Exploring The Syncretic Roots of Paul Properly

Continued from Part 13

Syncretic roots of Paul’s Jesus

Much of Christianity is the development of Paul and his theological descendants, who presented the pagans with a diluted form of Judaism in Hellenized garb.  It is true that the Hellenistic Jewish philosophy of Philo paved the way to such a syncretism, but Philo certainly would have been shocked at the resulting distortion which followed in Paul’s wake.  Philo expected the Messiah, but he never identified the Messiah with the Logos, as was done by later Christian theology.  

For Paul, who is influenced by Philonic philosophy, the Christ is:

. . . the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  For in him all things were created, in the heavens and upon earth, visible and invisible, whether lordships or governments or authorities.  All things have been created through him and for him.  And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. . . .  For it was [God’s] good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in him, and through him to reconcile all things to Himself. . . .  He [Jesus] has now reconciled you in his fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him [God] holy and blameless and beyond reproach.  (Colossians 1:15-22)

Paul’s view is that Jesus is not God.  He is God’s first creation and the means by which God acts in the universe.  He sees Jesus as the temporary incarnation of a preexistent heavenly being.  Paul’s Jesus is patterned after Philo’s Logos.6  Jesus, for Paul, is in the image of God.  He is the link between God and man and the agent for man’s redemption.  He intercedes with God on man’s behalf and, as heavenly advocate, pleads man’s cause before God (Romans 8:34; see also Hebrews 7:25, 9:24; 1 John 2:1).  He is the mediator between man and God:  “For there is one God, and also one mediator between God and men, a man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).  Paul further states:  “But for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we exist through him” (1 Corinthians 8:6).  Trinitarian theology misunderstood Paul’s Father-Son relationship.  Paul says that the Father is “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  He is the God and Father of Jesus, not his equal (Ephesians 1:3, 17).  If there is one God and one Lord, then there are two separate beings, and they are not of the same nature or substance nor are they equal.

In all of his writings, Paul does not identify Jesus with God or portray him as equal to God.  In fact, he says that in the future, the Son will be subject to the Father.  He says:  “And when all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the One who subjected all things to him, that God may be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28).  In Philippians 2:9, Paul writes of Jesus that it is God who “highly exalted him,” which means that God did not make him His equal.  Even after his exaltation, Jesus continues to remain subject to God.  It is obvious that if Jesus is “highly exalted” by God, he must have first occupied an inferior position in relation to God.  Since his prior position was lower than God’s, and at best, he will attain a level where he will still be “subject to the One who subjected all things to him,” he could not be part of or equal to that “One.”

6 The Christian doctrine of the Logos, “Word,” has its origins in the writings of Philo.  The Philonic Logos is the result of an attempt to harmonize the Greek Logos and certain Jewish ideas concerning the nature and role of God in the universe.  This was to deeply influence early Christian theologians, who paganized and distorted the meaning of the Logos in Philo’s writings.  The early Christian church, still under pagan influence took the metaphorical phrases employed by Philo to explain his concept of the Logos literally.  The misconstruing of Philo’s view led early Christian theologians to conceive of God as a triune being, a belief that Philo would have rejected out of hand.

© Gerald Sigal