TRANSITIONS: Wrapping Up Scripture Studies Blogging (Part 1, Goicoechea and Paul 1)

TRANSITIONS: Wrapping Up Scripture Studies Blogging (Part 1, Goicoechea and Paul SECTION 2)

TRANSITIONS: Wrapping Up Scripture Studies Blogging (Part 1, Goicoechea and Paul SECTION 3)

TRANSITIONS: Wrapping Up Scripture Studies Blogging (Part 1, Goicoechea and Paul SECTION 4)

Transitions Part 1 Section 5, Goicoechea on Paul’s 1 Corinthians

Transitions Part 1 Section 6, Goicoechea on Paul’s 2 Corinthians

Transitions Part 1 Section 7, Goicoechea on Paul’s Galatians

Transitions Part 1 Section 8, Goicoechea on Paul’s Romans

Transitions Part 1 Section 9, Goicoechea on Paul’s Philemon

Now, on to the end of part 1 of “transitions” and concluding thoughts on Goicoechea and Paul.

Welcome True Scotsmen!

We’ve come to the end of my appropriation of Goicoechea’s treatment of Paul’s authentic letters with Philippians.  Let’s see if we can find some philosophical content here beneath Paul’s superstitions.  Goicoechea says

  • The logic of Paul’s love sets up a base of charity, joy, peace, patience, and kindness which allows Paul even to appreciate being in prison. In 1:12–14 of his letter to the Philippians he says after his greeting of love; “Now I want you to realize, brothers, that the circumstances of my present life are helping rather than hindering the advance of the gospel. My chains in Christ have become well known . . . and so most of the brothers in the Lord have gained confidence from my chains and are getting more and more daring in announcing the message without any fear.” … Actions can speak louder than words and just as Paul learned from Stephen so Paul is joyful to be now in chains that the brothers might learn from him that the whole purpose of life is to serve others. Paul might even be able to aid in the conversion of the prison guards as he joyfully loves them in a way they never saw or imagined….Paul thinks that this spirituality of the martyr who witnesses to Jesus’ incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection should also be the spirituality of all the brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus. (313)

It is precisely the power of Jesus’ forgiveness on the cross that converts the soldier in Luke. It is precisely in this the loving forgiveness of Stephen that was the love of Christ incarnate that permitted evil Saul to be stoned/executed with Stephen and be resurrected as holy Paul. Goicoechea comments:

  • But he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, becoming as human beings are. (Phil 2:7) If humans really want to be God-like they now see how to do that by really wanting to be human-like … Jesus showed the value of suffering to us as a way of loving others and once we see this and imitate it, all our suffering can be joyful. The agape of charity as it is translated in preferring others to self sees even being in prison for the Good News as a cause for great joy… [Jesus] will suffer and die the worst death possible to teach us how to suffer with love for others. We like him can love with a proud humility and joyful suffering as we show a preference for the needs of others that takes us beyond our own natural, egoistic preference to loving them…. Our heart is like a glass of beautiful wine and when we let our enemy drink it we can glory in a heavenly intoxication. For where there are loving crucifixions there are resurrections. (315-6)

It is precisely in seeing our conditions as opportunities rather than fate that is the mystery of this ethics.  Goicoechea comments:

  • Every tongue that does acknowledge Jesus as Lord does give glory to the Father for to glorify is to manifest the unmanifest in its unmanifestness or to let us feel the mystery that remains a mystery… [This means] Paul [is joyous] in prison [because he] has more time to pray and thus his letters to Philemon and to the Philippians are becoming even more loving than his previous letters because he is living and breathing the name of Jesus… Just as Paul imitates Jesus in the joyful suffering of love for others so he wants all of his converts to make this love obvious to all. That is the deepest meaning of glory to let the mystery of God’s love be manifest in our attitude, mood, feeling, thoughts, words and deeds. (318)

In this we see Paul arguing against an ethics of self-interest and for an ethics of selfless effacement.  Paul writes:

  • Nothing is to be done out of jealousy or vanity; instead, out of humility of mind everyone should give preference to others, everyone pursuing not selfish interests but those of others. (vv. 3–4)

Goicoechea summarizes this as:

  • Paul sees all persons as being members of the single body of Christ. That this body not self destruct in any way but that all build up each other is what would make Paul’s joy complete and let all of his suffering as united with Christ’s suffering be fulfilled. (319)

Even the prisoner in prison for life can preach the good news to others and rejoice in having so much free time to pray for others!  Anaximander said in our oldest philosophical word on Being in the Greek tradition that beings are usually “out of joint” to more or less of a degree.  Ecclesiastes expresses this that there is just endless repetition of the same with nothing new under the sun: same shit, different day.  But there can be “jointure,” when something special happens and everything falls into place, and so Robert Browning and Lucy Maude Montgomery fictionalized the saying “God’s in his heaven and all’s right with the world.”  For Paul the more we live a life of service where the other is more important than me, the more we experience this “jointure” because we are at one with everything rather than set over against it trying to have beings quench our unquenchable desire with their luster (which, as with Achilles, always tragically repeated into wanting more).


