In 2005 the first of the Pauline Studies series was published. Each volume is edited by well-known New Testament scholar Stanley Porter and a graduate student. Each book in the series is composed of scholarly essays devoted to key issues within the study of Paul the apostle. Previous books in this series concerned the Pauline canon, Paul’s opponents, theology, world, background, letter form, social relations, and pseudepigraphy. This ninth volume is devoted to the study of Paul and Gnosis.
Each volume within the Pauline Studies series begins with an opening article by the editors that orients the reader to the topic in question. The subsequent articles provide groundbreaking research in the area of Pauline studies under consideration. Paul and Gnosis contains ten articles and continues the tradition of high caliber scholarly essays in the particular sub discipline of Pauline research.
As in the other volumes, the editors have written the first article. This article entitled “Paul and Gnosis” provides a good overview of the field and the articles within the book. The editors point out that a variety of different topics could have fit under this particular subject, including the relationship that Paul had with Gnosticism, whether Paul was a gnostic, whether his opponents were Gnostic, and whether there are elements of Gnosticism to be found within Paul, his followers, or his opponents. Another challenge for this volume is defining what Gnosticism really is. Questions concern whether this should be placed underneath heresy or heterodoxy within early Christianity or whether it should be limited to Mysticism, Esotericism, Docetism, or Encratism. Should Gnosticism be considered in terms of “Sethian Gnosticism” or “Classical Gnosticism”? Within this introduction, Porter and Yoon also refer to the history surrounding Gnosticism. This includes a brief discussion of views by Walter Schmithals, Rudolph Bultmann, and Elaine Pagels.
This volume, however, is not only concerned with Gnosticism but also with Paul’s appeal to knowledge. This includes Paul’s use of the term γνῶσις and also knowledge of himself and his experiences that led to his identity. It also includes Paul’s knowledge of particular topics and ideas including main theological terms.
Porter and Yoon acknowledge that this book covers a broader range of articles and ideas than previous volumes within Pauline Studies Series. They divide the articles into two sections: Paul and Knowledge and Paul and Gnosticism. This is a reasonable way to break down the different articles within the book, but if a reader was looking for a volume devoted to Gnosticism, he would be disappointed.
The five articles in section 1 (Paul and Knowledge) each provide fresh contributions in areas where there is lack of clarity currently within Pauline studies. The first article in this section is written by Stanley Porter, “What Do We Mean by Speaking of Paul and Gnosis/Knowledge?: A Semantic and Frequency Investigation.” Porter rightly challenges the identification of gnosis and knowledge by associating these exclusively with the word γνῶσις. Porter correctly states that the overall concept rather than the word alone must be considered. He investigates the sixteen entries in the subdomain “know” of the Louw-Nida lexicon and then records the occurrence of these words within Paul’s letters. He concludes that limiting study of γνο- root words does not take into account everything within this rich Pauline concept. This article will be an important one for those who continue to examine knowledge-related words within Paul’s writing.
In the second essay, David Yoon addresses Paul’s thorn in the flesh of 2 Corinthians 12. Instead of concluding that the thorn in the flesh is a medical problem, he concludes that it is a satanic messenger that was tormenting Paul with memories of his past. This is in partial agreement with Adolf Schlatter’s viewpoint from the early 1900s that Paul had some memories of past sins. Yoon’s article challenges the exegetical conclusions that link 2 Corinthians 12 with texts from Galatians. While he favors the satanic messenger as the thorn, he rightly concludes that one cannot fully know the understanding of the thorn.
In the third article, Andrew Pitts addresses Paul’s knowledge of the resurrection body from 1 Corinthians 15. In this article, he addresses Richard Carrier’s two-body theory, which proposed a resurrection body that is immaterial and the current body that is what people inhabit in this world. Pitts finds Carrier’s conclusions overly dependent upon reference to Rabbinic sources and basing his conclusions on a word-study fallacy rather than the grammar of 1 Corinthians 15. Pitts proposes instead that the resurrection body relates to the body that originates with God’s spirit.
Next, Adam Wright discusses potential allusions in Paul from the Old Testament and from Hellenistic literature in his article entitled, “Detecting Allusions in the Pauline Corpus: A Method.” He aims to identify allusions within Paul but then propose how allusions were identified within the ancient world. He identifies two means of identifying allusions: mimesis and aemulatio. He uses Romans 7:13–25 as an example, comparing with Plato’s Phaedo. Wright refers to many works within the field of Paul and Scripture studies and interacts well with Hays and Hollander in particular. His article is particularly helpful for considering Greco-Roman ideas that made their way into Pauline writing. While the article points out a number of aspects for allusions, it is less clear how this article fits within the current volume.
