Paul left us an enormously interesting account of himself, his struggle with mental illness, and his uncanny ability to engage it creatively and communally. Some people may want to challenge this perception of Paul but since Paul himself makes no bones about it and in fact proudly declares it as sign of his election (1 Cor 1:27), their argument largely rests on their poor understanding of what this illness was. As I have already pointed out Paul had recurrent episodes hypermanic highs through which he was apparently incapacitated. He recalls – with certain fondness one such period in the Galatians :
Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh (δι’ ἀσθένειαν τῆς σαρκὸς) I preached the gospel unto you at the first. And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, [even] as Christ Jesus. Gal 4:13-14
This is the KJV rendering of the verses which captures the ambivalence of the original thought. Paul preached in Galatia first through infirmity of the flesh, and the temptation which was in (..) flesh, i.e. Paul being out of control (!) was not despised (as we may safely assume was the case elsewhere) but accepted as sign of his apostolic election. The infirm flesh here should not be read as physical illness but Paul's agitated confusion, an illness of the soul, as witnessed by others. IMHO, it has nothing to do with bodily ailment, as some translators intimate.
Paul also tells us elsewhere that when he is out of his mind (or insane, ἐξέστημεν), it is for God and when he is compos mentis it for his flock (2 Cr 5:13). It is in his return to senses to testify of his prophetic transports, his visions of the Lord and the Lord’s instructions for the coming universal mayhem, that Paul asserts his apostolic authority.
The point to take home here is that Paul knew he was out of control at times – he also knew that other than those who were genuinely ‘undone’ by the metamorphoses of Paul’s appearance and behaviour he had little chance with his gospel. He speaks of this in the second chapter of 1 Corinthians, again recalling the initial contact with his charges there:
When I came to you, brethren, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in much fear and trembling; and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glorification. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 1Cr 2:1-8
The fear and trembling in the passage alludes to the dysphoric agitation of the manic episode (usually the latter stages), and the inability to speak coherently, to pressure of speech (and likely to glossolalia). Again, the important thing to note here is the select audience (the mature - hoi teleioi) that receives Paul, as this clashes with the rather indiscriminate proselytizing by Paul proclaimed in the Acts, or for that matter, some of the more fantastic tales told later by those who thought they were Paul, like the author of Phl 1:12-13).
Who Were the Apostles in Paul’s time ?
Despite interpolations which often obscure the matter (1 Cr 15:3-11, 2 Cr 12:12) , there are a few sure indications of what the historical Paul thought of the title and its use. For his time , he places the apostles of a church as the highest authority, ahead of prophets, teachers, workers of miracles, healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in tongue. The nomenclatura of spiritual gifts in 1 Cr 12:28 is interesting as it reserves the three highest functions for guardians of intellectual and moral values. The genuine Pauline scripts are consistent in this weighing which makes poorly thought-out impersonations of Paul easy to spot. In the two examples above, the would-be Paul of 1 Cr 15:3-11 accepts a different hierarchy based on formulaic assignments of this title. And 2 Cr 12:12 seems to suggest, clumsily breaking the text’s flow, that the apostolic mettle is earned by producing miracles and mighty wonders, exactly the kinds of beliefs that Paul would discount and consider childish. Outside of these crude attempts to reconcile Paul to the later church, there is little doubt that Paul was working with a very different set of criteria for the apostolic honours. Whether one was or was not an apostle, i.e. one sent from God (as Jesus himself was according to Heb 3:1 !) was open to discussion in Paul’s time, not settled by scriptural authority.
Nor is Paul particularly persuasive that the apostolic figures and saints were Christian believers in the sense that became common later. Paul’s terminus technicus for the election of an apostle – i.e. one who truly receives the grace of God in losing one’s ordinary sense of self, is being in Christ. Adronicus and Junia, in Rom 16:7 are said to be in Christ before Paul, and apostles in their own right, independently of any doctrine that Paul may have been teaching. They too would have experienced the risen Christ in their bodies, and received from God wisdom of knowing what to do with it.
