Reading In and Around the Bible: Epistles of Paul, 2

First Corinthians:

  • 1:7, “as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ”. Another allusion to Paul’s prediction of the imminent Second Coming, which has conspicuously failed to happen for some 2000 years now. Again, why hasn’t this most egregious example of a failed prophecy undermined everything else Paul said? Because selection bias, as we now understand it: people are sensitive to prophecies that come true, no matter how vaguely, thus Paul’s numerous citations of Hebrew scripture, while ignoring all the ancient prophecies that never managed to come true. For contemporary Christians, it’s a matter of ignoring the ones that don’t come true, including this one. Only the hits count.
  • 1:18, “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved…” Another appeal to tribalism; us v. them, and how Paul’s followers should feel very special for being among the chosen elite.
  • 1:19, appeal to scripture, and anti-intellectualism. (Because the more you know, the less susceptible you are to the power of magical tales of miracles.)
  • 1:22, “For the Jews demand signs and Greeks demand wisdom” – as opposed to Paul’s followers; in other works, we don’t need evidence! We don’t need reason!
  • 1:26-27, All about upstaging those elites – how this does resemble contemporary American politics, with a certain candidate appealing to the ignorant base against the ‘establishment’! – which leads me again to wonder, if there was this god, how it is he didn’t manage to reveal his truth to everyone, if it’s really the truth? Why play favorites? Why does it not instead *seem exactly* like the conceited fantasies of a tribe or cult who fancied themselves the chosen of their particular, local god?
  • 3:19, “for the wisdom of the world is foolishness with God”. Again…
  • Ch5, again, Paul is much concerned with sex. This suggests more about him than about god or Jesus.
  • 5:5, “destruction of the flesh”, Oxford’s annotators seem to bend over backwards to explain how it doesn’t really mean that.
  • 5:9, “not associate with sexually immoral persons…” Really? WWJD? From later letters Paul seems familiar with the various “sayings” of Jesus, but not, of course, with the NT gospels as we know them.
  • Ch6, Don’t associate with non-believers! Very tribal, and self-righteous.
  • 6:9, rather obsessed with ‘wrongdoers’. [I never realized until now that George Bush’s phrase ‘evildoers’ came out of his close attention to the themes of these ancient religious manuscripts which have, alas, informed so much of human history for the past two millennia.]
  • ch7, more about sex! This is about Paul. Apparently he is unmarried and finds the whole idea of sex rather distasteful, and would just as soon counsel everyone else to consider it just as distasteful. Who is he to lay down such rules…? Apparently the one who won.
  • 7:26, “impending crisis”, again, Paul predicts the Second Coming is happening soon.
  • 7:31, “For the present form of this world is passing away.” Yet another statement of the most failed prophecy of all time.
  • 10:20, Our god is real, theirs is not.
  • Ch11, So many rules! Who says?
  • 11:9, “Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for the sake of man”. Obviously, antiquated gender roles, which many adhere to, to this day. Is there some atavistic evolutionary reason for this belief? Is this something that can be, or should be, overcome? Obviously US laws cites equality before the law, yet that “equal rights amendment” never passed.
  • 11:14, “Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him…” Really?? Why?? Doesn’t that iconic portrait of Jesus show him with long hair? (And how, and how often, did men cut their hair in those days…? Do we know?)
  • 12:8, a ranking in descending order of the values of wisdom, knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, then miracles, and so on. But later, 12:28, these are aligned with apostles, prophets, teachers and so on, so the ideas of wisdom and knowledge didn’t mean what we think of them now.
  • 13:1, in NRSV, “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal”, to mean saying without love; KJV says “I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal”, a phrase adapted by SF author Robert Silverberg for essay about his career up to a point: Sounding Brass, Tinkling Cymbal
  • Throughout these passages, NRSV uses the word “love” where KJV uses “charity”. Asimov, p444-447, discusses the original Greek word, “agape”, and how neither translation exactly matches its meaning.
  • 13:8, everything will end but love. Often-quoted: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.” (I think this is true, or should be true, in a greater way, as our species learns about the reality of the universe around us, and puts away childish, mythical beliefs of our tribal ancestors.)
  • 13:12, KJV’s famous “through a glass, darkly” becomes in NRSV “in a mirror, dimly”.
  • 14:1-2, seems to equate ‘prophesy’ with ‘speaking in tongues’, which is not commonly understood, I’d guess.
  • 14:34, the famous injunction against women speaking in churches – but the Oxford annotators think these passages were later additions, not by Paul (for what that’s worth)
  • Ch15, Paul goes on about the resurrection, which the Oxford annotators think is derived from “the philosophical proof of the immortality of the soul” in Plato’s Phaedr and others. Of course, Paul’s entire argument begs the question.
  • 15:6, Jesus appeared to some 500 people?? First mention of this I’ve read. (And curious that the four Gospels, written later, didn’t describe any such thing.)

Second Corinthians

In this book especially, it struck me when I read it, it seems that Paul is using lots of words to say very little; that his prose is obsequious with flattery to his followers on Corinth on the one hand, boasting with unseemly self-importance, while at the same time reproving those followers like a father to unruly children, and almost desperate in his repeated appeals to the coming eternal life in the heavens.

Fewer specific notes. By Ch3, Paul has a new theme: he’s decided that the covenant of Moses is a “ministry of death” and only belief in Jesus is the way. Ch8 is a beg for money, like any contemporary preachers – as a “proof of love”. All the commentators seem to agree that Chs 10-13 come from an earlier, angrier, letter, that was grafted into this scroll by later editors. 10:10 describes Paul’s unimpressive appearance and presence. 10:5 insists that a believer’s every thought must be subsumed to Christ. 11:5, Paul is worried about the appeal of other “super-apostles”, as if is followers might be easily swayed. (By rhetoric, of course, not by any kind of evidence.) And 12:7, Paul’s apparently infamous “thorn”, about which no one really knows what he means, but about which Miller, anxious to justify every biblical passage through allusion to any kind of contemporary knowledge, speculates wildly.

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