Previously on Goicoechea’s reading of Paul:
Hello infidels! Let’s continue our secular journey with Goicoechea on 2 Corinthians.
One of the problems I had with studying philosophy in the Continental tradition as a young secular student was all of the “God superstition” that went along with it. This was no different with Goicoechea, but what I came to appreciate was the way he could interpret the evidence to make actual ethical points the original Christians were attempting to make, not just religious gibberish. So, let’s continue and think about a deeper figurative meaning that goes beyond the usual literal understanding of the death and resurrection of the body of Christ and us with 2 Corinthians.
When Christ died and resurrected Paul says he exchanged his old body for a spiritual body. In a more figurative and essential way, through his death believers become Christ’s new spiritual body. The phrase “the Body of Christ” is a common New Testament metaphor for the Church (all those who are truly saved). The Church is called “one body in Christ” in Romans 12:5, “one body” in 1 Corinthians 10:17, “the body of Christ” in 1 Corinthians 12:27 and Ephesians 4:12, and “the body” in Hebrews 13:3. The Church is clearly equated with “the body” of Christ in Ephesians 5:23 and Colossians 1:24. Being crucified with Christ is a metaphor with Saul encountering the forgiving Christ in the forgiveness of dying Stephen, in other words whoever and in whichever way the persons you are persecuting with your fleshly life, so you may figuratively die as Saul did and be resurrected as Paul. Goicoechea comments that:
- As Saul he lived in the flesh and according to the standards of the flesh. But he heard the call: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He was persecuting Stephen, a member of the corporeal Body of Christ. Then Saul was knocked off his horse and blinded in a death of the old Saul and he was made to see and was baptized and he ate a meal with other members of Christ’s new corporation and he was incorporated into the Body of Christ in which we all are reconciled in a new creation. Paul heard the Good News of God’s work through Christ of atonement, of forgiveness and of reconciliation and with Ananias and the others in the soma Body of Christ he believed in the death and resurrection. (192)
Even though there are many factions in the early church and irreconcilable difference, there is still deeper “reconciliation.” This concept of reconciliation is treated in four Pauline Epistles and it is mentioned a bit in Second Maccabees (p. 188). Goicoechea points out regarding 2 Corinthians:
- This letter teaches the way of alienation, hostility and reconciliation and the point is that God has forgiven us so we should forgive others. God’s love lets sinners be reconciled even though they still fight and even though they remain sinners while they are justified. Paul beheld the glory of the face of Christ shining in the face of Stephen. Glory is the manifesting of the unmanifest in its unmanifestness. What is most visible to our eyes of the flesh is the violence of factions. But with the eyes and ears of our conscience the face of Christ with his forgiving love can shine out even from our own faces as we pray for and work for and serve others knowing that the face of Christ shines out from all of their suffering faces too. It is only when Paul’s face shines out with love as did the face of Stephen which revealed to Paul the glory of the face of Christ that Paul’s work and words will really bring reconciliation to others. (190-91)
Even though Paul is in a place of disagreement and antagonism with the other apostles who do not see Paul’s freedom from the law for the gentiles there is going to be a reconciliation of agreeing to disagree and learning to work together.
There is a new covenant in place as we move from the law being written on stone tablets to being crucified with Christ as our hearts being circumcised to fully reveal the law written on our hearts “if we die and rise from the dead as did Paul at his conversion and baptism. (193)” Paul turned away from Saul and his life in the flesh in which he judged according to the flesh. Living in the flesh means to be always warring, but to be part of the body of Christ is to live in and through Christ’s loving forgiveness. Hence,
- When he experienced Stephen’s loving forgiveness and then saw that it was Christ’s loving forgiveness even for him, a stoner of Stephen, he experienced humankind’s highest affirmation with this new notion of reconciliation with its new logic, anthropology and theology that he is now beginning to work out to meet the challenges of the factions and differences that are so obvious in spite of God’s love. As long as we are here in this time in between Christ’s first and second coming we will be both in the flesh en sarki and en Soma Christi, in the Body of Christ, and if we live according to the flesh we will only war, but if we live according to Christ’s love we will also forgive each other and be reconciled…So Paul’s task is to love his enemies, Cephas and Apollos, and yet to contest them at the same time in the spirit of love….The test case became circumcision and the many cultural practices that went along with it as a sign of the covenant. Paul’s enemies were Cephas and Apollos who insisted on this in different ways. (197-98)
So what’s the point? I am always contrasting the penal substitution interpretation of the cross with the moral influence one. As we move beyond the old mosaic law theology and sacrificing the pure goat/scapegoat to Davidic promise theology of forgiving and reconciling with people we have sinned against, we can really see that what is going on is that we as readers need to move beyond the initial conservative stage of understanding where a just God can’t forgive sin and so must punish the innocent Jesus in our place, to a higher meaning where the whole point is the same as is true through the whole bible: that God can and does forgive. In this way, we transition from vicarious substitutionary atonement where Christ dies instead of us to moral influence “at-one-ment” where “one died so all could die (2 Cor 5:14).” Just as Plato’s allegory of the Cave is a figurative image of the process of enlightenment, the Christian allegory of being crucified with Christ shows the figurative process of reconciliation through forgiveness as we come to see in ourselves the world that wrongfully abandoned/denied (disciples), turned on (the crowd), conspired against (Jewish supreme council) and denied Justice (Pilate) to Jesus.
Interested in reading more? Keeping with my MacDonald Scottish Heritage, click on the No True Scotsman image below!
Goicoechea, David. Agape and Personhood: with Kierkegaard, Mother, and Paul (A Logic of Reconciliation from the Shamans to Today) (Postmodern Ethics Book 2). Pickwick Publications, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.