The Amazing Colossal Apostle Book Summary

Title: The Amazing Colossal Apostle: The Search for the Historical Paul
Author: Robert M. Price

TLDR: This book argues that none of the 13 New Testament letters attributed to Paul were actually written by him. Price instead proposes that these epistles are a collection of later writings by various authors, including Gnostics and Marcionites, who used Paul’s name to promote their own theological agendas.

Introduction: Deconstructing Paul

Robert M. Price sets the stage for his radical reinterpretation of Paul by highlighting the curious state of Pauline studies in the 21st century. He argues that scholars, particularly those with Protestant leanings, have elevated Paul to a position of dogmatic authority exceeding even that of Jesus. This stems from the Protestant Reformation’s focus on Paul’s teachings of justification by faith, which often eclipses Jesus’s emphasis on Torah observance.

As scholars have become increasingly skeptical of reconstructing a reliable historical Jesus, some have shifted their focus to Paul, hoping to find in him a more solid theological foundation. However, Price argues, this reliance on Paul is misguided for two reasons.

Firstly, the Pauline epistles are riddled with the same redactional issues and inconsistencies found in the Gospels, making the quest for a historical Paul as challenging as the quest for the historical Jesus. Secondly, Protestant scholars, accustomed to viewing Paul as their theological bedrock, are hesitant to accept critical analysis of the Pauline corpus, clinging to the traditional view of Paul as author of seven undisputed letters.

Price draws an analogy to Ismail’i Islam, comparing Jesus to the “proclaimer” who delivers a simplified gospel for the masses, and Paul to the “foundation” who unveils the deeper esoteric meaning. This elevation of Paul over Jesus, he argues, is problematic, particularly when coupled with the reluctance to acknowledge the complex nature of the Pauline epistles.

He cites the work of scholars like Darrell Doughty who pointed out that traditional Pauline commentaries are often exercises in harmonization, attempting to force unity and coherence onto fragmented and diverse texts. Price draws parallels to the study of the Gospels, where inconsistencies and abrupt transitions are readily acknowledged as evidence of redaction and compilation. He argues for applying the same critical lens to the Pauline epistles, recognizing them as a collection of fragments and teachings from various authors and communities.

This introduction outlines the overarching theme of the book: deconstructing the traditional understanding of Pauline authority and authorship to unveil a more complex and nuanced picture of the development of Paulinism in the early church.

Chapter 1: The Legend of Paul’s Conversion

Price challenges the traditional account of Paul’s conversion, arguing that it is a later, legendary fabrication meant to serve apologetical purposes. The story, as presented in Acts, portrays Paul as a persecutor of Christians dramatically transformed by a vision of the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus.

Price scrutinizes the three accounts of the conversion in Acts, pointing out numerous contradictions, implausibilities, and historical inaccuracies. The Stephen martyrdom, to which Paul is awkwardly appended, is likely a fictionalization of James the Just’s execution. The portrayal of the Sanhedrin as a bloodthirsty mob and Saul’s authorization to persecute Christians in Damascus are historically dubious. The Damascus road encounter itself is rife with inconsistencies and borrows heavily from literary tropes and type-scenes common in biblical narratives.

Price argues that the Damascus road episode is an example of what Gerhard Lohfink calls a “double vision” – a literary device where a heavenly visitor appears to the protagonist and simultaneously informs someone else to assist them. This, along with the blatant borrowing from Euripides’s “Bacchae” and the story of Heliodorus in 2 Maccabees, suggests that the conversion narrative is a literary fabrication meant to evoke familiar biblical and mythological parallels.

Furthermore, the Pauline epistles themselves provide no historical basis for the Damascus road encounter. Paul mentions “seeing the Lord,” but with no connection to a conversion experience. Galatians, often cited as evidence, speaks of Paul being “set apart” before birth and “called by grace” – a notion closer to lifelong religious commitment than sudden conversion.

Price compares the Pauline conversion legend to the Great Renunciation of the Buddha and the visions of Joseph Smith, both considered legendary embellishments of earlier, less spectacular autobiographical accounts. He concludes that the Damascus road conversion story is a midrashic narrativization of Paul’s own theological musings, transformed into a miraculous event for greater theological and apologetic impact.

The chapter concludes by exploring Luke’s motives for fabricating the conversion narrative. Price argues that Luke sought to construct a parallel between Paul and Jesus, providing a baptismal-like event to mark the beginning of Paul’s ministry, mirroring Jesus’s baptism by John. Ananias, who heals and baptizes Paul, is even a thinly disguised version of John the Baptist.

By deconstructing the Pauline conversion story, Price encourages a re-evaluation of Paul’s journey to Christianity, suggesting a more gradual and nuanced development of his theological convictions.

Chapter 2: By Posthumous Post

This chapter delves into the question of the authorship of the Pauline epistles, summarizing the arguments of the Dutch Radical Critics, particularly Willem C. van Manen, who denied Paul’s authorship of all thirteen canonical letters.

Van Manen, building on the work of Ferdinand Christian Baur and the Tübingen School, argued that even the four “Hauptbriefe” (Romans, Galatians, 1 & 2 Corinthians) were pseudepigraphical. He pointed out the inadequacy of external evidence, emphasizing the importance of internal analysis. He found numerous linguistic, stylistic, ethical, and theological differences among the epistles, concluding they were penned by various Paulinists, not the historical Paul.

Van Manen’s case rests on several key observations regarding the form and content of the epistles:

  • Treatise format: The letters are not personal correspondence, but rather theological treatises meant for public circulation.
  • Absence of impact: They lack any traceable impact on the churches addressed, suggesting they were written posthumously.
  • Catholicizing phrases: Phrases like “to all who are in Rome,” point to a later, universalizing agenda.
  • Redactional evidence: The epistles are rife with inconsistencies and contradictions, indicating editorial compilation and interpolation.
  • Confusion over church relations: The epistles present conflicting pictures of Paul’s relationship with the churches, suggesting different authors.
  • Composite opponents: The portrayal of Paul’s opponents is inconsistent and seems to target various heretical trends, indicating a later writer addressing a broader theological landscape.
  • Complexity of theology: The theological depth and complexity suggest a later period, far removed from the immediate aftermath of Jesus’s death.
  • Retrospective tone: The epistles look back on Paul’s ministry as a thing of the past, suggesting a later generation grappling with his legacy.
  • Advanced gnosis: The presence of advanced Gnostic ideas in the epistles points to a time after the historical Paul.
  • Anachronistic concerns: Issues addressed in the epistles, like celibacy and criteria for apostleship, are more characteristic of a later period.
  • Evidence of persecutions: The epistles mention persecutions, a phenomenon of a later era.
  • Paul’s teachings as “traditions”: References to Paul’s teachings as “traditions” imply a later generation looking back on his legacy.

Based on these observations, Van Manen concluded that Paulinism as a theological system arose in the late first or early second century, likely influenced by Gnosticism and Marcionism. The epistles, he argued, were compiled and redacted by later Catholic editors who sought to domesticate and sanitize them for orthodox use.

The chapter concludes by outlining the implications of Van Manen’s radical view. Stripped of the epistles as biographical sources, the historical Paul becomes a much more obscure figure – a Hellenistic Jewish preacher within the bounds of Judaic Christianity. The quest for the historical Paul becomes a quest for the origins of the Pauline School and the complex processes of pseudepigraphy, redaction, and canonization that shaped the Pauline corpus.

