Paul And The Super-Apostles

  • 13 For such boasters are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 So it is not strange if his ministers also disguise themselves as ministers of righteousness. Their end will match their deeds. (2 Corinthians 11:13-15)

I talked a bit last time about how the theologizing of Jesus’s death as crucifixion puts into question the historicity of the crucifixion (Jesus could have died another way).  And, in fact we seem to have early Christian groups who did not see the crucifixion or resurrection to be germane to their faith.  The Didache, for instance, makes no mention of these supposedly salvific elements, and may go back to an early tradition in that it parallels Matthew.  So too, the popular hypothetical Q source also does not mention the crucifixion and resurrection. 

Paul is an interesting source here.  He identifies super-apostles (who are not the 12, since Paul has much respect for The Twelve: 2 Corinthians 2:17; 3:1; 5:12) who were demonic Judaizers who were trying to pollute his churches with “another gospel.”  Paul seems to emphasize the crucifixion to counter the message of the super-apostles, “For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. (2 Cor 13:4).”  Perhaps there were disciples who followed Jesus’ earthly message, but broke off from the 12 (and later Paul) who had changed and invented a new religion that focused on the “hung on a tree” crucifixion/resurrection.  It would certainly make sense of the super-apostles downgrading Paul because Paul only knew Jesus through visions (if they taught neither crucifixion nor resurrection).

Phil Long comments:

  • Paul describes a meeting in Jerusalem with the Pillars of the Church in Galatians 2:4-5. The language Paul uses is military and political. These false brothers are “undercover agents and conspirators” (Witherington, Galatians, 136). It seems most likely that the false brothers are similar to the “men from James” mentioned in Galatians, or the priests and Pharisees mentioned in Acts 15:1. They are Jewish believers who understand the church as a reform movement within Judaism. Whoever these people were, they found a way to sit in on the meeting between Paul and the Apostles with the intention of causing trouble for Paul. That they intend to “bring us into slavery” indicates that they will insist that Gentiles be circumcised if they are to be full members of the messianic community.

It appears the meeting was to be a private meeting between Paul, Barnabas and Titus and the three leaders of the Jerusalem church, Peter, James the Lord’s brother, and John. But there is another party at the meeting described by Paul as “false brothers.” Could these be the super apostles or highly orthodox apostles who followed Jesus’s teaching from when he was alive but didn’t ascribe to the salvific cross and resurrection? If Paul respected Cephas and James but hated the super apostles, they must have been more than just Judaizers.