Paul’s sense of Christ comes then naturally, through the gift of spirit. For this reason it cannot be taught; it is partaken and shared as a mystical body. That Paul, in interpreting his mysterious illness as ‘the knowledge of the Son’, considered this knowledge as an objective, irreducible reality cannot be doubted. But Paul did not believe in the ‘reality’ of miracles the same way as his opponents. Miracles, gifts of healing, speaking in tongues were manifestations of the Spirit which needed to be subordinated to the proper understanding of the underlying faculty. That this faculty could be, and was, abused, was a given to Paul. Famously he says, referring to the photic phenomena occurring in the ecstatics during the peaks of excitement (the ‘body full of light’ that the Matthean Jesus promises on the Mount), that even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Cr 11:14). The allusion is likely to Isaiah 14:13-14, in which Lucifer (the ‘shining one’) promises to ascend to heaven and become like the most High. In the ‘real’ Paul’s nomenclatura, the apostolic title was a badge of highest moral authority in the churches, not an exclusive club that was decreed by Jesus for the inner circle of his retinue. So, even if there was such a body Paul would have not credited it.
However, my point is that there was no such gathering, and that the Twelve were not originally conceived as apostles but an allegorical cipher – a corporate spiritual witness to Christ, of which only Judas was fleshed out and assigned a role in the fugue-and-passion mystery of Mark.
Did Paul consider Peter an apostle ?
The textual evidence from Paul is two to one against such a notion. In the only indisputably Pauline verse of the three, 1 Cr 9:5, Paul places Peter (Cephas) outside of the apostolic circle. ‘Do we not have the right, Paul asks mischieviously, to be accompanied by a wife, as the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas ?’ The two other verses in the corpus that have a bearing on the question are Gal 1:19 and 1 Cr 15:5, both of which I consider extremely problematic as genuine Pauline script. 1 Cr 15:5 belongs to the passage which Robert M.Price analyzed under the heading of Apocryphal Apparitions. The verse asserts the primacy of Cephas (Jesus first appeared to him) but places him outside the circle of the Twelve. It may seem very strange to the traditionalist that the first apostle should be standing alone – and indeed some have argued that Paul must have meant ‘the rest of the Twelve’ in the context. Unfortunately, if one wants to be orthodox in one’s reading one would have to account for not one but two extra disciples to whom Jesus appears in Galilee compared to Matthew 28:16-17. Paul might have not written the passage of 1 Cr 15:3-11, nonetheless this would be an early interpolation which evidently predates Matthew gospel (or its gaining wide currency), and may become a very interesting exhibit in reading the evolution of the gospel narratives. It may indeed be the first scriptural riposte to Mark’s express denying access to Jesus in his resurrected state to his earthly disciples. (Incidentally, that denial was not in that the women running from the tomb tell ‘nothing to noone’, but in the failure of the disciples to grasp the ‘Christ’ nature of Jesus on the stormy lake and on the mountain where he transfigures before the three senior members of his entourage).
So there are the genuine Paul and an early interpolator in 1 Corinthians arguing against the notion that Peter (Cephas) was a duly authorized apostle in Paul’s time, something that is much strengthened by Paul’s condemnation of him in the Galatians. There does not appear a common super-structure supporting Paul and Peter working toward a common purpose, as they did so vehemently in mythic retrospect.
Gal 1:19 names Cephas, ‘an apostle’ by implication, in Paul saying after naming him that ‘of the other apostles’ he saw none save James. I have already expressed grave doubts about the genuineness of the passage describing Paul’s first visit in Jerusalem (see Through the Galatians Darkly). It seems indeed incredible to me that Paul would go to Jerusalem the second time without ‘remembering’ who the top leaders were (ie. having to assign them a vague new descriptor) given that he was received by them in the past.