Price acknowledges the apologetical tendency of traditional scholarship to resist such radical conclusions, clinging to the familiar paradigm of Pauline authorship. He draws on Thomas Kuhn’s “Structure of Scientific Revolutions” to explain the resistance to paradigm shifts, suggesting that Van Manen’s revolutionary ideas deserve a fair hearing, even if they challenge long-held beliefs.

Chapter 3: The Evolution of the Pauline Canon

This chapter tackles the question of the Pauline canon formation, exploring various theories on how and when the Pauline epistles were first collected and arranged. Price identifies four major approaches to the canonization process: “Pauline Testament” theories, “Paper-Apostle” theories, “Snowball” theories, and “Second Coming” theories.

“Pauline Testament” theories argue that Paul himself collected and arranged his letters, much like Seneca and Cicero did in their time. R. L. Archer and David Trobisch are proponents of this view. Trobisch’s analysis, based on the study of ancient letter collections, suggests that Paul published an “authorized recension” consisting of Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, and Galatians, with Ephesians leading off a posthumous “expanded edition.” However, Price critiques the lack of evidence for Paul’s direct involvement and the tenuous nature of the Ephesians-as-introduction argument.

“Paper-Apostle” theories see Paul’s letters replacing his physical presence and continuing his ministry after his death. Adolf Harnack argued that the letters were collected immediately after Paul’s death by eager disciples. Guthrie posited Timothy as the compiler, while Moule suggested Luke. Schenke proposed a Pauline School responsible for both the collection and the writing of deutero-Pauline epistles. Price criticizes these theories for relying on shaky historical assumptions and for minimizing the complexity of the canonization process.

“Snowball” theories envision a gradual and anonymous process of letter exchange and compilation among Pauline communities, culminating in a comprehensive collection. Kirsopp Lake, Günther Zuntz, P. N. Harrison, and Lucetta Mowry all advocated versions of this view. Price notes the appeal of this gradual approach, which avoids attributing the entire canon to a single individual or event.

“Second Coming” theories posit a period of neglect or suppression of Pauline writings followed by a revival of interest and a belated collection. Edgar J. Goodspeed argued that Luke-Acts, published around 90 CE, sparked renewed interest in Paul, leading to the compilation of the epistles by Onesimus. Walter Bauer proposed Marcion of Pontus as the first collector, arguing that Marcion’s “Apostolicon” prompted the Catholic church to assemble their own Pauline corpus. Price leans towards Bauer’s view, suggesting that Marcion’s collection likely spurred a Catholic counter-collection.

The chapter then addresses the question of whether a definitive archetype edition existed from which all extant manuscripts descend. Günther Zuntz, Walter Schmithals, Winsome Munro, Dennis R. MacDonald, and David Trobisch argue for an archetype, while Kurt Aland and Harry Gamble deny its existence. Aland and Gamble see the textual tradition as stemming from multiple sources, with minimal variation. Price, however, notes that manuscript evidence alone cannot rule out the possibility of earlier, shorter versions of the epistles that have been lost or suppressed.

In conclusion, Price argues for a combination of “Snowball” and “Second Coming” theories, suggesting that individual epistles circulated before coalescing into local collections and eventually a comprehensive corpus. He acknowledges the limitations of speculation but finds Marcion to be the most plausible candidate for the first collector, although recognizing the possibility of a Marcionite successor playing a more significant role.

The chapter ends by highlighting the Catholic church’s efforts to combat Marcionism by compiling their own New Testament canon, including sanitized versions of the Pauline epistles augmented with the Pastorals and the Gospels. This complex process of canonization, Price argues, underscores the reification of biblical authority, obscuring the human decisions and historical contingencies that shaped the Pauline corpus.

Chapter 4: The Apocalypses and Acts of Paul

This chapter focuses on the use of Pauline epistles in second- to fifth-century apocryphal Pauline writings, including: The Prayer of the Apostle Paul, the Nag Hammadi Revelation of Paul, the later Apocalypse of Paul, the Coptic appendix to the Apocalypse of Paul, Third Corinthians, and the Acts of Paul.

Price argues that the scarcity of references to Pauline epistles in these texts, particularly those associated with the Catholic church, is not coincidental. He attributes it to the church’s campaign to distance Paul from his association with “heretics” who used his writings to support their doctrines.

The Gnostic Revelation and Prayer of Paul do show some familiarity with the epistles, drawing on passages from Galatians, Ephesians, and 1 Corinthians. This, Price argues, is consistent with the “apostle of the heretics” model, where Gnostics and Marcionites revered Paul’s writings.

However, the later Apocalypse of Paul, attributed to a Catholic monk, makes minimal use of the epistles, with the exception of 1 & 2 Corinthians. This, Price argues, is because 1 Corinthians, circulated by the church as an anti-heretical treatise, was considered theologically safe, while other epistles were tainted by their association with Gnosticism and Marcionism.

Third Corinthians, included in the Acts of Paul, extensively quotes and paraphrases phrases from various Pauline epistles, again focusing on 1 Corinthians. Price suggests that Third Corinthians was created as an orthodox digest of safe Pauline material, intended to replace the problematic Pauline corpus.

The Acts of Paul itself is largely silent on the Pauline epistles, with one notable exception: the Iconium Sermon, which draws heavily on 1 Corinthians 7. This sermon, promoting Encratite asceticism and celibacy, presents a problem for Price’s overall thesis. He argues that both texts might draw on a common fund of traditional encratite teachings, or that 1 Corinthians 7 itself is a later interpolation meant to counter the Encratite doctrines promoted in the Acts of Paul.

Price concludes that the use of Pauline epistles in apocryphal writings reflects the evolving relationship between Paul’s legacy and the various Christian factions. While Gnostics embraced the epistles, the Catholic church sought to distance Paul from them, promoting 1 Corinthians as an anti-heretical tool and crafting sanitized substitutes like Third Corinthians and the Pastorals.

The chapter ends by highlighting the ironic situation where the Catholic church, having suppressed the Pauline corpus due to its association with heresy, eventually re-embraced it, sanitized and augmented with their own additions. This complex history of reception, Price argues, sheds light on the complex process of canonization and the competing claims of authority within early Christianity.

Chapter 5: The Original Gnostic Apostles

This chapter delves into the concept of apostleship, challenging the traditional view of the Twelve as historical figures who were disciples of Jesus of Nazareth. Price, drawing on the work of Walter Schmithals, argues that the concept of apostleship originated in Gnosticism, where wandering preachers spread the message of self-knowledge and liberation from the material world.

He outlines the Gnostic worldview, contrasting it with emerging Catholicism. Gnostics saw themselves as strangers in a strange land, trapped in a material world created by a lesser, flawed deity called the demiurge. Salvation, for them, was attained through gnosis – the realization of one’s true divine nature and origin. They believed in a cosmic Christ who had accomplished redemption on a cosmic plane, separate from any earthly ministry.

Price argues that early Christian apostles, like those described in the Didache, were initially wandering preachers with no fixed institutional ties. He compares them to the “wandering radicals” identified by Gerd Theissen, men who embraced poverty and itinerant ministry, relying on the charity of their converts. These apostles, Price argues, were closer to the Gnostic archetype of the wandering preacher than to the later, institutionalized notion of the Twelve.

