, as the south winds gain the upper hand ; third, the day's growing shorter than the night; and, to crown all, the denudation of the earth together with the defolia­tion of the trees and shrubs at this time. On the nineteenth day they go down to the sea at night­time ; and the keepers of the robes and the priests bring forth the sacred chest containing a small golden coffer, into which they pour some potable water which they have taken up, and a great shout arises from the company for joy that Osiris is found. Then they knead some fertile soil with the water and mix in spices and incense of a very costly sort, and fashion therefrom a crescent-shaped figure, which they clothe and adorn, thus indicating that they regard these gods as the substance of Earth and Water.


“40. When Isis recovered Osiris and was watching Horus grow up as he was being made strong by the exhalations and mists and clouds, Typhon was van­quished but not annihilated; for the goddess who holds sway over the Earth would not permit the complete annihilation of the nature opposed to moist­ure, but relaxed and moderated it, being desirous that its tempering potency should persist, because it was not possible for a complete world to exist, if the fiery element left it and disappeared. Even if this story were not current among them, one would hardly be justified in rejecting that other account, to the effect that Typhon, many ages ago, held sway over Osiris's domain ; for Egypt used to be all a sea and, for that reason, even to-day it is found to have shells in its mines and mountains Moreover, all the springs and wells, of which there are many, have a saline and brackish water, as if some stale dregs of the ancient sea had collected there.


“But, in time, Horus overpowered Typhon ; that is to say, there came on a timely abundance of rain, and the Nile forced out the sea and revealed the fertile land, which it filled out with its alluvial deposits. This has support in the testimony of our own observation ; for we see, even to-day, as the river brings down new silt and advances the land, that the deep waters gradually recede and, as the bottom gains in height by reason of the alluvial deposits, the water of the sea runs off from these.”



But it gets worse… as Plutarch the MPer gets into high gear, the entire Isis/Osiris/Typhon story loses all resemblance to daimons, gods, and even symbols. The next time we have a mention of the body of Osiris and the “Typhon Chain-Saw Massacre”, it is totally transformed into something immaterial (54):


“It is not, therefore, out of keeping that they have a legend that the soul of Osiris is everlasting and imperishable, but that his body Typhon oftentimes dismembers and causes to disappear, and that Isis wanders hither and yon in her search for it, and fits it together again; for that which really is and is perceptible and good is superior to destruction and change. The images from it with which the sensible and corporeal is impressed, and the relations, forms, and likenesses which this takes upon itself, like im­pressions of seals in wax, are not permanently lasting, but disorder and disturbance overtakes them, being driven hither from the upper reaches, and fighting against Horus, whom Isis brings forth, beholden of all, as the image of the perceptible world. Therefore it is said that he is brought to trial by Typhon on the charge of illegitimacy, as not being pure nor un-contaminated like his father, reason unalloyed and unaffected of itself, but contaminated in his substance because of the corporeal element. He prevails, however, and wins the case when Hermes, that is to say Reason, testifies and points out that Nature, by undergoing changes of form with reference to the perceptible, duly brings about the creation of the world. The birth of Apollo from Isis and Osiris, while these gods were still in the womb of Rhea, has the alle­gorical meaning that before this world was made visible and its rough material was completely formed by Reason, it was put to the test by Nature and brought forth of itself the first creation imperfect. This is the reason why they say that this god was born in the darkness a cripple, and they call him the elder Horus; for there was then no world, but only an image and outline of a world to be.”


Plutarch has moved into the rarified air of Platonism here, equating various daimons/mythic figures with VERY abstract notions. Real bodies, real souls/psyches, real dismemberments, and real battles are long gone.


Look at some of the summary statements by Dillon [PH:TMP] on what Isis and Osiris ‘mean’ to Plutarch the Middle Platonist, and see why this has nothing to do with a daimon taking a fleshly body and being killed up in the air(!):


“God, thus established, must relate to the world through suitable intermediaries, of whom the first is, not surprisingly, the Logos. The Logos has, of course, two aspects, the transcendent and the immanent. In a passage of the De Is. (373AB), the two aspects, or moments, of Osiris are distinguished as his soul and his body. His soul is 'eternal and indestructible', whereas his body is repeatedly torn asunder by Typhon and is constantly being reassembled by Isis. The body of Osiris is the Logos, or the Ideas, immanent in Matter (p200; Note: the ‘dismembered body’ is the sum total of the Platonic Ideas!)


“In Plutarch's metaphysics, in place of the more traditional Platonic triad of principles—God, Matter, and the Ideas or the Logos—we seem to have as many as five entities: a pair of opposites, God (Monadic Intellect) and an evil principle (Indefinite Dyad), represented for Plutarch by the Persian pair Ahuramazda and Ahriman (De Is. 369E), as well as by the Soul of Osiris and Seth-Typhon; then the immanent Logos, represented by the Body of Osiris, and the World Soul-cum-Matter, Isis; and, finally, their offspring, the sensible cosmos, Horus. Plutarch does indeed speak of three Platonic entities (ibid. 3732), the Intelligible (noeton), Matter, and the product of these two, but he speaks of these as being elements of 'the better and more divine nature', which as we have seen is not a complete description of reality (p206; note that Isis et. al. are no longer daimons at all—they are very basic principles, the world, etc… remember also that the ‘immanent Logos’ was simply the Forms/Ideas ‘scattered about’ and embodied in things.)



We should also note that Plutarch actually presents the myth and the daimonic versions in terms of ‘what they say’. He allegorizes them early, but eventually Plutarch the Middle Platonist has moved Isis/Osiris/Typhon out of the daimon category altogether and into something more like ‘first principles’ of the Platonic universe.