On the whole then, I would say the support of some authoritative apostolic office going back to Jesus looks doubtful on Paul’s witness. Indeed, if Paul had to contend with leaders who had been established by dominical authority, he does not show it. At Corinth, some people supported Cephas, some Apollos, some Paul (I read his ‘Christ party’ as a rhetorical confirmation of his own ministry as the true one). In Galatians, he condemns to hell people who do not conform to his version of the gospel, in which he would not have counsel of any other Jesus than the risen one.
Mark’s Twelve were not Jesus’ disciples
So firmly planted is the notion of the twelve apostles as an integral part of the synoptic narrative that ideas such as mine no doubt instantly stir a whiff of incredulity. ‘How can you deny that in Mark, the twelve were his earthly disciples ?’, I am being asked, ‘they are there, named and all !’.
To my mind, however, there are many problems with the notion that the list of names in 3:17-19 is genuine Mark, and that it fits his authorial intent. Mark narrates a mystery of the spirit’s incarnation in which the reader of the gospel was expected to participate (as per the central koan of 4:10-12). The authority that Jesus gives to the twelve would clash with the empowerment by the spirit if it was restricted to twelve ‘individuals’ around Jesus. That is why I do not believe this was Mark’s purpose. The ordination was then not of specific individuals but of a mystical body called ‘twelve’ who themselves experience his incarnation and therefore receive Jesus’ ‘authority’. That this authority was never given to Peter and the Zebedees (whom if you read the essays of the blog, I consider to be the later ‘so-called pillars’ in Jerusalem) should give pause to a diligent student of Mark. The three are frightened by the spiritual transfigurations of Jesus, implicitly (on the stormy lake), and explicitly (on the mountain) linked to resurrection. Their incomprehension of Jesus simply does not make sense on Mark’s terms if he intended them on the inside of his mystery. Indeed, to Mark, they were unspiritual idolaters of Jesus.
One interesting aspect of the Twelve, which I believe bolsters my thesis, is that the named disciples (who were later imported into Mark’s gospel after the fashion of Matthew) do not – with the exception of Judas Iscariot – initiate any action or interact with Jesus in events which would describe them individually. For this reason I prefer to look at them, collectively, as witness of Christ in Israel and through the pre-ordained ‘deliverance’ by Judas, the apocalyptic judgment over the land. Further, Mark's narrative focus on the inner circle of three (or four) disciples, looks highly suspect if the inner core numbered twelve. This is particularly not credible for the Transfiguration, an explicit manifest of the risen Christ in the original Mark (who knows no post-mortem appearance of Jesus in flesh) in the company of the two prophets who had visions of God on the holy Mount. If only three of the Twelve received the vision what about the rest ? It is difficult to argue 'omission' by Mark here, since the Twelve were sent to testify about Jesus in chapter 6, and their empowerment by Jesus assumes of necessity the mystical knowledge of him such as is demonstrated by the Transfiguration. When (or how) did the other nine receive the vision ?
Another incident of apparent splitting of the Twelve involves the Zebedees craving ‘perks’ in the messianic kingdom. The remaining disciples are scandalized. Mark 10:41 says ‘the ten began to be indignant with John and James’. The verse would of course be much more understandable if it said ‘the twelve’ which is what I believe it said in the original. Unfortunately, we do not have a textual variant which would confirm my suspicion, only a strange coincidence in Jesus repeating before the ten in 10:44 what he told the twelve in 9:35, “the first among you must be the servant of all”. Why would Jesus not include the Zebedees to remind them of their lapse in the Pauline maxim (1 Cr 9:19) he gave them ? What does ‘among you’ mean in 10:43, if the audience is only ‘ten’ ? House divided ?
There are other indications that the Twelve were not meant simply as fleshy bodies, that Jesus selects to be with him and sends out on missions. Peter and the Zebedees had been abducted by Jesus in the first chapter and Jesus is said to have had disciples prior to the ordination. In 2:15, “many tax collectors and sinners were sitting with Jesus and his disciples”. They are addressed by the Pharisees in the next verse: we need to note therefore that in the construction of the Markan narrative the disciples are selected by, and accompany Jesus before the Twelve are launched.