However, as nascent Catholicism began to consolidate its power and authority, the church sought to limit the influence of these independent preachers, narrowing down the field of apostleship to a fixed number of twelve men portrayed as disciples of a historical Jesus. This served to control the proliferation of diverse and potentially “heretical” teachings, establishing a single, authorized gospel with verifiable apostolic credentials.

Price applies structuralist analysis to the apocryphal Acts of the Apostles, identifying binary oppositions and mediating elements in the narratives. He focuses on two central antinomies:

  • Docetic epiphany of Christ: Christ is mistakenly perceived as a human, while the apostle is mistakenly perceived as divine.
  • Christomorphic apostle and Apostolomorphic Christ: The apostle is portrayed as a Christ figure, while Christ appears in the guise of an apostle.

These seemingly contradictory elements, Price argues, highlight the tension between flesh and spirit, human and divine, within early Christian thought. While acknowledging the impossibility of flesh becoming divine, the apocryphal Acts demonstrate the possibility of union between the human apostle, who embraces celibacy and denies the flesh, and the docetic Christ, who never assumed flesh to begin with.

The chapter concludes by suggesting that the apocryphal Acts, while employing elements of docetism and encratism, still manage to portray the apostles as earthly stand-ins for Christ, conforming to his martyrdom and resurrection. The apostles are not literally divine, but the light of Christ shines through them, making them agents of salvation in their own right. This, Price argues, is closer to the original Gnostic understanding of apostleship than the later, Catholic co-optation of the apostolic tradition.

Chapter 6: Paulus Absconditus

This chapter analyzes the historical distancing techniques employed in Acts to promote the Pauline legacy while distancing Paul from his association with “heretical” movements. Price focuses on Acts 19 and 20, arguing that Luke sought to rehabilitate Paul as a Catholic apostle, minimizing his theological distinctiveness and portraying him as a Torah-observant Christian in line with the Jerusalem leadership.

The chapter begins by highlighting Walter Bauer’s observation that the Ephesian church of the second century rejected Paul, replacing him with John, son of Zebedee, as their founding apostle. This substitution, Bauer argues, was meant to distance the Ephesian church from Paul’s association with heresy.

Price argues that Acts 19 and 20 are attempts to counter this trend, rehabilitating Paul by:

  • Spoofing John’s claim: Acts 19:1-7 portrays disciples of John as ignorant of the Holy Spirit, implying a pre-Christian, spiritless form of Christianity and indirectly rejecting John’s apostolic claim.
  • Highlighting Paul’s legacy: Acts 19 focuses on the impact of Paul’s name, colleagues, relics, and teachings, even as Paul himself remains absent from the narrative.
  • Sanitizing Paul’s ministry: Acts presents Paul as a Torah-observant Jew, blurring the lines between his teachings and those of the Jerusalem leadership.

Price draws parallels between Acts 19 and the Leucian Acts of John, which presents a set of Johannine miracles in Ephesus mirroring those attributed to Paul in the canonical Acts. He argues that Luke chose to promote the Pauline version of the Ephesian foundation narrative to avoid alienating Pauline communities. By portraying Paul as a Catholic Christian, Luke sought to reconcile Pauline and Petrine factions, co-opting Paulinism for orthodox use.

The chapter concludes by suggesting that the Pauline epistles themselves reflect a similar struggle over Paul’s legacy. The epistles, written after his death, engage in debates over his authority and sphere of influence, indicating posthumous attempts to co-opt or replace his legacy.

Price’s analysis of Acts 19 and 20, along with the parallels to the Acts of John, underscores the propagandistic nature of early Christian historiography. The quest for the historical Paul becomes a quest for the motivations and strategies of those who sought to control and shape his legacy for their own theological and political agendas.

Chapter 7: The Secret of Simon Magus

This chapter focuses on the enigmatic figure of Simon Magus, arguing, with Hermann Detering, that he might be the key to understanding the historical Paul. Building on F. C. Baur’s observation that Simon Magus served as a monstrous double for Paul, Detering proposes a radical reversal: what if Simon Magus was the historical figure, and Paul a later, theological mystification of him?

Price begins by outlining the background of Simon Magus, a Samaritan magician portrayed as a Gnostic leader and archenemy of Peter in early Christian writings. He highlights Simon’s association with Samaria, a rival faith to Judaism that rejected Davidic messianism and followed the Pentateuch as their scripture.

The chapter then examines the portrayal of Simon Magus in various sources, including Acts, the Clementine writings, and the writings of Justin Martyr. These sources depict Simon as a powerful miracle worker who claims to be the Great Power, or Godhead, embodied in flesh. He travels with a consort named Helen, representing the Ennoia, or First Thought, a Gnostic concept of divine wisdom trapped in the material world.

Price analyzes the episode of Simon Magus in Samaria (Acts 8), arguing that Luke rewrote an earlier narrative, transferring Philip’s role in the miracle contest to Peter to enhance Peter’s apostolic authority. He also suggests that Luke’s use of the rare word “epinoia” in Peter’s rebuke of Simon (Acts 8:22) is a deliberate spoof on Simonian beliefs.

The chapter then explores the possible connection between Simon Magus and Paul. Price, drawing on Robert Eisenman’s research, argues that Paul might be the unnamed colleague of Ananias in Josephus’s account of Queen Helena of Adiabene’s conversion to Judaism. This would make Paul an advisor to Queen Helena and link him to events that later found their way into Acts, including the famine relief mission from Antioch and the dispute over circumcision.

Price also cites Eisenman’s suggestion that Paul might be the “Man of the Lie” denounced in the Dead Sea Scrolls, a figure who rejected the Torah and led “simple ones” astray. This portrayal echoes the Clementine Recognitions, where Simon Magus clashes with Dositheus over the role of the Torah.

Detering’s argument for Paul as a later fabrication is then explored. Price examines the possible connections between Simon Magus and Paul in Acts, noting the similarities between Paul’s confrontation with Elymas in Cyprus (Acts 13) and Peter’s confrontation with Simon Magus. He suggests that Paul’s name change from Saul might be a redactional move to separate him from his Simonian counterpart.

The chapter concludes by proposing that Paul, like Simon Magus, was a Gnostic preacher who rejected the Torah and advocated for a spiritualized, universalized form of Christianity. He suggests that Marcionism, with its rejection of the Creator God and its elevation of Paul, might be a later, more institutionalized development of Simonian Gnosticism.

By exploring the “secret” of Simon Magus, Price encourages a radical re-evaluation of Pauline origins, suggesting that the historical Paul might be a much more enigmatic and controversial figure than traditional scholarship allows.

Chapter 8: Salvation and Stratification

This chapter outlines the evolution of soteriology, or the doctrine of salvation, within early Christianity, providing a framework for understanding the various theological layers within the Pauline epistles. Price traces the development of salvation teachings from primitive sacramentalism to Gnosticism, apocalyptic theology, Marcionism, and Catholicism.

Primitive sacramentalism, as seen in the mystery cults, centered on ritual initiation as a means of achieving personal, spiritual renewal. This, Price argues, arose from the democratization of the god-king identification ritual, where initiates were mystically united with the deity in his death and resurrection. The emphasis was on ritual participation and symbolic identification with the savior figure.