So, thanks for joining me on this journey with me and Dr. Goicoechea through Paul.  What are the big takeaways?

Goicoechea says the first evidence that Paul received was from Stephen who in imitating the example of Jesus loving and forgiving his murderers became an example for Paul so that through Stephen Paul could emerge from the ashes of Saul as a Paul phoenix knowing the new love of the historical Jesus.  Paul in Thessalonians becomes an example of agape selfless love where “the other is worth more than we are” when he loves the Thessalonians as a mother loves her children.  For Paul, as we suffer by meeting the many challenges of all the alienations in the world, we can joyfully carry our cross with Jesus and also be examples.  In terms of the new ethics in Galatians, Goicoechea argues:

  • [Paul] could compare the Platonic, Aristotelian, Stoic, Epicurean, and Skeptical ethics of the Greeks and the Roman schools and yet when he compared them to the new ethics of universal, unconditional love with its joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc., he knew in his heart of hearts that they were but Praeparatio Evangelica. He could easily see from the perspective of his heart that the ethics that saw that in Christ there is no longer Jew nor Greek, male nor female, master nor slave was the best ethics. The new logic of this ethics that saw all persons as equal and yet each as unique and each as members of Christ’s body would fully believe in human rights, and would not uphold a caste system or any other unfair ethical system. Even a religion and ethics and culture of the law can bring a curse and now that Christ has died for us we need not keep all the details of the law to be saved for he has saved us. The main thing to do is recognize this and to follow his law of love for he has freed us from the old heart of a self- centeredness and self-indulgence and freed us for loving others with a new heart that can be joyful, peaceful, and self-controlled. By becoming a servant or slave for us Christ freed us from our old hearts that were enslaved to the self and he freed us for a new liberty that we might serve others in order to free them. A self-realization ethics is all about becoming free from that slavery to those habits that lead to self-destruction and further bondage. But fulfilling ourselves at the expense of others who are enslaved from the viewpoint of the altruistic ethics of Jesus is highly unethical and Paul like Jesus wants to become their servant. Agape can let us suffer for others with a joy that gives them joy. (324-5)

In Philippians it says:

  • Philippians 2:3–4: Nothing is to be done out of jealousy or vanity; instead, out of humility of mind everyone should give preference to others, everyone pursuing not selfish interests but those of others.

So, the idea is for Stephen and Paul to imitate Christ in his selflessness valuing other more than himself.  Goicoechea says:

  • This notion of kenosis or emptying is the heart of the ethics that is born of agape and doesn’t seek self-fulfillment but is an emptying of one’s self that others might be fulfilled… Stephen by imitating Jesus made Jesus’ love that could suffer with great joy a self-evident blessing for Paul and now Paul takes it as his loving task to make it self-evident for others… The grace of God that comes to us from others who love us lets us see in them the face of Paul, the face of Stephen, and the face of Jesus and that face makes self-evident its love… that absurd ethics which becomes free from self to be free for others and that absurd politics that loves a slave like a brother. (328-329)


I’ve been looking at Goicoechea on Paul, and next time I will transition to Goicoechea on Mark for a few posts.

This all goes back to the cross and the transfigured soldier.  In Mark, the soldier sees Jesus loving God more than himself as Jesus said in Gethsemane he would do God’s will even though he was terrified of dying.  The whole drama is about Jesus loving the roman soldier more than himself to show Jesus was a good, holy man being wrongfully destroyed.  Similarly in Luke, the loving forgiveness of Jesus allows the soldier to see Jesus was an innocent man.  In both of these the drama climaxes when the full realization comes that the entire world turned against God’s specially chosen holy and just prophet Jesus and treated him as the lowest criminal.

Jesus in Mark hoped he could just get away with mere publicly unjustly suffering for a bit to un-earth the evils of the world and as it was the apocalypse God would send Elijah to miraculously rescue him, as Elijah was prophesized to come at the end and right things.  This seems to be how Jesus thought the desperate Gethsemane prayer was answered, which we also see in Hebrews (that Jesus was “heard” by God).  But God had other plans for the death and then resurrected Christ to become “Christ in you” to begin the work of countering the influence of Satan and unravel Satan’s stranglehold of influence on this dystopian world.

One of the most remarkable pieces of evidence given in interpreting the history of Christianity is that Jesus is willing to follow God’s plan regardless, but the Gethsemane prayer implies Jesus believed God’s will could be done with Jesus having to actually die.  This is the hermeneutic thorn in the side of any penal substitution interpretations of the cross.  

