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  1. (The following is not copied from an external source such as a blog: I wrote it myself here.) Up until recently, I had long supposed that the Apostle Paul was primarily responsible for the deviation of Jewish Christianity, for its corruption by Hellenism (paganism). I had contended that Paul transformed Jewish Christianity into a Hellenistic mystery-cult that divinised Jesus. Nevertheless, I continued to research and reevaluate my sources. I have now tentatively come to the conclusion that perhaps it was the later Church rather than Paul who was responsible for the corruption of Christianity. In this the fault may have lain in the translation of original sources, and the accretion of spurious interpretations thereof. The problem is that the latter-day Church projected its own circumstances onto those of Paul and his contemporaries, in turn misleading generations of Christians. In the following exposition I am going to use a combination of research and logic to illustrate my contention that Paul may have been skewered by his followers, who acted much later in time than the Apostle and his proselytes did. According to Raymond E. Brown’s The Gospel according to John X–XII (New York: Doubleday, 1979, 2nd ed.), the identifier “God” is not used of Jesus to any real degree, if at all, in the New Testament (p. 24), and to the extent that it appears is primarily functional rather than an ontological designation (p. 408). Even when Jesus is said to bear the Divine Name, in reality he is consecrated by God and so makes Him known, being His Messianic agent (pp. 536–7), and indeed in Jewish thought the agent and sender were regarded as one in agency or purpose, even if the Sender were God Himself. So when Jesus says that he and the Father are one, he is speaking in terms of agency or purpose, rather than presupposing ontological equality. In relation to this, the Law was said to spiritually prepare men for the requirements of the Messianic advent, to instil in their very being the spiritual character that would one day become necessary (p. CXV). So in this sense Jesus’ advent does not abolish the Law, but rather fulfils its purpose. In his Christology in the Making (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989, 2nd ed.), James D. G. Dunn explains that even the Gospel of John, with its concept of the Logos (Word), does not presuppose the personal preexistence of Christ, but actually describes a transition from an impersonal personification to a human existence, so that the Logos conceptualises God’s eternal Divine Plan becoming realised—that is, enfleshed or Incarnate—in the birth and life of Jesus (p. 243). This echoes the Qur’ān’s conception of Jesus as embodying God’s Word or Divine Plan being actualised in human, concrete terms; indeed, the human Jesus, as in the New Testament, comes into personal existence by God’s utterance, “Be!”—hence the virginal conception in the womb of Mary via Gabriel’s transmission of spirit. So in neither the New Testament nor the Qur’ān is the Divine Word or Logos characterised as a separate “Person” from God or as anything more than a personification in primeval time. It is clearly an impersonal utterance and/or Plan. Now I am going to return to Paul and his alleged deification of Jesus. Evidence to this effect is often said to be contained in Philippians 2:6–11, the so-called “Christ-hymn.” These verses are often said to describe Christ’s process of kenosis or self-negation, by which he supposedly takes on human nature yet retains his Divine essence. In other words, his spirit is alleged to be uncreated or eternal in nature, that is, God Himself, unlike other humans’ spirits. The problem with this take, however, is that in his genuine epistles Paul does not regard Jesus as synonymous with God (the Father). Among the aforementioned vv. in Philippians 2 is v. 9, for instance, in which Paul states that God raised Jesus from the dead and exalted him. If Paul regarded Jesus as being spiritually equal to and coeternal with God the Father, why does he stress that God externally acted to resurrect Jesus, as though God and Jesus were separate in some sense? If Jesus were equal to God, wouldn’t Paul have said that Jesus, being God, raised himself from death? In Galatians 4, vv. 4–5, Paul mentions that God sent forth Jesus. If Jesus were himself God, Paul would have simply stated that God Himself came forth, or that Jesus came on his own agency. Romans 8, v. 3 also states that God sent forth Jesus, so God is clearly the Actor, not Jesus. In 1 Corinthians 8, v. 6, Paul’s formula is one God, one Lord, the “Lord” being Jesus Christ. So Paul clearly regards Jesus as being somehow separate from God the Father, and therefore not sharing his essence, unlike in later, Trinitarian formulae. Other Pauline works, authored by men other than Paul but inspired by him, unequivocally include statements to the effect that the man Jesus Christ mediates between God and men (1 Timothy 2, v. 5). Again, if Jesus and God were regarded by Paul and his early followers as synonymous, other phraseology would have been used. Taken together, the internal evidence seems to indicate that neither Paul nor his immediate associates equated Jesus with God the Father, but regarded the former as human.
  2. Dear friends, Just a question about some concepts I've come across in my modest, and no doubt inadequate, study of islamic doctrine and philosophy. I hope there are some people he that can enlighten me with the backgrounds I need. There is the concept of "pre-existence". The notion which I almost automatically associate with a neo-platonist philosophical outlook; the concept of immaterial perfect ideas that exist before the creation of material being and that somehow manifest themselves in material creation because they mediate all perfect forms that manifest themselves in created material beings. These categories obviously had a great influence on the development on Christian theology, to the extend that some doctrines have been developed which Muslims now deem to be going too far and indeed to be a lapse in idolatry. But let's leave that aside for the moment. But the core as I perceive it is; the idea of pre-existence has become quite a guiding principle in some regards. In the Gospel of John this can be seen with the concept of the Word (Logos) that became flesh; he was before all times and came into the world to be rejected by the Jews who were not able to recognize him. The Church Fathers clearly saw the Logos as the model of creation itself; it was through the Logos that God created men, the rejection of the Logos was as such a rejection of the essential core of what it means to be human, to be created in the image God and called to worship Him in love and obedience. As it were: the Logos represents an immaterial perfect idea of what it essence of human ontology. All human existence is as it were mediated through the pre-existent Word. The crux is of course whether you define the Logos as created or uncreated; this is where the whole discussion about the Trinity starts but again I hope we can leave that aside for this moment. My question is how do Muslim scholars look at this concept of the pre-existence? Are there any sayings by the Imams that could shed light on this? I think I've came across some notion of the Qur'an as having a certain pre-existent statute and in some (analogical/philosophical?) form even Imam Ali? How can I understand this better? And how to see the concept of 'Aql? Like the Greek concepts of Logos and Sophia? Or is altogether different? How can enlighten me in this? I am keen to learn more. God bless, Leto
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