Gnosticism, emerging from Platonism, emphasized self-knowledge as the path to liberation. The Gnostic revealer awakened dormant sparks of divinity within the elect, enabling them to escape the material world and return to the pleroma. This initially entailed a belief in instantaneous enlightenment upon grasping the Gnostic teachings. However, as time passed and enlightenment proved elusive for many, Gnostics resorted to spiritual exercises and magical formulae, marking a shift from salvation by faith to a gospel of works.

Apocalyptic theology focused on the imminent end of the age and the coming judgment. Salvation was attained through repentance, baptism, and steadfastness in the face of tribulation. This led to a sense of “inaugurated eschatology,” where believers experienced a foretaste of the coming glory. However, as the Parousia was delayed, enthusiasm waned and apocalyptic expectations were reinterpreted, leading to a focus on “first fruits” of the Spirit and the promise of future fulfillment.

Marcionism, building on Simonian Gnosticism, posited Jesus’s crucifixion as a ransom paid to the Creator God to free his creatures for adoption by the Father, a higher, hitherto unknown deity. This emphasized Jesus’s role as redeemer, liberating humanity from the oppressive dominion of the demiurge. Marcionism also introduced a hierarchical view of salvation, distinguishing between pneumatics, psychics, and sarkikoi, with varying degrees of spiritual capacity and access to salvation.

Catholicism, according to Price, represents a synthesis of Gnostic and sacramental elements, perpetuating the notion of a historical Jesus while emphasizing the importance of ritual participation and moral behavior for salvation. Catholic soteriology, he argues, is a later, more institutionalized development, seeking to provide a tangible foundation for church authority and doctrine.

The chapter concludes by proposing to use this evolutionary framework to analyze the Pauline epistles, discerning earlier and later strata based on their soteriological slant. This approach, he argues, will allow a deconstruction of the texts, tracing each fragment back to its probable origin and unveiling the complex history of theological development within early Paulinism.

Chapter 9: The Epistle to the Romans

Price tackles the Epistle to the Romans, analyzing it as a composite text assembled from various Pauline sources and Catholic redactions. He suggests that the core of the epistle was penned by Marcion himself, outlining his theology for the Roman church during his ill-fated visit to Rome.

The chapter begins by highlighting the numerous contradictions and anachronisms within Romans, suggesting a layered text with multiple authors and editorial interventions. Price argues that the trip to Rome anticipated in the epistle is likely a reflection of Marcion’s journey to the city, where he sought acceptance as a bishop but was ultimately rejected.

Price analyzes the epistle section by section, identifying probable Marcionite, Gnostic, Catholic, and Jewish elements. The opening verses (1:1-4) are a Catholic interpolation, introducing elements of Old Testament prophecy, adoptionist Christology, and Davidic Messianism absent from Marcion’s theology.

Verses 1:7b-17, however, sound like a fragment of an actual letter from Marcion announcing his planned visit to Rome, expressing his desire to preach a new gospel. The subsequent verses (1:18-2:29) form a Hellenistic Jewish synagogue sermon, likely added by a Catholic redactor who appreciated its positive view of Jewish Law.

Chapter 3 is a mix of Catholic-retooled Paulinism and Marcionite soteriology, seeking to reconcile the Torah with the gospel. Verses 25-26, however, are a later interpolation, introducing the concept of Jesus’s death as an expiatory sacrifice for gentiles, a notion absent from Marcion’s theology.

Chapter 4, focused on Abraham, seems to be a fragment of a letter addressed to Queen Helena and Prince Izates of Adiabene, advocating for faith as the primary means of pleasing God, even without circumcision.

Chapter 5 is largely Gnostic, setting forth the theme of Christ granting access to the inaccessible Godhead. However, verses 3-10 and 11 indicate a later interpolation, marking a shift from Gnostic realized eschatology to a more chastened hope of future salvation.

Chapter 6, with its emphasis on baptismal sacramentalism, is a Catholic addition, reflecting a later stage of development where ritual participation becomes central to soteriology.

Chapter 7 presents a mix of Marcionite and Catholic views on the Torah. While acknowledging the Torah’s role in revealing sin, the chapter attempts to reconcile the Law with the gospel, suggesting a later Catholic mitigation of Marcion’s more radical rejection of the Torah.

Chapter 8 is predominantly Marcionite, emphasizing the dichotomy between spirit and flesh and the need for liberation from the dominion of the Creator God. However, verse 6 is a Catholic interpolation, seeking to identify the Christian God with the Old Testament deity.

Chapters 9-11, focusing on the rejection of Israel and the inclusion of gentiles, are post-Marcionite Catholic additions. They present various attempts to construct a salvation history encompassing both Christians and Jews, ultimately claiming Old Testament promises for the church.

Chapter 12, with its appeal to the “compassion of God” and its exhortation to “present your bodies as a sacrifice,” is likely a Catholic interpolation, reflecting a later emphasis on moral behavior and self-denial.

Chapter 13, promoting obedience to secular authorities, is either a Catholic addition or a Gnostic text instructing believers on how to navigate the celestial spheres after death.

Chapter 14, addressing dietary restrictions and the observance of holy days, reflects the Catholic church’s efforts to assimilate Encratite ascetics, urging tolerance and mutual respect between those with differing convictions.

Chapter 15, with its defense of Paul’s apostolic authority and its list of resurrection appearances, is a composite text. The opening verses (1-2) reiterate the theme of chapter 14, while verses 3-11 are a late interpolation, providing a catalog of resurrection appearances to counter Christian mortalism. Verses 14-21a are a redactional addition, defending Paul’s missionary efforts and highlighting the Philippian church’s financial support.

Chapter 16 is a separate letter of recommendation for Phoebe, likely fabricated to establish an apostolic link between Paul and the church leaders mentioned in it. It might also be an attempt to legitimize the leadership role of women in the church.

The chapter concludes by highlighting the complex and layered nature of Romans, arguing that it is a composite text reflecting the evolving relationship between Marcionism and Catholicism. The epistle, Price suggests, is a battleground of competing theological agendas, obscuring the original Marcionite core with layers of Catholic harmonization and interpolation.

Chapter 10: First Corinthians

This chapter analyzes 1 Corinthians as an early second-century church manual, compiled from various sources and heavily influenced by Gnostic and Marcionite teachings. Price, drawing on the work of Walter Schmithals, argues that the epistle’s central concern is to address Gnostic elitism and to promote a more unified and institutionalized form of Christianity.

The chapter begins by examining the salutation (1:1-9), noting the universalizing phrase “to all those in every place” (1:2) as evidence of a fictive audience and the epistle’s intent for wider circulation.

Verses 1:10-13 address factionalism in Corinth, with followers aligning themselves with Paul, Apollos, Cephas, and Christ. Price critiques the traditional interpretation of Paul as author, arguing that his attempt to pull rank on other apostles is incongruent with the supposed message of unity. It makes more sense, he suggests, as a later Catholic attempt to promote unity among competing factions by invoking Paul’s name.

Verses 1:14-16 are a fictive account of Paul’s baptismal practice, likely inserted to establish apostolic succession claims for Crispus, Gaius, and Stephanas. Verse 17a, with its claim that “Christ did not send me to baptize,” reflects a later stage of Paulinism where baptismal sacramentalism has become prevalent.