One of the great themes Mark inherited from Paul is Jesus’s apocalypticism.  It must have been very well known Jesus was apocalyptic, which would have been an existential threat to Christianity in Mark’s time 40 years later because if Jesus was wrong about that, why trust any of his theology?  Mark’s task was thus to retain Jesus as the great man of God, but frame it in such a way that Jesus’s theology was sometimes fallible.  Mark left clues.  He said Jesus was “powerless” to do great miracles in his home town because of lack of belief in “the carpenter’s son!”  Jesus also painted himself into a corner and had to escape so the crowd wouldn’t trample him.  Jesus was terrified and begging God to relent in Gethsemane, hardly the demeanor of a great and powerful entity.  Elijah was to come before the end, and so Jesus called to Elijah from the cross to save Jesus, but Elijah couldn’t come because it wasn’t really the end. The clever literary argument is God had obviously promised Elijah to Jesus as a rescuer, but this was a noble lie to ease Jesus’ burden, as God was known to lie if it suited Him (eg  1 Kings 22:21-22). This all fits in with the thesis of some that Mark is deliberately written in a low Greek analogous to how Tom Sawyer is written in a low English to suggest Jesus, for all his power and wisdom, was one of the common folk. Matthew is written in a better Greek, by contrast, and Mark with all its sophistication such as brilliant literary imitation (midrash/mimesis) of Hebrew scripture and Greek poetry suggests Mark could have managed a more sophisticated Greek if he wanted to.

And so, the Christ Myth Theory isn’t just silly, as the history of religion is saturated with celestial beings who were put in stories on earth.  The problem is the Christ Myth Theory adopts the conservative Christian penal substitution approach and focuses completely on Jesus and what he did, and forgets Jesus as loving others more than himself and thus the world wrongly turning on God’s specially chosen prophet Jesus and treating him like a lowly criminal – which is necessary to the Christian argument that this allowed the world’s satanic foundation to become conspicuous and hence be a catalyst for repentance.  Regarding Jesus mythicism, none of this original Christian argument makes any sense if Jesus is killed in outer space by sky demons.  In this way we saw Saul figuratively killed by Platonic recollection as the this apostle to the pagans saw the loving Christ in remembering the forgiving face of the suffering Stephen, which allows evil Saul to die and be transformed and resurrected into the holy apostle Paul.  Jesus mythicism can only be maintained by a superficial reliance on some aspects of Mosaic Covenant theology, while ignoring Davidic Promise theology where we become seed of the faithful Abraham though we are not literally Abraham’s seed.

Mark resolves the Pauline apocalyptic Jesus difficulty by using the title Son of Man for Jesus.  Traditionally, the Son of Man was a very powerful celestial deity.  Mark chooses this title because his Jesus is powerful and wise, but subordinate to God in wisdom and power, just as the traditional Son of Man was subordinate to the Ancient of Days.  Too, “son of man” in Judaism also just meant “someone” or “a human being” (as in Ps 8:4, where it is a poetic variant for “man”).  Mark identifies Jesus haggadic midrashically (imitatively) as the new and greater Son of Man, Mark characterizes Jesus did not come to be served but to serve.  This doesn’t mean Jesus was being thought of as Daniel’s Son of Man Angel anymore than Matthew presenting Jesus imitatively as the new and greater Moses was meant to suggest Jesus actually was Moses. 

Penal substitution proponents are so enamored by the presentation of the cross in Paul that they overlook Paul said in his letters the whole of the religion turned on the resurrection because if Christ is not raised, your faith is FUTILE and you are still in your sin (1 Corinthians 15:17).  In this case Christ’s resurrection was proof of the religion’s claims of eternity in blessedness (some Jews tending toward belief in the afterlife, while others not).  The common Jewish statement of pessimism was “Eat and drink and be merry, for tomorrow you die,” which was fertile ground for sin.  Mark had to frame the theology in a way that does not hinge on end times resurrection appearances, since the truth of Jesus’ apocalyptic prophecies from the 30’s were in doubt, and so Mark made an argument about the conversion of the soldier at the cross that held independent of any resurrected Jesus appearance claims like we find in Paul, and in fact Mark stamps his argument by not have any resurrection appearances by Jesus at all even though the claims would have been very well known from Paul and the Pre Pauline Corinthian Creed at the time.  

Paul is done!  Next time I’ll be saying a bit about Goicoechea’s reading of Mark.  Stay tuned!


Goicoechea, David. Agape and Personhood: with Kierkegaard, Mother, and Paul (A Logic of Reconciliation from the Shamans to Today) (Postmodern Ethics Book 2) (pp. 328-329). Pickwick Publications, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.