BTW, Plutarch is not an ‘odd duck’ here—reinterpretation of these ‘embarrassing myths’ was the norm of the period:


“In any case, if one were made too uncomfortable by inherited worship and mythology, escape into beliefs less gross and more intellectually satisfying could be had through reinterpretation. Menander the rhetor in the third century, describing how to write prose hymns suitable to whatsoever deity, calls attention to one useful device: the discovery of ainigmata, riddles. He means a sort of decoding, whereby the speaker detects, or pre­tends to detect but actually invents, hidden intents in traditional material. By this trick everything can be spruced up: the older hymns and rites, now outmoded; cult objects at initiations that offend prudery or common sense; local images and lore; stories of deities that tell too much or too little. In the same century, Porphyry takes up a stretch of an Orphic hymn for illus­tration: Zeus, as commonly portrayed, "is seated, the firm seat of his power being shown through riddle (…), for his upper parts are un­clothed because he is visible through his thoughts and in the celestial por­tions of the universe, but the parts to the fore are covered because he is invisible among the things hidden below." And Menander again interprets Apollo as the Sun, Hera as the air, because of the resemblance of her name to the word in Greek. Rather elementary examples. The stories of Kronos eating his young bewildered and revolted anyone who stopped to think of them; but they could suggest cryptically that mind turns in upon itself. So says Sallust the philosopher. Pausanias worried about them, too, but "grew to hold a more thoughtful view of them. In olden times those Greeks who were considered wise spoke in riddles, not straight out. Accordingly, it is my supposition that these legends about Kronos are a piece of Greek wis­dom."  Reinterpretation had a long history before the period of our study. The art found favor among Jews and Christians as well as pagans. Seneca thought it nonsense, Dio Chrysostom scorned its exculpations of Homer; but their respective contemporaries Cornutus and Plutarch made frequent, reverential use of it in defense of existing religion—even Egyptian. The tearing apart of Osiris could be understood in a new and most unobvious light; so also the same fate suffered by Dionysus; and passages in Homer and Hesiod could be enriched with marginal commentary pointing out, for example, the former's confirmation of Empedocles. [HI:PTRE, 77f]


In other words, the period was increasingly ‘embarrassed’ by these stories of anthropomorphic (and might we add “sarx-o-morphic”) aspects of their gods/daimons/myths in general. They ‘rebutted them’ by reducing them to symbol or philosophical concepts. They were no longer ‘personal beings’ but ideas, seasons, natural forces. [And people want to say that “Paul the Middle Platonist” wanted to re-invent one of these ‘embarrassing tales’—of an incarnate daimon—during this time?!]


Plutarch the Middle-Platonist does NOT, therefore, have an Osiris with a fleshly/terrestrial body up in the air, which is literally dismembered by Typhon. Plutarch, the Mystery Religion enthusiast might have this—but he is vague on it in the relevant passage—but the Middle Platonist does not.


So, Plutarch’s use of Isis/Osiris/etc does not constitute a counter-example to the position above (that Middle Platonists would simply not countenance a daimon—especially a good one—with a human body, living their existence up in the air, and suffering a shameful crucifixion).


I should also point out that Apuleius’s later ‘account’ of Isis saving poor Lucius (Metamorphoses 11.6, 24f) has nothing of this ‘body baggage’. When [HCNT] contrasts this story with Pauline salvation theology in Romans 5.1-11, differences emerge—specifically dealing with incarnation issues:


Three of several significant differences: (1) The savior in Apuleius is the deity, who remains deity without anything like incarnation. (2) The saving act is the communication of saving information from the deity, not a this-worldly act of love; there is and can be nothing like suffering and dying in the Isis story. (3) Even though Lucius is initiated, the saving act remains individual; for Paul, the community of the redeemed is an essential aspect of the saving event.” [HCNT, para563 on Romans 5.1-11]




-------------------------------  -----------------------------------------------------------------------


And, Earl Doherty’s reconstruction of Christian origins



“My question is specifically on the one promoted by Earl Doherty.  He has basically taken Wells's theory and taken it to new height.  He argues that not only does Jesus have no historical roots in Paul's letters,  but that Paul didn't even believe Jesus was a human.  He realizes passages like Rom 1:3 and Gal 4:4 pose a problem to his theory.  But he argues that these passages sound like human traits, but must be understood in terms of Middle-Platonism.  He calls the world where Paul believed Jesus died the "fleshy sublunar realm".  Now, I know others have pointed out that Doherty seems here to have ad-hoc invented a non-existence Middle Platonic world.



My response:


I really can’t say much here, since I haven’t read much of Earl’s work. I don’t have his book, and I have only glanced at some of his webpages. I read Carrier’s couple-of-paragraph summary of Earl’s book, but there is no mention of “Middle Platonism” in the thumbnail. I don’t have time to work through Earl’s stuff, so I am gonna have to confine myself to the other questions in this ‘thread’.


[Of course, to the extent Earl’s positions correspond to the other questions in this piece (e.g., Paul not believing that the Jesus he referred to was a Jewish person with a genetic family or Paul holding to an MP metaphysic), then to that extent my data/arguments would interact with his—but I cannot know at this point which positions discussed herein actually are held by Earl.]






---------------------------------  --------------------------------------------------------------------


Then, the ‘fun’ one—from my perspective (smile): Paul the Middle-Platonist?



“From your perspective, is there any reason we should see Paul as using middle-platonic philosophy?”



My Response:


… is in the next section (muddleplatonismx2.html)



The Christian ThinkTank...[] (Reference Abbreviations)