Verses 1:17b-2:5 are a Catholic section, promoting a simplified, non-intellectual approach to preaching, relying on the power of the cross rather than on rhetorical persuasion. This reflects a shift from the more intellectually sophisticated approach of early Gnosticism to a more accessible, mass-appeal gospel.

Verses 2:6-16, however, are a Gnostic addition, affirming a higher wisdom hidden from the archons and revealed only to the pneumatics. This section reflects Valentinian Gnosticism, with its emphasis on esoteric knowledge and spiritual elitism.

Chapter 3 continues the Gnostic theme, contrasting the spiritual infancy of the Corinthians with the perfect wisdom of Christ. The author, likely a Valentinian, restricts the apostolic lineage to Paul and Apollos, excluding Cephas.

Verses 3:18-23 are a Catholic insertion, urging humility and obedience to God, reflecting a shift from Gnostic self-realization to a more submissive piety.

Chapter 4, with its emphasis on apostolic authority and its defense of Paul against criticism, is a Marcionite section, affirming Paul’s divine stewardship and the irrelevance of human judgment.

Verses 4:8-13 seek to curb the enthusiasm of those who prematurely claim the arrival of the kingdom, warning of the need for realism and endurance in the face of worldly opposition. This reflects a later stage of Paulinism where initial apocalyptic fervor has waned.

Verses 4:14-17, with their focus on Paul’s fatherhood of the Corinthian congregation, are a Marcionite response to attempts to replace Paul with other apostolic figures.

Chapter 5 addresses the issue of sexual immorality, likely reflecting a concern over both Gnostic and apocalyptic libertinism. The passage (5:1-5) is a Marcionite attempt to enforce moral standards, while verses 3-4, paralleling Matthew 18:18-20, assert Paul’s authority over the community.

Verses 5:6-13, with their Jewish metaphors of yeast and unleavened bread, are a Catholic gloss, denigrating Judaism as a contaminating influence.

Chapter 6, discussing internal disputes and church discipline, reflects the concerns of a sectarian community, emphasizing the separation between Christians and the “unrighteous” outsiders. This reflects the influence of Qumran-style jurisprudence, likely passed down through the Baptist milieu.

Verses 6:12-20 address the issue of sexual purity and freedom in Christ, likely reflecting a Marcionite response to Simonian libertinism. The passage reaffirms the sanctity of the body as a temple of the Holy Spirit, urging believers to avoid prostitution and to use their bodies to worship God.

Chapter 7 deals with celibacy and marriage, reflecting the influence of both Encratite asceticism and Marcionite pragmatism. The chapter attempts to mitigate the radicalism of the celibacy gospel, allowing marriage as a permissible, albeit second-best, option for those unable to maintain continence.

Verses 7:17-24 are a Pastoral interpolation, introducing the household codes and promoting social stability. The passage urges Christians to maintain the social station they occupied at conversion, whether circumcised or uncircumcised, slave or free.

Verses 7:25-38 address the issue of celibate marriage, or virgines subintroductae, reflecting a Marcionite attempt to regulate this controversial practice within a more comprehensive community setting.

Chapters 8-11 form a self-contained essay “Concerning Pneumatics,” addressing the issue of charismatic gifts and their proper use.

Chapter 8 discusses the issue of eating meat offered to idols, reflecting a Marcionite attempt to moderate the libertine views of Gnostic pneumatics while urging sensitivity to the weaker brethren.

Chapter 9, an interpolation, defends the right of missionaries to receive financial support, drawing on both traditional practices and a Gnostic reinterpretation of the Torah. Verses 19-22, however, might reflect a Simonian understanding of Paul’s polymorphic incarnation, where he takes on various forms to save different groups of people.

Chapter 10, a Catholic insertion, condemns the practice of eating idol meat as demon worship, contrasting it with the Christian Eucharist.

Chapter 11, continuing the discussion of pneumatics, focuses on regulating charismatic expressions like glossolalia and prophecy, urging order and intelligibility in worship. This reflects a nascent Catholic attempt to control and domesticate charismatic enthusiasm, which was perceived as a threat to church unity and authority.

Chapter 12, an interpolation, seeks to promote love as the supreme Christian virtue, surpassing even charismatic gifts. This reflects a later stage of development where institutional structures have replaced spontaneous prophecy and spiritual gifts are valued primarily for their edifying function.

Chapter 14, concluding “Concerning Pneumatics,” urges believers to prioritize prophecy over glossolalia, arguing for intelligible speech in worship. This reflects a Catholic attempt to control and limit charismatic expressions, which were perceived as disruptive and disorderly.

Chapter 15 is a composite text addressing various aspects of resurrection. The opening verses (1-2) reaffirm the core Pauline message, while verses 3-11 are a later Catholic interpolation, providing a list of resurrection appearances to counter Christian mortalism. Verses 12-20 refute Epicurean denial of resurrection, while verses 21-58 present a Gnostic understanding of the resurrection body and the ultimate reconciliation of all things in Christ.

Chapter 16, with its instructions on fundraising and greetings, is a mixed text. Verses 1-12 are likely a continuation of the collection theme from 2 Corinthians 8-9. Verses 13-20 are a Marcionite endorsement of Stephanas’s “household” as Paul’s successors in Achaia. Verse 21 is a fictive reference to Paul’s autograph, while verse 22, with its inclusion of the Aramaic “Maranatha,” reflects a later liturgical context.

The chapter concludes by highlighting the multifaceted nature of 1 Corinthians, arguing that it is a compilation of diverse fragments reflecting the evolving theological landscape of early Christianity. The epistle, Price suggests, is a battleground of competing agendas, with Marcionite, Gnostic, and Catholic voices vying for authority and control over the Pauline legacy.

Chapter 11: Second Corinthians

Price analyzes 2 Corinthians as a composite text likely pieced together from two letters written to defend Paul’s apostolic authority and sphere of influence in the face of rivals seeking to usurp his legacy. He argues that these letters, written posthumously, reflect a second-generation struggle for control of the Pauline churches.

The chapter begins by outlining the two main letters comprising 2 Corinthians:

  • First letter: 10:1-13:9a, 2:1-6:13, 7:2-4, 13:9b-14 – A forceful defense against rivals who challenge Paul’s authority and legitimacy.
  • Second letter: 1:1-2:13, 7:5-16 – Expresses relief over the resolution of the conflict detailed in the first letter.

Price suggests that these two letters originally circulated as a pair, similar to an epistolary novel. He also identifies two additional fragments:

  • Fundraising letters: Chapters 8 and 9, likely written by different authors, focused on gathering financial support for the Jerusalem community.
  • Detached fragment: 6:14-7:1, likely a stray piece of text with no clear connection to its context, possibly originating in the Essene milieu.

Price argues that the main point of contention in these letters is the attempt by rival apostolic factions to claim jurisdiction over the Pauline churches, challenging Paul’s legacy and promoting alternate foundation narratives. This, he argues, is a second-generation struggle for ecclesiastical authority, played out through pseudonymous epistles invoking Paul’s name.