Another interesting aspect is the renaming of Peter in Mk 3:16. The gospels do not agree on when this happened. Matthew seems to follow Mark, in that it happened around the time of the ordination although Matthew does not specifically point to an act of naming. Neither does Luke. Luke 5:8 records ‘Simon Peter’ pleading with Jesus in the boat during the big haul, before revealing that ‘Simon’ was named ‘Peter’ by Jesus in 6:14 as he selects the apostles. Matthew, similarly first reveals that Simon was called Peter first by the boats. Whether they were jumping ahead of the story is debatable since John also has Simon receiving his moniker as part of getting acquainted (Jn 1:42). That the re-naming happened at Simon’s and Andrew’s home address seems to have a strong tradition in the early church would be supported by Tatian’s Diatessaron which follows John. I believe that Mark had other purpose for renaming Peter which relates to the latter's failure to respond to Jesus' crisis of faith and his abandoning Jesus in the hour of his trial. Jesus addresses sleeping Peter 'Simon' in the Gethsemane, the only direct address of Peter in the whole gospel. This 'mystery' in my understanding relates to the mysterious doubling of Simon (Simon Peter vs Simon of Cyrene) as the bearer of Christ's cross. 3:16 likely had nothing to do with him being named, or renamed, as the first of the Twelve. The text in 3:14-3:17 shows some interesting variants, which appear to have been attempts to settle the issue of the Twelve that the original script created.
Mk 3:14-17 (NRSV) “and he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, and to have authority to cast out demons. So, he appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom gave the name Peter); James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is Sons of Thunder).
Mk 3:14-17 (KJV) “And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach, And to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils: And Simon he surnamed Peter; And James the [son] of Zebedee, and John the brother of James; and he surnamed them Boanerges, which is, The sons of thunder….”
As you can see, the King’s James bible omits two textual variants (bolded in the NRSV text) which appear to bridge a later understanding of what the gospel says. In the first instance, it asserts that the twelve were ‘named apostles’; in the second it repeats in verse 16 the appointment of the twelve made just two verses earlier. Why would such inserts be necessary ? What is unclear about the twelve being ‘named apostles’ ? Obviously, to most of us, who know the four canonical gospels and operate with a sort of harmonized version of them this is not an issue. To a second-century reader, who had no such luxury, the texts needed to be explained and clarified, especially in places where disagreements existed over them. I showed you on the examples from Paul’s letters above that they did not support overwhelmingly that Peter (Cephas) was thought of as an apostle. Now, behold, a Greek reader in Second century Alexandria sees mark having jesus calling whoever he will appointing the twelve and renaming Simon to Peter. There is no clue in the text that these two activities are related. Koine Greek has no punctuation. How would the reader know that Mark intended to connect the ordination and Peter ? Especially, (and note this well !) if the construct in 3:16 makes it grammatically impossible … and to Simon he gave the name Peter. Simon here is dative. So what happened ? At the risk of being accused of recklessness: I think someone had the bright idea to connect Peter to the Twelve by other means, by explicitly linking the appointment and the renaming. Later, someone had even a better idea – to make Mark more synoptic with Matthew and create a Mark’s own version of the apostolic inventory, alas forgetting the problematic grammar, which would relate the accusative case of the eleven apostolic names back to verse 14 – except of course,… Peter’s !
So the question that arises here is, did the 'named apostles' in 3:14 of the Alexandrian text represent a 'timid license' for actually creating the later inventory in 3:17-19 ?
But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places and calling to their playmates, 'We piped to you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.'
Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh.
I am big; I am small; I contradict myself'
- Walt Whitman
Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh.
I am big; I am small; I contradict myself'
- Walt Whitman