In the final essay in this section, Chris Stevens compares Paul with Old Testament figures in “Paul, the Expected Eschatological Phinehas-Elijah Prophet Law-Giver.” Stevens rightly asserts that Paul viewed himself as an apostle and also as a prophet. While Paul is not called a prophet, he carries many of the characteristics of prophets from Scripture. He also connects Phinehas and Elijah together and sees Paul functioning similarly as one who was a prophet as well as a law giver, proclaiming Christ to people who were quite distant. This is a helpful article refining ideas of Paul prophetic self-concept and would be a helpful basis for further studies on Paul’s identity.
The second part of this volume concerns Paul and Gnosticism. It begins with an article by James D. G. Dunn with an article entitled, “‘The Apostle of the Heretics’: Paul, Valentinus, and Marcion.” The article reviews how particular Gnostics as well as heretics like Marcion used and received Pauline thought. Dunn provides reasons for what made Paul attractive to the gnostics and heretics, such as his reception of God’s message by revelation. Dunn then contrasts the Gnostic understanding of Paul’s words with a better understanding of words such as mystery, spiritual, natural, and flesh. Dunn believes that Marcion misread Paul’s message in terms of law and grace solely. According to Dunn, the complexity and subtlety of Paul’s thinking was too often resolved in an unbalanced way, and Marcion’s simplification of Paul’s thought led to his heretical viewpoint.. Dunn’s article provides a much needed perspective on the reception of Paul within second century circles.
In the following article, Hughson Ong addresses the question of heresy in the Pastoral Epistles in his article entitled, “Is There a Heresy in the Pastorals? A Sociolinguistic Analysis of 1 and 2 Timothy via the Ethnography of Communication Theory.” This heresy could have emerged from Gnosticism or proto-Gnosticism. It could also have emerged from a model/paradigm theory in which the Pastorals, which viewed the Pastoral Epistles to be written without a specific historical context. The lack of context would then provide a model for addressing heresies that might emerge in the future. From his sociolinguistic analysis, Ong rejects all three approaches to heresy. He distinguishes between the opponents of 1 and 2 Timothy through the use of Dell Hymes’s theory of ethnography of communication. He concludes that scholars need to reconsider the different situational contexts that underlie the Pastorals and their assumptions and methods of analysis. Ong’s article provides a strong challenge to those wishing to find the Ephesian heresy running throughout 1 and 2 Timothy.
Michael Kaler in “Paul at Nag Hammadi” provides a helpful overview of Pauline usage within the most extensive primary literature of primary gnostic literature, the collection at Nag Hammadi. Within his survey, he finds that most of the documents at Nag Hammadi do not contain any references to Paul. This includes. Some documents may contain Pauline thought or context, Paul’s figure or image, or Pauline themes, ideas, and/or passages. Kaler finds that the “heretics” seemed to read and use Paul like other Christians did. There is a particular use of “rule and authorities” language from Ephesians 6:12 within the Nag Hammadi collection, and it is used roughly in the same way within the Nag Hammadi references. Also, the most thoughtful Pauline material is found within the Valentinian writings. Kaler’s conclusion opens up a variety of possibilities for the future. Future studies should further consider “principalities and powers” language and the use of Paul in allegedly Christian or secondarily Christianized texts.
The following article by Tilde Bak Halvgaard is entitled “The Concept of Fullness in Paul and the Pauline Tradition: A Cosmological Approach to Paul and Gnosis.” Halvgaard pays particular attention to the word πλήρωμα, an important term used by Gnostic authors. She finds that Nag Hammadi authors speak about “fullness” in a way that corresponds to and develops the way that the term is employed in Paul’s letters and Pauline tradition (particularly Colossians and Ephesians). Besides her conclusions about πλήρωμα, Halvgaard’s article also offers a model for investigating other words through the Nag Hammadi collection.
The final essay by Panayotis Coutsoumpos addresses the strong and the weak in Corinth (“The Strong/Gnosis, Paul, and the Corinthian Community”). Coutsoumpos discusses various options for identifying the strong at Corinth from the perspective of Paul’s opponents who some view to be gnostics. Rather than concluding that the use of gnōsis should assume gnostic influence, Coutsoumpos finds that the strong from 1 Corinthians 8:1 were most likely not gnostic. Instead, they were more likely a group that had more knowledge or wisdom than the weak. He rightfully finds that the strong in Corinth should act in a loving manner to the weak.
Paul and Gnosis provides many essays of high quality just like the previous books within this series. This volume has fewer articles than previous books, and the articles are more diverse. A few more entries on Paul and his reception within Gnostic documents, such as those of Dunn, Kaler, and Halvgaard provide, would add greatly to the book. Some who may be expecting a volume devoted to Pauline interaction with second century material may be disappointed.