He analyzes the letters section by section, highlighting their Marcionite, Gnostic, and Catholic elements:

  • 1:1-11: A Marcionite defense of Paul’s reliability, explaining his delayed visit to Corinth and affirming his non-judgmental deity.
  • 1:12-2:11: Addresses the issue of a congregational offender, likely mirroring the Paul-Peter conflict over Torah observance. The passage reflects a Marcionite attempt to mitigate the severity of excommunication and to promote forgiveness.
  • 2:12-17: Defends Paul’s apostolic credentials and his right to preach in new territories, countering accusations of overreaching his authority.
  • 3:1-18: A Marcionite treatise contrasting the ministry of death (Moses and the Law) with the ministry of life (Christ and the Spirit). It employs a Gnostic interpretation of the Exodus narrative, depicting Moses as concealing the fading glory of the old covenant.
  • 4:1-18: A Marcionite defense of Paul’s integrity and his bold proclamation of the truth, contrasting it with the deceptive practices of his opponents.
  • 5:1-10: A Gnostic passage, reflecting Valentinian teachings on the spiritual body awaiting believers in heaven. Verses 14-20, however, are a Marcionite addition, emphasizing Christ’s sacrifice and the need for reconciliation with God.
  • 6:1-13: A Marcionite defense of Paul’s ministry, highlighting his hardships and his steadfastness in the face of opposition.
  • 6:14-7:1: A detached fragment, likely originating in the Essene milieu, advocating for separation from unbelievers and ritual purity.
  • 7:2-16: Expresses relief over the Corinthian congregation’s repentance and their renewed loyalty to Paul.
  • Chapters 8 and 9: Fundraising letters, likely Catholic in origin, seeking to reconcile Jewish and gentile Christians by urging the latter to provide financial support for the former.
  • 10:1-13:9a: A forceful defense of Paul’s authority and sphere of influence, countering rivals who attempt to usurp his legacy. The passage explicitly refers to Paul’s collection of letters (10:9-11), suggesting a later, pseudonymous composition.
  • 11:1-15: A mixed text, possibly Catholic or Gnostic, condemning the preaching of “another Jesus” and the acceptance of a different gospel. This, Price suggests, refers to the historical Jesus tradition, which was being promoted by rival Christian factions.
  • 11:16-12:13: A Pauline aretalogy, highlighting his apostolic credentials and his hardships, likely a later addition meant to bolster his reputation in the face of competing claims.
  • 12:1-10: The “third-heaven apocalypse,” a later fabrication meant to enhance Paul’s visionary credentials and to legitimize his authority.
  • 12:14-13:10: A Marcionite defense of Paul’s love for the Corinthians, countering accusations of financial exploitation and reaffirming his apostolic authority. The passage also reiterates the threat of judgment upon his return, reflecting the Pauline “second coming” expectation.
  • 13:11-14: A concluding benediction, urging unity and peace among the Corinthians.

The chapter ends by highlighting the intricate tapestry of sources and redactional layers within 2 Corinthians, reflecting the ongoing struggle for authority and legitimacy within early Christianity. The epistle, Price argues, is a testament to the efforts of later Paulinists, particularly Marcionites, to defend and preserve their apostle’s legacy in the face of encroaching Catholicism.

Chapter 12: Galatians

Price analyzes the Epistle to the Galatians as a primarily Marcionite text, with the first two chapters added later by Marcionite redactors to defend Paul’s apostolic independence against the portrayal of him in Acts.

He begins by highlighting the numerous contradictions and anachronisms in Galatians, suggesting a multi-layered composition with a pseudepigraphical core. He cites Tertullian’s comment that “Marcion has discovered Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians” as evidence for Marcion’s authorship of the original letter.

Price then analyzes the epistle section by section, distinguishing between the Marcionite core (chapters 3-6) and the later Marcionite additions (chapters 1-2).

  • 1:1-10: A forceful assertion of Paul’s apostolic independence, rejecting any human authority over his mission and condemning any alternative gospel. This section was likely added to counter the portrayal of Paul in Acts as subordinate to the Jerusalem leadership.
  • 1:11-2:10: An account of Paul’s trips to Jerusalem, contradicting the narrative in Acts and emphasizing his direct revelation from Christ. Verses 18-20, describing a second visit to Jerusalem, are a later Catholic interpolation, attempting to depict Paul as seeking approval from the Twelve.
  • 2:11-21: A recounting of the Antioch incident, where Paul confronts Peter over his inconsistent behavior towards gentile Christians. This passage highlights the conflict between Paul’s law-free gospel and the Jewish-Christian emphasis on Torah observance.
  • Chapter 3: A Marcionite treatise arguing for faith as the sole means of salvation, contrasting it with the futility of Torah observance. Verses 6-9 and 15-25 are Catholic interpolations, attempting to reconcile the Torah with the gospel. Verse 27, with its emphasis on baptism into Christ as a return to primordial unity, reflects early Christian encratism, a key element of Marcionite theology.
  • Chapter 4: A Marcionite allegory of the Abraham narrative, reinterpreting the Genesis story to undermine the privilege of Judaism and to promote spiritual, law-free Christianity. Verses 1-2 and 7 are Catholic interpolations, while verse 10 reveals the presence of Judaizing Christians within the Galatian churches.
  • Chapter 5: A Marcionite denunciation of circumcision, arguing that it negates the freedom purchased by Christ. The chapter also contrasts the works of the flesh, which lead to destruction, with the fruits of the Spirit, which lead to eternal life.
  • Chapter 6: A Marcionite exhortation to love and unity, emphasizing the importance of spiritual growth and mutual support within the Christian community. Verse 5, urging each one to bear his own load, is a Catholic interpolation, reflecting a later emphasis on individual responsibility before God.

Price concludes that Galatians is a powerful testament to Marcion’s theological vision, presenting a radical break from traditional Judaism and promoting a spiritualized, universalized form of Christianity based on faith alone. He argues that the epistle, despite Catholic interpolations, retains its fundamentally Marcionite character, offering a stark contrast to the Catholicized Paul presented in Acts.

Chapter 13: Laodiceans and Ephesians

Price analyzes Ephesians as a later, Catholicized redaction of an earlier Marcionite epistle, originally addressed to the Laodiceans. He follows the conjectures of R. Joseph Hoffmann and John Knox, who argue that Marcion’s “Laodiceans” was the original version, subsequently reworked and expanded by Catholic editors.

He begins by outlining the evidence for Marcion’s “Laodiceans,” citing Tertullian’s claim that Marcion possessed such a letter and noting the textual variants and missing passages compared to the canonical Ephesians.

Price then analyzes the epistle, highlighting its Marcionite and Gnostic elements, as well as the Catholic interpolations that distinguish it from the earlier version. He uses brackets to indicate suspected Catholic additions.

  • Chapter 1: A Gnostic hymn celebrating the cosmic Christ as the pleroma of the Godhead, reconciling all things through his death and resurrection. This section reflects a Valentinian understanding of Christ as the embodiment of divine fullness, dwelling bodily in the created world. Verses 7a and 11 are Catholic interpolations, introducing the notions of forgiveness of sins and inheritance, concepts absent from Marcionite soteriology.
  • Chapter 2: Continues the Gnostic theme, depicting Christ as liberating believers from the dominion of darkness (the Creator God) and translating them into the kingdom of light. Verses 1, 5, and 20 contain Catholic additions, attempting to soften the stark contrast between the two deities and to introduce the concept of personal sin.
  • Chapter 3: A Marcionite defense of Paul’s apostolic ministry, emphasizing the revelation of the hidden plan of God for the salvation of gentiles. Verse 15 is a Catholic interpolation, attempting to reconcile the Father of Jesus Christ with the Jewish Creator. Verse 19, however, is Gnostic, referring to the pleroma of God and the mystical union with Christ.
  • Chapters 4-6: A later Catholic addition, appended to the original Marcionite epistle. This section draws heavily on Colossians, extending the themes of the earlier letter in a Catholicized direction. It promotes unity and peace within the church, urging submission to earthly authorities and reaffirming traditional social structures.

