Previously in this Scripture Studies Concluding Series:
Goicoechea points out starting religious communities was difficult for Paul because there was alienation, bickering and infighting within each person, within many families, within the little community (92).
- The main point about the solution to all the problems is that we have received the gift of love and it alone will let the other gifts of faith, hope, understanding, teaching prophecy, etc., be efficacious and really heal the root cause of all our problems which torment each and every person. Paul knew that the love that forgives is a gift because he had received it already from the loving, forgiving face of Stephen. (92)
The first problem for the Corinthian church is factionalism, “they proclaim: “I am for Paul,” “I am for Apollos,” “I am for Cephas,” “I am for Christ” (1 Cor 1:12).”
It is the patience of agape Paul advocates in the face of this division. Interestingly, what Paul seems to be saying here is there are those that followed the crucified Christ of Peter and James (as we see in the pre-Pauline Corinthian creed/poetry), others that followed Paul’s take on the crucified Christ, and still more who followed the teachings of Jesus from before he died, such as we see in Burton Mack’s Q1 source or the Didache (and perhaps Tabor’s reading of the epistle of James if I remember Tabor correctly on that point). Goicoechea says the agape/love of the cross is that it does not look after its own, but others, even enemies first – which to the world is a foolishness.
- To reconcile is to be aware that all flesh will see the salvation of the Lord (Goicoechea has in mind such passages as Luke 3:6). It is to constantly pray with Jesus. “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Paul permitted pagans becoming Christian without the pagans getting circumcised, but on a deeper level the pagan culture of eros/love with a bond between polytheism and polygamy and polyandry, was being usurped by Jewish monogamy. But paradoxically Paul was even stricter than the Jews and so like Jesus was stricter with the Torah than the Jews, Paul recommended going beyond eros to agape and argued for celibacy. Goicoechea comments:
- Paul seemed to sense that his could appeal to Corinthians who knew of Plato’s move away from polytheism to a monotheism and that Platonic love of celibate enthusiasm (98-99).
Paul’s apocalyptic view of the resurrected Christ is going to permit us to understand how all warring without and within can be overcome. Goicoechea summarizes:
- Death is truly the ultimate destroyer and when life goes out in our body the final alienation takes place when our body disintegrates and we are consumed by little flesh eaters. When Christ’s spirit appeared to Paul in the love of Stephen and when the spiritual body of Christ asked Paul why he was persecuting him that for Paul was the ultimate reconciliation. Jesus met the great mystery of death and gave a response to it that became Paul’s answer to all of our problems. We might be at war on all seven fronts but we do not need to be afraid for Jesus conquered death with his resurrection from the dead and we too can be resurrected. That is Paul’s apocalyptic and militant way of understanding his faith that he has in the resurrected Christ who in death moved from an ensouled body to an enspirited body. When we repeat his death and resurrection in the Lord’s Supper we bring the mystery of the Lord’s reconciliation into our individual lives and into the lives of the loving community. There is a direct relation between our loving and forgiving heart and the health of our bodies for when Paul writes of the Lord’s supper he explains how the right heart when receiving communion makes us healthy and then he writes: “In fact that is why many of you are weak and ill and some of you have died. If only we recollected ourselves, we should not be punished like that. But when the Lord does punish us like that, it is to correct us and stop us from being condemned with the world” (11:30–31). (99-100)
As we think of the God of the postmodern thinkers like Derrida there is, following Levinas, going to be a stressing of the suffering of widow, orphan, stranger, and enemy that is going to call me out of an infinite responsibility to the other that can never be fully met, and so the paradigm of the “holy” is seeing the suffering Jesus in the face of the Suffering Stephen who loves his enemies and so is a catalyst for the change that overcame Paul. The infinite call of my responsibility that dwarfs my ability to answer is the holy of post-modernity, which is an extreme form of the Via Negativa of Negative Theology I blogged about previously:
Paul had the loving, suffering Stephen, and his relatives such as Junia who were high up in the Jesus movement that may have contributed to cognitive dissonance causing Paul to hallucinate Jesus (if you trust Paul is not lying). Luke thus sets up a parallel structure between Jesus’ death in his gospel with Stephen’s death in Acts, so that just as the soldier looked up and saw the love of Christ on the cross that transfigured the soldier and made him realize Jesus was innocent, the memory of the love of Christ in suffering Stephen’s face and words later transfigured Paul on the road to Damascus. That this happened to Paul in recollection and not immediately makes sense in a pagan context of Platonic Recollection (Paul being best known as being the apostle to the pagans).