Price concludes that the canonical Ephesians, a composite text, reflects the ongoing struggle between Marcionism and Catholicism. The original Marcionite Laodiceans, a Gnostic celebration of the cosmic Christ and the liberation of gentiles, was eventually co-opted and sanitized by Catholic editors, transforming it into a treatise on Church unity and submission to authority.

Chapter 14: Philippians

Price analyzes Philippians as a composite letter assembled from three earlier fragments, following the source-critical divisions proposed by Günther Bornkamm and Walter Schmithals. While both scholars attributed the fragments to the historical Paul, Price suggests a later, pseudonymous origin for all three sections.

He identifies the three epistles:

  • Epistle A: 4:10-23 – A short letter expressing gratitude for the Philippians’ financial support and urging them to continue in their faith. This section is likely a later fabrication, promoting the Philippian church’s apostolic pedigree and highlighting their generosity towards Paul.
  • Epistle B: 1:1-2:1, 3:1-4:3, 4:8-9 – A longer letter addressing factionalism in the Philippian church and encouraging them to imitate Paul’s example of suffering for Christ. This section likely reflects a second-century Catholic perspective, seeking to sanitize Paul’s legacy and to co-opt his authority for orthodox use.
  • Epistle C: 3:2-4:7 – A shorter letter warning against those who “mutilate” the flesh, likely referring to Gnostic and Encratite ascetics. This section also contains the famous Kenosis Hymn (2:6-11), a Gnostic hymn celebrating Christ’s descent from the pleroma and his eventual exaltation.

Price analyzes each epistle in turn, highlighting their distinctive features:

  • Epistle A: This letter, with its emphasis on financial support and its praise for the Philippians’ generosity, is likely a later fabrication meant to bolster the Philippian church’s reputation and authority. The passage contrasts the Philippians’ generosity with the lack of support from other Macedonian churches, suggesting a competitive spirit among early Christian communities.
  • Epistle B: This letter addresses factionalism within the Philippian church, likely reflecting a clash between a Catholic Paulinist faction and a more Gnostic group. The passage urges unity and submission to the “mind of Christ,” reflecting a Catholic concern for doctrinal uniformity. The Kenosis Hymn, a Gnostic insertion, celebrates Christ’s descent into the material world and his subsequent exaltation, highlighting the paradoxical nature of Christian soteriology.
  • Epistle C: This letter warns against those who “mutilate” the flesh, likely referring to Gnostic and Encratite ascetics who advocated for celibacy and rejected the material world. This passage reflects the Catholic church’s efforts to marginalize and discredit these radical groups. The inclusion of the Kenosis Hymn in this context suggests a Catholic reinterpretation of the hymn, emphasizing Christ’s obedience to the Father and his exemplary self-sacrifice, rather than its original Gnostic meaning.

Price concludes that Philippians, a composite letter, reflects the complex theological landscape of second-century Christianity, with Catholic and Gnostic elements intertwined. The letter is a testament to the struggle to control and shape the Pauline legacy, as various factions sought to co-opt Paul’s authority for their own agendas.

Chapter 15: Colossians

Price analyzes Colossians as a Gnostic epistle, rejecting the traditional interpretation that it refutes Gnosticism. He argues that the epistle’s distinctive vocabulary, conceptuality, and soteriology are all consistent with Gnostic teachings, particularly those of Valentinianism.

The chapter begins by highlighting the epistle’s Gnostic vocabulary, including terms like “pleroma,” “archons,” and “authorities.” These terms, Price argues, are not used ironically to refute Gnosticism, but rather reflect the author’s own Gnostic worldview.

He then analyzes the epistle section by section, identifying its Gnostic elements:

  • 1:1-14: A Gnostic hymn celebrating the cosmic Christ as the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, and the head of the Church. This section reflects a Valentinian understanding of Christ as the embodiment of divine fullness, reconciling all things through his death and resurrection. Verse 13, with its reference to the “authority of darkness,” identifies the Creator God as the power from which Christians need to be liberated.
  • 1:15-20: Another Gnostic hymn, known as the Christ Hymn, depicting Christ as the agent of creation and redemption, encompassing all things in his pleroma. This section reflects a pre-historicized understanding of Christ, where his saving work is accomplished on a cosmic plane.
  • 1:21-2:3: A Marcionite addition, affirming Paul’s role as a suffering savior who complements Christ’s atoning work. This section reflects a later stage of development, where Paul himself has taken on Christ-like proportions. Verse 2:2, however, with its reference to “the full assurance that understanding brings,” hints at a Gnostic emphasis on self-knowledge as the path to salvation.
  • 2:4-23: A Gnostic rejection of Jewish legalism and ritual observance, depicting the Torah as a hindrance to spiritual growth and freedom in Christ. This section reflects a Simonian understanding of the Law as a creation of the angels, designed to enslave humanity. Verses 21-23, with their condemnation of ascetic practices, are likely a later Marcionite addition, meant to counter the excesses of Gnostic rigorism.

Price concludes that Colossians, a genuinely Gnostic epistle, offers a radical reinterpretation of traditional Christianity. It presents a cosmic Christ, a hidden plan of salvation revealed only to the elect, and a disdain for the material world and its legalistic regulations. He argues that the epistle, far from refuting Gnosticism, is a prime example of its influence within early Christianity.

Chapter 16: Thessalonians

Price analyzes both Thessalonian epistles as pseudepigraphical compositions, compiled from earlier fragments and augmented with later interpolations. He follows the source-critical divisions proposed by Walter Schmithals, identifying two letters within each epistle. He also incorporates the insights of Winsome Munro, who identifies a “Pastoral Stratum” within both epistles.

1 Thessalonians

  • Letter A: (1:1-5a, 6b, 8-10; 4:13-18; 5:1-11, 16-21a, 23-28) – An attempt to counter a recent, apocalyptic prophecy that promotes Christian mortalism and Jewish chiliasm. This letter affirms the resurrection of the dead and envisions an otherworldly consummation of salvation.
  • Letter B: (2:13-20; 3:1-13; 4:1) – A later addition meant to recall and embellish Paul’s founding ministry in Thessalonica, likely a response to attempts to replace Paul with another apostolic figure.

2 Thessalonians

  • Letter A: (1:1-12, 16) – A letter of commendation for the persecuted Thessalonian congregation, written to bolster their reputation and authority.
  • Letter B: (2:1-14, 16-17; 3:1-3) – An attempt to mitigate dangerous apocalyptic enthusiasm by delaying the Parousia and introducing the figure of the “Man of Lawlessness.”

Price argues that the Pastoral Stratum in both epistles (1 Thess. 1:5c-6a, 7; 2:1-2, 13-16; 4:1-12; 5:12-15, 21b-22; 2 Thess. 3:6-15), likely added by Polycarp, seeks to sanitize Paul’s legacy and to promote a more socially conservative form of Christianity.

He highlights several key features of the Thessalonian epistles:

  • Response to apocalyptic prophecy: Both epistles are engaged in a debate over apocalyptic expectations, reflecting a shift from realized eschatology to a more chastened hope of future fulfillment.
  • Defense of Paul’s legacy: Both letters seek to reaffirm Paul’s role as founder of the Thessalonian church and to legitimize his authority against rivals.
  • Catholic influences: The Pastoral Stratum, with its emphasis on obedience to authority and its denunciation of idleness, reflects emerging Catholic concerns.
  • Anti-Semitism: 1 Thessalonians 2:15, with its denunciation of Jews as “haters of humanity,” reveals the growing anti-Semitism within early Catholicism.
  • Anachronistic elements: Both epistles contain anachronisms, including references to “traditions” received from Paul and the fall of Jerusalem in CE 70, indicating a later, pseudonymous composition.

Price concludes that the Thessalonian epistles, composite texts reflecting the tensions and conflicts of second-century Christianity, offer a glimpse into the evolution of Paulinism from a radical, apocalyptic movement to a more institutionalized and socially conservative church.

Chapter 17: The Letter to Philemon

This chapter analyzes the short Letter to Philemon, questioning its authenticity and suggesting a later, pseudonymous origin. Price cites W. C. van Manen’s observation that the letter bears a striking resemblance to a letter from Pliny the Younger to Sabianus, both dealing with a runaway slave seeking forgiveness from his master.

He highlights the inconsistencies and suspicious elements within Philemon:

  • Self-identification: The explicit self-identification as “Paul” is a hallmark of pseudepigraphy.
  • Contradiction with Colossians: The letter contradicts Colossians by depicting Paul as having close friends in Colosse, whereas Colossians claims he had no personal acquaintances there.
  • Literary parallels: The letter’s striking resemblance to Pliny’s letter suggests a literary borrowing.

Price explores two possible explanations for the letter’s origin:

  • Goodspeed and Knox theory: Onesimus, freed by Philemon at Paul’s request, became a bishop in Ephesus and included the letter in the Pauline collection out of gratitude.
  • Huller’s theory: The letter is a later fabrication meant to enhance Bishop Onesimus’s authority by linking him fictively with Paul.

Price leans towards Huller’s theory, suggesting that Philemon is a Catholic composition meant to legitimize the authority of a later church leader. This is consistent with the broader trend of posthumous attempts to co-opt and control the Pauline legacy.

The chapter concludes by highlighting the possibility that even seemingly straightforward letters like Philemon might be products of later fabrication, serving theological and political agendas within the evolving landscape of early Christianity.

Chapter 18: The Pastoral Epistles

This chapter analyzes the Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus) as pseudonymous compositions likely written by Bishop Polycarp of Smyrna. Price summarizes the overwhelming evidence against Pauline authorship, focusing on linguistic, theological, and historical arguments.

He begins by highlighting the Pastorals’ distinctive vocabulary, noting the high number of words and phrases absent from the other Pauline epistles. He also points out the similarities in vocabulary and style between the Pastorals and the Apostolic Fathers, suggesting a second-century origin.

Price then analyzes the Pastorals’ theological and ecclesiastical outlook, contrasting it with that of the other Pauline writings:

  • Shift from existential faith to creedal belief: The Pastorals emphasize belief in the correct doctrines and submission to church authority, rather than the existential faith and personal commitment seen in the earlier letters.
  • Accommodation to social norms: The Pastorals urge Christians to live peacefully within society, to obey secular authorities, and to uphold traditional family structures, reflecting a shift from the earlier, more radical stance of Paulinism.
  • Institutionalization of Church order: The Pastorals promote a hierarchical Church structure with bishops, deacons, and elders, reflecting a later stage of institutional development.
  • Suspicion of charismatic prophecy: The Pastorals express suspicion of itinerant prophets and charismatic gifts, advocating for a more controlled and regulated form of worship.

Price argues that these features are consistent with the emerging Catholicism of the second century, where institutional structures and doctrinal conformity were becoming increasingly important.

He then explores the historical inconsistencies between the Pastorals and the other Pauline writings, noting the absence of a plausible itinerary for Paul that accommodates the events described in the Pastorals. He suggests that the Pastorals might fit better into the chronology of the apocryphal Acts of Paul, a second-century text that presents a similar, Catholicized view of the apostle.

Price concludes by arguing that the Pastorals, likely written by Polycarp, are attempts to co-opt and sanitize the Pauline legacy, distancing Paul from his association with “heretics” and promoting a more orthodox form of Christianity. He suggests that the Pastorals served a twofold purpose:

  • To combat Gnostic and Encratite teachings: The Pastorals explicitly denounce celibacy, vegetarianism, and other ascetic practices, reflecting the Catholic church’s efforts to marginalize these radical groups.
  • To promote a hierarchical Church structure: The Pastorals advocate for bishops and other church officials, reflecting the growing emphasis on institutional authority within early Catholicism.

By analyzing the Pastorals as pseudonymous compositions, Price unveils a more complex and nuanced picture of the development of early Christianity, where competing factions struggled to define and control the legacy of the apostle Paul.

Conclusion: A Canticle for Paul

Price concludes his book by reflecting on the implications of his radical reinterpretation of Paul. He suggests that the historical Paul, stripped of the legendary embellishments and pseudepigraphical writings, is a much more elusive and enigmatic figure than traditional scholarship allows.

He argues that the Pauline epistles, a composite collection of fragments and interpolations, are not a reliable guide to Paul’s own thoughts and teachings. They reflect, rather, the diverse and conflicting theological agendas of later Paulinists, Gnostics, and Catholics who sought to co-opt his authority for their own purposes.

The quest for the historical Paul, he suggests, is ultimately a futile endeavor. The apostle’s voice has been obscured by layers of redaction and reinterpretation, leaving behind a fragmented and contradictory legacy.

However, Price argues, the Pauline texts, even in their fragmented state, can still be valuable. They offer a glimpse into the complex and dynamic world of early Christianity, where competing factions struggled to define the meaning of the gospel and to establish their own claims to authority.

He compares the Pauline corpus to the sacred text in Walter M. Miller Jr.’s novel “A Canticle for Liebowitz,” where survivors of a nuclear holocaust venerate a cryptic fragment of pre-apocalyptic wisdom. The Pauline epistles, like the “Canticle,” are not a source of absolute truth or infallible guidance. They are, rather, a collection of voices and perspectives, offering glimpses of insight and challenging readers to engage with the complexities of faith and tradition.

Price ends by urging readers to approach the Pauline epistles with a critical eye, discerning the layers of redaction and interpretation that have shaped their present form. He encourages a cautious and nuanced approach to Pauline theology, recognizing the diversity of voices within the corpus and the limitations of seeking a singular, authoritative “Paul.”

He concludes that the true value of the Pauline writings lies not in their ability to provide definitive answers or to dictate dogma, but rather in their ability to challenge and provoke, to inspire reflection and to open up new possibilities for understanding the meaning of the gospel.

These chapter summaries provide a detailed overview of the key arguments and insights presented in Robert M. Price’s “The Amazing Colossal Apostle: The Search for the Historical Paul.” The book, a radical reinterpretation of the Pauline tradition, challenges traditional scholarship and urges a critical re-evaluation of the apostle’s legacy.

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